Christianity is currently experiencing the most convulsive, unsettled moment of change since the birth of the Church, two thousand years ago.
No generation of Christians has witnessed the vast and accelerated alteration of the structure of the church that this current generation is now undergoing. Surely, we are that generation “upon whom the ends of the world are come” (1 Cor. 10:11).
The Current Structure of the Church will not accommodate what I am about to do.
These statements are not based purely on my own subjective observation. Some of my understanding has come from what I believe was direct revelation by the Spirit of God. In May of 1996 I was flying to Pasadena, California to attend the National Symposium on the Post-denominational Church when these words suddenly entered my world: “The current structure of the church will not accommodate what I am about to do.”
I was uncertain then what God meant by those words, but in the months and now 15 years since then, I’ve come to recognize that much of what we Christians had for all our lives called “church” had very little to do with the concept of “church” Jesus had in mind when He promised, “I will build My church . . . ” (Mt. 16:18).
If you are a church member or church attendee, ask yourself: “What really is the spiritual condition of my church? How effective are we at winning the lost to Jesus? How are we penetrating our society with the claims of Jesus, with the fruit of converts and disciples?” If your church is like the majority of churches around the world, your answers are not encouraging.
Oh, most of us can point to a convert here and a disciple there. We can look at finances and building programs and musical extravaganzas and evangelistic crusades and slick programs and by these criteria claim some level of success as churches. But if we are honest, we must admit that we are far from the original pattern of the church we’ve read about in the Book of Acts, and the church which existed during times of world-wide revival.
Most churches have majored on programs and committee-spawned ideas for growth which have little to do with the blind seeing, the deaf hearing and the lame leaping.
Our musicals, our worship teams, our carefully crafted sermons have done little if anything to stem the growing tide of evil all around us.
When we function ineffectively, we build a theology to accommodate our failure.
If we can’t point to increasing numbers of transformed lives, we point out that “evil must increase in the end times” in order to explain decreasing interest in the things of God.
We dogmatically state that “darkness will increase until there’s almost no light left in the earth” to rationalize losing the battle against a rising tide of iniquity.
How do these statements square with biblical mandates that declare . . .“the whole earth is filled with God’s glory?”
What about the promise that . . . “the glory of the latter house will be greater than the glory of the former ?”
And finally, what about Jesus’ own promises that “greater works than these shall you do because I go to the Father” and “I will build My church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.”
Somehow, somewhere, we lost something essential in the church. Somehow, we must retrieve the things we’ve lost if we are to fulfill the promises of God for our generation. And while we retrieve the essentials, we must leave behind the non-essentials: The things contained in the word “religion.”
Somehow, we must retrieve what we lost if we are to fulfill the promises of God for our generation.
Contrary to the pitiful preaching of some, God is not going to send Jesus to rescue a defeated, discouraged, desolate and disintegrating Bride. The church Jesus is looking for is a church of power, of purity and of purpose: A church that is transforming the earth, destroying evil, and conquering societies with His grace, mercy and love.
But the big question is “How?” How can we change anything of significance? How can we become truly effective for God? How can we reach billions of lives with the love of Jesus?
So here are some questions to ponder and perhaps to answer
What is the church?
Should we deconstruct existing structures in order to build new structures?
Where do we go from here?
As friend and prophet Dave Bodine is fond of saying, “We’re not smarter than the generation before us.”
This is a sobering truth, and one that must be continually kept in mind as we pursue what some have called an “emerging church.”
If we read the literature produced by various denominations and movements, and follow the time-line of their history, a common denominator emerges: Most movements, denominations exist because God began to visit a group of people who received revelation, revival, renewal, call it what you will, and in receiving a precious truth, touch or testimony from God, recognized two things: First was the need to come together with those of like experience and revelation to share in the thing that God was doing. Second was the desire to develop a distinctive subset among Christianity, commonly called a “denomination.”
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines “denomination” as “A religious organization uniting local congregations in a single legal and administrative body.
These groups, movements and denominations have been greatly used of God over the centuries.
Consider the value of the Lutheran tradition that brought to us the emphasis that “The just shall live by faith.” The doctrine of Justification by Faith did not exist as a known reality until Martin Luther’s revelation and experience with God.
The Baptists emphasized both the necessity of being “born again” and water baptism by immersion. The Methodists gave us organized and intentional discipleship. The Pentecostal denominations, especially the Assemblies of God, the Church of the Foursquare Gospel, the Open Bible Church rallied around a definite, post-salvation experience of the Holy Spirit known as “the Baptism in the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in other tongues.”
Even the so-called “Oneness” movement – the folks who don’t accept the teachings of Trinitarians – brought to the church a renewed emphasis upon Jesus’ Person and a close, personal relationship with Him.
God has used these and more denominations to carry important truths to the Body of Christ over time. We do not deny in any shape, manner or form the value and the significance of any of the denominations that are now existent in twenty-first century Christianity.
So if God has used these groups to carry His truth to the world, what’s wrong with leaving things as they are?
The Bible is a Journal of Journeys
First, God is a moving Thing. He is not static. God represented Himself by a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, Israel discovered the cloud and the pillar, that their God was constantly in motion.
The Scriptures form a “journal of journeys,” documents of continual change: Literally, of Revolution!
Merriam-Webster defines “revolution” as “A fundamental change in the way of thinking about or visualizing something: a change of paradigm.”
In the first teachings of God’s word, the nation of His choosing is told, “Hear O Israel, the Lord your God is One God.” Other nations practiced the worship of many gods, and in the midst of these nations, Israel is told, “there is only One God.” Later, God begins to reveal that there are other members of the Godhead. By the time of the writing of the New Testament, we discover that there is Father, Word (Son) and Spirit.
A progressive revelation leads us from simple trust and faith into the deeper truths of God and of His Kingdom.
So when we discuss the church we must always remember that God moves, and while He Himself never changes, He changes things.
The Temple form of worship that the Pharisees and Sadducees of Jesus’ day had come to know and love was surpassed by the appearance of Jesus Himself. Consider this: On the day Jesus stood in Jerusalem near the Temple and declared, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up,” to what was He referring?
The Pharisees wanted to insinuate He was fomenting rebellion against the Law of Moses and the destruction of the very symbol of the worship of Jehovah God. But Jesus was actually referring to Himself and was further prophesying concerning what He was about to do at Calvary to destroy the power of sin over the lives of men. Beyond these obvious realities, Jesus was on that day announcing a paradigm shift. A paradigm is in its most simple form merely a pattern; an example; a framework.
Jesus was announcing that the framework of God’s revelation was expanding, intensifying – He was literally revealing Himself to be the very embodiment of what church, worship, relationship with God, redemption, worth and value was to be all about. He was literally saying “I am the church.”
The following may sound revolutionary to you – radical and dangerous – perhaps you’ve never considered this truth, but follow me to the gathering of disciples with their Rabbi on the day He said, “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. And where I go you know, and the way you know.” John 14:1-4.
He told His followers that the Father has a “house,” and that within that house are mansions. Have you ever wondered what kind of “house” could contain mansions? Have you considered what this “house” might be? In the time that Jesus spoke these words, “mansion” carried an entirely different meaning than it now does. When we hear “mansion” we think Rodeo Drive in Hollywood, California or of a great estate owned by aristocratic folks in Europe. Jesus said that within Father’s “house” are many “mansions,” meaning “staying, abiding, dwelling, abode.” In the Father’s house, then are many places of dwelling, of abode. There is room in the “house” for you and for me.
And the “House,” literally, is Jesus! He is the House. Remember, He has just spoken of Himself when He said, “Destroy this temple….” Now He talks about a house containing mansions. He says He will go and prepare a place for us. That place is “in Him.” (In Him we live and move and have our being…”) When we speak of “The House of the Lord” we should not refer to a building made by man.
Recall David’s dilemma upon gazing out the window of his opulent Palace at the worn and ragged tent of the congregation – the tabernacle of God. David’s reaction was one of horror. This is vital, so please forgive the use of so much Scripture:
I’ll emphasize certain phrases here for the sake of clarity:
Now it came to pass when the king was dwelling in his house, and the LORD had given him rest from all his enemies all around,that the king said to Nathan the prophet, “See now, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwells inside tent curtains.”
Then Nathan said to the king, “Go, do all that is in your heart, for the LORD is with you.”
But it happened that night that the word of the LORD came to Nathan, saying,”Go and tell My servant David, “Thus says the LORD: “Would you build a house for Me to dwell in?For I have not dwelt in a house since the time that I brought the children of Israel up from Egypt, even to this day, but have moved about in a tent and in a tabernacle.Wherever I have moved about with all the children of Israel, have I ever spoken a word to anyone from the tribes of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd My people Israel, saying, “Why have you not built Me a house of cedar?”
“Now therefore, thus shall you say to My servant David, “Thus says the LORD of hosts: “I took you from the sheepfold, from following the sheep, to be ruler over My people, over Israel.And I have been with you wherever you have gone, and have cut off all your enemies from before you, and have made you a great name, like the name of the great men who are on the earth.Moreover I will appoint a place for My people Israel, and will plant them, that they may dwell in a place of their own and move no more; nor shall the sons of wickedness oppress them anymore, as previously,since the time that I commanded judges to be over My people Israel, and have caused you to rest from all your enemies. Also the LORD tells you that He will make you a house.
Look at it again: The Lord tells you that He will make you a house. Don’t lose sight of our focus – we’re talking about “the church.” We’re trying to answer the question posed earlier, “What is the church?”
God later declared through the prophet Haggai, “The glory of the latter house shall be greater than of the former, says the Lord of hosts.”
Some scholars have interpreted this “latter house” and the house God promised David to be Solomon’s Temple. But the Temple of Solomon was destroyed by Babylonians five hundred years before Jesus was born! The reconstructed temple, begun in about 19 B.C. known as Herod’s Temple was an attempt to replace Solomon’s. (Interestingly, the Herodian Temple is known as “The Second Temple” in Israel. That there is to be a Third Temple is yet another example of the intricate and positive design of God).
Jesus stood near the temple and declared, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up again.” To what was He referring? Obviously, He was declaring that He is the Temple – He is the “House” of John 14. And He is the embodiment of “the church!”
Consider this: Webster uses the following to describe “church” – Etymology: Middle English chirche, from Old English cirice, ultimately from Late Greek kyriakon, from Greek, neuter of kyriakos of the lord, from kyrios lord, master; akin to Sanskrit sura hero, warrior
…..Lord; master, hero, warrior – Jesus!
Nothing about buildings; choir robes or pipe organs; governmental systems; political agendas; hierarchical organizations; dogmas and requirements of membership; rummage sales and pecking orders and a hundred other things absent from both the definition of the dictionary and God’s very word. (While there is nothing intrinsically wrong with buildings or choirs or other church commodities, the point is these are not essentials for “church” to exist!)
Now we are beginning to understand a deeper reality: Paul wrote; “Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? (1 Cor. 6:19).
When we “put on Christ,” when we become believers in and followers of Jesus through the dynamic infiltration and permeation of God’s Holy Spirit into our lives, we become “carriers of,” vehicles, hosts, transmitters and the very personification of Christ, and thus “the church” in the earth!
Unimpressed with our liturgy and our architecture and our flowing gowns and extravagant ventures, God chooses to fill simple and plain human beings with Himself and send these “agents of heaven” into the world to preach good news: Jesus is knocking at your heart’s door, seeking entrance into your life to make you, also another “agent of heaven.”
Acts 17:24 “God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwells not in temples made with hands”
So, very simply, we answer the first question asked: “What is the church?”
For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. 2 Cor. 5:1
The church is literally “The body of Christ.” It is first, Jesus Himself, and then by extension, every human being who has experienced the New Birth and has become a follower of Jesus.
Please, forget the brick or wood or metal or plastic or whatever materials make up the place you attend or attended on Sunday mornings. That “house,” no matter how beautiful or expensive is at best a poor imitation of the church and a weak and pitiful pretender of the “house of the Lord.”
In what is described as “The perfect Revelation of the Lord,” Psalm 19, we find:
The heavens declare the glory of God;
And the firmament shows His handiwork.
What poor simulations for His church are our paltry buildings compared with “The Perfect Revelation of the Lord” – His very Creation.
God’s church has for a ceiling the galaxies and constellations; planets and moons, stars, comets, meteors and asteroids arcing and shooting across the backdrop of space; that endless, limitless, borderless picture of eternity.
Displays of lightening, the sound of rolling thunder, the roar and the whisper of the wind, the crashing of the ocean’s waves, the cry of the eagle and the symphony of geese in flight, all join together to declare, to shout the glory of God!
God carpeted His church with meadows and deserts, greens and browns and blacks and reds, mountains and valleys, streams and rivers and oceans. He populated His church with choruses of birds, with the thundering hooves of bison and gazelles and the chatter of apes and the opus of insects, singing in the night hours.
Did you know that the church – the true embodiment of Jesus – the Vehicle of God’s revelation and grace in the earth – the church of the living God functioned and thrived and grew for nearly four hundred years after Jesus’ ascension into heaven without ever owning one, solitary church building?
It’s true! The “church” experienced incredible growth, vitality and life without ever possessing the property of a building!
In fact, until the interventions of Constantine that melded Christianity together with the religion of Ishtar, a pagan religion, the church neither owned nor held any real property. It is from the name “Ishtar” that we derive “Easter.” “Ishtar” was the Springtime pagan festival of fertility, and replaced Passover. Although the word “Easter” is in the Bible (Acts-12:4), the word “Easter” is NOT in the Greek texts. The word is “Pascha”, which in Greek means “Passover”. Easter is a heathen term derived from Ishtar. Ishtar was the Saxon goddess “Eastre”, the same as “Astarte” the Syrian Venus, also called “Ashtoreth” in the Old Testament. And the worship of “Isis, Queen of Heaven, would be replaced with the Worship of “Mary, Mother of God”, the new “Queen of Heaven”.
Much later, Martin Luther dealt the symbolic blow that began the Reformation when he nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of Castle Church in Wittenberg on October 31, 1517. That document contained an attack upon papal abuses and the sale of indulgences by church officials.
But Luther himself saw the Reformation as something far more important than a revolt against ecclesiastical abuses. He believed it was a fight for the gospel. Luther even stated that he would have happily yielded every point of dispute to the Pope, if only the Pope had affirmed the gospel.
And at the heart of the gospel, in Luther’s estimation, was the doctrine of justification by faith, the teaching that Christ’s own righteousness is imputed to those who believe, and on that ground alone, they are accepted by God. Good theology! But the structure, adapted from pagan practice, continued untouched, un-amended, unrepaired!
One of Luther’s first revelations upon divorcing himself from the Holy Roman church was that since he was no longer a Priest, he was not bound by the laws of celibacy. Luther took a wife and other Catholic Priests, seeing Luther’s freedom and continuation of ministry left the “church” in part because of Luther’s teachings and in part because in doing so, they too could marry.
These men, now happily wedded, became the vanguard of Luther’s “new” pastors. And what was the ecclesiastical understanding of these men? To what schools had they applied themselves to understand biblical government? They had all attended the same “university.” They were all steeped in Roman Catholicism – and the practices of Ishtar.
Richard Hooker makes this interesting statement in a document entitled Martin Luther: Discovery and Reformation: “Luther (and all the other reformers) saw themselves as returning Christianity to its roots, they believed that they were setting the clock back; in reality, their ideas irreparably changed the world and pushed it kicking and screaming, not into some ideal past, but into the modern era.”
Yet the Reformation, as it is known, while it changed the focus of theology and abandoned some of the more vile practices of the Holy Roman Church did little if anything to change the structure – the governmental form, liturgical practice and the hierarchical form of the clergy. So there was a Reformation of Theology, but a Reformation of Structure was (and is) still needed.
Dr. James Kennedy, writing his now-famous Evangelism Explosion in 1962 declared “The greatest lie Satan has foisted on the church is that there is a gulf between clergy and laity, and that clergy is responsible to do the work of the ministry.”
This “lie” (and it is a lie – and further I do not believe even in the concepts of “clergy” and “laity” but space does not allow that discussion just now) is a carry-over; baggage kept by the Protestant church after its division from the Holy Roman Catholic church.
Look at the governmental form or system of your church or the church you are most familiar with: It may have a Presbyterian form of government. It may have a congregational or an Episcopal form of government. Some churches have blended Presbyterian and congregational forms. In the United States, church government was greatly influenced by the adoption of the wave of government known as democracy.
The Great Awakening in America during 1739-1741. The Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4, 1776, twenty-five years after the Great Awakening. As new church groups were organized as a result of revival, new governmental systems were sought. The predominant thinking of that time was that of democracy – and the church excitedly adopted this new way of governing from the prevailing thought among the colonies: Novel; but not Biblical!
Even during powerful, life-transforming revival, a Reformation of Structure was needed.
That’s enough history for now – suffice it to say that the structures that were incorporated into Christianity after the Word of God had been written and sealed from further addition came not from the counsels of Heaven, but rather derived from the counsels of man.
The lesson to be learned is this: Whatever man touches with his hand, he mars, he deviates from the original intention and perfection of God
Whatever man touches with his hand, he mars. The form of the church that Jesus left was God’s masterpiece. The brush strokes of heaven had created an image no earthly hand could improve upon. But the inclination of man always is to enhance and to refine. And touching God’s masterpiece, we altered the original intention and perfection of God. Man – the collective “all-of-us” has a penchant for rearranging furniture. We don’t like where the painting is placed on the wall and feel a compulsion to move it.
So we rearrange the original template of what the church was intended to be.
Christianity is currently experiencing the most convulsive, unsettled moment of change since the birth of the Church two thousand years ago. God is wooing us, calling softly and thundering when necessary, bidding and urging us to return to Him and to His ways.
We’ll continue this discussion soon, and examine the revelation that the Door to our Future, is in our past.