Category Archives: church meeting

Are our gatherings truly an expression of the church which is His Body?

Imagine you woke up this morning and your left leg didn’t work. Don’t you think you’d notice something was wrong? It’s a simple analogy, really, but it’s the kind of thing that comes across so forcefully in Paul’s consideration of the church as the “Body” of Christ (as, for instance, in 1 Corinthians 12).

Notice Paul doesn’t say the church is “like” a body, but that the church is the Body of Christ. This is no mere metaphor. To Paul, this is a working reality, both in the daily life and the gathering together of the disciples of Jesus.

Alas, however, today this usually isn’t the case, is it? Most Christians participate in a kind of church life where the majority of ministry is carried out by a few rather than by all the members together. A great deal of the Body’s function is (or at least can be) invalidated and rendered inoperative by this unhealthy clergy-laity distinction which prevails so completely throughout modern Christianity.

Proof of that statement is easy enough to gauge. Most of the gatherings you’ll ever walk into would be entirely unaffected should you continue to show up week after week and never participate in the meetings or community life. Ironically, though it is designed for you (and for the other people present) the show would go on with or without you just the same. It is not dependent on a robust spiritual life operating in all its members resulting in a healthy, moment-by-moment functioning of the Body as a whole. Rather, it is carried on mostly by a select number of staff members aided by the volunteer labor of a few eager laymen.

I’m not trying to be harsh or negative here, I’m just stating what I’ve observed so far in my eleven years as a Christian. In most places the body can wake up and never even notice that its left leg isn’t working, so to speak, simply because there is no “Body” basis at all in operation-there is only a congregation being maintained through the diligent labor of a few faithful ministers.  And there is a vast difference between a church, biblically speaking, and a congregation. One is a Body alive and functioning (for better or for worse I might add) while the other, for the most part, is a thing of rote and ritual.

Anyway, maybe I’ve gone too far in saying all that, but one of the things I learned in the past three years of informal gatherings with other brothers and sisters on this “Body” basis is just how necessary it becomes for there to be an active pursuit and discovery of Christ taking place. What do I mean by that? I’m not entirely sure, myself. I just know that it’s easier said than done. 

For one, when the gathering is small it’s natural that it will be more obvious when brother so-and-so isn’t present, or that sister so-and-so seems to be discouraged and is not sharing like usual. But even more than the size of the gathering, what matters is that the community is established upon this basis of Body life and ministry as opposed to clergy-led church life. This is not to say there shouldn’t be leaders, teachers, pastors, or anything else of the like. That’s not what I mean to say at all. Just that there is a difference, a very marked and definite difference between the two. If you know what I’m talking about then you know. If you don’t, well, I might be tempted to say that I envy you. Because it’s not the easiest thing in the world to do to give birth to, help sustain, or just be a part of a living, moving expression of the church which relies on the actual spiritual life of its members for its own maintanance and upbuilding.

In the kind of church life envisioned in the New Testament, when one member suffers the others suffer with it. When the eye isn’t working right, the rest of the Body has a hard time seeing. And when you wake up in the morning and your left leg isn’t functioning properly, you take notice. 🙂

God speed the day when there are communities of believers all across our land who look only to the Lord when they come together, gathering truly and fully as His church! For in the words of Anthony Norris Groves, “This I doubt not is the mind of God concerning us-we should come together in all simplicity as disciples, not waiting on any pulpit or ministry, but trusting that the Lord would edify us together by ministering as He pleased and saw good from the midst of ourselves.”

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The practical benefit of a meeting where every member supplies

“Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”-Ephesians 4:15,16

Where there is a real priesthood of believers gathering together regularly to minister to the Lord and to each other, each member of the Body is pressed to know the Lord in a real and living way.

If I come to a meeting each week where there is no pastor or “minister” present to do the work of ministry that all the saints together are intended to do (see Ephesians 4), then I will be conscious every day of my responsibility to not come to the meeting “empy-handed” (see Deuteronomy 16:16,17).

If I know that I’m a member of Christ and that His full expression depends on my practical functioning as one of His Body parts then I will be driven to seek after and experience the Lord in such a way that I am filled with His riches, ready to share them with other brothers and sisters when we meet.

This is just one practical benefit of meetings where every member supplies something for the building up of the Body. There are many more. 🙂


Jerusalem…to which the tribes go up

“Three times a year all your males shall appear before the Lord your God at the place that He will choose…” (Deuteronomy 16:16)

“Jerusalem… to which the tribes go up, the tribes of the Lord, as a testimony for Israel…” (Psalm 122:3,4)

In the last post we looked at the Old Testament and saw how God had a specific purpose in mind for getting His people into the land of promise. Within that land there was a specific plot of ground upon which the Lord placed great significance. There He chose to dwell and place His name, and out from that mount He wanted to express Himself to the surrounding nations.

Ancient Israel, as you probably know, was divided up into twelve tribes. When Joshua first brought the people into the land each tribe was allotted a certain portion of the land as their inheritance. Within those borders the people of each tribe dwelt. But three times a year everyone who was able was to come to Jerusalem for the annual feasts. These feasts were to be a time of celebration, fellowship, and offering to God. No man was to appear before the Lord in Zion empty-handed. Rather, each family was directed to set aside the very best portion of the produce of the land they had reaped the previous year, and bring it to Jerusalem to display before the Lord and share with their brothers and sisters in fellowship.

All this was a foreshadowing of the church.

Also, we looked at how Jerusalem was set up as a unifying force in the life of the Jewish people. Three times a year the people came up to the Holy City as one man to appear before the Lord and show forth the testimony of God. That is what Psalm 122 indicates. Their gathering together each year on the Lord’s chosen ground was for the testimony of God! And as they caravaned to Jerusalem they would sing the psalms of ascent, such as Psalm 133: “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers and sisters dwell together in unity!”

Furthermore, we noted that when the kingdom became divided after the death of Solomon, Jeroboam set up altars in the cities of Dan and Bethel for the express purpose of keeping his people from going to Jerusalem for the annual feasts, because he knew that if they did their hearts would be turned back to the Lord and he would lose his kingdom.

So then, Mt. Zion was God’s chosen ground. On it was built a city and a temple for the Lord. Out from that temple and city God willed to make Himself known. And Jerusalem was central in the plan of God, a vital factor toward the unity of the people.

Again, all this was a foreshadowing of Christ and the church. The land flowing with milk and honey represents Christ in His unsearchable riches. God’s goal is to get His people into the land, possessing the land, living off the produce which comes from their labor on the land. The temple represents the church, the fullness of Christ, which issues out of God’s people enjoying and applying the riches of the land toward its building. Then around the temple you have the city, where “thrones for judgment were set, the thrones of the house of David” (Psalm 122:5). The city represents the government and rule of God-His kingdom-which is brought into the earth through the church.

All this is getting a little ahead of the present conversation, though. The issue we are considering is the ground of the church. As the temple had a specific ground on which it was built, so the church has a specific ground on which it is built. It is very practical, yet very wonderful. We asked the question in the last post concerning what that ground is. Is it the house (as in, house church)? Is it a theological system or a denomination? What is it?

Every group of believers who come together do so on a certain ground. For some that ground is a particular doctrine. For others it is a specific style of meeting or form of government. For some it is a specific cause, while for others it is a certain demographic of people they hope to reach. Whatever the specifics, every group meets on a certain ground. The question is, what is the true and unique ground of the church? We know that the temple of old could only be built upon one particular plot of ground. When Cyrus released the children of the captivity to go back and rebuild, nobody entertained the thought of throwing up a new temple in Babylon, for the Lord had been very specific: only in Jerusalem, on Mt. Zion, was His House to be built. Even the proclamation from Cyrus to go and rebuild included the very specific injunction, “let the house be rebuilt on its site.”  In other words, on its ground.

People in our day are starting “churches” left and right. House churches, campus churches, legacy churches, organic churches, you name it. Seems all you have to do is have a vision, get some people together, start teaching from the Bible, perhaps gain a non-profit status, serve the bread and wine, and there you have a church. The only problem is there is most likely another congregation of local believers doing the same thing just down the road, only with their own emphasis on truth that forms their particular center. Denominations and organizational divisions abound. Is this honoring to God? Is it really ok for there to be twenty different “churches” in the same city, all employing their own separate administration, fellowship, and life together apart from other believers just down the road? Rarely do we stop to ask upon what ground we are attempting to build the House of God. But it is a question worth asking, and scripture has not left us without an answer to this all-important inquiry.

So I leave you once more with the question: What is the ground of the church? And when I speak of the church, let it be clear that I’m not talking about the “universal” church. I’m talking about the local, visible, attendable Body of believers-the thing you can touch, taste, and feel. What is the true ground upon which a group of believers can come together and actually, rightfully claim the designation of being a church? Keep in mind that my interest in pursuing this question has nothing to do with finding out who has the most bragging rights-that is, who’s doing it right as opposed to who’s doing it wrong (far from it)-but rather to genuinely search out and discover what the mind and heart of the Lord is on this matter. Because if I read the scripture right, having a true expression of His church is a whole lot more important than most of the other things we Christians spend the bulk of our time and effort on.


Your Christ, my hope

The story surrounding Paul’s initial journey to Thessalonica, the raising up of the church there, and his subsequent letters to this little assembly is well worth a good study. Paul was in town for barely a month before getting tossed to the curb by the local Jewish community, but in that small window of time the Lord gave birth through his ministry to a gathering of believers whose testimony sounded out all across Macedonia, Achaia, and beyond in the days to come.

When Paul wrote his first letter to the Thessalonians some weeks after being “torn away” from them by hostile circumstances, his heart was rejoicing. From the moment he’d been forced to leave the city he’d been burdened for the little children he had left behind. He knew they were facing heavy afflictions, and though he entrusted them to the keeping power of the indwelling Christ, still he worried that the pressure would be too much for them to handle. “Therefore when I could bear it no longer, I chose to remain alone at Athens and sent Timothy, our brother and co-worker in the gospel of Christ, to establish and exhort you in your faith, so that no one would be moved by these afflictions” (1 Thess. 3:1-3). When Timothy returned to Paul at Corinth he brought good news: not only was the church at Thessalonica surviving, she was thriving. And the saints were longing to see Paul again as much as he longed to see them. At this point Paul says something that is simply beautiful:

“For now we live, if you are standing firm in the Lord” (1 Thess. 3:8)

Did you catch that? Here you have the great apostle Paul-a man who has seen visions and revelations of the Lord, has been caught up to the third heaven, has seen the resurrected Christ face to face-saying to a little assembly of new believers barely out of their spiritual training pants that he cannot live without them. That they are his life. That his going on depends on their going on.

It’s a pretty remarkable thought, if you ask me. You and I are accustomed to think of this the other way around, aren’t we? In other words, we think it should be the weak believers in Thessalonica declaring their utter dependence on Paul and his ministry. But here in scripture we see it just the opposite. Here you have the strong apostle, the Lord’s worker, the one who should surely be able to stand on his own if anyone could, declaring his need for the Thessalonian believers to stand firm in the Lord. Isn’t that wonderful? It shows just how much we all need one another in the Body of Christ. Big or small, one talent for five, none of us is going to make it very far on our own. Simply put, we need each other. If Paul needed the two-month old believers in Thessalonica, then you can be sure that you need me and I need you.

Today the church I’m a part of was visited by some saints from a town a couple hours north of us. We sang a song together which is drawn from this very passage in Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians. I submit to you here the words to the song and a small video clip from the meeting, for your mutual enjoyment. 🙂

YOUR CHRIST, MY HOPE

1)I’m thankful that God has placed me

With you to build up His body

Christ in you is the hope for me

You also need Christ lived in me

 

(CHORUS)

I live if you stand firm in the Lord

You live if I stand firm in the Lord

My going on is for you, your going on is for me

Not separate entities, I need you saints desperately

 

2)Oh what a sweet church life have we

Built up in Him His bride to be

In Him steadfast you help me be

Encouraged by Christ whom I see

 

3)Your faith in Christ helps me pursue

My progress depends upon you

As I seek Christ with you in view

My heart full of prayers is for you

 

4)God’s heart longs, desires that we

His lovers seek Him corporately

On each other spent constantly

My life is for you, yours for me

 

5)I want to encourage you all

Without your supply I would fall

Never think that your Christ is small

Christ needs you and so do we all


A word to those who are aspiring to preach

Where I come from you hear Christians talk about being “called to preach.” “So-and-so got called to preach when he was 15; now he is the pastor at First Baptist.” What they’re referring to is that certain sense some people get of being called by God to “the ministry”, which usually entails filling a pulpit somewhere and being the main teacher/speaker in a Christian congregation.

I had a conversation tonight with some brothers and sisters that sparked something in me. I know there are a lot of people out there who feel this calling from God. Perhaps you are one of them. You have encountered the Lord and have a testimony of Him. You’ve been given special insight into the scriptures, therefore you have a burning desire to proclaim the truth you see there. Yet you feel limited and unable to follow your heart in this way because you’re stuck in a setting where you are not recognized as the teaching pastor or elder-only a “layman”-and therefore you are not allowed to do so. So you feel that the only way to find an outlet for your ministry is to go to seminary or start your own congregation down the road. 

Might I suggest another alternative?

When all the saints in town came together as the church in the first century it was for the purpose of mutual upbuilding through the functioning of every member. Body ministry was the order of the day. All the saints took turns speaking the truth of Christ to one another in love, or “prophesying” as Paul would call it. They did this regularly.

Every member who was gifted to teach, taught. Every sister or brother who was burning to proclaim Christ, proclaimed Him. Again, let me point out the fact that they did this regularly.

There was no paid pastor handling all the spoken ministry. No team of elders who took turns doing all the preaching. Rather, all the Body functioned together. And it was so satisfying to the spiritual hunger of the church. You might even say from the inference of scripture that it was like a spiritual potluck-a feast even-in which everyone came both to give and to receive.

“But that was then,” you might say, “and this is now. Now we have priests and pastors, and the only way to find an outlet for my passion or gift is to start my own church down the road.”

All I can say to you is that there are churches in existence all across this land where the entire Body is free to function and minister in the assembly. Believe it or not, there is a real priesthood of believers out there just waiting to be discovered by those whose hunger is great enough to drive them to it. You may have to do a little searching to find it, but the experience is out there, and it is wonderful.  

I dare say that this is what you are seeking. This is where your calling, your gifting, and your passion for the Lord Jesus Christ will find full release and satisfaction.

What is this place of which I speak?

It is the church life!


Have you ever been in a meeting where all the saints prophesy?

Since beginning this blog about a year and a half ago I’ve written 63 posts. WordPress is kind enough to keep a running tab of how many hits each post receives, which ones receive the most traffic from search engines, and various other statistics. You might find it interesting (at least I do) to know that the most frequented post of all the ones I’ve written is the article on What it means to prophesy

If you haven’t read the article, check it out. Leave your thoughts either here or there. I’d love to know what you think about this issue. In the churches Paul established there was no Head but Christ. All the saints were taught and trained to look to Him as the invisibile Leader of the assembly, made visible through the every-member functioning of the Body. They were encouraged to prophesy-to speak the truth of Christ to one another in love. This kind of Body ministry was of primary benefit to the church itself, though it also held the power to convict the heart of any unbeliever who might be present in the assembly, opening His eyes to see the Lord.

The first time I was ever in a meeting like the one spoken of in 1 Corinthians 14 I didn’t even recognize it as a “meeting.” But it was glorious, I knew that much. And sitting through fifteen minutes of it did more for me than a hundred hours’ worth of the best sermons I’d ever heard.

Have you ever been in a meeting like this? Perhaps you could share your own experience. Either way I would love to hear your thoughts on this passage.


Speaking the truth in love

In Paul’s discussion of Body life and the gifts God has given to the church in Ephesians 4 he makes reference to the saints “speaking the truth in love.”

If you’re like me you’ve always held the primary notion that speaking the truth in love is something you do to non-Christian people, people who are deemed to be “lost” and in need of salvation. We are supposed to tell them the hard truth about their being a sinner in need of redemption by “speaking the truth in love.”

However, it occurred to me afresh in my meeting with the church today that the whole context for this action is not the world in general but the Body of Christ. Paul is addressing the saints, and he is telling them to speak the truth in love. To whom? Primarily to one another. The result of this speaking is that we help each other to grow up in all things into Christ our Head.

What is this truth we speak when we’re together? It is the truth of who we are in Christ and who He is to us. The affirmation that we are indeed a chosen race and a royal priesthood, seated with Him-even now-in the heavenlies, above every power that daily seeks to tear us down.

I don’t know about you, but I need that reminder. Not once a week, either, but every single day.