The true Church, the one Jesus created, still exists but barely functions as he created it to. It suffers serious decay and disrepair. Until it is restored, until all Christians identify with it, until Jesus' body is united with him at the head, each becoming the person he creates each to be, each doing the work he calls each to do, our efforts to bring the world into his kingdom will fail. Any honest appraisal of what Christianity has become and done during the past two thousand years reveals that. By now, the entire world should at least know that Jesus Christ is the only way to the Father. Schisms, divisions, denominations, and business organizations calling themselves "church" should not exist. False religions created since Jesus' human ministry should not exist. What should exist? What did Jesus create the Church to be?
The first Church
When he began his human ministry, Jesus chose men of no particular distinction to people his Church. They didn't attend weekly services or Bible studies or seminary. They watched what he did and listened to what he said. They asked questions, and he answered. When he sent some out, he didn't lay hands on them or even anoint them. He just paired them up, gave some simple instructions, and told them to go out and do what he'd been teaching them. No ritual, no formality, just simplicity in action.
The Bible does not tell us whether any had been baptized in water or ever were. Baptism was not an issue for them. The Bible makes no mention of confirmation. The word that we might call a title, "apostle", merely identifies their activity-- they were sent out.
At the first communion, what we call the last supper, the only ritual hinted at in the reports was the Passover ritual observed by Jews of his day. But Jesus did not instruct his disciples in that or command them to continue it. His observing it not only fulfilled the command that YHWH* gave Moses but linked Jesus' imminent death and resurrection with the deliverance of Israel from its bondage and with the covenant YHWH made with Israel through Moses.
In fact, Jesus explicitly identified the new covenant at that meal and used the elements of the meal to exemplify what he had been teaching that first group of disciples. In doing so, he changed the significance of the meal for them. No longer a meal, it became a way of life— to share his word and his life, to spread his body and feed others the only food that lasts.
When he commissioned his disciples as full-time ministers, as reported at the end of Matthew, he commanded no rituals. Instead, he merely told them that wherever they went, wherever they were, they must immerse other people into the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit-- all that YHWH is-- until those people were saturated and became disciples too. He commanded them also to teach new disciples to obey what he taught that first band of brothers, so that all people may know the true way to life.
They didn't always understand or obey, but Jesus returned to help them, as well as demonstrate his resurrection. While they hid in fear, even though he had risen, he came to them where they hid, and he encouraged and strengthened them. When he ascended, he encouraged them by promising that the Holy Spirit would empower them and enable them to fulfill their commission, so that they could be his witnesses throughout the world. And on the day he fulfilled that promise, he set their tongues on fire, so that they couldn't help but proclaim him, in accordance with his word. For more on this, read Why We Need Pentecost.
When Jesus' disciples settled for the Church they had in Jerusalem and had not yet spread even as far as Samaria, despite the dramatic growth in their numbers, he used Stephen's stoning and an official persecution to scatter them to Samaria and the uttermost ends of the earth.
For those first disciples, their experience with Jesus was about who he is and whose they were. It was about living the message-- every day, everywhere. It was about speaking the message every day, everywhere. That is how the Church began.
What the Church is and is not
We get some idea about the nature of the Church that Jesus created when we read the four Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles and the letters to the different congregations of the early Church that make up part of the New Testament. Familiarity with the Hebrew Bible, which Christians call the Old Testament, also helps, because it was the only Bible in existence during Jesus' human life, and it helps in understanding what the New Testament records.
The Church is a gift, a source of solace, a friend for lonely people. It is not a charity but charitable. It is not a beggar but a giver. It is a deep river of living water, not shallow pools and puddles. It is hope in the midst of despair. It is the presence of Jesus. It is not a club. It is caring when the world doesn't. It is life, truth and peace. It is the royal priesthood of YHWH, a holy nation, YHWH's own possession. It is joy and laughter that costs nothing. It is rain in a time of drought and safety in a flood. It is the collection of people who are born of the Holy Spirit. It is a spiritual place, not a physical one. It is a spiritual house, not a physical building. It is an organism, not an organization, not a business— charitable, tax-exempt or otherwise. The Church lives out Jesus' message and call. It seeks to know Jesus and the Father more intimately. It avoids legalism as mechanical but studies the Bible for how to please YHWH.
The Church is made up of all those born into Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, those I refer to as Christian, those who have become members of the body of which Jesus Christ is head. The Church is a temple made of living stones, without shape yet clearly showing Jesus. It functions without organization because it needs none. It functions without payment for its services and without payment to those who belong to it. It rejoices in Jesus' command, "Freely you received, freely you shall give." (Matt. 10:8)
The head of the Church is Jesus, the Messiah, the Anointed One of the Old Testament, the Christ, not another person or group of people. In the Church, all direction comes from YHWH, who guides, directs and instructs through Jesus by his Holy Spirit, just as Jesus taught. Christians know that he is fully capable of showing them what he wants. So they avoid seeking or accepting authority over others. Their supreme commander is capable of providing all direction and needs no generals, colonels, majors, captains, lieutenants or even sergeants. He gives everyone in the Church a duty to lead when their particular gifts are needed. He has called everyone in the Church to full-time ministry, to serve right where they are in whatever they encounter each day.
What does the Church look like?
The Church looks like a group of Christians gathering in a conference room or meeting hall to encourage each other by singing, sharing their lives, and praising YHWH. It looks like a group of Christian men or women gathered around a table, sharing a meal and encouraging each other in their lives in Jesus. It looks like a Christian praying with another person or grieving with another person out of Jesus' love. It looks like a small group of Christians meeting in someone's home, perhaps breaking bread together, singing, studying the Bible, praying for one another, and seeking word from YHWH.
The Church looks like Christians doing Jesus' stuff— proclaiming the good news, healing the sick, casting out demons, and even raising the dead. When we see someone freely helping another without any expectation of reward or even appreciation, someone who has put Jesus on the throne of his or her life, we see the Church. When a Christian suffers slander or abuse without lashing out or fighting back, we see the Church. When a Christian blesses instead of cursing, we see the Church. When we see someone opening his or her Bible to share the good news of Jesus Christ with another person, we see the Church.
The Church looks like a couple of Christians eating together to share what's been happening in their lives. It looks like a couple of Christians sitting on the hillside at dusk silently enjoying the changing hues of sunset. It looks like a Christian helping a neighbor make repairs on the neighbor's house. It looks like a Christian mowing an elderly neighbor's lawn or checking on a sick or elderly neighbor.
The Church looks like a Christian couple taking food to a sick neighbor or a family in the neighborhood that has suffered a death in the family. It looks like a Christian couple teaching their children about Jesus or how to pray. It looks like a Christian couple demonstrating to their children how to bear hardship or disappointment. It looks like a Christian couple strengthening their marriage by learning better communication skills. It looks like Christian parents helping their children acquire those skills.
The Church looks like a Christian sitting with someone else's children so the other person can get out on their own for a few hours. It looks like a Christian inviting a neighbor in for coffee or tea. We see the Church when we see Christians taking in people who have lost their homes, when we see Christians feeding those who would otherwise go hungry, when we see Christians employing those who have lost their jobs or need work.
The Church thrives on the "one-anothers" in the Bible. It thrives especially on agape love, the unselfish, unself-centered, unconditional caring for and about others that Jesus demonstrated. It thrives on love for and consecrated devotion to YHWH.
Finding the Church
YHWH has revealed that the Church is an amorphous organism, constantly changing according to who is present at a given time and place and why. It has nothing to do with buildings called "churches". It has only to do with the people born in Jesus. Finding it, therefore, may seem an unreasonable challenge, but as more and more of Jesus' people realize his call on them, it will be much easier to find.
In the meantime, we can find the Church wherever we find men and women who know and are known by Jesus. We find it wherever we see Jesus' love in action, manifested in his people. We find it wherever the good news of his kingdom is shared freely. We may find it within in buildings, but it needs no buildings. In fact, it seems to thrive when it has no buildings, no things that require maintenance and divert time, energy and resources from proclaiming and doing the work of Jesus Christ. Its employees are all those who have become members of Jesus' body.
The Church does not collect money to do Jesus' work. Wherever Christians gather or serve without pay, we find the Church. Wherever Christians accept Jesus' call to be full-time servants to him and others, we find the Church. Wherever Christians do or give anything without regard to themselves, we find the Church. Wherever Christians manifest the joy of serving YHWH in the name of Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit, YHWH is glorified and Jesus is lifted up-- and we find the Church.
Restoring the Church
At the beginning of this work, I declared that the Church suffers many conditions that render it unfit for service. Those conditions also render it unholy. In Ex. 22:31, YHWH declares, "You shall be holy men to Me, therefore you shall not eat any flesh torn to pieces in the field; you shall throw it to the dogs." (NASB). Likewise, the body of Jesus cannot be holy when torn to pieces, and we should not try to offer it to YHWH. Anyone with eyes to see, ears to hear and a mind to know will recognize immediately that the body of Jesus wars within itself. Denominations, schisms and other splits divide the body terribly.
YHWH wants the Church, the body of Jesus, restored as one. Jesus spoke of the effect of this unity in his prayer that John 17 reports. He also told his people they would be known as his by their love for one another. We cannot remain divided. Jesus said that a house divided against itself cannot stand. Look at the proliferation of false religions, the violence they promote and practice. How can we effectively serve our master when we spend so much time pursuing the things that divide us? How will we restore the true Church, the body of Jesus Christ, as he created it?
We must begin by shedding all manifestations of human business organizations. Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would lead us into all truth. He promised that the Holy Spirit would empower us. He meant that we as individuals and as a collective body would benefit from the Holy Spirit's work. The Church is an organism, a body; Jesus is the head. He has infused with his Holy Spirit those willing to receive him. Although we need fellowship with one another, we do not need anyone else in authority over us to tell us what to do, how to do it, when to do it or where to do it. We need better communication with him and each other. We need to spend more time in prayer, effective prayer, and in communion with each other. We do not need rulers. We do not need human authority. We need to seek YHWH's direction, instruction and guidance as good and faithful servants.
We do not need to organize our activities. As scary as that may sound to those who feel a need to control what happens around them, that is what being led by the Holy Spirit entails. We will come together to meet needs laid before us, organize ourselves under the direction of the Holy Spirit according to our abilities, then move on to the next endeavor without trying to preserve the organization that worked so well in that particular undertaking. Human nature wants to preserve such groupings, but experience teaches that when Christians do it, the organization they preserve soon becomes the focus of its members' activities. Look at the church organizations that exist today: Within the United States and in many other places, they mimic business organizations. In fact, almost all of them are. They have established boards, hierarchies, and committees, masking many of them under the name "ministries". They conduct fund drives to raise money, not for Jesus' work, but for preservation of the organization and its property. And to the shame of those who participate, much of the money raised goes into the pockets, purses and bank accounts of those who call themselves "ministers", "priests" and "pastors". Although many of those people sincerely believe that they have a call that is different from Jesus' call on all born-again Christians, many others simply claim to be called into "full-time ministry" to justify their taking money to do what Jesus calls all of us to do.
Paul is my example, a living sermon, for what true full-time ministry is: He traveled in obedience to the will of YHWH, following the direction of the Holy Spirit, starting and encouraging congregations, all while supporting himself. He even supported those who traveled with him. Although entitled to be paid by those who learned from him, as teachers were in the Greek-speaking world, he would not accept payment for doing the work Jesus gave him. He explained his refusal by telling his pupils that he did not want anything to interfere with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which he was teaching them. Taking money would have done just that, as it does today. I've discussed this in more detail in my lesson on Full-Time Ministry.
We must also shed all manifestations of ritual and empty tradition. While the State requires a license to marry couples, the Church does not need that. Marriage between those in the body of Jesus Christ requires no ceremony, only a commitment to join as one flesh, to live in harmony with one another, to love and respect each other, and the consummation of the marriage bed. If there is one baptism, as Paul teaches, is it baptism in water or baptism by the Holy Spirit into Jesus? How can anyone doubt that it is the latter? While Jesus' disciples apparently conducted water baptisms, John tells us that Jesus did not. Nor did he command it. Even his last supper was not meant to establish a so-called sacrament. It was to reinforce his teaching that, wherever we are, wherever we go, we are to share his word, his life, all that he is. By our word and deed, we are to baptize people into the very person of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit— telling everyone about Jesus, what he says, what he does.
Finally, We must quit playing "church" and be Church. To restore the Church, we must strive to live in Jesus all the time, not merely when it is convenient, not merely on Sunday mornings, but every day, all day long. We must avoid worldly and carnal behavior. We must seek to serve Jesus in all our relationships and endeavors. We must accept the call to become the people YHWH created us to be. We must accept Jesus' authority in our lives and his right to command us. Above all, we must allow Jesus' love and his word to work in, with and through us to lift him up, so that he can heal our broken and corrupted world and draw all people to himself.
*YHWH or YHVH is the English representation of the four Hebrew letters that spell the name of the God of the Bible, the one true, living God worshipped by Jews and Christians. YHWH was the name by which he identified himself to Moses in Ex. 3:14. According to references that I've read, the exact pronunciation of YHWH's name was lost in antiquity. After much study, I prefer to pronounce the name "Yahu-wah" (the "h" being aspirated as in "hay", emphasis on the last syllable), but the generally accepted pronounciation in common English is "Yah-weh" or "Yah-way". Some translations of the Bible, such as the KJV and NASB, substitute "the LORD" for his name, following a practice begun before Jesus' birth.
YHWH revealed himself in various ways to the children of Israel in the Hebrew Bible, which Christians call the Old Testament. He also revealed himself in and through his son Jesus Christ and acts, among other ways, in and through Christians by the Holy Spirit. Because the word "God" is being used today to designate all kinds of human inventions, although accepted for centuries in English as a name for YHWH, I prefer to use the name that YHWH chose for himself rather than "God" or "the LORD" as I did in early versions of my writings. Please read The Name of the One True, Living God for a fuller discussion.
|Remember who He is and whose you are|