Month: June 2017

Church As We Know It… (part 2)

Church As We Know It… (part 2)

It was high noon and His blood had been spilling down to the ground for 3 hours.  At the same time Caiaphas, arrayed in the splendor of his high priestly robes, was beginning the procession where he would enter the temple courts to slaughter a pure, spotless Tamid lamb, a lamb whose spilled blood would represent perpetual sacrifice. Little did he know that God’s final perfect perpetual sacrifice was also about to happen.

Jesus, the true Tamid, the true perpetual sacrifice died at 3 p.m., at the same time the Tamid lamb was being sacrificed*

From the cross he cried out with these last words, “It is finished”.   Suddenly the earth shook violently and the sky turned black. This was no natural eclipse of the sun. It was Passover which meant the moon was in full phase on the opposite side of the Earth from the Sun. A supernatural darkness was covering the land, rocks were being ripped into pieces, graves were being opened and (not zombies but…) holy people were walking forth. Creation was acknowledging the death of it’s Creator at the same time His Resurrection power was about to overcome death!

And something even more amazing was happening.  After the moment when Jesus cried out and gave up his spirit, the veil of the temple, a veil 50 plus feet tall, so stout, thick, and heavy, it is said it took 300 men to lift it into place, was being torn in two from the top to the bottom.

When Jesus died, the veil, the partition that separated us from our God was torn apart.  God was on the move, out of the Holy of Holies!  That place, that temple made with hands (Acts 17:24), was never to be dwelt in by Him again. God the Father by his son’s sacrifice on that cross was making himself directly accessible to his people. God was done with that temple and its religious system and was replacing it with a new temple, a temple made of living stones. His new dwelling place was to be in the hearts of men… At Pentecost He entered His new temple, the redeemed and sanctified hearts of men and women and by the Spirit began the work of building His new dwelling place1Pe 2:4,5  

And… At Pentecost a new way to gather was instigated. And it was contrary to the old and broken religious system. Within the community of God– the Father, Son, and Spirit– their family, bride, and body was now to have direct access to the Godhead without a human mediator! The veil that had separated them was torn by God from the top to the bottom! Direct access had been granted with our new High Priest, Jesus directly making intercession for us.  Heb 4:16

(But then something not so amazing happened)

Paul’s writings contrasted human traditions with Christ’s and pointed us to His New Way of doing things. He encouraged us to maintain Jesus’ new (Covenant) traditions which he had taught to the apostles. Those new traditions were taught and passed on to us by the apostles in word, in deed, and by their letters. They remain the standard of teaching that was to be maintained for the Life of the Body. Jesus was now the active head of his body and through his Spirit each member of his body participated in his Life, by the building of itself up in love as the Holy Spirit empowered them. It was the normal Christian’s church life. The standard was set for each member of the body to actively participate in the ministry of this new way of church gathering**, each member, each living stone of his new temple, coming with the Spirit’s indwelling presence and tuned in to the Spirit’s prompting, were listening and ready to participate within the gathering with a song, a word, etc (1 Cor. 14: 26)  as the Holy Spirit would direct them. God now was not only directly accessible to each and every one, but was fully capable and ready to reveal himself through each and every one of his new living stones which made up his new living temple.  

This new but standard practice was exactly what slipped away from the church within the 1st 200 to 300 years of her existence: The traditions taught by the apostles, the radical New Covenant way of gathering under the headship of Christ, and participating with one another on common ground empowered by the Holy Spirit was a revelation! It was a practice unlike any other in the world. Men and women, Jew and Gentile, freemen or slaves, rich or poor, all were equal in this new kingdom way of gathering. All were ministers and priests in the gatherings and that directly contradicted the religious norms of hierarchy, power and politics that were foundational in the world’s systems. But this New Kingdom’s dunamis power was too radical for those who coveted earthly fleshly power, men who did not understand the full meaning of the cross, men like Constantine who proceeded to set in stone the manmade traditions the ecclesia had gradually slid into. As they increasingly conformed themselves to the mindset of the world’s system, they turned away from Spirit lead organic Life back, to the hierarchical, political and institutional death traps of this world. To a form of godliness…

We have carried the baggage of those manmade traditions with us down through the centuries, and have rarely opened those bags up to examine what’s inside. And so, without giving it much thought, normal remains normal. We are still trapped in the trap, in that cage we have built around ourselves which we, to the best of our abilities, have covered with our finest veneer, in the attempt to make it look cathedral, like a temple fit enough for God himself to be contained in. But unfortunately, even our best edifices are nothing but man made cardboard shacks that cannot contain the glory of God. God does not dwell in the edifices we have built. But He still does, to this day, dwell in the gathered hearts of men and women who acknowledge His Lordship and Headship. It is through them, his true temple, that he reveals his love and his glory.

If the above is true, that our normal quenches rather than enhances the glory of the Godhead in the community of believers, we then need to heed the words of Paul to Timothy. Paul prophetically told Timothy that in our days, the last days, we would face perilous times, that all around us men and women would be lovers of themselves, and etc., more than be lovers of God… having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Ever learning…but never learning the truth 2Ti 3:1 2Ti 3:5 2Ti 3:7 

Is that us!? That can’t be us!

So we protest, ” That can’t be us. The context of that verse would put us within the company of some really bad people… We are the church! We are God’s own chosen people.” (But Ooo…That sounds an awful lot like the Jews reaction to Jesus when he told them they were unwilling to hear his words of truth: What? “Our father is Abraham!” they declared, and protested, “We aren’t illegitimate children! God himself is our true Father.”  Jhn 8:38ff) “We are His Church. His Spirit comes and visits us… How can this be?”

Some time ago, if you shopped for garden hoses at Ace Hardware you could find them in three grades of quality: Good, Better, and Best.  The least costly was the  “Good” hose which would last for maybe a season. The “Best” and most expensive hose would last for years. You got what you paid for. As God’s temple we have a choice: Good, Better, or Best. For the church of the western world there is a cost if we are going to have the Best.   We’ve gotten what we’ve paid for. We have settled for Good. And Good is Normal. Good has lasted for a season. But I submit, there is a Better, and there is the Best. But the Best is costly. Are we willing to pay the cost for the Best?

So here we go again, supposing and examining…

Let’s suppose we as the church (carrying all of our man made traditional baggage which the term church implies) have bought the Good form, a practice, which years of tradition have caused us to see it as Normal. But let’s suppose our good normal practice causes us in practice, to quench the Spirit, to give Him less than our best, so that we are experiencing less than his Best. We may truly be learning, ever learning “orthodoxsoly speaking”(!) but  what if we have yet to rediscover what His truth in practice is?  

Examine this: If what we are learning and what we believe is the truth, then correct belief (orthodoxy) would compel us to move towards correct practice(orthopraxy) .  “Correct belief” would compel “correct action,” but incorrect action would be the ongoing result of our old (normal and traditional but) incorrect beliefs. If we believe that church as we know it is Good and our Good is Good Enough, we have no compulsion to ask the Builder, or search the scriptures to see if our actions and practice, match the Builder’s new traditions given by the apostles to the early church gathering.**     If what we are presently doing doesn’t match the actions and practice of the early church given to them by Jesus himself through his apostles, are we,  just like the religious people of Jesus’ day, denying his words of truth? If Jesus, the builder, truly is setting before his body his first Best choice, His normal for His ecclesia, what do we do?

The question is: “Does normal “church”, church as we know it, have the correct form in belief and in practice and thus have God’s divinely conferred power (i.e., charisma) to validate that it’s belief and practice is correct? Or does it have an incorrect belief  (in it’s traditions) which results in an incorrect form in it’s actions and practice, which, in turn, quenches the charisma (i.e., divinely conferred power) of the Spirit, stunting our one another call to disciple, and ultimately robbing the Son of his full Glory? The latter leaves us with only a (Good) form...    The former would change our normal and give us the Best.

 

 What does His “Best” cost?

(More to come)

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**Uh… wait. To say “church gathering” is a redundant repetition!  😉   In the Bible the word “church” properly translated is ecclesia, which means gathering. Using the word “church” to replace the word “ecclesia” or gatherings of God’s people is one of the traditions of men passed down to us.
King James, the “Pope” of the Church of England– long after the hierarchical ecclesiastical church had, by the traditions of men, separated itself into the clergy/laity divide and had ceased to be the participatory gathering (or ecclesia) of fellow ministers and priests– wanted to retain his hierarchical and political power over the institutionalized church, as well as retain the Bishop/clergy ecclesiastical/political power over the so called laity, so he at that time, prohibited the translators from changing the word “church”, which by now meant the political institutional church organization, i.e., The Church of England, of which he was the head, to it’s true meaning: a gathering, or congregation (of the people of God who had the Lord Jesus as their Head). The power struggle continues to this day…

Church As We Know It Is Normal, Right?

 

Church As We Know It Is Normal, Right?

Church as we know it is normal (good and biblical), right? …

It should be normal for you, if you are normal and are a normal church goer you have learned to accept and  enjoy how church today is being done. You are not ‘one of those’ who would even question whether or not how we’ve been “doing church” is normal.  Church as you know it today is good and biblical; it’s normal.  But… have you ever wondered, have you even considered this: there is more to “doing church” than we have been led to believe? What if today’s normal church function is not it’s best function, and its normal function is less than the best of what the earliest church’s normal was?

What, you ask? Is that possible? Should we even question how we’ve been “doing” normal church?  Asking if our normal might not be so normal!? Saying that what we have, for all these years considered to be normal, isn’t? That our good isn’t God’s best? That His normal would be be better than our best!? And did I hear you correctly? You’re implying that it’s maybe, “…less than biblical!”?

If that’s what you heard, you’d probably say, “You must not be normal! (And you‘re not very good!) You must be one of those (rebels?) with a critical spirit… Because church as we practice it is normal and is good and is biblical. Right? Right. It’s what we do. It’s where we go. This is how it is:  If you are a normal Christian you pick a normal church in your normal town which, if you are normal, you would want to be a part of. Normally you would go there and get involved. They need you and you need them. It’s the norm. What other options are there for a normal Christian’s church life?

But what if you’ve been there and done that, or what if you’re still there and still doing that,  but deep down in your spirit you’ve been wondering if maybe, just maybe, our good is not God’s best, something seems to be amiss? (Maybe you’ve been looking in the Book, checking out the blueprint!) What if you are one of those among others, who do have a growing understanding that something is not quite right with church as we’ve known it? But wait, can it ever be made quite right when it’s made up of [not] normal people like you and me!?  But what about this? What if that growing sense of “not the best” is not about [not] normal people, but about a [not] normal practice?

Not normal church practice.

That is something which repeatedly will come up if we dare to look in the (History) Book and compare how the church today functions, alongside how the gatherings in the New Testament functioned. The something that the early church gatherings practiced was lost within 300 years by the introduction into the church of “traditions of men” contrary to the traditions that the apostles passed on to the earliest church from Jesus.

So, what if our cultural American normal is not the biblical normal, is not the same normal as the traditions that the apostles passed on to the earliest church from Jesus, but is instead largely made up of the added “…less than biblical” traditions of men passed on down to us through the centuries? Do we even dare to consider it? Consider that our normal is that normal? No. Tell me it’s not so. But what do you do if what you are sensing is truly a “holy discontent” with the status quo, with normal as we’ve known it; a nudging in your spirit and through the Word from the Teacher, the Spirit of truth? What if that truth is: something is amiss; there is something that needs to change? Listen… Are you listening? Do you hear it? If you’re hearing it, you are not the only one.

You then, along with many others, are beginning to see that there is a need for a change in how we do “church”, and are sensing with anticipation that something is changing, that Jesus, the builder of his church is up to something better!  Sensing that a reformation from Him is coming. Realizing that Martin Luther’s  “Great Reformation” was not as great as it’s billing. That it’s “orthodoxy” was incomplete, that a new Great Reformation of how the gathered church is supposed to function is still needed. (Orthopraxy is the Big word that is used for the study of church practice, of how it should function.)  How does one change status quo church practice which for close to 2000 years has been considered normal and orthodox?                       How would you change it?     Yeah…      If  you really understood that how we practice church does need to change, what would you do to change it?

Well, you could do this:    (Nicely) nail your own “95 Point Church Reformation Critique”, er… I mean, 95 Point Church Reformation Thesis” on the normal church’s door, and run for cover, hoping and praying that something good comes of your New Reformation. (OK, maybe not.) Besides, Martin Luther wasn’t the first to duck for cover when he tried to change it. And thousands since have presented their own ideas of how to change it, and have denominated us into thousands of differing “normal” churches. So maybe first, instead of reforming the normal church you should begin to pray for your own personal reformation? Pray for the Builder of the (Big) temple to repair and transform your own temple 1Co 6:19 first!?  And pray for more love and a sweet(er) attitude… I’m serious you critical rebel! What are you doing even considering criticizing normal church practice? (Don’t get upset, I was talking to myself !)

 

Ah, but the Truth is, the matter does need to be examined
…the church and the traditions bundled with it have come full circle to the point where a critical (oh, that word again… sorry) examination of it is needed.  Jesus confronted the religious traditions of his day enforced by the religious leaders of his day; traditions of men which clouded rather than clarified the truth of His coming kingdom. We should examine this question: Has the same problem, the traditions of men, which clouded and corrupted the Old Covenant religious system come full circle to cloud and confuse our understanding of how we are intended to function under the Headship of the Lord Jesus Christ within the gathering of the church?  And has it quenched and clouded the free functioning of the Holy Spirit within the church of the New Covenant? Has it given us a form but quenched the power? Let’s (uncritically, of course) suppose that in the gathering, i.e., in the church, it has. Really?  Yeah really, it’s time to suppose…

…let’s suppose. Let’s examine what has happened to church as we’ve known it here in America. Are we only the church with a reputation of having power, but have instead been caught, by years of tradition, in a form that dampens the power of the Spirit more than it enhances it? We should not desire that. Could the quenching by the western church world of the Holy Spirit not so much be a matter of the lack of desire for divinely conferred power (charisma) , or fear of the excesses of charisma(divinely conferred power). (Lack of desire may stem from a lack of a true early church experience of divinely conferred power, and excesses happen when divinely conferred power gets mixed together with men’s own fleshly power, when men lay down the cross of Christ and trust in their own power Jhn 15:5.)

Could it instead be this: Quenching by the western church world of the Holy Spirit is the result of and the fruit of our lack of understanding what the full measure of God’s intent has been from before time began:

God’s eternal purpose has been, as our Father, to gather for Himself a family, and a bride for his Son who, by the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, would be built together into a glorious (Big) temple for the Godhead to dwell in, a temple made without hands.  That very mystery was revealed to Paul and passed on to us:  It is the Father’s’ purpose that in us and in all things Christ Jesus, his son, is to have preeminence. That includes preeminence in our personal lives (Which are his temples) as the Lord of our lives, and preeminence in our gatherings (His bigger temple) as the functioning Head of that gathered Body.

 Preeminence as the functioning head of the gathered body.

That very thing confronts the western church world with this reality: That functionally the Head of the church is but given lip service (ouch! Really? Isn’t that a bit harsh?), because while he is invited to be the Special Guest and is asked to bless our traditional church service worship endeavors (which he graciously does to a large degree)…  we are still holding on to our man-made traditions in our church “services”; our liturgy and form is based in centuries of tradition, little changed by Luther’s reformation: the Priest and eucharistic still being the focal point in Catholic tradition, with the Pastor and the Sermon and/or Bible becoming the focal point in Protestant traditions… In both another head other than the Head is in the forefront and is in charge.

    So we give not a second thought to this: that maybe, just maybe the Head of the Church would like to put the Holy Spirit back in charge of the gathering making Jesus the focal point once again, like the earliest gatherings of the body and bride of Christ were!  Right there is where we have quenched and grieved Him. We, by our customs, have remained preeminent. We have not learned how to surrender our gatherings to Him. We have not yet learned within our gatherings how to listen fully to his voice, yield to him, and participate with him. Thus we have minimized the Holy Spirit’s power and  his  teaching  capabilities. He is the Teacher and should actively be that in our gatherings through one another. But our traditions have quenched the participatory “one another” ministry which when orchestrated by the Holy Spirit would be flowing through the gathered saints to disciple one another, build the body up, and more fully reveal the glory of the Godhead in his Bigger Temple not made with hands  1Pe 2:5. We instead, by our custom, are (mostly) content to sit there and watch the show, watching (a titled and specially trained) someone up front tell us what we need to know

…Meanwhile, our Special Invited Guest graciously remains present, there in our midst. He knows what we need to know, but He, by our custom, is (mostly) forced to sit on the sidelines and watch our show

 

How is it, and when was it that we, once again, placed someone between us and God? (More on that in Part 2… “Having A Form Of godliness…”)

 

~~rob

*One option would be to check out Watchman Nee’s book, The Normal Christian Church Life! (And his companion book, “The Normal Christian Life.”)