As we approach the new year it is a time to reflect in order to reach forward to the future God has for us. As I do this I realize afresh that to “pursue the purpose of God in my generation” (like David Acts 13:36) I must still be in pursuit of God’s ideal, authentic Biblical Christianity.
About 37 years ago my fiancé (who is now my wife of 35 years) and I knew we needed to be a part of a church to effectively serve God. I had just been radically saved from a secular, hard partying life as a college football player. My fiancé had recently given her life to Jesus having grown up in a religious environment but drifting away while living the college life.
I had encountered Jesus in a Spirit filled environment so I knew we needed to be a part of a church that was open to Holy Spirit. We found a small church that was part of a Pentecostal denomination and began to attend. Because I had a zeal for God and was a college football player I was quickly given responsibility for the teen Sunday School class and later was given other responsibilities including occasional preaching.
I was fairly idealistic having no Christian background to overcome. I simply believed that if the Word of God says it then that settles it. We have no option if we are living under Christ’s Lordship but to pursue building His church as He designed it.
While in that church I was joined to another brother who was the pastor of a church in that same denomination. I would connect with him regularly and sometimes would preach in his church. As we began freshly looking at God’s design for His church from both the book of Acts and the Epistles the contrast to what we were involved in became very apparent. He eventually resigned from his church, moved to the same town, and we began meeting together on Tuesday evenings pouring over God’s Word regarding Jesus’ design for His church. We began to experience other young people getting saved and joining our small group. God’s design for His house infected all of us. We knew we could not just settle for “church” as we had known it. We had to pursue His design.
A definition of authentic (Biblical) Christianity got a hold of us during those days, “People coming under the loving Lordship of Jesus and being joined to other imperfect people, under the oversight of a team of God appointed leaders, who together were learning to live His life as a testimony to the world around us.” Church was clearly more than attending a meeting or going to a building. It was a relational/family way of life together as we pursue His will.
During that same time I was asked to teach a class on the Book of Ephesians. While preparing for the class God met me and I saw more deeply His design for church in light of His eternal purpose. As we shared it with others we began to be ruined for God’s ideal of authentic Biblical church life.
Not enough to simply know we must pursue
We were finding it increasingly difficult to pursue some of the important features of His
design in the Pentecostal denomination we were in. Through a mutual friend we met leaders of a church in another city that were not only pursuing these things, but actually had some of them in operation in their church. The ideal we were seeing now had some earthly reality to it. There was no turning back now. It was no longer a Biblical ideal that we could take comfort in simply knowing. We had to go for it.
As we met with some of the denominational officials about what we were seeing and wanting to pursue they clearly indicated little openness to many of the things. It became clear that in order to pursue them we would have to leave. The officials tried to talk us out of it but we could not live our lives without pursing the things God was showing us. We gladly gave the building back to the denomination (most of which we had paid for) and almost the whole congregation left to form a new church. We even offered to pay the remaining building payments for the six adults who stayed behind.
God began leading us into relationships with others of like mind and spirit who were pursuing the same things. We have seen several churches planted and others God joined us to transition into pursuing what God was revealing to us. One of our friends left a position of assistant district superintendent and pastorate with the same denomination we had left. God joined us with many other wonderful people from all over the world in a family of churches called “Salt and Light International.” While all of us have made many mistakes and have not seen everything in His design walked out we can’t settle for anything less.
Over the years it has been a convoluted journey. We have seen people come alongside, taste and pursue God’s ideals together, then later head towards other paths. We have seen leaders fall away and some friends move to other places where they ended up in back in same Pentecostal denomination we left because it was the best church in the geographical area of their new job. Other friends left jobs, houses, income, and familiarity to move to a place to be a part of a people pursuing these same ideals. It was both encouraging and humbling to see people make sacrifices similar to what Jesus continually said “forsake all and follow Me” (Mt 10:37-39,16:23-29, Mk 8:34-38, 10:23-31, Luk 9:23-24, 5:11-28, 14:26-33, 18:22-30, Jn 12:25-26).
Many times the cost of pursuing God’s ideals took a heavy toll in terms of both emotional and spiritual challenges but what other choice can one make when Jesus is “head of the body the Church so that He would come to have first place in everything” (Col 1:17-19). We must be in a place where His ideals have a possibility of coming to pass with a people who want to pursue them. After all a vision is just a “good idea” unless one is willing to sacrifice to see it come to pass. While we have not obtained all of them or seen them perfectly walked out, we can’t settle for anything less.
What are the essentials of His design we can’t live without? While not an exhaustive list these things are at the core.
- Church is a family-relational way of life among people joined together by God, not a building, meeting, or an organization (Acts 2:38-42, 4:35-42, 57 “one another’s” in the Epistles, 44% of the NT instruction about how to relationally walk together).
- The local church is central, not peripheral to the plans and purposes of God (Mt 16:18, Eph 1:23, 3:3-11, 5:25-32, Rev 19:7, 21:2-9, 22:17). Many see local churches like consumers see retail outlets. Churches exist to accommodate and accessorize their lives as they pursue their individual dreams.
- The Kingdom of God (Rule of Christ) is to be expressed in and through God’s people as they submit to Christ’s Lordship in all areas of their lives and His headship in the church (Acts 2:36-42, Rom 10:9-10, Col 1:17-19, Rev 1-3).
- Local church membership is comprised of disciples who follow Jesus who seek to obey everything He says (Mt 28:18-20, Acts 11:23). In in the gospels Jesus says to “follow Me” 25 times. Only 4 times He says to believe. The emphasis is clearly on following. About 269 times in the NT God’s people are referred to as disciples. Only 3 times as “Christians.” Church members are not just an audience of people attending meetings who made decisions about Jesus. Real membership is is a group of disciples pursuing Him.
- God’s design is a continual Spirit filled life with Biblical evidences. God’s people are to be led by, filled with, and moving in all the 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). They are essential not optional.
- All the Ephesians 4 ministries are essential to the building of local churches. Receiving Apostles, Prophets, Pastors, Evangelist, and Teachers is not optional but essential. They bring increased vision, spiritual impact, and provide good care, counsel, and accountability for local churches and leaders.
- The local church is governed by a team of leaders (elders with deacons alongside) chosen by God, recognized by people, with Ephesians 4 ministries involved in their 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). This is in contrast to a one man “pastor” who works with a deacon or elder board appointed by the congregation who form a committee to govern church affairs. Jesus’ design is for leaders to walk together in a family/team relationship similar to the relationship among the Godhead (John 17:11, 21-23).
- God desires trans-local Ephesians 4 ministries to walk and work together as a family team (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 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.). Local churches are God’s family together on God’s mission. Missions isn’t 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. In Jesus’ model for missions seen in Matthew 9-11 and Luke 9-10 He sends them out in pairs and the others they are joined to are able to follow them into the work.
- God desires praise and worship that is heartfelt, Spirit filled, and according to His truth (Jn 4:23-24) with all the physical expressions prescribed in the Bible. This includes, but is not limited to the Biblical expressions such as shouting 265 times, 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.
- God desires His people to have a multigenerational perspective that reaches back to help those younger while at the same time we reach forward. We want to leave a spiritual legacy to those coming behind us (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 to build up the family of God everyday to 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).
Like the apostle Paul said, “not that I have already obtained or already become perfect, but I press on” (Phil 3:12) we are to continue to reach for God’s ideal with those He joins us to.
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