Resurrection for the Church
While he (Peter) was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him.” -God the Father
Jesus invited three of His disciples, Peter, James and John, to accompany Him to a high mountain to pray. Before the invitation, Jesus had announced that He was to go to Jerusalem and be killed (Matthew 16:21). In despair, these disciples accompany Jesus up this mountain to pray and then, witness the unveiling of Jesus’ heavenly glory. As Jesus was praying, the gospel writers inform us that He was “transfigured before them” (Matthew 17:2; Mark 9:2; Luke 9:29).
“As (Jesus) was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightening. Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus.”
Like many of us might respond under such circumstances, Peter immediately comes up with a plan for the Son of God. “ ‘Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ (He did not know what he was saying)” (Luke 9:33). At that moment, God the Father proclaims from heaven: “There is only One Son—listen to him.” Moses, the great lawgiver, and Elijah, the thundering prophet of the Old Testament, were prominent in God’s revelation of Himself to the people of Israel. But only in Jesus His Son did God fully and completely reveal Himself to humanity.
Jesus’ primary work on earth was the redemption of mankind through His death, burial and resurrection. Apart from that, Jesus labored for three years training twelve disciples. Though He had many other dedicated followers, He directed the strength of His teaching to these twelve persons. To them, He would delegate the responsibility of setting up His Church. So taking these three disciples up to a mountain to pray was necessary when we consider the context.
The Things of God Or the Things of Men
Earlier, we touched on what the disciples thought about God’s plan to have their Leader crucified. They didn’t agree and they didn’t like it. Nonetheless, Jesus did not want to leave these Apostles of His Church with the notion that human standards somehow measured God’s will and success in His Church. So when Peter “rebukes” Jesus after He talked about crucifixion, Jesus corrects Peter’s perspective: “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men” (Matthew 16:23; Mark 8:33).
According to everything Peter and the other disciples knew from their secular culture and business contacts and transactions, Jesus was talking foolishness. Being executed like a criminal was not the right program for setting up God’s Kingdom. From the perspective of their collective human experience, Jesus was about to make a monumental blunder. However, for the disciples then and for the church in our century, that trip up the mountain clarified Jesus’ identity.
Jesus was not the final voice in a long line of prophets and spiritual leaders. God the Father ends all such humanistic thinking with a stunning announcement: “This is my Son . . . Listen to him.” Nothing in Scripture is more profound yet so simple.
Where would we be today if Jesus had listened to Peter and disobeyed His heavenly Father? What would be the condition of the world today if there had been no death and resurrection of Jesus Christ the Son of God? Would there be a church at all if Jesus had not gone to the cross? Still, at the time of the Father’s declaration, there were two differing opinions about what should be done. The majority was on the wrong side. Can it be that the church today is repeating the mistake? Have we forgotten the Father’s voice, “I have only one Son . . . Listen to Him”? God’s proclamation on that occasion is as critical for believers now as it was then. We must decide what we are going to do and why. The why is nearly as essential as the what.
For example, you will recall we talked about a Chicago man looking for gymnasium space. We also mentioned the numerical growth of the China church from 1950-1982. The peril is that we would take such obvious success stories and use the illustrations as models for church structure and activity. If “success” is what validates the model, then we have fallen again into the trap that is now gripping the Church of Modernity. The source of authority is faulty. However, isn’t that how we have been functioning for a long time? Would you not agree that we must do something about this habit of ours?
Recently in a large California church, a preacher asked his audience the following question: “Where would we be today if we took away all church buildings, pastors, Christian bookstores, Christian radio and T.V.?” Without hesitating, he answered his own question: “We would be in a spiritual wasteland!” He and that congregation could not imagine the church without these “essential” elements. By implication, of course, the more the better.
But think about that question, “Where would we be?” Right in the middle of the New Testament church! Right where China stood forty five years ago! When all else was taken away, what remained were the essentials: The Word of God, the presence of the Holy Spirit and direct communication with God in prayer. Regrettably, the Church of Modernity has forgotten what is truly essential. Either we listen to the Lord of the Church, or we will continue to be led by the “things of men.”
Restoration Can Only Begin With Repentance
In the book of Revelation, when the churches got off track, Jesus had two admonitions: “Wake up! Repent!” But, if you believe as did the church in Laodicea that you “are rich; have acquired wealth and do not need a thing,” you may want to put this book away. What follows is written to those who understand that we have left the Leader of our Church in the dust of frenzied experimenting with this world’s things and ideas. For you see, as far off base as the church in Laodicea had gotten, the Savior still reached out to them with promise and hope.
Jesus’ first requirement was they had to recognize and admit their true condition. What He points to is something beyond buildings and media and personalities that a worldly culture would say are important. Listen to His counsel.
“I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.
“Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be ernest, and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock.”
Gently, but firmly, He reminds them He is in the refining business—not a health and wealth gospel. He sees their impurity—He offers His own righteousness as a covering. He declares His truth will enable them to see reality from heaven’s point of view. They were sinning. Jesus appeals for them to return to Him and be restored. Nothing written in Scripture suggests that they just sweep it all under a rug as if nothing had happened.
Like Laodicea, it is not our inclination to repent despite our sin. We ask, “Can’t we just forget it?” No! We have been dabbling in unrighteousness. For the churches of Asia Minor in 95AD and for those in the closing years of our century, restoration begins with repentance.
“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins, and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.” (Emphasis added) I John 1:8-10
It can’t be any more clear. We have ignored His Word.
Reinstating His Word in Our Lives
Repenting and reinstating (replanting) the Word in our lives are like two sides of one coin. The reason we need to repent is that we have abandoned God’s Word as our standard for living. When someone states, “We must return to the Word of God!”, what does it mean? Turn the coin over and read the other side of the affirmation: “We must throw out the things that have taken the Word’s place!” When we leave the Word, something else takes its place. So we cannot reinstate the Word in our lives by just rearranging or repainting the things that have taken its place.
The wonderful thing about the Bible is that you can’t erase the parts you disagree with. They still remain. You may abandon it, or treat it as theater if you wish, but it is not a script that loses its meaning after the show. The other stuff must go. As James expresses it for us:
“Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.”
In Old Testament days, the people of Israel attempted to hang onto both worlds.
“They worshiped the Lord, but they also served their own gods in accordance with the customs of the nations from which they had been brought.”
But what does the Scripture point out in the next verse?
“To this day they persist in their former practices. They neither worship the Lord nor adhere to the decrees and ordinances, the laws and commands that the Lord gave the descendants of Jacob, whom the Lord named Israel.”
II Kings 17:33, 34
By keeping one foot in each camp, they in fact abandoned the Lord. Yes, they went through the motions of worship and prayer. There was great form and an appealing program. The Lord said, “Their worship is empty. There is no reality in their lives because they are serving their own gods like their neighbors.”
As we saw earlier, perhaps the one issue that defines the Church of Modernity more than any other is its lack of regard for God’s Word and prayer. It’s as though God has not spoken nor does He hear. However, if the Bible is truly the Word of God and prayer is truly communication with God, what should be the priority in our lives? Oh, when we are facing disaster, we cry out, “Lord, save us!” When we want reassurance that heaven is securely in our grasp, we quote God’s promises. But doesn’t God see what we are up to? Doesn’t He understand that we are ignoring two of the most important things to Him? Like Peter, have we not substituted human thinking for God’s authority?
Recover the Purpose of the Church
Earlier, we found the purpose for which God established the Church. Those “who have been called according to his purpose” God wills for us to be “conformed to the likeness of His Son.” (See Romans 8:28, 29). We are to be the Body of Christ, as Jesus revealed to Paul on the road to Damascus. The Leader of the Church has expectations what members of His Body are to be and do.
In the Church of Modernity, how we live and what we do are determined more by secular culture than Scripture. Tragically, many of those culturally correct things are opposite to what the Scriptures say belong in the Church of the Firstborn. The church today has taken the easy alternative. It has decided to use worldly, secular standards though the Leader of the Church has emphatically said, “Don’t!”
EITHER/OR now reappears. We must decide which church we are going to be. We will adopt either the “things of this world” or “the things of God.” Either we will put on the glasses of the church of Laodicea and say, “we look terrific,” or we will look through the eyes of the Son of God Who said, we “are wretched, poor and blind.” Either we will continue as we are, or repent at God’s Word like the people of ancient Nineveh. Either we will strive to adapt to our earthly surroundings like Lot, or we will join with Abraham to “look for the city with foundations.” Either the Word of Christ or worldly compromise will determine our message and methods. Remember how the Apostle Paul describes the two alternatives we face.
“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
The church must make a choice: To “conform to the world” or be “transformed” by the living Word. Either/Or!
The Choice for The Church
The road back to the “things of God” will not be an easy one. We have grown accustomed to a style of church life that is comfortable for us. It may take a revolution to return us to obeying the Lord of the Church and pattern our living after the teaching of Scripture. Jesus Himself described the nature of the choice we are facing.
“No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse. Neither do men pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.”
Matthew 9:16, 17
Using commonly known articles, Jesus verifies that we cannot fit radical spiritual change within an existing structure. Remember what He said about the Temple and its worship (Matthew 24:1, 2; 27:51). We now face such a change.
Today’s church is so much a part of the fabric and content of existing organizational structures that a “new garment” and a “new wineskin” are necessary. Despite this, we still see efforts being made to adjust present structures to the necessary change. It will not work today anymore than when Jesus spoke those words. We are trying to “tune” the engine when we need an entirely new vehicle.
We keep looking at the present day church to see how it can be “patched” or which “wineskin” looks most attractive to the world. Jesus gave us a different answer. To “preserve” the Church of the Firstborn and the Truth of Scripture, a radical change is required.
To illustrate, let’s take an application from the book of Hebrews. The writer describes things that are permanent (eternal) and things that are temporary (earthly).
“At that time (on Mount Sinai, Exodus 19:18) his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, ‘Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.’ The words ‘once more’ indicate the removing of what can be shaken—that is, created things, so that what cannot be shaken may remain.”
Hebrews 12:26, 27
The wineskins of our secular world are “things created;” don’t try to pour God’s eternal wine into a container that is going to be removed. The worn-out fabric of this world cannot be used as material for the everlasting garment God is weaving for His children.
Return to The New Testament Church
To become the Church of the Firstborn, we must return to the New Testament Church. Unfortunately, since there is great disparity between the present-day church and the church of the New Testament, that journey will be difficult. Let’s identify some differences.
1.The Church: Structure or Body?
If someone asked you to describe your church, how would you begin? Would you diagram the buildings at some location? Would you provide the organizational chart of your church staff? Would you acquaint them with your church or denominational distinctive that separates it from all others? Yes, today we have lots of choices, don’t we? However, it was not so in the New Testament.
The early church did not construct any buildings for “worship” purposes—not for 300 years. A person did not place a call for the “Visitation Pastor,” the “Youth Pastor” or even the “Senior Pastor” when there was a problem. The “church” didn’t employ visitation pastors, youth pastors or senior pastors. The church functioned as a body—its members took care of problems.
As for denominational distinctive, denominations didn’t exist. To be sure, attempts at such division were made. Listen in as Paul confides to the Corinthians.
“For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men? For when one says, ‘I follow Paul,’ and another, ‘I follow Apollos,’ are you not mere men?”
More directly, he adds,
“So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who makes things grow . . .
“For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.” (Emphasis added)
I Corinthians 3:3, 4, 7, 9
These verses identify two principles that shatter current popular concepts. The only church structure talked about in the New Testament is the Body of Christ—God’s building. Secondly, Only God makes things grow! To become the Church of the Firstborn, we must admit that our current definition of “church” is not Biblical. Then, we must be willing to discard what is not Biblical.
Yet, we continue to make much of our church buildings, our denominations, our church staffs and programs, our church distinctive, etc. Would not Paul say today as he did then,
“I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly . . . You are still worldly”
I Corinthians 3:1, 3
You see, in the Church of the Firstborn, the structure receiving care, support and maintenance is the body of believers.
Today, we have turned everything around. Our leaders are continually asking that the body take care of the church—its buildings, programs, staff, etc. During New Testament times, they focused all the effort and resources on the church body. Today, the emphasis is on church structure in its various mutations. Today, we are striving to be at the top of the heap when we die. The Apostles were striving (and died) to have individuals reach spiritual maturity so that the Body of Christ could function as intended by the Lord of the Church.
The Apostle Paul makes this point clear when he wrote about the “gifting” of individual Christians. God’s spiritual gifts to the Church are given for a purpose.
“. . . to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
“Then we will no longer be infants . . . Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is Christ.”
The Apostle’s teaching on “church growth” had nothing to do with numbers—it was about maturity in Christ. He never asked them to build and fill a church building. His great desire was for them to “attain to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”
How fundamentally different is the message we hear in our seminaries, from our pulpits and across television. The Church of the Firstborn has been deformed. In a rush to “conform to the world,” it has become the Church of Modernity. “Even while these people were worshiping the Lord, they were serving their idols.” (II Kings 17:41).
Stated candidly, church structure and buildings and programs have become idols in our church world. They are the source of pride, envy and division. “My church is bigger, better, newer, fuller, more cutting-edge, etc.,” is not how the Church of the Firstborn describes itself. We need to walk away from the structures of the Church of Modernity, whatever they are. We need to start rebuilding the Body of Christ and allow it to function as our Lord intended.
2. Attachment or Vital Connection?
To illustrate how the Body of Christ is built up, perhaps we can use a common metaphor. In most sporting events, there are two general categories of involvement. Perhaps hundreds or thousands are watching the performance—that’s one. The second category is the people who are playing the game, anything from football to ping-pong.
Those who are watching have an attachment to the sport. Those who are playing have a vital connection. Often, those who are watching pay to get into the stadium and those who are playing are being paid.
For the Church of the Firstborn, Jesus is not interested in attachment. He demands vital connection. That is what He offered the disciples. That is what He told Nicodemus. That was the message the Samaritan woman heard from Him. That is what He disclosed to the man who asked what he should do to inherit eternal life. That is what He revealed to the church of Laodicea. “Because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” (Revelation 3:16). Jesus calls us all to vital connection.
How can those with attachment acquire vital connection? To continue our sports’ analogy: If we cheer louder, will that do it? What if they charge us more to get in? Perhaps if we wear better clothes? Maybe if we come in casually dressed? Should we sing newer songs? The benches are too hard—what about cushioned, solid oak benches? How about a new stadium? One with a prominent stained glass window? No, nothing will change so long as we avoid the rigor of having vital connection. Vital connection starts when we go out onto the field.
Even conceding this to be a crude illustration, it makes several important points:
- Attachment allows us to be present without participating.
Attachment enables us to talk about the game.
Attachment protects us from spending the time and effort required to participate.
Attachment means we can leave any time we want.
We can all understand that having attachment is a different dimension from vital connection. Yet, we are still having difficulty making that distinction between the Church of the Firstborn and the Church of Modernity. Jesus set up the Church of the Firstborn so that everyone would have full, active participation (James 1:22-25). We are brought into His Body to practice our profession. As members of His Church, we are always on call. Others are constantly watching. We don’t walk out when it is convenient. Our calling to be His followers is full-time.
How is it at your church, attachment or vital connection? This past week as you went to your church, which church did you observe? How would you describe the people there? Were there two categories of people? Would you like it to be different? If so, please read on.
3. Institution or Relationship?
Earlier, we asked the question, “When you think of your church, what comes to your mind?” Can we explore that some more? For as we go down the list of things that were important to the Leader of the Church, we find this one near the top. The Apostles had the same perspective as Jesus. They were commissioned to take the resurrection message into the world. Their definition of “church” was unmistakable.
So in response to the question, some readers may say, “People! Of course! It’s in our church’s Purpose Statement.” However, before closing this book too quickly, can we think about it a little? If it is people, what are the most important spiritual gifts of the church? Are they institutional or relational? What church positions receive the highest pay—administrators or those nurturing spiritual growth? What has the highest priority, strategy or humility? Which is it?
To find out, we turn to a book that talks a lot about spiritual gifts and explains how these gifts function. Let’s pick up some of the context of these key verses.
“But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it . . . ”
“It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ . . . ”
“From him the whole body, joined together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”
Ephesians 4:7, 11, 12, 16
These verses outline three sets of relationships.
- 1. “Each one of us, grace is given” shows a “gifting” relationship with the Leader of the Church. Christ has gifted every Christian. (vrs. 7).
2. “Some . . . to prepare us” points to a “teaching/learning” relationship within the Body of Christ. Every Christian participates to build the body (vrs. 11, 12).
3. “Supporting, growing and loving” details the “maturing” relationship among the members of the Church of the Firstborn. Every Christian contributes to the body’s maturity. (vrs. 16)
Can we repeat what we have outlined? Relationship! Relationship! Relationship! Can you think of any New Testament Scripture that instructs us to develop an institution?
The moment we start to institutionalize the Church of the Firstborn, we are moving toward the Church of Modernity. When we begin defining the church as structure and not relationship, we are patterning ourselves after our secular culture. Our American culture admires structure—the bigger the better; it idolizes institutions—they are impressive. We love worldly success—that’s the bottom line! On the other hand, Jesus came to restore broken relationship—between us and God and among humankind. His church is to be a living, reconciling organism made up of people.
In the Church of Modernity, the issue of relationship is completely different from that in the Church of the Firstborn. One strives to strengthen the Body of Christ. The other shackles its members, fostering atrophy. One exercises all the parts so the whole body will work together. The other restricts participation to retain control for its leaders. One has significant support in the evangelical community. The other is an orphan. Under these circumstances, is there any hope? Yes, if we are willing to return to the Scriptures.
Restoring the House/Neighborhood Fellowship
To illustrate the difficulty we face as we near the end of this century, here is an item sent out by a highly regarded evangelical organization. It describes an individual who had contacted the agency and conveys the isolation he is feeling: “There is no church in that area, but his family worships the Lord at home.” Is that statement true? Read it again and think about it. Now, let’s go back to the question. Would that statement be true if it were made in the first century? Do you believe Jesus would give the same answer as we do today? Is there a way to check it out?
On at least two occasions, Jesus sent out His followers on preaching trips. Let’s look at each of those and then consider a third passage. First, He sends the twelve disciples:
“These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions . . .
‘Whatever town or village you enter, search for some worthy person there and stay at his house until you leave.’ ”
Matthew 10:5, 14
Then, He appoints seventy-two to go out:
“After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. He said to them . . .
‘When you enter a house, first say, “Peace to this house.” If a man of peace is there, your peace will rest on him; if not, it will return to you. Stay in that house, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house.’ ”
Luke 10:1, 5-7
In the third passage, Jesus outlines the process for church discipline. He sets down a permanent principle for the Church of the Firstborn:
“ ‘Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them. ’ ” (Emphasis added)
Matthew 18:19, 20
Returning, now, to our illustration and question, “Is there a church if the family worshiped in their home?” At least three people were worshiping together, right? Would we say that constitutes a church? What would Jesus answer?
How about the Apostle Paul? You may recall that one night Paul had a vision which resulted in Europe hearing the Resurrection Gospel. Responding to the vision and after traveling some distance, Paul, Silas, Luke and Timothy arrive at Philippi. This city is described as “a Roman colony and the leading city of that district of Macedonia” (Acts 16:12). Going outside the city to locate a place for prayer, Paul finds a group of women, led by Lydia, a “worshiper of God.” Paul preaches. She responds to the message and in short order, she and her household were baptized. Read what transpires:
“When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. ‘If you consider me a believer in the Lord,’ she said, ‘come and stay at my house.’ And she persuaded us. ”
Right on the heels of this, Paul and Silas are arrested, flogged and thrown into prison. The reason? They had cast out a demon from a slave girl. In prison, bruised and humiliated, they were praying and singing hymns when a violent earthquake shakes open the prison doors.
The jailer, fearful and trembling, asks that most important question, “What must I do to be saved?” The Apostle leads him to salvation and we read, “At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his family were baptized. The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole family” (Acts 16:30-33). Another church fellowship was begun.
Paul and Silas are released from prison early the following morning. And where do they go? To the other church in Philippi: “After Paul and Silas came out of prison, they went to Lydia’s house, where they met with the brothers (sisters) and encouraged them” (Acts 16:40).
Let’s go a little further. Earlier, we alluded that the book of Romans sparked the Reformation. The Apostle is closing his letter to the Romans with greetings to various people and churches.
“Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus. They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them.
“Greet also the church that meets at their house.” Romans 16:4, 5
Paul mentions these two people again:
“The churches in the province of Asia send you greetings. Aquila and Priscilla greet you warmly in the Lord, and so does the church that meets at their house.”
I Corinthians 16:19
As he is closing his letter to the Colossians, he writes:
“Give my greetings to the brothers at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house.”
Then, as Paul opens his personal note to Philemon, he says:
“Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, to Philemon our dear friend and fellow worker, to Apphia our sister, to Archippus our fellow soldier and to the church that meets in your home . . .”
Philemon 1, 2
About his long stay in Ephesus, Paul reminded the elders:
“You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house. I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus.’ ” (For emphasis, parts of these verses are highlighted.)
Earlier, we mentioned the practice of the Jerusalem Church Body to meet in homes. In homes, they received the Apostles’ teaching, they worshiped and celebrated the Lord’s table (Acts 2:42, 46). Homes were used to conduct prayer meetings (Acts 12:12). The first evangelistic outreach trip to the Roman world began at a home in Joppa and concluded in a home in Caesarea. The Church was opened to the Gentiles and another church was established (Acts 10:23-27).
What is the point of all this? It’s all right for a home to be a church fellowship! Not only is it all right, it is the normative way a church should function! Jesus taught it; the Apostles obeyed and established them. This New Testament teaching and practice lasted for 300 years. The Gospel raced over much of the known world with home/church fellowships being established in communities everywhere.
During those years, the Apostles’ teaching and church expansion was accomplished without construction projects and church growth consultants. Although some teaching was done in public buildings and in rented halls (Acts 17:22, 23; 19:8-10), by and large, the work of the Body of Christ went out from homes—in the neighborhoods where people lived.
Undoubtedly, Paul’s most enduring ministry (giving us much of the New Testament) was done from a place in Rome where he was “in chains” under “house arrest” (Acts 28:16, 23). What could happen today if all pastors were placed under “house arrest” by their churches with no TV or microphones or choirs? We might discover some new apostles!
Since Jesus instituted the house/neighborhood church fellowship and the Apostles carried out His teaching, we have every reason to return to that practice. It will help us rebuild the Church of the Firstborn.
Returning to the Church of the Firstborn
Walking away from the Church of Modernity and returning to the Church of the Firstborn will require the courage and meekness of Moses. In ancient times, Moses marched into the presence of Pharoah and proclaimed in God’s Holy Name, “LET MY PEOPLE GO!” Moses was convinced of one thing: The great “I AM” of his message. He did not equivocate. He was as certain of his message as he was of his God. That is where Moses’ strength came from.
Today, the person or the parson who will stand up in the Church of Modernity and cry out, “LET MY PEOPLE GO” will need the same confidence in the same God. God has called us to something far better than to be slavishly chained to a church system that is trading shamelessly in the commodities of humanism. The Lord of the Church did not cast us adrift to flounder aimlessly, grasping after the latest gimmick or fad dredged up from a corrupt secular culture to bring the church to the heavenly Kingdom. No, we have something as certain and secure as God Himself. In the words of that great hymn written by Lidie H. Edmunds,
My faith has found a resting place,
not in device or creed;
I trust the Everlasting One,
His wounds for me shall plead.
My heart is leaning on the Word,
the written Word of God;
Salvation by my Savior’s name,
salvation through His blood.
If there is to be a resurrection to what we ought to be, there must be a crucifixion to what we are. Placing our confidence in ourselves must change. The rich ruler who came to Jesus asking about eternal life was told by Jesus to die to the one thing which stood in his way. His wealth was his idol. Jesus said, get rid of your idol and then you can follow me and have eternal life. “At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth” (Mark 10:22).
This man’s idol, while single in definition was plural in description. He may have had stocks and bonds, homes and apartments, jewelry and gold coins, status and power that were all part of his wealth. Jesus said, “Give them up. They don’t count in My Kingdom. They are all part of a world system that will be shaken—they will disappear.”
We have tried to describe some of the things that are disqualifying the church of our time from being the Church of the Firstborn. You see, the Church of the Firstborn is not a fiction of someone’s mind. It is the Church Jesus died for, the Church He designed, and the Church which, at His command, His Apostles established. There is form and substance to that Church. There is purpose to that Church. There is a pattern that Church is to follow. The Church has an objective—to bring people into conformity with the likeness of the Son of God. That likeness cannot be discovered in our secular culture, not can it be created through innovative marketing techniques.
Yet, the church of our century has opted to follow a way that has brought us more and more into conformity with our worldly surroundings. As a reminder, can we list some things that describe the road we have followed? The Church of Modernity is characterized by:
Emotional impact, attachment, convenience, entertainment, marketing, human effort, secular standards, contemporary truth, numerical growth, staff visibility, institutional strength, planning, pragmatism and prayerlessness.
Do you find your church defined in that list? No, not at every point. But if you will reflect honestly, you will agree that we are on a downward spiral toward that landing field. The question which should come to mind is: How do we get back to where we are supposed to be? The Scriptures provide us with many examples. We will select one of the kings of Judah who illustrates the circumstances we are in and the course of action we need to take.