I was really stirred while listening to a leader that I greatly admire. He was a very popular author and megachurch leader who became disillusioned with consumer Christianity, left it all, and is laboring to see authentic communities of faith who attempt to walk in Biblical church life together as they engage in God’s mission. This is at the heart of the motto many of us use to describe God’s purpose for us, “God’s family of Spirit filled disciples together on God’s mission.”
He told a story about a trip he made to China visiting areas where Christians had been persecuted for their faith. Most of the churches were part of the underground church movement that flourished under an atheistic communist regime. He was amazed by the sincerity of faith he was witnessing and was asking them lots of questions about their experiences and how they did these things. One of the group asked him, “why are you asking so many questions and why are you so interested in our experiences?” He replied, “because this isn’t the way it is in the Western church.”
Authentic Biblical church life is the best apologetic for the 21st-century culture. Church is to be a compelling community.
He started telling them what church life is like in America. “We have buildings we call churches we go to for an hour a week; if there is a better speaker at a different one we will go to that one; if there is better music at one we will go to that one; if we get in a fight with someone or are challenged about anything in our life we will switch to another church; and if the childcare or children’s programs are better somewhere else we switch to that one. The overall approach in trying to attract new people is come on in and sit down, we will take care of everything for you.”
It is common to see things like when you want to move to another geographic area you disconnect from that church and start shopping for another one in that area. You stay connected through Churchbook (Facebook), Churcstagram (Instagram), and Churchchat (Snapchat), yet the reality is that they are no longer part of laboring translocally together in Kingdom activity like you see in Jesus and the early church as they moved geographically (Mt 9-11, Lk 9-10, Rom 16:1-16, 1 Cor 16:10-24, Col 4:7-18, 2 Tim 4:11-22, Phil 4:1-23).
Then one of them raised their voice and their Bible in the midst of the laughter and asked, “How did you get that from reading this Book?”
They began to laugh, not just snicker, but the whole group began to laugh deeply. He wasn’t trying to be funny but they found what he was saying was so comical they continued to laugh and it became a little awkward. Then one of them raised their voice and their Bible in the midst of the laughter and asked, “How did you get that from reading this Book?”
“How did you get that from reading this book?” What a profound question. I identify with that when I reflect on my background. I was raised unchurched and secular. When I began to follow Jesus as Lord I knew I was going to learn a whole new culture. The Bible was God’s instruction manual. If He said it that settled it. What kind of church life do we live? Our only option is what the Bible prescribes and describes. It caused us to help start and raise up churches that attempt to allow Jesus to build along the lines of His word. If what we were doing didn’t line up, we changed instead of changing His word.
In the western church we cater to the customers…what kind of church would you like; we will make it for you; you want meetings to only be an hour or less; we will cut the time down; you want a church that emphasizes this; we will emphasize it or we will create it for you; you want to come with no strings attached, we will keep it that way; you don’t want to believe something we will not bring it up; you want a support group with certain types of people, we will create them for you; we will keep making it easier and easier so we will get more and more Christian customers in the door.
An Experiment Revealing the Authentic
Try this experiment. If you could describe church only using the Bible, not your experience or tradition, how would it look? Here are some elements that will probably be there.
- They are sincerely connected with Jesus in a real observable way. He is in them and among them and their whole life is centered around Him (Col 1:18, 2:10-14, Acts 2:38-42).
- The Kingdom of God (active rule of the Lord Jesus Christ) is expressed in and through God’s people as they live to submit every area of life to the His Lordship (Acts 2:36-42, Rom 10:9-10, Col 1:17-19, Rev 1-3).
- The church is God’s family living out His relational way of life among the people He joins together. It is not a building, meeting, or an organization where familiar strangers occasionally gather for meetings (Acts 2:38-42, 4:35-42, the 59 “one another commands in the Epistles).
- God’s people hungering for and seeking more of a Spirit Filled life. They desire to be continually led by, filled with, and moving in all the power and gifts of Holy Spirit both in meetings as well as everyday life (John 7:37-39, Acts 1:8, 2:1-4, 4:8, 31, 6:3, 8:12-24, 9:1-17, 10:43-48, 19:1-6, 1 Cor 12-14, Eph 5:18). It is an “earnest desire” (1 Cor 14:1) that sees this not as optional but essential.
- The church is central, not peripheral to the plans and purposes of God and so it is central to theirs (Mt 16:18, Eph 1:23, 3:3-11, 5:25-32, Rev 19:7, 21:2-9, 22:17).
- Church members are disciples who follow Jesus and seek to put into practice everything He says (Mt 28:18-20, Acts 11:23). They are not just deciders who use Jesus to have a better life.
- Church involvement is not just an audience of people attending and watching meetings but disciples who participte in seeing God’s life expressed in and through His church.
- All the Ephesians 4 ministries are involved and seen as essential, not optional, in equipping God’s people to the building up of local churches (Eph 4:11-16, Eph 2:17-22, Acts 13-28, Romans 16:1-16, 1 Cor 16:10-24, Col 4:7-18). Their input helps provide good foundations (Eph 2:20, 1 Cor 3:10-12), as well as fatherly and motherly care into local church families (1 Thes 2:7-11).
- The local church is governed by a team of leaders, not just a one man “pastor” (elders with deacons alongside) chosen by God, recognized by people, with Ephesians 4 ministries involved in their training and appointment (Acts 14:23, 15:4-23, 16:4, 20:17-28, Phil 1:1, 1 Thes 5:12, 1 Tim 5:1-21, Tit 1:5-11, Jas 5:14, 1 Pet 5:1, John 17:11, 21-23).
- The call of mission to the world is upon everyone, everywhere, all the time (Gen 1:26-28, Mt 28:18-20, Acts 1:8, Eph 1:22-22 etc.). Missions is not a program or a special call upon a few people who live in faraway places. It is the daily call upon all the church whether it be across the street or across the ocean.
- Praise and worship isn’t watching people sing songs on a platform. It is all of all of God’s people engaging in heartfelt, Spirit filled, Biblically described expressions of praise and worship. This includes, but is not limited to the Biblical expressions such as shouting (found 265 times in the Bible), playing musical instruments (58 times), singing (29 times), lifting our hands (14 times), clapping (12 times), bowing or kneeling (12 times), dancing (9 times), and standing (7 times).
- A multigenerational perspective that sees a priority of helping those younger while at the same time reaching forward to all that God has (Ps 78, Titus 2 etc).
- Ministry isn’t relegated to a few people on a platform in corporate meetings. Ministry is about every person being equipped and using their God given abilities everyday to build up the family of God and reach the world with the gospel (1 Cor 12-14, Eph 4:10-32, Rom 12:1-17, 1 Pet 4:10-11, 1 Tim 4:4, 2 Tim 1:6).
This kind of life is what you get from reading that book! Like Caleb said, “We must, by all means, go in and possess it” (Num 13:30).
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