Category Archives: purpose of God

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.


God’s purpose for man is in the earth

“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)

Notice here that Jesus does not say, “no one gets to heaven except through me,” but “no one comes to the Father except through me.” You might think this is nothing more than a slight semantical difference, but really it represents a huge gap between today’s popular evangelical teaching and the message proclaimed by the apostles in the first century.

I wonder how many of us ever stop to think about what God’s purpose was for humanity before man fell into sin. The way most people talk you’d think God created man just so He could save him. But there was a will, a purpose, and a mission all before sin ever came into the picture, and it was planted firmly in the earth. God did not originally create man with the purpose of getting him to heaven one day after he died.

God’s purpose for man was, and still is, found in the earth!

Then consider the general concept most people have of what is called “eternal life”. Popular opinion says eternal life is an endless existence in heaven.  But where does this idea come from? A better translation of that phrase would be “the life of the ages.” This alone puts a whole new spin on things. Here again we may take the words of the Lord Himself on this subject:

“This is eternal life, that they know You the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” (John 17:3)

So Jesus plainly states that eternal life is knowing God, or in other words being one with God. Nothing about living forever in heaven. To have eternal life is to possess the life of the ages, which possession begins here and now.

All this leads me to believe that we have somewhat overlooked the point of things when it comes to the nature and goal of our salvation. For instance, when the angel spoke to Joseph did he tell him to “call him Jesus, for he will save his people from hell?” No! He said, “call him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins!” (Matthew 1:21) Yet the popular evangelical gospel being preached from most pulpits every Sunday spells out a very simplistic gospel which says little more than this: “God is holy and you are a sinner. Jesus endured God’s wrath in your place so one day when you die you will have Jesus’ perfect righteousness trasmitted to your account and you’ll get into heaven.” And it is precisely this kind of partial gospel that is failing to bring forth the full purpose of God in the earth. It may get people to an altar, it may give them an assurance that one day they’ll go to heaven when they die, but it is not producing a people in the earth who are conscious of God eternal purpose for their being here and who are living towards the realization of that purpose with every ounce of their being.  

What am I trying to say? Simply that salvation is not merely a matter of dodging hell and getting to heaven one day where we’ll have a blissful endless existence on streets of gold. It’s about being delivered from the power of sin unto a possession of the life of the ages, which life we have in union with the Lord who indwells our spirits here and now… that through our fellowship with Him in the church we may make a way in the earth for the bringing in of His kingdom in resurrection!

May the Lord hasten that glorious day!     


The church as a beachhead for the Lord

The goal of the gospel is not to get a bunch of people saved so one day they can escape this world by way of some rapture. The ultimate goal of the gospel is that God, through a people, will re-take this earth for Himself and prepare a way for His return!

The dictionary defines a beachhead as 1)the area that is the first objective of a military force landing on an enemy shore, or 2)a secure initial position that has been gained and can be used for further advancement. This is an incredible picture of God’s purpose for the church.

If you take into account the entire revelation put forth in scripture about what took place before the creation of the world as we know it, you see that when God made mankind and placed him in the earth He did so with the rebellion of Satan in full swing. In relation to this cosmic battle man’s charge was two-fold: Bear God’s image and exercise His authority in the earth. Through man the Lord intended to put down the rebellion of the snake and restore order in the cosmos. To do this He established a beachhead in the earth in the form of a garden and told Adam to keep it.

All this takes on the most significance when you view it in the context of the conflict of the ages. Sometime before the creation of the visible universe the Father loved His Son with an unspeakable love. Out from this love He decreed that a kingdom would come forth over which His Son would be Head. The Son would be pre-eminent in all things. The angel named Lucifer came to detest this proclamation and intention, desiring for himself the place that was said to be God’s alone. Upon this jealousy and hatred for the Son of God the rebellion began.

Earth had been the domain of Lucifer’s rule, under God. After he came out to challenge the pre-eminence of the Son he claimed the earth as his own. Rather than deal with His adversary directly God chose to make mankind, and through union with man (by which means the image of the invisible Godhead would be made visible in the earth) to deal with the situation that way. So the purpose of God for man from the very beginning has had a great deal to do with re-taking the earth for Himself. When Adam forfeited the beachhead God established in Eden Satan became established as the undisputed god of this age. Even the Lord Jesus, when tempted by the devil in the wilderness, did not go so far as to dispute Satan’s claim of being ruler over all the earth, for it was true at the time. Good news was the Lord had come to overthrow that rule.

So we see that the Lord Jesus came into this world in order to deal with sin, make a way to the Father, and re-establish a beachhead on the earth for the fulfillment of God’s eternal purpose! Enter the church!

Oh yes! The church and the church life is of far greater significance than most people ever come to see or appreciate. The church-in particular the local church in every city-is a beachhead for the Lord Jesus Christ, established for His purpose of re-taking the earth! Turn on your radio. Go through the shelves of your local Christian bookstore. Switch on Christian television. Listen to the message being preached from most pulpits Sunday after Sunday across the land. How often do you hear this message and this purpose of the gospel being proclaimed?

Regardless of the spiritual impotence of popular Christianity, this is the ultimate intention and goal of the gospel. Not to get a people “saved” in the common evangelical conception, so one day they can go to heaven rather than hell. That kind of gospel is weak, it is shallow, it is partial, and it is failing in the full purpose of God for this age. The ultimate aim of the good news of the kingdom of God is to call a people out of this world, to give new birth in their spirits and a re-establishment of contact and fellowship with the Triune God indwelling their inmost being, and through the gathering together of that people in every city on this planet to raise a banner to the supremacy and centrality of the Lord Jesus Christ as Head over all things!  Praise the Lord!

You and I must ask ourselves: Is there such a beachhead established in my city? Is there this testimony of the Lord Jesus Christ as pre-eminent in all things? Is there a true expression of His church-local, organic, and dwelling as one with all believers-through whom the Lord is gaining full expression? This is the ultimate issue of the universe and of our very existence. To be found in this purpose is our grand calling. Until you’ve glimpsed this vision in your spirit you will never long for it in life. Until you’ve touched it in practical experience you will never abandon your whole life toward its fulfillment. But the Lord is willing! Let us pray together for an overwhelming revelation of the greatness of our Christ and the vastness of God’s purpose concerning Him. Then we will begin to have clarity on how our lives are to count toward its living realization.

Amen!


Three views on the church

Look at church history and you will see many repeated patterns. For instance, in every generation there are differing opinions regarding the church. First you have those who think the prevailing institutional church of their day is where it’s at. These folks are either unconcerned about the disparaging difference in form and appearance between the many churches of Christendom today and the churches of the first century, or they believe that what exists by and large nowadays represents the natural development an infant church to the more mature thing that exists in Christianity today. These are our more traditionally-minded brethren. 

In the next line you have the reformers. They sense the need for change-even radical change perhaps-but their way of going about it is by changing the structure from within. Rather than “bucking the system,” these brothers and sisters advocate using the system to achieve God’s end, though they themselves admit that the system itself is contrary to His design. Within this camp there are two kinds of reformers, the passive and agressive. Your passive reformer advocates for peace over any radical upheaval. He is willing to wait many long years if necessary to see gradual transformation take place. The aggressive reformer, on the other hand, says things need to change and they need to change now. For a good example of the difference between these two types see Erasmus and Luther during the time of the Reformation.   

Then go one more aisle over and you have the third bunch. Crazy lot, these people. Known throughout church history as “separatists” or “dissenters”, these brothers and sisters claim that in order for God’s end to really be reached we must go outside the camp entirely unto something wholly different. No point in trying to change the establishment, they say, but rather to start anew. Even among this group you might say there is somewhat of a distinction between the passive and aggressive. The passive brother is hesitant to join himself to any kind of visible expression of the church, perhaps for fear that it might become the same thing he once separated from in order to be one with all fellow believers (which is a healthy fear, I might add). The other brother says that though the risk may indeed be great, the fulfillment of God’s eternal purpose demands a visible testimony. Therefore we must dare to come together as His Body-apart from all institutionalism and traditionalism-and gather regularly as a true expression of Christ’s church, as true an expression as is humanly possible at least.

So, what do you think? Is this a fair assessment of church history? Where do you fall in this lot? What are your reasons for feeling the way you do about the church and how she is to reach God’s end?


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!


Where do you go to church? (re-post)

For the next installment of this series on the ground of the church I’d like to refer back to my post from March 24 of last year entitled Where do you go to church? Follow the link if you’d like to see the original comments, otherwise here’s a re-post of the entire article…

Can you imagine what it would be like if all the saints in your town gathered as one body, in love and in freedom? What a testimony that would be to the reality of Jesus Christ!

In the first century a church was identified only by its location. In other words, the biblical ground of the church is locality, and the only biblical grounds for separation between one church and another is location. It’s all a matter of geography, you see. In the New Testament you never see a church with a name. You only see “the church at such-and-such a place.” The issue is one of locality.

Alas, however, the setup of most “churches” today denies this basic fact of oneness and locality. The church building is the center of fellowship, where all (or most) of the action takes place, and people are drawn to come to it from many surrounding localities. Sadly, the people who gather in this manner are not provided much of a life together outside of the Sunday services, simply by virtue of the fact that they do not live near one another. The believers are scattered, much like the Jewish people were under Babylonian captivity long ago. Thus the majority of true church life-which is more than a weekly meeting but a day-to-day living together as the body of Christ-is lost.

Then consider this: Most “churches” today have names that reflect either a man, a doctrine, or a particular ideology, whether drawn from scripture or not. This is a contradiction of the true nature of the church, which has its life in Christ and gathers unto His name alone. This kind of gathering around a particular doctrine or teaching, or a gifted individual who handles all the ministry, is a major hindrance to any hope we might have of a practical unity finding expression among the Lord’s people.

If you were to ask me at different points in my life where I went to church I might have answered, “First Baptist,” “God’s Tabernacle,” or something similar. But if you were to ask God what church I am a member of, He would simply say, “the church in Portsmouth.”

It’s funny if you think about it. The very question most people spend so much time fretting over-“Where should I go to church?”-has already been answered for them by God. If you are a believer, if you have the life of God inside of you, then you are a part of the church in the town where you live. Period. If only all God’s people would see this precious truth and begin to live and gather according to it!

I am already a member of a local church, the church at Portsmouth. I don’t need to sign up or enroll in any membership class, or join a particular organization. I became a member by spiritual birth. The very moment I was born again in Jesus Christ I was also born into the family of God. The family of God worldwide, yes, but more specifically, the family of God in my own town. Membership in the local church comes by spiritual birth!

Even still, it’s not enough to confess this truth in theory and never see it come to any practical expression. The fulfillment of God’s purpose demands a practical expression of the church; therefore, we have to face this issue practically. If God has given us light concerning the local character of His church and the oneness of His body then we must follow through with it, as impossible and impractical as it may seem. This is how believers gathered in the first century. I know times have changed and that our situation today is drastically different than theirs was then, but even so, God’s will is just the same. Could it ever really be this way again, if only on a small scale? How I wish! But as the old song goes, “though none go with me, still I will follow.” This then is what we must work towards and live for: A true expression of the body of Christ!

Your comments and thoughts are more than welcome on this post, as I realize most people have probably never looked at things in this way before. I’m interested to know what you think.