Category Archives: community

Living a church life that involves ALL God’s people

The brothers and sisters I meet with on a regular basis are few in number. It’s been that way all three years we’ve been together. And while I am thoroughly convinced that it is not our number but simply what we are that makes for the Lord’s testimony, we often long for more fellowship with other believers. So in the past six months or so, as the light of the local church being the fellowship of all God’s people in a given place has dawned upon me, I’ve been moved to more actively seek out fellowship with other believers beyond the “walls” of our particular circle.

Thus far, the results of this endeavor have been both rewarding and frustrating. While we have been able to connect with many brothers and sisters who have different backgrounds and emphases of truth, at the same time it’s been difficult to gain any kind of reciprocation to our reaching out. Whether they are too busy, too cautious or simply do not see the importance of it, many saints don’t seem to have much desire to really go beyond their own congregation to have fellowhsip with other local believers. It’s heartbreaking, really. 

Even still, we press on. If the church is really one, and if the practical expression of that oneness is the local church in the city, made up of all believers who reside in a given locality, then we are obligated to go beyond our little circle to embrace fellowship with all believers. Even as we seek to be true to the truth the Lord has committed to us and to go forward with the light He has granted, we must walk in step with this realization that the local church is not just my little organic group. The local church encompasses all the saints in my city who call upon the name of the Lord, and even if they will not live like it I must. To do any less than this is to be a sect and not a church. To whatever degree possible, even as I seek to move forward with the few brothers and sisters I share life with on a day to day basis, I still have to find some way to experience and display a practical unity with all the believers in my town. Anything short of this will never come close to fulfilling God’s purpose.

So then, we must be true to what we see. We must go forward upon the ground of oneness, meeting simply as fellow members of the church in our city, expressing the Lord Jesus in truth and fullness. But we must also put into practice a local church life that extends beyond our own borders, for though we are taking our stand according to the way we believe God views the situation, the fact remains that we are not the only peeps in town who are “of Christ”. Therefore our fellowhsip must never be confined to any particular group or party. It takes “all the saints” to comprehend the awesome depths of the love of God, and only together will we ever come to know Him in His fullness.


Concluding thoughts on the ground of the church

So for a few posts now we have looked at the ground of the church. I hope it’s been of some benefit to you. We’ve seen how the ground of the church is tied to the practical display of our unity in Christ. I have yet to find a truly diverse group of believers who share a common life in Christ and regularly come together who do not gather upon this ground. Without the restriction laid upon us by this revelation of the local church, it is only natural that we will gravitate toward those believers who share our own personal tastes, doctrines, and dispositions. 

In Corinth, for instance, where the situation was so explosive it might have resulted in numerous congregations spread throughout the city-some based upon a certain man’s ministry, some based upon the exercise of spiritual gifts, and so forth-what did Paul do to help remedy the saints’ outlook? He pointed them to Christ and the cross, and gave them a wonderful presentation of the great diversity of the Body of the Lord. Simply because we are different, or because we emphasize different aspects of the divine revelation, is no reason to separate. We still must come together as the church in our city. Otherwise the testimony of the Lord will be lost. The walls will be thrown down, the holy stones scattered, the vessels of the Lord all carried away to Babylon, and in the absence of the House of God we will all go to building synagogues.

To conclude this series, then, I’d like to refer back again to another post I wrote a year or so ago entitled The local church: A history of change. Be sure to take a look at it before you go. Share some thoughts of your own while you’re at it. If you’re one of those who senses the Lord’s call to rebuild, let me say that the ground is all-important. The temple can only be built on that spot which the Lord has chosen to give a true expression of Himself. And while all Christians will respond to Paul’s inquiry-“Is Christ divided?”-with an emphatic “no”, not all seem to understand how that translates practically.

Oh Lord Jesus, do a work in our day and age that is beyond all that we are able to ask or think! Stir our spirits and give us a heart like David, who refused to lie down on his own bed until he had secured a dwelling place for You to rest Yourself. Show us Your plan and Your purpose to re-take this earth for Yourself, and how wonderfully bound up with that plan is the coming together of brothers and sisters for fellowship! Break down any wall that divides us and make us one with each other as You, Lord, are one with your Father. May it be practical and may it be real, that the world may believe and have life through Your name!


Seeing the ground of the church in Revelation 2-3

Where in the New Testament do you see a Christian leaving the church he is part of to go and join another? Or where do you see a brother getting fed up with the shallow teaching he receives in the assembly and going off to “start” his own church just down the road?

Even in the opening chapters of the book of Revelation, where the Lord gives a message to each of the seven churches, when do you ever see the Lord advising someone to leave his church and find a better one?

The principle of one city, one church is consistent throughout the opening chapters of Revelation. Here again we see nothing other than “the church… at such-and-such a place.” The Lord is speaking to all His followers who live in each town. And man, some of these churches had problems! The church at Ephesus had left her first love for the Lord; the church in Pergamum had some who held the “teaching of Balaam,” and the “teaching of the Nicolaitans”, leading God’s people astray from Christ; the church in Thyatira was tolerating the presence of false teachers who encouraged people toward a lifestyle of sexual immorality; the church in Sardis had digressed into a form of godliness which denied the real power and life of God-their life was largely one of outward formality lacking any true inward life; and the church in Laodicea was full of spiritual pride and complacency!

Strikingly absent in any of these cases, however, is the Lord telling anyone they should leave their church and find a better one. Nor does he say, “You who are overcomers, separate yourselves from such wicked doctrines and practices, and form a separate assembly so you can get it right!”

You see, in the first century, if you were a follower of the Lord Jesus and you lived in Thessalonica, you were part of the church in Thessalonica. You lived and gathered and fellowshipped with the other believers in town on a regular basis. To be “in Christ” and “in the church” were practically one and the same thing. The same goes for any other town. What about bigger cities with more people, you might ask? Well, if you were a believer in Jerusalem, for instance, where there was a larger number of disciples, perhaps you wouldn’t see all the saints regularly, or perhaps you wouldn’t know them all very well, simply by virtue of the fact that there were so many (and obviously there would be many different meeting places of the church throughout the city, mostly in the believers’ homes). But still the church was uniquely one. There were large gatherings for all to hear the apostles speak in Solomon’s Porch, and there was a wonderful inter-mingling between the saints for the breaking of bread and prayers in their varioius houses. The home gatherings were not along the lines of most “house churches” today, however (many of which are not built on the ground of the church and operate separately from other local believers). Rather, there was a consciousness of unity even though there were separate meeting places. And they were all just “the church” in their city. Nothing more, nothing less.

At least, this is the ideal which found expression for a while. 🙂

The point is, nowhere in the first century among any of the churches, whether large or small, do you find any example of Christians leaving one church to “go to” another. The whole thought is simply foreign to the New Testament. What a beautiful standard we have left to us by our early brothers and sisters!

No, things were not perfect. The more I study the New Testament the less I romanticize the experience of first century believers. There were parties, there were developing factions, and there were problems galore. Nowhere did it take long for the human element to creep in and spoil the show. But, overall, the expression of the church which we see in the pages of scripture is one of aspiring toward this ideal of the one Body of Christ in undivided local expression. The House of God built firmly on the ground of locality, with all believers living and meeting as one new man. 

Could it ever be that way again, here in Christian America? I won’t dare to venture an answer to that question, though it seems unlikely to me. But well within the range of possibility, and even proven experience, is for a representative group of believers-like those Jews whose spirits were stirred by the proclamation of Cyrus to return to Jerusalem-to go back, reclaim the original ground, sift through the rubble until they find the foundation of their faith, and begin the task of rebuilding the House of God on its proper ground, which is the local church.

I realize that with all this talk about the church I’m running the risk of gross misunderstanding. I’m also well aware of how this stuff can be taken wrongly, misconstrued, or twisted. I’m not trying to present anything legalistic here. I’m not saying you should get a map, mark out the city lines, then set up some airtight organizational entity based upon geography. All I’m trying to do is present the Lord’s own view, as best as it can be discerned from the example of scripture, to which those who have the hunger may repair. This is such a wonderful, liberating thing. The reality of God’s people all being one in Christ! As much as He has made us one with Himself He’s also made us one with each other! That we can all hold to our personal convictions over things, allowing each other the same grace to differ over non-essential items of belief and practice, and yet still come together as brothers and sisters enjoying the same salvation and the same rich Lord! 

In the first century, believers gathered upon this ground. Paul poured out his life to preserve this unity of the Spirit. The fact that we see no example in scripture of a Christian being advised to leave one church for another for whatever reason, but rather to hold the ground and minister Christ as an overcomer, is setting forth a very high standard for our own conduct. It may be possible to leave a denomination, a sect, or a “group” (and at certain points commendable), but it is not possible to leave the local church, not if you have really seen what the church is. Find some saints who are captured by this vision and gather upon this ground and you’ll have found a group of people who are in this thing together for the long haul. Such a testimony is rare, very rare, in our day, yet I say the world we’re living in is in dire need of it!


God’s eternal purpose is found in the church life

At the end of the age, what is it God is after? What, ultimately, is His goal?

When there are no more lost souls to save, no injustice remaining that has not been made right, and no enemy left to subdue, what will remain of the purpose of God?

And does it matter to you now, even while all those other things are still in play?

Should it?

For the past three years I have had the privilege of living and gathering with a small company of believers for whom life in Christ is more than a private, individual affair. We have gone through many seasons, had our fair share of highs and lows, and learned that Christ is found in the mundane aspects of life as well as the spectacular. Being built together in this way is worth its weight in gold, if you ask me. I so appreciate the church life, and I’ve come to see that this is the very heartbeat of God. The church life is the very center of His purpose and the end of all His activities. What God is ultimately seeking to obtain is a people who live in fellowship together with Himself.

Depending on your view of the Christian life, and your definition of fellowship, that may not sound like much to you. But to me it is the highest thing in the universe.

One day there will remain no more souls to save, therefore evangelism will no longer be necessary. And there will be no more injustice-the creation will be set free. The enemy of God’s purpose will eventually be cast down to rise no more, as well. In that day what will there be left for us to do? What mission will remain for the House, the Body, the Bride, the Family of the Lord?

Fellowship! Unceasing, unbroken, unspoiled, ever-enlarging, creative, wonderful fellowship.

This fellowship, when put on display in the earth today, takes the shape of a little thing we like to call the church life. A people living together in fellowship with the Lord. And it is marvelous.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for evangelism, reaching people with the gospel. I feel my own heart stirred to do it more and more. And justice is no doubt in the heart of God, so let us be busy doing His work, setting this planet-including every man, woman, and child in it-free. And there is a warfare to be engaged in by the church, don’t I know it. I’m all for an active participation in these things. But in the midst of it all, can’t we be about the fulfillment of His eternal purpose as well?

This is what the church life is all about. You have to experience it from the inside to know what I’m talking about. Lucky thing the doors are thrown open wide for whosoever will to enter in!

I’ll end my musings with the words to this song:

“How oft believers through the years have sought the will of Jesus

And would have offered everything to walk as Him it pleases

If you should seek the will of God don’t waste another minute

The church life is His glorious will, and you too must get in it!

 

“‘What is the will of God for me?’ How oft you’ve asked this question

It is the church life, corporately, where God finds His expression

Don’t watch the church life from afar, or erringly construe it

Come gaze upon it from within-you’ll give your whole life to it.

 

“The church life here is realized, tis all the Lord intended

And in this rich experience all further seeking’s ended

The church life is His glorious will-now for yourself begin it

The surest way to know His will is simply to get in it.

 

“So let us give our all for this, and hold ourselves not dearly

The church life is the will of God, let’s take our standing clearly

Oh, we have found the will of God, Christ died and rose to win it

The church life is His glorious will, and praise the Lord, we’re in it!”


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.


Christ the Key Ingredient

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!”


What About the House Church?

In the last post I said that scripture speaks of only one kind of church, the church in the city. Brother Johnny over at Phoenix Rising, however, was kind enough to point out that this isn’t entirely accurate. On more than one occasion, in fact, Paul also spoke of the church in so-and-so’s house (Romans 16:5, Colossians 4:15). This means that house churches are warranted by scripture, too, right? All I can say to this is that I believe the home meetings spoken of in the New Testament were fundamentally different in nature from a lot of what we see in the “house church movement” of today. Allow me to explain.

First of all, I am a fan of “house church” in the sense that there is no better or more natural place for believers to meet than in their own homes. Not only was this the tendency of the early Christians, but there is nothing better suited to the “family” aspect of the church than gatherings that take place in some brother’s living room rather than a large gothic building with hard back pews all lined up in a row facing the front.

However, there is no reason for any of us to be under the delusion that meeting in a home rather than a “church” building will form the panacea for all our spiritual ills. In fact, very much of what you encounter out there in the world of “house church”, “simple church”, and even “organic church” (so-called) seems to be nothing more than a scaled down version of the same old thing. And for this very reason I am not a fan of house church, because I’m very definitely not a fan of the same old thing. 🙂

Most of that is another story, though. For the moment, the thing that relates to this matter of church unity is the simple yet regrettable fact that most of what goes by the name of “house church” in our day is at its core no different in nature than the denominational and organizational divisions that characterize the institutional church from which they have departed. While there may not be all of the same titles, offices, and organizational labels, the heart of the matter remains the same. Unless they are meeting on the ground of the one Body locally expressed, the field is still left wide open for divisions on the basis of doctrine, practice, or personal opinion of any kind. We who have gone “outside the camp” of institutional Christianity can talk all we want about “unity in diversity” and believers coming together in Christ, but until we become bound to one another with a revelation of God’s design for the local church, we will still naturally gravitate toward and group together only with those “like-minded” believers who possess a “vision” that is similar to our own. And like it or not, this is still sectarianism.

Suffice it to say that the house churches spoken of in scripture had no such consciousness of being a sect. That is, they did not view themselves as their own unique “body,” separate in life and administration from the rest of the church in their town. That, I believe, is the fundamental difference between house churches in the first century and (most) house churches today. Aside from this, I’m also of the persuasion that in such places as Colossae or Laodicea it’s very likely that the church in so-and-so’s home may have represented the totality of the church in that town, as most churches in the first century were “no doubt small, often no more than a handful of poor people” (historian Philip Schaff). In other words, the church in the home was often equal to the church in the city.

Make sense?