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