The Church’s Power
“He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.” Colossians 1:18
In the counsels of eternity, God determined that His Son was going to lead an organism known as the Church. They decided all the authority, power, wisdom and glory of the Eternal Godhead would be available to the Church’s Leader. God held nothing back! In truth and in every way, the Church is the “Church of the Firstborn.”
The “Firstborn,” of course, is reference to the resurrection. More than any other single event in Jesus’ life on earth, His resurrection from the dead was the Divine exclamation point affirming Him as God’s Son and Head of the Church. He is also the “Firstborn” as Creator, the source of all created matter and life. Thus, when we say the Church of the First-born, it is more than a catchy phrase. It signifies the eternal essence of the Church’s Leader.
To His disciples, Jesus certified that He is not only the creator of the Church, but also its continuing source of power. As we read:
“Jesus asked, ‘Who do you say I am?’ “Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ “Jesus replied, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven . . . and on this rock I will build my church and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.’ ” Matthew 16:15-19
This passage identifies four foundational facts:
1. Jesus is the Son of God.
2. The Church belongs to Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God.
3. He is in the process of building His Church upon Himself.
4. Death and hell cannot prevail against His Church.
As we read in other parts of the New Testament, Jesus, who is the Founder/Owner, Builder/Leader of the Church, designates the great task He has given to His Church. As a Divine creation, the Church is to carry the Gospel to all people. In His last words before returning to heaven, Jesus transfers His own mandate to the disciples: You will be given power to be My witnesses to produce other disciples so they, too, will obey everything I have asked you to do.
“As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” John 20:21 (see also Matthew 28:16-20; Luke 24:45-49; Acts 1:6-8)
After three years of intensive and extensive teaching, His command to them is a reminder that as leaders within His Church they, too, are to obey His commands (John 14:21). “Jesus is Lord!” Yes, the only Lord! (I Corinthians 12:3).
The Battle to Control the Church
As clear as the Scriptures are regarding the ownership of the Church, we are at a point where humans are attempting to take control over the Church’s agenda. To put it into terms we can all understand, the church on earth is in the process of being “hijacked” from its rightful Owner.
The reader might question, “How can that possibly be?” If Jesus is the Founder/Owner, Builder/Leader of the Church, surely He would have said something about the leadership of His Church. Yes, He did! Yet, what we see happening today is the redefinition of the very identity and purpose of the Church in a way that removes the Lord of the Church from His position. The church of today bears less and less resemblance to what He said His Church was all about.
The battle for control of the church is not different from one we read about in the New Testament. Today, we call this a “turf war.” When the Chief Priests, Pharisees, Sadducees (the religious humanists of their day) and the mob around Governor Pilate’s palace convinced the Romans to crucify Jesus, they believed they had done away with their rival—their competitor for the hearts and souls of men and women.
However, the resurrection completely wrecked their carefully crafted plot. The disciples, rather than being followers of a dead, deluded dreamer, were energized “from the power of an indestructible life” (Hebrews 7:15, 16). Those who had sought to destroy the Church by crucifying its Leader were now scrambling to find another method to accomplish their goal. They paid no attention to one of their own leaders in the Sanhedrin, Gamaliel, who recommended caution lest they find themselves “fighting against God” (Acts 5:33-39).
A New Champion to Destroy the Church
A new champion arises to meet the rapidly growing challenge from the Church of the Firstborn. Saul, an unrepentant Pharisee (see Matthew 3:7-9), dedicates all his energies to destroying the Church. In his testimony before King Agrippa and other high officials of the Roman Empire, Paul (formerly Saul) recounts his clashes with the Church:
“I too was convinced that I ought to do all possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And that is just what I did in Jerusalem. On the authority of the chief priests I put many of the saints in prison, and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them . . . I was going to Damascus with authority and commission of the chief priests. About noon, O king, as I was on the road, I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, blazing around me and my companions. We all fell to the ground, and I heard a voice saying to me in Aramaic, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” . . .“Then I asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ “ ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ the Lord replied.” (Emphasis added) Acts 26:9-15
Paul testifies here that the Chief Priests and the other religious leaders were out to crush the competition. They had a reason: They did not want to repent and submit to the Leader of the Church. So they commissioned Saul to imprison and kill Jesus’ followers, or, as we would say, “to do the Church in.” Instead, what he ran into was the risen Lord of the Church present within the active body of believers. Individual Christians made up His Body, the Church. They are His Body accomplishing His work in the world. As with a human body, the Body cannot exist without the Head and neither can the Head be active without the Body!
At that moment, Paul understood the meaning of being a member of the Church of the Firstborn: Vital connection and total submission to the Lord of the Church. Jesus Christ is the Body’s Head. Paul continues explaining before King Agrippa,
“. . . the Lord replied . . . ‘I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen of me and what I will show you.’ ” Acts 26:16
The Lord of the Church said to Saul, “To be in My Church, you must become My servant.” This is a startling concept to the unconverted Saul. He wanted control. This revelation to Saul, however, was not a new idea to the Church. Jesus had often instructed His disciples that “leadership in My Kingdom involves being a servant.” When they argued among themselves about which one was the greatest, He told them,
“But you are not to be like that (worldly leaders). Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves . . . I am among you as one who serves . . . And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me.” (Emphasis added) Luke 22:25-29; see John 13:1-17 His Kingdom is one of King service, not self-service.
Jesus presented Himself as the Model for church leadership:
Whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:27, 28
Following up Jesus’ teaching to the disciples, Paul goes on to develop a full understanding of the relation between the Head of the Church and the Body. Instructing the Christians at Ephesus, he writes:
“And God placed all things under his (Jesus) feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.” Ephesians 1:22, 23
Nevertheless, as we have seen in the lives of Jesus’ disciples and those who opposed Him, the desire for control is not new. The same human craving to control and dominate goes back to Eve and Adam in the Garden of Eden. Satan fashioned his appeal to the yet sinless first couple based on controlling their own lives. In effect, Satan said, “Rid yourselves of God’s control and then you can really begin to live! Get out from under God’s authority and you can realize your true potential and find satisfaction!” Instead, it brought complete disaster (Genesis 3:1-19). The drive for control is repeated in every phase of human experience and in every life. As with Saul the Pharisee, we all want to call the shots.
The Church Versus the “Church”
As we continue this discussion, we must distinguish between the Church of Modernity and the Church of the Firstborn. Jesus Christ is the Head of the Church. He has not, and will not be evicted! That reality is beyond any human intervention. When the Roman Governor, Pilate asked the mob outside the Imperial Palace if he should release their “king,” they shouted their contempt of being considered subjects of King Jesus. “Crucify! Crucify!” they screamed. “Our king is Emperor Caesar!” (John 19:1-16).
Just because the leaders and the mob around the palace refused to accept Jesus as King that did not in any way alter the position that God Himself has given Jesus. The disciples’ frequent efforts to gain superior status in their relationship with Jesus were always derailed. Jesus came down quickly and firmly on any attempt by His disciples to introduce secular leadership models (Mark 9:33-37). The eternal Son of God heads the Church always, on earth and in heaven. When it comes to Church Leadership, we are all little children.
The Scriptures uniformly point to Jesus as the Church’s Leader. Attempts to strip Jesus of His role as the Head of the Church cannot remove Him as the Head. His position as the eternal Son of God remains the same whether the denial originates with religious leaders of His time or ours.
Unfortunately, we see the Church of Modernity attempting to be the legitimate heir of the Church of the Firstborn. It is not. Jesus’ Church is different from the church denominational. He sounded clear warning about the distinction.
“ ‘Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven . . . Many will say to me on that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?” Then I will tell them plainly, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” ’” Matthew 7:21-23
Recognition by a church or in religious circles is meaningless without vital relationship with the Head of the Church.
At the very beginning of His teaching, the Lord warned that self-appointed status in the church denominational did not translate automatically into membership in His Church (Kingdom). Individuals may be “at the top of the heap,” with charismatic giftedness in their own church denomination and yet be outside the Church of the Firstborn. The two churches are not one in the same. They are not identical twins. Only the Son of God certifies membership in His Church.
“ ‘My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish.’ ” John 10:27, 28
Then Jesus adds that those who follow Him as Leader have nothing to fear.
“ ‘They shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand . . . (or) my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.’ ” John 10:28-30
Distinguishing between the two churches is the critical issue for us today. In so doing, we can decide if the “normal church activity” we are seeing today is characteristic of Jesus’ Church. As already noted, there is a growing gap between the two. If that is true, only one action is appropriate. Today’s church needs to eliminate the discrepancy between what Jesus and the Apostles taught and what has been set up in its place.
The Church of Modernity needs to bring itself into conformity with what the Lord of the Church designed. Remember that Jesus did not change His style to “fit” to the worldly culture of His day. It cost Him His life. He told His disciples plainly that they, too, would suffer persecution.
“ ‘All this I have told you so that you will not go astray. They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God.’ ” John 16:2
We will present a series of propositions about our current condition. These will focus our attention on things needing our action within today’s church. This listing is not exhaustive nor all inclusive. Not all are true in all churches. However, even one characteristic, grown to maturity, can disqualify that church from being part of the Church of the Firstborn (Revelation 2:5; 3:15, 16).
Let’s begin by asking, “Who is in charge?”
Has God’s Power Been Replaced With Human Effort?
In August of 1994, remnants of a small comet slammed into the planet Jupiter. The resulting eruption from the crash of just one speeding fragment into Jupiter sent a plume of planetary debris some 1,300 miles into space. Scientists calculated that the energy released by the collision was equivalent to the entire stockpile of the world’s atomic weapons 100 times over. This solar spectacle awed astronomers around the world. They declared such an encounter between a similar object and the earth would be catastrophic. The earth, of course, is 1,000 times smaller than Jupiter.
Consider the following:
1. Jupiter does not hold a candle to the likes of our sun that is a medium-sized star.
2. Billions of stars populate our own galaxy.
3. Our galaxy is one of millions in the known universe.
The power released when a small cosmic fragment hits one of our neighboring planets truly impresses us and receives headline treatment by the news media.
Now look at the differing levels of energy represented in this incident. We consider the slamming of a comet fragment into Jupiter an extraordinary display of energy. Yet, how much energy did it take to create Jupiter itself—1,000 times larger than the earth? How about our solar system, which includes the sun? How much energy to create it? Then consider the energy required to create our galaxy with its billions of stars. That is far beyond our ability to imagine! Nevertheless, we are awestruck by the consequences of the minor crash into Jupiter. We tend talk in superlatives as we relate events or inventions that display unusual power measured by our own finite experience.
The Psalmist understood a much larger dimension. David, looking up into the nighttime sky over Israel, recognized the majestic power of Jehovah. Expressing the awe that he felt he wrote:
“When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, or the son of man that you care for him.” Psalm 8:3, 4
Although King David did not have the “eye” of the Hubble Space Telescope, his eye saw the Invisible. He discerned the reality of humanity’s incredible insignificance and frailty within a universe created by the Almighty God. It is only God’s attention to us that brings any significance at all into our meager existence. It is only God’s activity that makes us count. So David ends this Psalm with a doxology, “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth.” That was the wonder produced in David’s soul when he saw Who God really is. That is the same God who has placed all power into the hands of the Church’s Leader. We need to capture David’s vision about the reality of things.
Yet, how does the church go about its business in our secular culture? In the Church of Modernity, the doxology sung is to the achievement of human effort. We observe blatant efforts to make my name or church “majestic” in the newspaper, on the radio or, perhaps, television. How high can they lift me up within my church, my city, my denomination? Perhaps I can arrange to get a coveted invitation to the White House to meet with the president! King Solomon had it right: “Vanity! Vanity! All is vanity!” (Ecclesiastes 1:2)
How have we deposed the Church’s Leader? In the Church of the Firstborn (of which the New Testament church was the example), when problems arose, the church went to prayer to get instructions from their Leader (Acts 1:14; 2:24; 4:31; 12:5; 13:3). Despite having at least twelve people and perhaps as many as 120 whom the Master Teacher and Leader of the Church had trained, they did not presume to rely on their own wits to do the Lord’s work. Look at what characterized the early Church:
“They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.” Acts 1:15“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” Acts 2:42“On their release (from prison), Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them. When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God.” Acts 4:23, 24
Notice the holy balance in the early church’s activities: Studying the Scriptures (and the Apostle’s teaching); having fellowship and sharing; and spending time in prayer. It was not their prayer that gave them power—it was the Creator God Who was the Source of power. Prayer put them in touch with God. He was the Divine Energizer. In prayer, the members of the New Testament Church exhibited their humility. They were recognizing the obvious truth of what Jesus had said: “Apart from me, you can do nothing!” (John 15:5). Does that characterize how we operate today? Oh, we may say we do, but how do we act?
In the church today, when problems come up church leaders call the church to—a planning meeting. You must understand, of course, we have the “advantage” of our secular culture’s various management strategies to handle difficulties. “Let’s not bother God. Instead, we can appoint a committee, conduct a survey of our members or hire a consultant.”
So, when the committee meeting is called to order, it’s for planning, not praying. Prayer was important in the New Testament, but that was a long time ago. Like the polite wiping of the lips with a napkin after a meal, we will, of course, open or close in a word of prayer. That’s now a tradition. The prominence of strategic planning over steadfast praying is epidemic in our churches (Ephesians 6:18-20). This, however, is just one of many examples that reveal the true condition of the evangelical church.
Humility before God in prayer does not characterize the modern church. Much like those who were on the Titanic, it was only after they realized the ship was, in fact, sinking that they asked for the band to play, Nearer my God to Thee. Compare that attitude to the ease with which Jesus Himself consistently went to prayer. Survey the teaching and practice of prayer in t he New Testament (See Luke 5:16; Luke 6:12-15; Luke 11:1-4; Luke 18:1; John 17; Philippians 4:6; I Timothy 2:1-8; James 5:13-18). It is obvious. The early church did not make a move without prayer.
How different today. Now the church depends on a highly skilled staff; plenty of money to attract them; up-to-date facilities and equipment; and entertaining programs to bring people in. These just happen to be the very things that the Bible condemns. It takes Titanic experiences to bring most churches to prayer. Listen in your heart to the writing of the Apostle Paul as he identifies the power Source of the Church:
“But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him (God) that you are in Christ Jesus.” I Corinthians 1:26-30
In another place, he writes:
“Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?” Galatians 3:3
In his general epistle, the Apostle Peter adds:
“We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.” II Peter 1:16
Nothing in Scripture more clearly defines the Church of the Firstborn than its Source of power. It seems, however, that we are hell-bent in trying to prove to our world that our power is from our wisdom (education, degrees, etc.); we are effective because we are big and strong (the mega-church movement); we are attractive to the community because of our music, programs and beautiful facilities (entertainment value).
We say we believe in God’s power, but our behavior reveals the truth: We do not! While attempting to harness our two-bit generators we ignore the power from a million Hoover Dams that is readily available to the Church of the Firstborn! We can’t let go of our human toys and pacifiers. We are conducting ourselves in the way revealed to the prophet Isaiah:
“The Lord says: ‘These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men.’“ ‘Therefore once more I will astound these people . . . the wisdom of the wise will perish, the intelligence of the intelligent will vanish.’“ ‘Woe to those who go to great depths to hide their plans from the Lord, who do their work in darkness and think, “Who sees us? Who will know?” ’ “ ‘You turn things upside down as if the potter were thought to be like the clay! Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, “He did not make me”? Can the pot say to the potter, “He knows nothing ”? ’ ” Isaiah 29:13-16
Yes, Isaiah, we have turned things upside down, haven’t we.
How different was Paul’s approach. How much more enduring were his results. He said his intention was that their faith (members of the Church of the Firstborn) “might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power” (I Corinthians’ 2:1-5). “The fear of God—that is the beginning of wisdom,” said the Psalmist (Psalm 111:10). Our fear today, however, is that perhaps our pastor might leave. We are afraid people will stop attending church and stop giving and place the church in financial crises.
Should this not suggest to us a simple question: Just what is being promoted as the real source of power within the church? Who are the members of our church following? Is God truly the source of power in our church? Or, are we just depending on the human efforts of a man, a committee, a church or worship program, a building, clever marketing techniques? Where should our confidence be?
Isaiah the prophet (and other writers of Scripture) identifies the Power for ministry:
“This is what God the Lord says—he who created the heavens and stretched them out . . . ‘I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles.’ “ ‘I am the Lord; that is my name! I will not give my glory to another.’ ” Isaiah 42:5-8
“This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel says: ‘In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it. You said, “No, we will flee on horses.” ’ Therefore, you will flee!” Isaiah 30:15, 16
Paul echoes the same thoughts:
“For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake . . . But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” II Corinthians 4:5, 7
Those of us who stand before others to preach or teach should do so in fear and trembling. It is so easy to slip into the idolatry of worshiping human effort. The warnings in Scripture are many and terrifying:
“Let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our ‘God is a consuming fire.’ ” Hebrews 12:28; Deuteronomy 4:23, 24
That is the worship within the Church of the Firstborn. It is, however, a perspective we seem to have lost.