Category Archives: saints

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.


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.

“To the church in Corinth”

“To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours.” (1 Corinthians 1:2)

The first nine words of this verse constitute a pattern that is consistent all throughout the New Testament writings: “The church… at such-and-such a place.” There is only one church-one universal Body of Christ made up of all those everywhere who call upon the name of the Lord Jesus Christ-that is expressed locally according to the city in which the believers reside.

Tonight I was with a brother. He told a story about how an old friend of his whom he recently reconnected with asked him what church he is a part of. He responded, “the church in Portsmouth.” His friend replied, “yeah, but what is the name of the church?”  Apparently he couldn’t conceive of a gathering of believers which doesn’t have a name. It’s funny how in today’s Christianity you can’t refer simply to the church in the city without it sounding strange to the ears of most people, yet at the same time you can’t talk about the churches in scripture without doing so! Nowhere in the New Testament do you see anything other than the church in the city. Consistently, all you find is the one Body of Christ, locally expressed.

(The possible exception to this rule is the church in the home. For my thoughts on that check here.)

But at the time Paul wrote this greeting to the church in Corinth, things were coming apart. Divisions were springing up. Other workers had visited the city since Paul’s departure, and some of the saints were factioning off around their favorite apostle. “I follow Paul,” some would say, while others proclaimed their loyalty to Peter or Apollos. To top it all off there were some who boldly announced, as if to shun all the rest, “we follow Christ alone!” 

What was happening here? The church of God at Corinth was in danger of being practically divided. The unity of the Spirit between those who are in Christ will never be disannulled, for it is based not on what we do but what He has done, but in the purpose of God that oneness is to be given practical expression, and that expression can indeed be forfeited. Here in Corinth was one of the first cases where the unity of the church was teetering on the brink of total collapse.

Had Paul not stepped in with this letter, and the supply of the Spirit to bring the saints’ focus back onto Christ and His cross, what would’ve been the result in Corinth? 21st century American Christianity, that’s what! Had you strolled through the city streets you would’ve found a “church” built around Peter’s ministry at the corner of 1st and main, one built upon the ground of Apollos just down the road, a “Pauline” church three blocks over, and worst of all, a little house group who claimed fellowship only with those who were anti-sectarian! God help us!

Was the situation really that perilous, or am I making all this up? Well, it would appear Paul at least was up-in-arms over the whole thing. Any honest believer today will read the first chapter of 1 Corinthians and agree that the situation was not right and something needed to be done, but when you try to apply that same principle to the divided state of present-day Christianity, suddenly it becomes ok!

But there is a convenient cover for this mentality, and it stems from the congregational view of the church. We take 1 Corinthians and apply it only to the specific group of Christians that we meet with. As long as there is unity in our group we think things are ok and according to God’s will. Never mind the fact that other believers are meeting separately just down the road. Yet we forget that 1 Corinthians was written to the saints who made up the entire city. This is because the ground of the church is the city. Scripture never speaks of the church in a county, the church in a region, the church in a nation, or the church on a particular street. The boundary is never bigger or smaller than the city.

Apply that to Corinth, and you see that God’s people were about to forsake the unity of the one Body of Christ-made visible through the local assembly-and divide themselves up into rival sects that were based upon different men’s ministries. No wonder Paul was about to go through the roof.

Having said all this, what are your thoughts? In the first two posts on this subject we dealt with Old Testament foreshadowing regarding the ground of the church. Here we have looked at a practical example from New Testament times. View them together and tell me what you think. Don’t toss it all out the window just because it seems too idealistic. I hope to continue approaching this from different angles in the days to come in order to present a precise and thorough view of the matter, so keep checking back or take a minute to subscribe. In the meantime, feel free to share some feedback. 

Observations from Genesis

Recently while reading Genesis I noticed that it was always the second born who got the blessing. This was contrary to the normal custom of the firstborn receiving the blessing, but it is consistent throughout the entire book. Cain and Abel… God is pleased with the sacrifice of Abel. Ishmael and Isaac… God says to cast out the bondwoman and her son because “in Isaac your seed will be called.” Esau and Jacob… the elder shall serve the younger. And then there was Joseph’s sons. Jacob intentionally placed his hand on the younger son in order to give him the blessing. Joseph tried to correct him but Jacob simply said, “yes, I know which one is which.” All this goes to show that God’s man is not Adam #1 but Adam #2. Not the first Adam but the last Adam, the Lord Jesus Christ, is the One upon whom the favor and blessing of God rests. He is the One in whom the Father is well pleased. Where the first Adam failed the last Adam succeeded, and upon Him and all who are in Him is the blessing of life. For those who are outside of Christ, it means that “you must be born again” in order to see the kingdom of God. We were born once in Adam; until we die to that man and are born anew in Christ we have no capacity to receive anything from God.

I’ve also been noticing how important it was to God to get His people into Canaan. The land apparently has tremendous meaning. It was not enough that God had a people, and it was not enough that they were holy and set apart. His ultimate goal for them was to possess the land He’d promised them. When they possessed the land He became not only the God of heaven but the God of heaven and earth. Of course the real significance of this is spiritual and not earthly.

In relation to this, when Moses came to Pharaoh and said, “Let my people go,” Pharaoh responded in three ways, each of which represents some way in which the enemy will try to hold God’s people back from going on with the Lord. First he said, “Don’t go at all.” Second he said, “Don’t go very far.” And third he said, “Don’t take everyone with you.” Don’t go at all-he attempts to blind the eyes of men from seeing Christ that they might experience salvation. Don’t go very far-he attempts to keep the saints from going on with the Lord to full growth. Don’t take everyone with you-he attempts to quench the expression of life and light through the church so that others will not be drawn in as well.

And it is all to keep the people out of the land. Brothers and sisters, that land is Christ. Christ is the land! And He has been given to us to possess. The abundance of the land speaks of His unsearchable riches. As we possess the land we will show forth those riches. We will be the church! And God will have His testimony. So we must do three things: We must go, we must go on, and we must take everyone with us!

These are just some recent observations. Hope you find them helpful.

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!

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.

Reporting on the church life

Upon his visit to a settlement of Christians known as the United Brethren in 1571, a Polish noble said the following:

“O immortal God, what joy was then kindled in my heart! Verily it seemed to me, when I observed and inquired about everything, that I was in the church of Ephesus or Thessalonica, or some other apostolic church; here I saw with my own eyes and heard with my own ears such things as we read in apostolic letters…”

Praise the Lord, I know just how this brother felt, because this past weekend I was privileged to be part of a two-day conference of Christians and churches from throughout the greater Ohio area where I came away with precisely the same sentiment. Probably four or five hundred saints all gathered together under the same roof, many meeting for the first time, others coming together like family who only get to see each other once or twice a year, and all remarkably full of love and passion for the Lord Jesus Christ. From the singing to the fellowship to the ministry of the Word, never have I witnessed such a testimony of God’s eternal purpose being worked out in the earth among men.

We originally made contact with these saints (albeit indirectly) through the occasional fellowship we have with the church in a city about two hours north of us. More recently we’ve been blessed to receive a couple visits from a certain brother from among them who functions as a “worker,” visiting and strengthening the Lord’s testimony in various places.

The ministry was spiritually rich and yet intensely practical at the same time. Revelation of Christ and God’s economy abounded. The theme of the conference was “Joyfulness: the highest state of a healthy Christian”, and one of the highlights from the spoken ministry was how clearly the brother brought out the beauty of the relationship between Father and Son as they shared in the work of creation. This can be seen in Proverbs 8 where the writer speaks of the Wisdom of God (which is Christ) who was with God “before the beginning of the earth” (v.23) and stood “beside Him” as His “master workman” (v.30) as the Father brought forth all things in both the visible and invisible creation through His Son (Colossians 1:16). There the Son was daily His Father’s delight, rejoicing constantly before Him, and even “delighting in the sons of man” when together they decided to share their creation with humanity for the working out of God’s eternal plan.

Each of us who attended the conference was given hospitality in the homes of various saints. I stayed with a precious Hispanic couple by the name of Jose and Mercedes. Besides myself they also gave room and board to a Chinese couple and another brother named David, both from Ann Arbor, Michigan. What a blessing it was to sit around the breakfast table and realize that in this small company of six people there was represented three separate nationalities, all united as one new man in Jesus Christ! It was like a microcosm of the conference itself, which was full of cultural variety. This alone is an amazing testimony, in my opinion.

Also, the more I interacted with individuals throughout the weekend the more it became evident to me that there was a deep sense of spiritual reality among all the members of the Body. Like Jeremiah said, “they all knew the Lord, from the least of them to the greatest.” Here I was seeing a real priesthood of believers. Almost at once I realized that what I was touching was well beyond the range of my own personal experience. Here among these people I saw a history with Christ and a laboring for the Lord’s purpose that extended far past anything I’ve attained in my little pursuit. It was like wading into the deep end of a pool and suddenly losing your footing. These were waters to swim in!

Well, I could go on and on, but suffice it to say that as a result of the time we spent with these Christians I see more clearly than ever the will and intent of God. He is after something in this age, and He has not only a goal but a way of achieving that goal as well. My heart is on fire for His purpose, and my face is set squarely in the direction of that goal. I pray everyone reading this post will be able to join me in saying, in echo of what the brother shared at this conference: Yes, we are human and we are weak. There are many difficulties we face and many obstacles of life and the enemy standing in our way. But make no mistake about it, our lives will be poured out as a drink offering for the one thing God is after. “We are for Christ! We are for the church life!”

In closing I recall the following quote from a man named John W. Kennedy, who labored among indigenous local churches in India in his own day and wrote a little book on church history called Torch of the Testimony, wherein he traced the “2000 year history of those Christians and churches which have stood outside both the Catholic and Protestant traditions”, in pursuit of Christ and God’s eternal purpose. This weekend I was privileged to break bread with a number of such churches of our own generation, and have returned home fired with a passion to see the same testimony established in my little neck of the woods. So again I say, praise the Lord!

“Churches as they were in the times of the apostles have never ceased to exist… wherever God works through the power of His unchangeable Word, people made partakers of the divine nature, anxious to obey the Word which has shed a flood of light into their souls, have gathered together and are gathering together as the disciples did in Acts.”