What does a Biblical New Testament church look like? Let me ask a question that has perplexed me lately. Is our model for church really what God intended His church to become? I believe that we adhere to a lot of bad ecclesiology (the theology of what church is) and that bad theory spills over into how we do church.
Jesus never wanted us to attract non-Christians to a building where they could be indoctrinated by that particular churches belief system. Church is not about enticing people to show up at a certain building for an hour or two one day a week and then say we are the voice of God in the world.
When I surf the Internet it boggles my mind to try and comprehend how much money local congregations spend on magnificent buildings, state of art sound systems, well-paid musicians, multiple staff and a host of other church building centered activities. Turn on the television and we encounter slick programing, smooth preaching and wonderful performance driven worship services. But, is this really the church?
When Jesus cleansed the Temple in John chapter two He was announcing to the religious leaders that worship wasn’t about going to a place but about the heart. Where Jesus dwells is where worship, outreach and life resides. Unfortunately, the commission to go into the highways and byways and invite people into the Kingdom of God has been replaced by an invitation to come to a local church and hear a professional preach.
We experience church almost as an escape from our society and culture. If we can only get inside the church walls everything will be fine. We can raise our hands in praise, sing our hearts out, listen to a well tuned sermon and pray that lost people have come to the church that day, but the truth is that is not church.
Jesus taught that the Kingdom of God comes in power after the second coming and it is at that time we will be transformed and changed for eternity. However, He also taught that the Kingdom of Heaven through the death and resurrection of Jesus has broken back into history and offers salvation and the Kingdom of God to all who believe in Him. In other words we continue to live in this present evil age, but we live in the Kingdom of God as well because we have accepted the love and grace of Jesus into our hearts.
The term Kingdom of God simply means the reign or rule of Jesus in our lives. When we allow Jesus to enter our lives we are born again and receive life, which is contrasted to our lost state of death before we accepted Jesus. Through the Holy Spirit Jesus comes to live in our heart and we are transformed into the sons and daughters of God. That transformation fills us with joy that spills out into the lives of others.
This is church. In Matthew 13 we have the parable of the mustard seed and it presents the truth that the Kingdom of God is sown as a small seed but it is still the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God in this present evil age isn’t about mass conversions, gigantic churches and celebrity pastors, but instead about the planting of seeds one at a time that will take fruit in a persons heart and lead that person to the foot of the cross.
Jesus wants to shine through us where we work, live, play, shop and do life together. He wants church out on the streets not behind the safe walls of a building. We are called to allow the Spirit to work through our love and compassion as living examples of the wondrous grace that is God.
Denominations plan large events and rallies in which hundreds of thousands of dollars are spent on advertising, promotion, hall rentals, training sessions, securing high prolife pastors and equipping local church members with the skills to invite people to the meetings. Is that what happened on the day of Pentecost?
Did the disciples go out into the streets and hand out fliers inviting the inhabitants of Jerusalem to a series of meetings at the local Synagogue later that night? No, they preached with power, filled with the Holy Spirit about Jesus crucified, resurrected, sitting at the right hand of God and the free gift of salvation to all who would believe in the risen Christ.
And what were the results? Three thousand came forward to accept Christ. This would never have happened if the disciples hadn’t stepped out of the Upper Room and gone to the people. They were praying, worshipping and seeking God for ten days in that Upper Room and the Bible doesn’t record one person coming to join them there in search of salvation. But, when they went into the world of the present evil age thousands had their eyes open to the Gospel.
The great commission in Matthew 28:18-20 simply states, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go….” We are to go out of our comfort zone and secure churches to become the church in the world.
Notice what else Jesus told the disciples in the great commission. They were to go and make disciples. They were to baptize in the name of the Father, Son and Spirit and also to teach. A persons name was understood in New Testament times to mean much more than a simple title. It represented everything about the person. It reflected their deeds, wants, character, interests, authority and desires. Is it possible that Jesus is calling us to live our lives in such a way that we are to immerse people every day into Jesus?
Jesus never went and pitched a tent in the local park of the town He was visiting. He didn’t invite people to show up Saturday night for revival meetings. He went out to where the people were. He walked throughout Galilee preaching in towns and villages. He walked through Samaria sharing the good news while pious Jews took a long detour around the land so the people wouldn’t contaminate them. And finally He walked to Jerusalem and the crucifixion.
Where Jesus is, the church lives and breathes. If Jesus dwells within us then the great commission “to go” isn’t about sitting in pews, but being light in a dark world. It is saying Jesus here I am, send me. Let me be your person in this place that the good news of your saving love may be heard. Let me be that farmer sowing the seed of Your Kingdom wherever I go.
* As always, please remember to pray for the persecuted Christians in so many of the countries of this world. Some of their stories can be found at http://thebeggardanced.com/nine-oclock-club/