About Jesus  -  Steve Sweetman

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Where Does Church Go From Here
'the church of the future' 

 

Contents

 

1 - The Counter Culture Church

2 - My Criticism Of Church

3 - The First Step From Here

4 - The Second Step From Here

5 - The Third Step From Here

6 - The Living Body Of Christ

 

 

1 - The Counter Culture Church

 

What I write in the following pages concerns that which is traditionally and commonly called church in our western world.  I use the term "that which is called church" to represent church in general terms.  That would include all groups who consider themselves to be church, including conservative Bible based groups to liberal groups who deny the deity of Christ.  I acknowledge that within this generality there are some good Bible based groups and some very fine godly believers.  I make this qualification because I know some will think I'm unreasonably critical.  I will speak to the reason for my criticism later on.  You can clobber me then if my explanation doesn't sit well with you.    

 

It's my opinion that over the centuries the word "church" has consistently been robbed of its Biblical meaning.  If you mention church to a non-church person, he'll think of the building down the street, as do many Christians.     

 

Our present day English word "church" has gone through quite an evolution in spelling over the centuries.  It finds its roots in the Old English word "cirice" that dates back prior to the fourth century A D.  The word "cirice" evolved from the Greek word "kuriakon", meaning "house of the Lord".  Even way back then "cirice" was associated with a brick and mortar building.      

 

Along with changes in spelling, the meaning of church has gone through an evolutionary process.  Each evolutionary step is a departure from what Jesus meant church to be when He prophetically proclaimed, "I will build my church" in Matthew 16:18.     

 

The Greek word translated into our English phrase "I will build" in Matthew 16:18 is "oikodomeo".  "Oikodomeo" is made up of "oikos", meaning "a house", and, "domeo" meaning "to build".  "Oikodomeo" literally means "to build a house".  Even though Jesus wasn't thinking in terms of building a brick and mortar house for Himself, we've taken His words literally.  Building houses for God has consumed much of our time, energy, and finances, over the centuries.  Many of these historic structures are considered marvelous works of art, and that they are.  Ironically, they are viewed by many as a testimony to the ingenuity of man.     

 

The phrase "I will build", or, "oikodomeo", is a future active indicative Greek verb.  Future means that the building process will take place sometime after Jesus spoke these words.  Active means that it is Jesus Himself who is actively doing the building.  Indicative means that this building project will be a guaranteed certainty. 

 

As I study church history, it's clear to me that the church Jesus intends to build has been hijacked.  In our fallen wisdom we as Christians have decided to take matters into our own hands to mold church as we see fit.  Although few realize it, the Roman Emperor Constantine in the fourth century A D, along with a subsequent paganized Catholicism, have been the architects of what we presently know as church.  Lest we Protestants become proud in our protest against Catholicism, the Protestant Reformation of the 1500's did little to nothing to remove this unbiblical and humanistic architectural design from church that exists to this day.    

 

This leads me to the other important word in Mathew 16:18 and that's the word "church".  I hope you realize that Jesus never spoke our English word church.   Matthew recorded Jesus' words in what is called Koine Greek.  The Greek word translated into English as "church" is "ekklesia".  "Ekklesia" is made up of "ek", meaning "out of", and, "kaleo", meaning "to call".  "Ekklesia" is a group of people who have been called out of the general population for a specific purpose.  "Ekklesia" wasn't a religious word as our word "church" is today.  However, Jesus did put a religious spin on it when He said "I will build my ekklesia".  In Matthew 16:18 Jesus predicted that at some future point in history He Himself would call people out of the world and unto Himself to be His representatives to the nations of the world.  Jesus didn't give His ekklesia a name.  He kept it nameless, and I believe for good reason.  Of course, in our fallen wisdom we've chosen to divide Jesus' ekklesia up into a million named, separate, and distinct, parts.       

 

Matthew recorded Jesus' words in Greek, but it's highly unlikely that Jesus said "I will build my church" in Greek.  He probably spoke these words in Aramaic, the commonly spoken language of first century Jews.  He would have spoken the Aramaic word "synagoge", not the Greek word "ekklesia".  "Synagoge" means a gathering of people, and in first century Judaism meant a gathering of Jewish people for worship.  The word "synagogue", a building for Jewish worship, comes from the Aramaic word "synagoge".  It seems that no matter the culture, human nature tends to turn the assembly of God's people into a place where God's people assemble, as seen in the word "synagogue".   

 

Any Jew hearing Jesus saying "I will build my synagoge" would naturally associate His words with their religious assemblies.  Many thought He was going to form a new Jewish sect.  That wasn't His intent.  If the Jews would have received Him as their Messiah, they would have been His "synagoge", "ekklesia", or, "church", but they didn't.  They preferred their paganized Judaism instead.  So Jesus' "synagoge" would be an assembly of people that He'd call from all ethnicities, including Jews.  If you think about it, in one real sense of the word, "I will build my church" was a counter-cultural response to a paganized Jewish religious establishment.        

 

No matter what word you use, "ekklesia", "synagoge", or "church", the point of Matthew 16:18 is simple.  Jesus will call people to Himself and place them into His nameless counter-cultural assembly to be His representative to the nations of the world.  If you think the term "counter-culture" sounds too sixtyish or too hippie like; it's not.  True followers of Jesus have always, and always will, buck the established systems of men, as Jesus Himself did.     

 

The last mention of church found in the Bible is seen in Revelation 3: 14 - 22.  It's the church at Laodicea that many Bible teachers understand to represent the final expression of church that exists just prior to the seven years of tribulation that ends this age.  This church is arrogant, wealthy, and self sufficient.  I suggest that it's the ultimate expression of a man made church that Constantine and others had aspired to over the centuries. 

 

Jesus hasn't anything good to say about this expression of church.  He says that it's pathetically pitiful.  I'm sure this church does a lot of good.  It has the finances to support a myriad of humanitarian causes, but it lacks one important thing, and that's Jesus. 

 

We see Jesus standing outside of this church knocking on its door.  It's not that Jesus wants into the church because He's about to spit it out of His mouth. (Revelation 3:16) 

If you read Revelation 3:20 carefully you'll note that Jesus is calling on individuals from within the church to let Him into their lives.  He's not calling on the church as a whole but calling individuals out of the church and unto Himself.  You might say He's fulfilling His prophecy of Matthew 16:18.  He and He alone, is seen building His church as He calls individuals out of the Laodicean expression of church at the end of this age.  No more will the gates of Hades advance against church, as Matthew 16:18 goes on to say.  Satan will eventually be imprisoned for a thousand years. (Revelation 20:1 4) 

 

If you're honest, I'd think you'd agree; "that which is called church" today isn't the Mathew 16:18 church we see Jesus speaking about.  This won't always be the case.  Be assured, Jesus will build His church as He predicted.  He will be triumphant.  Until then, let's submit ourselves to the rule of our Lord in all things. 

 

 

2 - My Criticism Of Church

 

When I say I was born and raised in Christian Evangelicalism; I really was.  From the time I was conceived until I left home as a young adult you'd find me in that which we call church at least three times a week.  That doesn't include the times when it was our family's turn to dust the pews, vacuum the floor, and clean the washrooms, something church pays people to do these days.  As a young adult you'd see me in coffee houses, homes, schools, church buildings, parks, and on the streets, in the service of the Lord.  From dawn to dusk, Bible college in the mid 1970's was one continuous meeting.  Some of us were beginning to feel "meetinged out".  For all of my 62 years of life I've been associated with church in one shape or form, and there are numerous shapes and forms of church.  I estimate I've attended about 12,000 church meetings in my life.    

 

It's not that I despise my Evangelical roots because I don't.  Granted, I still believe the legalism preached to us stifled my spiritual growth.  All the "do's and don'ts" kept me bound by my feelings associated with guilt.  I feared that hell's fire could consume me at any given moment.  One slip would do me in.  The demonization of the gift of tongues Jesus gave me led me to a new expression of church as seen in the "Jesus People Movement" of the late 1960's and early 1970's. 

 

For the most part I consider my parent's generation to have been dedicated to Jesus.  Some of my friends will recall Edith Mainprize, our pastor during the 1950's and early 1960's.  She was single, down to earth, and a dedicated servant of Jesus.  You couldn't have asked for a warmer hearted pastor.  Then there was Mr. Wanamaker.  He openly shared Jesus and was criticized by his co-workers for doing so.  There were many godly people in the Free Methodist Church back then, yet from my vantage point; Evangelical Christianity isn't the Bible based conservative movement my parent's generation once embraced. 

 

After countless trips to the altar as a youth, in February, 1970, during a five second prayer in my bedroom, Jesus ripped away my feelings associated with guilt forever.  From then on I could serve Him without hesitation or fear.  Part of serving Jesus for me was giving myself to Biblical instruction.  No longer did I read a few Bible verses each day to suppress and appease my feelings associated with guilt.  Instead, the Bible formed the foundation for my life.  In less than one and a half years I had memorized more than 2000 Bible verses.  I could quote the whole book of Philippians by heart without stumbling over words.  Don't ask me to do that now.    

 

I soon learned that the Bible I grew to love didn't hide the faults of God's people.  Genesis 16 tells of Abraham's laps of faith.  Exodus 17 tells of Moses' sin that disqualified his entrance into the Promised Land.  2 Samuel 11 tells of King David's adultery.  Acts 5 describes Ananias and Sapphira lying to the Holy Spirit.  Acts 15 recalls the dispute that separated Paul and Barnabas.  1 Corinthians 1 points out factions in the church.  1 Corinthians 5 tells of a man having sex with his step mother.  1 Corinthians 6 describes Christians engaging in lawsuits with each other.  Galatians 2 recalls Paul rebuking Peter in public for his hypocrisy.  Revelation 2 and 3 shows Jesus calling on seven churches to repent of their sin.  On and on it goes.       

 

The church at Ephesus was one of the seven churches Jesus called to repentance.  In Revelation 2:5 He told this church to repent or else cease to be.  Similar exhortations were given to the other six churches located in Asia Minor, now present day Turkey .   Apparently, at some point in time these churches didn't take Jesus seriously.  Eventually, and it did take some time, they circum to Muslim armies who stripped them of any resemblance of church that still existed.  As is often the case, Jesus used an anti-Christ regime to judge his unrepentant people.  Let it be known that it really wasn't Islam who wiped out these churches.  It was their own failure to repent that did them in.  

 

The fall of these seven churches happened a long time ago, but their demise is relevant today.  With the rise of a secular anti-Christ culture in the western world comes the rise of a renewed anti-Christianism.  Like the Muslim armies of the past, this anti-Christ culture is pushing the church towards extinction. The Bible warns us of such things in Matthew 24:9 10.  Let this be known as well; our conflict with the present anti-Christ culture is God's tool to bring the western church into compliance to His will.  For that part of church that doesn't comply, this conflict will do it in.  Matthew 24:10 says that many will turn from the faith under suffering caused by such conflict.  2 Thessalonians 2:3 describes a falling away from the faith which in many respects is taking place in the western church now.   

 

By nature I'm always looking ahead.  I'm thinking of the next step as I'm taking the present step.  That's why my vision of church may differ from your vision.  I envision a much different looking church in the days ahead.  We're now stepping into an uncharted future for the western church some have been warning us about for years.  We're being pressured to conform to an unbiblical and illogical doctrine of tolerance that if allowed, will undermine church as we've known it.  For this reason, even though our expression of church has been relatively effective in the past, it won't work in the days ahead.  We must decide now between the culturally correct church we're being pressured to be or the counter cultural church Jesus wants us to be.     

 

In 1 Corinthians 11:31 32 Paul says that it's better for us to judge ourselves than to be judged by the Lord.  The seven churches of Revelation missed this point.  We can't afford to miss it.  In 2 Corinthians 13:5 Paul tells the Corinthian believers to examine and test themselves to see if they're really in the faith.  We should be doing the same. 

 

The Bible doesn't hide the faults of church and neither do I.  The Bible tells us to examine ourselves, and that I do.  The Bible calls us to repent and so I'm repeating the Biblical call.  Am I a bit critical of church?  I am.  So, from my tiny obscure corner of Christendom I join others in the Body of Christ who sees the need for the western church to repent.  Jesus' church is far too precious to just sit back and let an anti-Christ culture run it into the ground.  The outward expression of church as we've known it may, and probably will, be run into the ground, but once underground, those who are faithful will be the counter cultural church we were meant to be.  Our first step towards this church is genuine repentance, thus the reason for my criticism of that which we call church.   

 

 

3 - The First Step From Here

 

The church in the western world is being pressured into conforming to a secular doctrine of tolerance.  The Bible does teach a form of tolerance; however, Biblical tolerance does not come at the expense of Biblical truth.  For this reason conflict historically arises between culture and church, Caesar and Christ.  The demand to conform is intensifying.  Church will eventually be forced to conform or cease to exist in its present format.  So we must ask; "where do we go from here"? 

 

To begin to answer this question I refer you to Revelation 3:14 22 where in a letter Jesus blasted the Laodicean church that exhibited all the outward appearances of being a successful church.  This passage shows us that Jesus defines a successful church differently than most of us.

 

Jesus addressed His criticism to this church's messenger who I believe represented the church as a whole.  He ended His criticism by addressing individuals within the church.  As we will see, this is important. 

 

Jesus' anger towards this luke-warm church was seen when He said, "I am about to spit you out of my mouth". (Revelation 3:16)  The words "I am about to spit" are translated from the present active indicative Greek verb "mello".  Present means that the saliva was already swirling around in Jesus' mouth as He criticized this church.  Active means that He alone would spit.  Indicative means that Jesus' mind was made up.  He would spit this church out of his mouth.  This was a certainty.  

 

The problem with this spiritually spineless church was that it was consumed by its wealth instead of Jesus as seen in verse 17.  It thought very highly of its self-sufficiency, but Jesus thought differently.  Despite the church's wealth that could have funded all kinds of humanitarian efforts, Jesus said it was wretched, poor, pitiful, blind, and naked.  It's funny how Jesus views church differently than us, but that's usually the case.       

 

In verse 18 Jesus advised this church to find its wealth in Him.  The word "advised" is translated from the Greek present active indicative verb "symbouleuo".  This means that Jesus' advice was a command that demanded an immediate positive response.        

 

As I noted earlier, Jesus began His criticism by addressing the church as a whole.  He concluded it by addressing individuals within this church as seen in verse 19.  "Those (individuals) whom I love I rebuke and discipline". 

 

Jesus is then pictured standing outside the church knocking on its door.  It's not that He wanted to come in and save the church because He didn't.  Remember, He was about to spit it out of His mouth.  His intention is seen in verse 20.  "If anyone (any individual) hears my voice and opens the door I will come in and eat with him".  Jesus wasn't intending on having a meal with the whole church in its fellowship hall.  He wanted to eat with individuals within the church.  In Jewish terms, eating a meal with others was a matter of personal relationships.  Jesus was inviting individuals into His life.  He wanted a workable personal relationship with them, which I might add, was what Christian Evangelicalism was founded upon.  This brings me to the point of this chapter.  

 

The first step in where church goes from here is a step that the individual must take.  Church can't take this step for us. 

The Apostle Paul told us to examine ourselves to see if we're really in the faith. (2 Corinthians 13:5)  If our devotion to Jesus has died; if our love for Him has become lackadaisical; if our commitment to Him has become casual; we must repent and return to the heart felt love we had when we first met Him.  Jesus told the Ephesian Christians this very thing in Revelation 2:4.  They worked hard for Jesus but their work had become routine.  Repenting from this casual, hoe hum, routine faith, and returning to our first love for Jesus is the next step we must take.  This will keep us from forsaking our faith and caving into our anti-Christ culture as Jesus said would happen to some in Matthew 24:10.      

 

Watchman Nee was a Christian who didn't fall from faith despite his imprisonment in Chinese prisons and labour camps for the last 20 years of his life.  He was executed and cremated in 1972 without his family knowing.  When his family was informed of his death they discovered a note he had written with large letters and shaky hand writing.  "Christ is the Son of God who died for the redemption of sinners and resurrected after three days.  This is the greatest truth in the universe.  I die because of my belief in Christ". (from "A Seer Of The Divine Revelation Of The Present Age", by Witness Lee, 1991, Living Stream Ministry)  Watchman Nee loved Jesus through all of his suffering, right up to his dying day.  If not for His heart felt love and devotion for Jesus and Jesus' heart felt love and devotion for him, he would have caved into the Chinese anti-Christ regime. 

 

There are countless Christians imprisoned, beaten, raped, and executed, in places like Iran today.  They don't cave into an anti-Christ's culture either.  They join those seen in Revelation 12:11 who "loved not their lives so much as to shrink from death".  They love Jesus more than life itself.  It's this devotion that will keep us in Jesus in the days to come.  It's this devotion that will keep us from joining a soon to be culturally correct church.  I'd prefer to be among those whom Jesus called out of the Laodicean culturally correct church to be with Him.  We definitely need our brothers and sisters in Jesus for support but in the final analysis such devotion and commitment is a matter of the heart of the individual Christian.  Others can't be devoted on our behalf. 

 

Beyond returning to our first love, there are steps that church leaders must take on behalf of the church. 

 

 

 

4 - The Second Step From Here

 

In the mid 1970's I attended Elim Bible Institute, in Lima , New York .  I bought costly text books and I typed on a typewriter.  I used lots of white-out to fix my mistakes, which there were many.  When doing research I spent hours pouring over information in countless books in the library.  Things have changed since then.  Last week I purchased in e-book form 15 of Martin Luther's books that comprise 1476 pages for $1.76 U. S..  My Kindle Fire reads these books to me.  My fingers now type on a computer keyboard where a spell check fixes most of my mistakes.  Technology has enabled us to be the most Biblically literate Christians in history, but we're not.  This leads me to the next step church must take as we maneuver our way into the future. 

 

Acts 6:2 says, "It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the Word of God to wait on tables".  The apostles distributed food to the poor in the early church.  As the church grew in numbers this job became unmanageable so certain men were chosen for this job.  This allowed the apostles to devote themselves to the Word of God.  It wasn't that food distribution wasn't important.  It just wasn't the apostles' calling.  Food distribution was important.  That's why specific men where chosen to distribute the food.      

 

The Apostle Paul tells us that pastors must be capable of teaching the Word of God. (1Timothy 3:2)  The first apostles were capable and that's why the believers "devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching". (Acts 2:42)  Paul also told Timothy that he must "correctly handle the Word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15)  The prerequisite for correctly handling the Word of truth is to approach the Bible from a proper hermeneutical perspective.  This means that pastors must incorporate context, history, culture, original languages, and more, into their Bible study.  Such study of Scripture is becoming noticeably absent these days.  Many Evangelicals are unknowingly buying into our culture's dumbed down mentality that rejects intelligent thought.  

 

I don't believe Evangelicals don't seem to be taking the Bible as seriously as they once did.  Messages that are meant to inspire are more popular than messages that are meant to instruct.  We've separated Biblical proclamation into inspirational preaching and instructional teaching, a separation that the Bible knows nothing of.  In Biblical terms, preaching is instructive.  Preaching is teaching.  New Testament leaders instructed the church in Biblical truth and left the inspiring up to the Holy Spirit because that's His job.  Our emphases on inspiration and de-emphasis on instruction has led many to be Biblically illiterate.  I call this "inspired ignorance".      

 

Inspired ignorance won't get us far in the days ahead.  In fact it is leading some astray right now.  Some Evangelical pastors are leading their congregation in joint worship with Muslims. We know from countless Biblical passages that God detests such paganization of His people.  Other pastors perform same sex weddings.  They clearly miss the meaning of Romans 1.  

 

I know the word "doctrine" has fallen out of fashion, but good doctrine, or good Biblical teaching, is important to Jesus.  In Revelation, chapters 2 and 3, Jesus was so irritated with certain church leaders' lack of sound doctrine and their tolerance of false doctrine that He was about to wipe them off the spiritual map. (Revelation 2:5 6, 2:14 16, and 20 - 23)  The Laodicean church of Revelation 3:14 22 was caught up in the false doctrine that some of us call the "Prosperity Gospel".   

 

I think Evangelicals are devaluing the Bible as liberal denominations did in the late 1800's by adopting German liberalism.  The demythologizing of the Bible as it was called removed all supernatural content from the Bible, leaving it a book of mere moral stories.  They believed the Bible was meant to inspire, not instruct.  Ironically, today's Emergent Church that has grown out of Evangelical conservatism believes the same.  Its leaders maintain the Bible is not a book to instruct us how to live, but a book to inspire us.   

 

Like the seven churches of Revelation, Jesus has allowed liberal mainline denominations that have decimated Biblical truth to dwindle away into obscurity.  Those groups that still exist entice newcomers by incorporating humanistic elements into their meetings.  One group in Toronto , Ontario , Canada , structures its Sunday meeting around Elvis Presley.  They sing Elvis songs.  Elvis lyrics form the text of the sermon, and everyone dresses like Elvis.  I like Elvis but I can't imagine singing "Jailhouse Rock" or "All Shook Up" in worship to Jesus.  Can you imagine that?      

 

Don't take my word concerning this.  More important Evangelicals than I hold to the same thinking.  You can search the internet for yourself to see men of God saying the same thing.         

 

In order for church to be the counter-cultural movement that it needs to be in the days ahead, pastors must devote themselves to the study and implementation of Biblical truth.  It's their job to correctly handle the Word of truth as they teach God's people.  That being said, if I were you, I wouldn't wait around.  With all of your heart, soul, and intellect, devote yourself to Biblical truth.  It will save you from believing the lie that Paul said would inflict many at the end of this age. (2 Thessalonians 2:11)  

 

The first step for church towards our uncertain future is for individuals to reignite their love for Jesus.  The second step is for both pastors and people to devote themselves whole heartedly to what He has instructed.  The third step is to be the community of believers who are networked together in functional relationships in the Body of Christ.  Church is meant to be a counter cultural movement that will fearlessly stand strong in the face of an anti-Christ culture. 

 

 

5 - The Third Step From Here

 

The Reformation of the 1500's was a reaction to an oppressive Catholicism that stifled individual thought and creativity.  Church kept individuals in a darkened state of ignorance.  They were denied Bibles because they were considered too stupid to read one.  A brutal religious regime forced individuals to submit to church doctrine, practice, and politics.  Reformers certainly had their flaws, but the steps they took towards individual freedom to think laid the foundation for what the western world has become.  Nations that embraced the Reformation have excelled in areas such as law, education, finance, science, and government.  When the individual is free to excel a nation is free to excel.    

 

The influence of Biblical thought that the Reformation and subsequent Christian movements brought to western culture has blessed church with the freedom to express itself as it has seen fit.  Some expressions of church have been good; others not so good.  Whatever the case, church has been blessed, but church tends to turn blessings that were meant to serve Jesus into blessings that serve church.  We're often preoccupied with the blessings of the Lord instead of the Lord of the blessings. We differ little from the Laodicean church of Revelation 3, and we know its fate.  This leads me to the next step church must take in the days ahead.   

 

When church adores itself more than Jesus, church must repent.  Jesus often uses an oppressive anti-Christ culture to bring church to its knees.  The western church is entering an era of purification.  It's being pressured to conform to our anti-Christ culture's demands or else cease to exist in its present form.  In Canada , some para church groups and individuals have been tried, convicted, and sentenced to sensitivity classes to be deprogrammed and indoctrinated in the secular doctrine of tolerance. 

 

Will we cave into the demands to become a culturally correct church or will we be the counter culture church Jesus spoke of in Matthew 16:18?  When Jesus said "I will build my church", the words "my church" are in direct contrast to the Jewish apostate church of the day.  This is why I call Jesus' church a counter culture church.            

 

We don't have to look far to see what a counter culture church looks like.  We see one in Iran right now.  We've seen one in China for years.  It's a body of Spirit filled disciples of Jesus who are networked together, not by ecclesiastical structures and doctrinal statements, but by the Holy Spirit's joining of one individual to another individual.  It's this joining of individual disciples that provides the basis for mutual support and ministry.  Fellowship and ministry should emanate from personal relationships in the living Body of Christ, not from a highly structured hierarchy.  As we used to say in the 1970's, church is an organism not an organization.  So, when the individual is given the freedom to excel alongside others, church excels.  

 

In 1978 I posed this question to a Pentecostal church in a Sunday message.  "If this building and the regularly scheduled meetings held in this building were taken from you, would you still have a church"?   This question is more relevant today than it was back then.  When the visible expression of church as we've come to know it is taken from us, will you have a place of mutual support and ministry?  Many of us are so dependent on the traditional church providing fellowship and ministry on our behalf that when the traditional church no longer exists, many will have neither fellowship nor ministry. 

 

I think we misunderstand Jesus when He said "I will build my church and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it".  Jesus wasn't guaranteeing the survival of any particular expression of church.  Both the Bible and history shows us that any given expression of church can come and go.  Matthew 16:18 is a prophetic proclamation of a vibrant movement of people who are networked together under the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ who stands in stark contrast to the culture of any given society.  If there is no contrast, there is no church.

 

Our western culture is rapidly moving away from any Judeo Christian influence it once had.  This isn't likely to change.  I actually believe the present anti-Christian sentiment is God's will.  Therefore, we must respond to God's will in God's way.  Like the reformers, we must choose Christ over culture.  Like Christians in China , we must choose Jesus' counter culture church over the culturally correct church.  Like Christians in Iran , we must become a movement of networked disciples spread across the land under the leadership of Jesus.  Like the Apostle Peter, we must obey God rather than man. (Acts 5:29)  Like Jesus Himself, we must accept the consequences of choosing God's culture over man's culture, and there will be consequences. 

 

I'm not proposing a leaderless church.  Church structure should be based on personal and functional relationships in the living Body of Christ instead of an impersonal ecclesiastical hierarchy.  I'm also not being critical, negative, or lacking in faith that Jesus can't build His church.  I'm being realistic, practical, and most of all Biblical.  I'm anticipating our future.  I'm joining others in preparing the way for Jesus' return by proclaiming repentance and the coming of the Kingdom of God .   

 

We can't afford to be ignorant in this matter.  In light of our future, the next step church must take is to change our present mindset about church.  We must begin to view church as a counter culture movement, a body of believers, where individual relationships form the basis for both mutual support and the specific work Jesus would have these relationships do.  Together we must form a network of disciples who stand in stark contrast to the culture of our day.  We must prepare ourselves for the day when the outward trappings of what we call church will be taken from us.  Finally, we must be willing to accept the unpleasant consequences of being Jesus' counter culture church. When it's all said and done, Jesus will have His church.  There's no doubt about that.

 

 

6 - The Living Body Of Christ

 

In 1 Corinthians 12:27 the Apostle Paul told individual believers in Corinth that they were members of the "Body of Christ".  It is important for us to know that Paul was not using the term "Body of Christ" symbolically, figuratively, or allegorically.  He was being literal, something many of us fail to see the significance of.  The "Body of Christ" in New Testament terms is comprised of real live individual believers in Christ who are joined to a few others by the Holy Spirit for mutual support as they function together in the work of the Lord.  I know that's a long sentence, but I'll explain what it means. 

 

The term "Body of Christ" portrays exactly what the church is, and, it's in stark contrast to much of the ecclesiastical world we see around us today.  In John 20:21 22 Jesus told His disciples that as the Father had sent Him into the world to represent the Father, so He was sending them into the world to represent Him.  He went as far to say that they could forgive sin, and, I believe He meant, forgive sin on His behalf.  What Jesus was telling His disciples is that they would replace Him on earth since He would no longer be on earth in physical form.  They would be joined together in a body of people who would go forth and do His work in His name.  This is what the term "in the name of Jesus" means. 

 

I do believe that Jesus possessed the Holy Spirit from conception, but, when John the Baptist baptized Him, He was anointed by the Holy Spirit for the task that was before Him.  In similar fashion, after Jesus told His disciples to hang out in Jerusalem , they were anointed with the Holy Spirit for the task that was set before them.  As the Holy Spirit entered individual believers in Acts 2, He joined these individuals together in what we call the Body of Christ, or, the church.  This is what the Apostle Paul meant when he said that we were all baptized into one body.  See 1 Corinthians 12:13.

 

This is my point.  Once the Holy Spirit entered the believers in Acts 2, the lifeless group they were, became a living being.  They were more than an ecclesiastical organization.  They were in fact, through the Holy Spirit, the replacement body for Jesus on earth.  Herein lays the importance of the term "Body of Christ". 

 

Think of this in terms of your own physical body.  Look at your hand.  One bone in a finger is joined to another.  The second bone is joined to yet another, and on it goes.  The bones in your finger and hand are joined together for two specific reasons.  One reason is for mutual support.  If the bones in your finger weren't joined together, they would fall to the ground and be worthless.  The second reason why the bones in your fingers are joined together is because they have a job to do in the proper functioning of your hand and the rest of your body.  If there is something wrong with one of these bones in your finger, or, if there is something wrong with the joints between these bones, both the hand and the rest of the body will suffer.  Most people over the age of 60 can attest to this arthritic condition to be true.

 

This is how it works in the Body of Christ.  Each one of us is an individual part in the living Spirit filled Body of Christ.  Some of us are bones.  Some of us are organs.  Some of us are strands of hair, and on it goes.  If we as individuals are disconnected from the body part we are to be joined to, then we fall to the ground and become useless. If the joint between us and the next member we are to be joined to in the Body of Christ has problems with arthritis, then all the body parts around us will suffer.  The body itself will suffer as it does in the church in general today.

 

A big issue in thinking in terms of the Body of Christ this way is that when the joints in the body become problematic and disjointed, the life flow of the Holy Spirit from one body part to another through these joints is interrupted, and the work of the Holy Spirit is hindered.  It's sad to say, but this is often the case in church today.  Problematic arthritic joints becomes a problem for the Holy Spirit, thus Jesus is not properly represented here on earth.  The church does not go forth in the name of Jesus as it is intended to do.     

 

When thinking in terms of the name of Jesus, imagine yourself a carpenter who works for Frank's Construction Company.  When you go to the job site in the morning, you're working for Frank's Construction Company.  You are not working for yourself.  So, when you put hammer in hand, you are hammering in the name of Frank's Construction Company.  The work you do must be done in a way that best promotes the good name of Frank.  You must follow the rules that Frank has mandated for his employees or else you'll be fired. 

 

The same applies to the work we do for Jesus here on earth.  In one real sense of the word, Jesus has employed us to do His work because He is not here in physical form to do it. He has provided us with all the tools necessary to do His work.  They're called the gifts of the Holy Spirit as seen in 1 Corinthians 12.  So, just as a carpenter who works for Frank's Construction Company must work in the name of Frank, so we must follow Jesus' lead as we work for Him.  We must perform our duties as He wants, not as we want.  We're not self employed Christians hired to be subcontractors by Jesus.  We're employed by Jesus.  We work in the name of Jesus and therefore our work should show this to be true.   

 

As the living Body of Christ, we as individual believers are employed by Jesus to carry out His will on earth.  I suggest that over the centuries we've acted more like self employed subcontractors than Jesus' employees.  This must change in order to survive the days ahead.

 

Like our physical bodies, each body part in the Body of Christ must be individually healthy.  Then, as members in the Body of Christ, we must be joined to another body part for mutual support as we carry out our jobs in the service of the Lord together.  I call this "functional relationships" in the Body of Christ.  We are joined with a few others for both fellowship and function. 

 

It is more important than ever to understand church to be the living Body of Christ instead of a well structured ecclesiastical system that differs little from any corporation we see in the business world.  The day is fast approaching when our present system of church will no longer exist in the western world.  A secular society will make sure of this through legal rulings and government legislation.  So, each and every individual believer must be an active part of the living Body of Christ who represents Jesus to the world.  We are joined to others in this body, not simply for the fun of fellowship, but to function in a way that represents Jesus as we are meant to represent Him.  Both fellowship and ministry must emanate from these personal and functional relationships, and not from an ecclesiastical structure that has no life. 

 

Much of our problem concerning church over the centuries stems from the fact that we are not joined as individuals in the Body of Christ.  We're joined organizationally in massive ecclesiastical structures instead.  These structures have had some usefulness in the past.  On the other hand, they have been a detriment to what church should really be.  The focus on denominational structures has broken the Body of Christ into a thousand or more pieces that has crippled the Body of Christ. 

 

My point is simple.  As this age comes to an end, that which we have known as the traditional organized church will come to an end.  Church as we've come to know it will be demolished by the anti-Christ culture that is now penetrating every fabric of society.  In order to survive; and there will be a surviving Body, we must be the living body of Christ.  May that be our mindset in the days ahead.

 

 


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