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God’s Mind for the NT Church
By David A. DePra
God has always had a purpose and a will for His church. Indeed, in a very real sense, the church IS the will of God. But what is God’s will for His Body? What is the mind of God for the NT church?
Isn’t it amazing that we even have to ASK the question? Yet we do. For rarely do we see God’s mind and heart reflected in a congregation. It is more the exception than the norm. And yet God wants to restore His people back to the original purpose for which He has called us.
It Starts With the Individual
The church is not an IT or a THING. We need to hear that because even without realizing it, we speak of the church as exactly that, and we THINK of the church in that way. The church, we think, is something to which we GO for worship, or a place where things happen. But the church is not an IT or a THING. The church is people – the church is people in whom Christ dwells.
The most evident Truth on this matter of the Body of Christ is that the basis of the church is the relationship between the individual Christian and Christ. Contrast this over against what is sometimes taught – that your relationship with your church is more important than your personal relationship with Christ. No. You don’t HAVE a relationship with other Christians if you don’t have one FIRST with Christ. Indeed, your relationship with Christ is the basis for all that you are – including what you are to other people, and what they are to you.
Not only does this Truth show us our personal accountability to Christ, but it also sets us free of any error that would suggest that we must abide in Christ through someone else, or through a congregation. No. Everything I am as a Christian – everything I am as a BRANCH – stems from my relationship, not with the other branches, but stems from my relationship with the VINE. I cannot bypass Christ and reflect God’s mind to other Christians. I must abide in CHRIST FIRST as an individual – with personal faith and obedience, and with personal one-on-one access to God. And then I will have the firm foundation from which to live with other Christians.
Again – you are a Christian because you are individually IN CHRIST. You are in the Body of Christ because you are first personally IN CHRIST. It is from that growing relationship that you abide and live – and grow together with, and along side of, other Christians.
In this we see a big key to spiritual growth and teaching. Christian leadership ought to be teaching the members of the Body how to personally and individually abide and walk with Christ. This is the KEY to spiritual health. If we were all doing that personally and individually, then as we gather together, we would have a LIFE in us, and a FREEDOM in us, that would be able to minister to each other. For how can those who have no personal knowledge of Jesus be used of Him to edify others?
The more we individually grow in Christ, the more we will love others. The move we personally grow in holiness and Truth, the more we will be of use to God in the lives of others. In the mind of God, the way to UNITE the members of His Body IN CHRIST is by establishing the each of those members IN CHRIST. And then the unity is REAL – and it is based IN CHRIST, and based upon the mind of God.
This is a Truth everywhere in the NT. For example, Paul says, "Have this mind….the mind of Christ." Of course, MIND means attitude towards God. But the point is this: I am not to learn YOUR MIND. And you are not to learn MY mind. Doubtless, if I did learn your mind, and everyone did as well, we would have unity. But it would not be unity in Christ. The only way true unity is possible is if I have the mind of Christ, and you have the mind of Christ, and if that is the case, then we have the SAME mind – His mind. That is unity.
This is the job of leadership – to convey the mind of Christ. To display it by example. But again, what do we immediately see? We see that leadership cannot do this unless THEY – as individuals – are personally developing the mind of Christ. Again – it starts with the individual. Always.
The Church is US
If you want to know what your church looks like, look in the mirror. If you want to know what the spiritual condition is of the Body of Christ – either that of your congregation – or even that of the greater whole of the church worldwide, look in the mirror. If you are in Christ, YOU are the church – you are a member of His Body. Thus, the condition of the church begins with YOU. It doesn’t end there, of course, but it begins with each one of us. We are personally accountable to Christ for our relationship with Him before we can start talking about the church.
As an aside, this tells us one way we ought to address the problems of the church today. There is much error and unbelief in today’s church, and it is so easy to grip about it. But rather than grip, we need to do something helpful: We need to allow God to form US personally according to His mind so that we can add to the fullness of Christ. We need to present OURSELVES to God that He might use us as a redemptive tool in His Body. This doesn’t mean we ignore problems, or refuse to talk about them. It doesn’t mean that we affirm sin, heresy, unbelief, or join ourselves to those who are practicing them. It doesn’t mean that we do anything but tell the Truth and call error by it’s name. Absolutely. But it also means that we must personally BECOME individuals through whom the mind of God is being expressed. That may not immediately change anyone else. But it will change US – and we will be contributing to the Body of Christ.
If we are to fill up the measure of Christ that God wants in His Body, then it begins with us. We must become those who, despite what else is going on around us, give ourselves wholly to Christ for His purposes. Until I do that, I risk being as big of a failure in the purpose of God as those against whom I complain. And I don’t think I need to quote the many passages of scripture that state so.
If you and I begin to take personal responsibility for ourselves – no matter what anyone else is doing – we will not only be contributing to the fullness of Christ, and to the manifestation of God’s glory wherever we are – but we will actually be helping others in the Body. This is the case even if they don’t know it, or even if they hate us for it. I cannot go wrong being personally right with God. It may go against the flow of everyone else, or it may serve as a very present help. But it IS the will of God for me – and one which I must take seriously.
Do you want to be used of God in His church? Then realize that such use is NOT the outcome of study, education, being nice, or of church politics. Ministry is NOT the product of any of those things. Ministry is the result of HIS LIFE in and through us. Thus, if you are personally and individually seeing an enlargement of Christ in you – because you are personally carrying your Cross and abiding in Him – God can use the LIFE that is growing in you to minister to others. Ministry is HIS LIFE – and unless His life is working in us, it cannot flow through us.
This is a principle that is fundamental, and yet one that is almost never taught anywhere today at all. When is the last time you saw a book written on church growth that taught that the way for a church to come alive is for Christ to come alive IN PEOPLE? When is the last time you heard a message that stated that church growth is not growth in numbers or money, but the growth of LIFE – of His life in people? And when is the last time you read anything today that even suggested that the means of ministry was – NOT to be seeker friendly, or purpose-driven, or politically correct – but that the means of ministry was that the MINISTER be governed by the LIFE of Christ that is in Him?
I dare say that such concepts are foreign to most people’s thinking today. We just don’t know, and we just don’t know TO know. But the Truth is there, right in the Bible. And the fact is, all that God requires of us is to start with OURSELVES, and then with our congregation. The Holy Spirit is STILL seeking to lead Christians into all Truth!
The spiritual condition of the Body of Christ is only as healthy as the individuals that comprise the Body of Christ. And then from the individual level, it goes up a step to the congregational level – the Body of Christ is as healthy as the individual congregations that comprise it. It is nonsense to think that individuals IN CHRIST can be spiritually sick, but somehow magic is going to happen once they meet together – magic that will make them all healthy. No. In fact, the more likely scenario is that we will infect each other. The Body consists of MEMBERS – all of whom are individually IN CHRIST.
You cannot plug into Christ by joining a church or group. You cannot find greater access to God by coming to Him through a leader or church. Neither are you REQUIRED to do so. The Body of Christ is NOT a mediator unto Jesus Christ. No. And anyone who teaches you that it is – or that THEY hold the key to your access to Christ – is a false teacher. Rather, you must individually come to be IN CHRIST in order to be in His Body. Jesus Christ is the one mediator between God and man. But once you are in Christ, you are in God, and consequently, you are in His Body.
All of this is nothing more than another way of pointing out that my place in the Body of Christ is dependent upon the relationship between myself and Christ. It starts there. My spiritual health is dependent FIRST upon my relationship with Christ, before it affects anyone else – indeed my relationship with Christ is what wholly determines my spiritual health.
This is important to establish before we begin to talk about God’s mind for His church – for we can scarcely talk about God’s mind for His church unless we understand that it is merely an expansion of His mind for the individual.
Becoming the Church
When the Holy Spirit fell upon the first disciples in the upper room in Acts 2, this was not a signal to start a church. No. Jesus never told them to start the church. Neither were they under orders to start a movement, or to develop a system of theology or religion. Nope. They were, in fact never told to start anything. Rather than start the church, in Acts 2, those disciples BECAME the church.
But this is a rather difficult concept to grasp, isn’t it? We are so brainwashed into thinking that the church is a THING – a THING with people in IT. And yet now we are seeing that the church is people. Period. The THINGS that are attached are not the church, even if they are good and necessary. No. The people are the church – the Body of Christ.
In another sense of the word, the church is actually Christ in people. Just as the Bible says that Christians are both, "in Christ," and those, "in whom Christ dwells," so there are two ways of looking at the same Truth of the church. The church is people in whom Christ dwells. But the church is also Christ Himself in people – for it is only that which is of Christ that is the church. Certainly our flesh isn’t the church. I trust the reader will understand what I’m saying.
As to the purpose of the church, this is stated clearly in the Bible. Jesus told the disciples immediately prior to His ascension the purpose of the church – the purpose of God for the Body of Christ: They were to BECOME living witnesses unto Him. They were to BE living evidence of the resurrected Christ. They were to BE that – both individually, and collectively. Jesus was to ascend to heaven and be crowned Lord of all. But He was to come back via the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and progressively be made Lord of THEM.
Of course, if you are saved, Jesus is already your Lord – at least in word. But when the Holy Spirit has come to do more than teach us a DOCTRINE of Jesus as Lord, or to merely tell us that He is supposed to be our Lord. There is much more. The Holy Spirit has come to make Jesus Lord of us – functionally. In other words, we are to become those who are governed and constituted to Jesus – those through whom He is able to live and move.
The Holy Spirit is not passive in us. But neither does God, "take us over." What this tells us is that WE MUST CHANGE if we are to be governed by Jesus as Lord. If Jesus Christ is to live through us – and this is to be voluntary – then we must grow to KNOW Christ, and grow in our voluntary submission to Him. It is utter nonsense to talk about the power of Christ working through you, or about Christ living through you, if you are not submitted to Him – and if that submission is not REAL.
Jesus Christ comes to live through us only if His LIFE is enlarged in us, and we are submitted to His life in us. But this means we must come under the work of the Cross. In Christianity, life is always the result of death. Thus, we see that the Cross once again stands central to the mind and purpose of God in His people. I can preach about the victory of Jesus, and the power of Christ in me, until I am blue in the face, but none of it will operate through me to God’s glory – or operate at all – unless I carry my Cross. We cannot REIGN with Christ – not even in this life – unless we suffer with Him. This is an unbending reality.
Much of what is wrong with the church today is that we have reduced the Cross to the status of objective DOCTRINE – or we limit the work of the Cross to the fact that Jesus died on it. But the Bible says that we are to be, "crucified WITH Christ." (Gal. 2:20) The church in general continually tries to find resurrection life in Jesus Christ without the subjective personal work of the Cross in individual. It is impossible. You cannot have LIFE without death. If you try to have it, what you will have, at best, is a DEAD RELIGION associated with the name of Christ. At worst, you will have a gospel that removes the need for repentance, the Cross, and the death that is necessary if we are to have true LIFE.
They Body of Christ – the church – was born in Acts 2 because the 120 people in that upper room were born from above. And that new birth was not the result of new theology, a new idea for church growth, or the result of signs and wonders. No. The church was born because those in that upper room, through death, received LIFE – the life of Christ within them.
Christianity is CHRIST IN US. It is HIS LIFE IN US that is everything. Thus, to the extent that we are filling up the measure of Christ, and the fullness of Christ, by virtue of HIS LIFE IN US, we are becoming God’s mind for His church. To the extent that Christ is being manifested by His church – God is being glorified.
Defined By Our Relationship
The work of the Holy Spirit is to take all of Jesus and to reveal Him to us, and to make Him Lord of us. The Holy Spirit does not do this in merely an objective, doctrinal way. He does it subjectively – that is, the Holy Spirit changes US so that we might enter into the fullness of what God has for us.
None of this would be possible BEFORE Acts 2, because in order for it to be possible, the Holy Spirit must dwell IN people – and before Acts 2, the Holy Spirit dwelt in no one. Acts 2 inaugurated the new birth, the indwelling of Christ by the Holy Spirit, and the church. All of these go together and cannot be separated.
But once the Comforter did come in Acts 2, and Jesus was dwelling in His people, everything that God wanted to do was now possible. God wanted a people who would, yes, preach to others so that they might be saved. But more than that, He wanted a people who would be the pillar and ground of the Truth – who would literally be DEFINED by their relationship with His Son, Jesus Christ.
What are the specifics of that definition? We ought to be defined by our devotion to Christ, and by our dependence upon Him. Those two things – dependence and devotion to Christ – are relationship terms. They pretty much cover all of our life in Christ.
If you and I are not DEFINED by our relationship with Christ, we are not on the right track. If our congregation is not DEFINED by our relationship to Christ, we are not in God’s will AS a church. We need to think long and hard about this. Everything depends upon it.
The Fullness of Christ
No one made this clearer than the apostle Paul. He stated directly the mind of God for the New Testament church, as implemented through the gifts:
For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. (Eph 4:12-13)
There is some difference of opinion as to where the commas ought to go in this passage, but the debate is irrelevant. It is clear that God’s purpose for the church is to contain the FULLNESS OF CHRIST. Notice that this is all through the passage. For example, the work of the ministry is to, "perfect," or MATURE the saints, for the work of ministry, so that each member might be edified, or BUILT UP in Christ. And all of this is unto the goal that we might collectively come to a unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God – to become a mature BODY in Christ, filling us the MEASURE of the stature of the FULLNESS OF CHRIST.
Sounds as if CHRIST is God’s goal for His Body, doesn’t it? Sounds as if Paul agrees completely with the work of the Holy Spirit as promised by Jesus in John 14 through 16. In the final analysis, God’s goal for us individually, and collectively as His Body, is CHRIST – God wants us to fill up the individuals in His Body WITH CHRIST, to the point where the entire Body put together actually fills all the measure of the fullness of Christ.
This is, of course, an awesome thought. It is really the glory of God being worked out IN, and manifested THROUGH, Jesus Christ in His people. But don’t look for the fullness of Christ any where around you. You cannot see it. Why?
Because the Body of Christ is not comprised of only Christians alive today. The Body of Christ is two-thousand years old. So even if you could see some of the purpose of God unfolding today, you would see only a small part of the whole. God is BUILDING A BODY – Jesus, as He promised, is building His church! He started in Acts 2 and hasn’t yet stopped.
Of course, what makes things difficult is that along with the church Jesus is building, there have grown many tares. But that aside – it is a whole other topic – Jesus Christ is building His church. And in the end, there will be a fullness of Christ that pleases God.
And yet so many today are focused, not on Christ, but upon signs and wonders. You can search the NT over and over again, and you will find not one suggestion that signs and wonders – even IF they were real – are God’s mind for His church. You will not find that signs and wonders have much to do at all with the fullness of Christ in His people. Indeed, Jesus told us specifically that if we SEEK after signs and wonders, we are, "an evil and adulterous generation."
Can we see why? Because we are forsaking Christ in favor of signs and wonders – even if they are signs and wonders we attribute to HIM! For Pete’s sake, Jesus did tons of signs and wonders when HE was here. But nevertheless He told us NOT to seek after them. We are to seek after HIM. God’s purpose for His church is CHRIST!
So we see that God wants us to BECOME those who fill up the fullness of Christ. We are to BECOME those who are defined by our relationship with Christ – living epistles of God’s glory, and living evidence of the resurrected Christ. This is accomplished by the Holy Spirit – through a process of death and resurrection. In the end, the people WHO ARE the church must become living evidence of GOD’S MIND. All else is secondary – we must BECOME. This is God’s mind for individuals, and it is God’s mind for congregations.
The Early Church
There have always been individuals and congregations who have tried to, "restore," or, "recapture," what the early church had. But what usually emerges is far from it -- most of the time what emerges is quite destructive.
The reason for this ought to be obvious. What the early church had was CHRIST. Or, perhaps better stated, Christ had THEM. The early church was defined, governed, and motivated by the LIFE of Christ in them. But once you try to capture or restore the early church, without the LIFE that was in them, you will end up doing IN THE FLESH only what can be done through the Spirit.
I realize that most nearly everyone who has ever claimed to restore the early church also claimed to have that life. But there does not need to be any debate about it. For again – the church is not a THING to restore. It is not an IT to recapture. Thus, if you want to restore the early church, then BECOME what the early church became. Become that as an individual and as a congregation. Become those in whom Christ is having His way. Become defined by your relationship with Christ.
If you will do that – again, through death and resurrection – you won’t need to make any effort to restore anything. For YOU will be restored, and YOU are the church! But instead of that, people like to start movements. You hear it everywhere today. We are being told that God is restoring to the church everything that has been lost for two-thousand years. We are being told that health, wealth, signs, wonders, apostles, prophets, and everything under the sun is being restored! But how about Christ Himself?
In reality, God has never started even ONE movement since Acts 2. No. Acts 2 began the only move of God that has ever expressed His mind or sought to bring to pass His glory. Any revivals since then haven’t been new movements or restorations – they have been, if they were of God, times where God has tried to get His people back on track. Sadly, however, most often once the excitement dies down over these things, people forget the entire purpose of God – the fullness of Christ – and try to keep the movement going under the power of the flesh.
Anything God is doing doesn’t need US to keep it going. Yield to Christ. Surrender to Him. The result will be eternal life and Truth that cannot fade or die. Christ is the purpose – Christ is God’s mind and His glory. Not Christ as merely a topic. But CHRIST IN US – received for salvation, and filled to the full as the purpose for the ministry. That is revival – Christ coming alive in His church.
What defined the early NT church was not a FORM of worship, or a structure. What defined the NT church was the LIFE of Christ in them. They held fast to the HEAD. EACH member did. They did not hold fast to each other, or to a THING called church, nor did they hold fast to HOW they thought church should be run. No. Each member of the Body held fast to the HEAD. And they helped each other do that. In short, the early church was the corporate embodiment of what Christianity is: Christ in us, the hope of glory. (Col. 1:27)
Christianity is CHRIST IN US. The church is the sum total of individuals in whom Christ dwells. Jesus Christ – His life in each of us – is Christianity, the church, and the only life any of us have. So if you want to restore the early church, restore Jesus Christ back to His rightful place in individuals. Start preaching and teaching that Christianity is CHRIST IN US. Start getting rid of anything that hinders and frustrates that purpose of God in His people. Restore Christ back to His place IN PEOPLE, and guess what? The church will be restored because the church IS made up of those people.
I want to say this again because it is essential to see. The church is restored if Christ is restored IN PEOPLE – for the church is Christ in people. It is really quite simple. The church is Christ in people – people in whom Christ dwells. This is what characterized the early church.
The early church was alive in Christ. HIS LIFE was working in and through people. I am not talking about miracles, signs, wonders, speaking in tongues, or receiving some second blessing. I am talking about people in whom Jesus was Lord. And because He was living freely IN THEM, He could do things THROUGH THEM.
We also see in this the key to what is commonly called, "church growth." Today people have come up with all kinds of marketing techniques to grow churches. Most of them water down the true gospel and try to make it, "seeker friendly." But the question is, do you want to grow your church? Or do you want Jesus to build it? Well, if you want Jesus to build it, then Jesus isn’t going to build it by adding numbers. He is going to build your church by first building up HIMSELF in you! – for Christ in you IS the church! It is Christ in people. In effect, if you want Christ to enlarge your church, let Him enlarge Himself in you.
To put it another way, Jesus Christ is never going to add numbers to your church until you present yourself to Him and He comes alive in you. Jesus doesn’t add people to a sick church. He adds to a healthy church. So get your own house in order first and then Jesus can trust you enough to send you new people.
Now, the problem here is that most sick churches either don’t know they are sick, or won’t admit they are sick. Do you know why? Because if a church is sick it again comes back to PEOPLE. They are sick. A sick congregation is the result of sick people. And right away we see that dealing with that is going to touch the pride of people – of spiritual people.
Do you want to know whether a church is spiritually sick? Or whether an individual is spiritually sick? I mentioned earlier how you can know. A healthy church or individual, as imperfect as we all are, is defined by their relationship with Christ. They are dependent upon Him, and devoted to Him. We might add, as the apostle Paul adds, that a healthy church is a pillar and ground of the Truth. In short, a healthy church is in the process of filling up the measure of the FULLNESS OF CHRIST. Absolutely! As is a spiritually healthy individual.
You will notice that this is a PROCESS. We are moving OUT of the old, and into the new. We are growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ. We may have BEEN sick. But we can be made well.
God is simply not going to commit Himself to a church just because they call themselves by His name. Just because we decide to start a church for Christ, God is not obligated to bless us. God commits Himself only to His Son – and to where His Son is glorified. Or, to put it another way, God commits Himself to NOTHING we do. God is already doing plenty. We ought to commit ourselves to HIM. So if we want God to work through us, we need to get have His mind – we need to make Christ the center of the church.
In this we see why the early church was able to turn the world upside down. It was not because they figured out new marketing techniques, developed strategies for evangelism, or forms the right committees with the right people. It was because Christ was in THEM – and was given the right to do has He pleased – in them, with them, and through them.
This requires faith on our part. It means that we will not settle for anything less than God’s will and God’s glory – even if it costs us everything we presently call CHURCH. It means that before we begin preaching and teaching, we have personally been with Christ, been dealt with by Christ, and have been brought into a relationship with Christ that gives Him the freedom to do His will, rather than our own. Do you want to restore the early church? Now we are beginning to see what this means: We must personally and individually be restored in Christ.
So we see that the NT early church was not defined by miracles, although they had many of them. Neither were they defined by supernatural gifts. Those things were present as a by-product of CHRIST IN THEM. And if you want to know why many of those things are absent today, the reason should be obvious. Where Christ is not glorified, is not present, or where His will is not sought and done, the Holy Spirit doesn’t move in those ways – not for long. The NT church was defined by CHRIST IN THEM.
One of the more common attempts to restore to the church to try to develop FELLOWSHIP. Really, it is an attempt to FORCE fellowship and unity among Christians. Christians move into communes, start accountability systems, mandate that all things they own be in common, forsake denominational churches, get rid of all offices and programs, proclaim themselves to be, "truly led by the Spirit," declare the, "priesthood of all believers," and think they have got IT. They believe they have returned to true, NT congregational life.
Wrong. The problem with trying to duplicate NT congregational life is word, "LIFE." Life is not a THING we do, or a pattern we follow. It is His life in us. And to duplicate it we must DIE to all that we are. We must give ourselves to God.
Leave that out – leave HIS LIFE out – and you will create a monster in the name of Christ. Congregations that are formed in these attempts to restore the early church are made up of PEOPLE. Consequently, communes become cults, accountability becomes reliance and control, all things in common is based on law, and not grace, and what was started as an attempt to forsake denominationalism becomes something worse – a mini-denomination that is defined by what it is AGAINST, rather than by what is it FOR. And those who thought they could now be truly led by the Spirit, and be a legitimate priesthood of believers find out real fast that there is a reason why God chose leaders and elders for His church – all of whom had to evidence a life in Christ. They find out that no matter how much you deny that you need a leader, or ought to have a leader, that in the end, SOMEONE will be in charge. Always – and it won’t need to be an official title. It takes about 5 minutes to figure out who that is. The fact is, if you forsake God’s guidelines for leadership, the person with the strongest personality, or the most charismatic personality, or even the person who craves attention, pride, power, and position, will rise to that position. Bank on it. In the end, what is born of flesh is going to BE FLESH.
Your FORM of meeting and worship cannot restore anything. WHERE you meet is not what defined you. Christ defines you. If you have unbelief in your heart, you are going to have it in a big church the same way you will have it in a little home fellowship. In the end, it’s all about our personal relationship with Jesus Christ. It’s not about whether we have found some secret key of restoration back again to the first century apostolic church.
Again – the early church was defined by LIFE – by the life of Christ who was in them. That life was POWER – it was POWER because they had come under the government of His life. But how did they do that? By meeting in a house instead of in a big building? No. They had HIS LIFE operating freely in them because they had surrendered to Him as Lord, and had come under the power of His Cross.
Members of His Body
You and I are members of the Body of Christ. WE are our contribution to the measure of Christ in the Body. So if we hold fast to the Head, and let Jesus be Lord of US, well, then we will be one less member who is contributing to the very thing we tend to complain about – a sick church. The difference is, that by the time God is done with us, we will be contributing ourselves to the measure of Christ, instead of whining about the lack of it. True leadership in the Body of Christ begins by being the FIRST in the long line to the Cross of Jesus Christ.
Of course in talking about this matter, someone is bound to think I am suggesting that we ought to ignore heresy, error, and all of the bad stuff that is going on in churches. No. Never. I don’t. And we cannot be part of them in the sense of affirmation or attendance. But neither am I saying that the solution to bad churches is for us to go live in a cave somewhere. No. The solution is Christ -- and I begin to be part of that solution by presenting myself to Him.
My point is this: You are IN CHRIST if you are saved. HE is the place of fellowship for all who are IN CHRIST. HE IS THE PLACE. Not a building, and not a home -- although you might travel to those places to experience fellowship in Christ with others. But whether this is possible for you, or whether it is not, you are still a member of the Body of Christ. And you can still have fellowship with other Christians -- even if it isn't in a building or a home. Your fellowship is nevertheless IN CHRIST -- and is real if two or three are gathered together in His name.
There are, of course, many who absolutely DEMAND that every one, "belongs in church." Well, what church might that be? Any old church? Just to keep a demand? How about a Mormon church? No. Well, how about a more orthodox church, at least by name, that is teaching heresy? No. Well, how about a dead church, filled with the traditions of men? No. How about a REALLY spiritual church that thinks they are, "the true church within the church." No, that is always a red flag. The point is, if a church is not gathered together in Jesus' name, and teaching the Truth, and there is no way for you to be instrumental in changing that, you and I are not only better off NOT being there, we are commanded to WITHDRAW ourselves.
That may shock some folks, but our failure to do this is exactly why sick churches remain sick -- people simply settle for the disease. Read Paul's epistles. There is no confusion about this.
Here is the bigger point: "Going to church," is not the goal -- like it is a law or requirement. No. Fellowship and ministry in Christ IS the goal. But fellowship and ministry are not requirements. They are outcomes. They are the outcomes of people IN CHRIST coming together IN HIS NAME -- as God directs or provides.
In Jesus' Name
As stated, Jesus said, "Where two or three are gathered IN MY NAME, I will be there." Of course, the important phrase is, "in MY name." What does it mean to gather in the NAME of Jesus? It means that they have gathered to do what He would do. They have gathered for HIS glory, HIS purpose in them, and to KNOW HIM. You gather in the name of Jesus FOR HIM – to be there at His disposal – for each other.
Can we see that when Jesus made that statement that He was saying that what we call, "going to church," is really possible with only TWO people – and it does not have to be a service, or in a building? Sure. Jesus was talking about spiritual fellowship – He was saying that SPIRITUAL FELLOWSHIP is what it means, "to go to church!"
What this means is that if two or three people go to lunch together and have fellowship in Christ, they have gathered in HIS NAME. If two people are talking on the telephone across country, then they ARE gathered in HIS name, and that IS fellowship, and consequently, they have assembled themselves together.
If you and I have the privilege of coming together with a larger group of Christians for worship and fellowship, that is great. We ought to do so because we will benefit from it. But if we do not have that opportunity, God will provide some fellowship -- even if it is with two or three. And yet this is not something LESS -- for it is fellowship in Christ.
It is almost humorous to hear some of the protests against this suggestion that two or three gathered together is equal to gathering with a big group. Not only did Jesus SAY He would be there, but if two or three isn't enough, then how many IS enough? Ten? Twenty? I think I've made my point. The issue here is NEVER numbers, venue, or where. No. The issue is whether Jesus is there. Christ is the place of fellowship.
But you see, we have taken the LIFE of Christ, and fellowship IN Christ, and turned it into a form – a religious ritual. I have even known of home fellowships – in some cases those whose claim to fame is the fact that they are so INFORMAL – I have even known of cases where the people in home fellowships put such pressure on each other to attend, belong, and conform, that they become WORSE examples of these religious traditions of men than the churches they condemn for that very reason.
There are many places where the people ought to GET UP, leave, and NEVER come back, because of the control, peer pressure, and the spirit of elitism that is going on there. There are other places where the people ought to confront the leaders about error. There are still others where the dead religion and traditions are so dark and dead that one of these two options might also be necessary. But again -- is Christ in the midst? That is the question -- not whether I am warming a pew.
The fact is, there are thousands who gather together in churches and homes each week, but not in HIS name. They do it in THEIR own name. Or in the name of religion. And just as this can happen with a big crowd, it can also happen between two or three.
Hopefully, the point is clear. I believe that each Christian who loves Jesus Christ is going to want fellowship with other believers. They will seek that out where possible. But not as a law -- rather, as a hunger. And this can be done through a big congregation, or through two or three.
Every place in the Bible where we are encouraged to gather together – every one of those encouragements assumes that we would gather together in the name of Jesus. And everyone one of those encouragements is fulfilled if we are able to meet even with only one other Christian person in any way. THAT is fellowship. And Christ IS the place.
If Christians would get back to the Christ who is in them, the church would begin to function. There would be more geographical places. People would come because they WANT to come -- there would be LIFE in the congregation. Ministry and the gifts would flow. The people would be edified in Christ and begin to fill up the measure of the fullness of Christ.
Christianity is Christ in us, and the church is made up of those with Christ in them. So any restoration of the early church begins with the restoration IN PEOPLE of the HEAD of the church. Christianity is CHRIST IN US – and if we want to have true Christian fellowship, we must start with HIM IN US.
Christ is God’s mind for His church. Is it OUR mind? That is the question, and one that each of us need to ask ourselves before the Lord.
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