Category Archives: will of God

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.”


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. 🙂


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!     


Embracing the cross

Life is full of sorrow, but the good news of Jesus Christ is that God has redeemed even the seemingly pointless sufferings of our lives and made them servant to His purpose. When we choose to embrace the cross then our suffering, like that of our Lord’s, is transformed into something altogether life-giving and healing.

Last night and today my thoughts have fallen toward the Lord Jesus on the cross. What a horrible injustice, from a human perspective, the cross of Christ was! And yet such horrible injustice, in the hands of God, worked itself out unto the salvation of the world! Not only did the Lord redeem my life and yours through His cross, He redeemed all the suffering of fallen humanity. Now there is redemption for our suffering!

It is inevitable that every person will suffer a great deal in his or her life. Existence in this broken world is full of heartache, loneliness, sorrow, and loss. No one is exempt. For many people this alone becomes the cause of their greatest doubts over even the existence of God. I know I have faced it. What reality could there really be beyond this veil of flesh when you take into account all the seemingly random, pointless sufferings that people go through? It just doesn’t add up.

But here is where the cross becomes such a precious thing in the experience of a believer. When we find the hand of the Lord in our suffering-not causing it, not inflicting it upon us for some “higher purpose” mind you-but simply there present, ready to transform it, or rather us through it, into something beautiful, then we are actually delivered through our pain into a life that death itself cannot touch… the resurrection life of the Lord Himself, which passes through the hands of death and through death destroys death and its power over people. What a glorious mystery!

Our response to suffering will make us like one of the two thieves who hung beside the Lord Jesus on the cross. Read the record and you will see that in the beginning they both despised their lot and reviled the Lord in their suffering. Neither one of them had anything good to say about the Lord or about their predicament. Bitterness and resentment was the order of the day. But the Lord Jesus was so different. He was calm, reposed-suffering in agony, yes-yet submitting Himself, not to its ill effects, but to the hand of His Father. At some point the one thief to his side must have beheld something in the Lord that changed his entire outlook. He saw Christ bearing a cross He Himself did not deserve to bear, and doing it with such outstanding grace. He wondered at such a Person. And in the light of such a One he became convinced of his sin, and repented. Then he embraced the cross, saying “Lord, remember me.”

The thief on the other hand, however, embraced no such change. He did not see the Lord in his suffering, rather he saw only punishment, only one more reason to be angry, bitter and spiteful. Our attitude in suffering, when we refuse to embrace the cross, is like his. Our suffering works nothing for us but pain. And in bitterness we resent our past, the people around us, and above all the Lord. Our only looking toward him is to say, “if you are really God and you really care about me, you would bring an end to this suffering of mine.” And when outward deliverance does not come, resentment consumes us and we become hard and closed off toward any kind of inward transformation.

So to go back to what I said in the beginning, when we embrace the cross then our suffering, like that of our Lord’s, is transformed into something altogether life-giving and healing, both for us and for other people. But it all hinges upon our willingness to accept the cross. God is not the author of sin, and He is not the facilitator of our sufferings in life. The world we live in is broken, time and chance happens to us all, and the rain falls on the just and unjust alike. Some things just happen. It can all seem very pointless and random at times, don’t I know it. But the secret is what is going on inside of us. Which thief will we be? In whose path will we follow? One sees only suffering and pain and nothing more, and his end is resentment, bitterness, and reviling. The other sees the hand of God. He sees the Lord Jesus, and he wonders at such a life to the point of embracing His cross. In the end, though there is still suffering, there is the transformation of that life into something healed, whole, and complete. This is what the Lord wants for each and every one of us. May He somehow, by His grace, make it so.


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?