If Christians do not passionately pursue God’s design for Biblical Christianity, then any expansion of the church will only perpetuate more non-biblical Christianity. I don’t think this is what the Head of the church, Jesus, wants!!!!
We recently celebrated an important milestone in the church we helped plant in the early 1980s, the paying off of their building. It has caused me to reflect on our journey with God in His purposes. The vision He showed us and the difficulties of pursuing it have both challenged us but also enabled us to experience His goodness among His people. Here is a bit of our journey.
My story began about 42 years ago. My fiancé (who is now my wife of 41 years) and I knew we needed to be a part of a church to serve God effectively. I had just been radically saved from a secular, hard-partying life as a college football player. My fiancé had recently given her life to Jesus, having grown up in a religious environment but drifting away while in college.
I had encountered Jesus in a Spirit-filled environment, so I knew we needed to be a part of a church open to Holy Spirit. We found a small church that was part of a Pentecostal denomination and began to attended. Because I had a zeal for God and was a college football player, they quickly gave me responsibility for the teen Sunday School class and later other responsibilities, including occasional preaching.
I was idealistic, having no Christian background to overcome. I simply believed that if the Word of God says it, then that settles it. We have no option if we live under Christ’s Lordship but to pursue Him by building His church as He designed it.
While in that church, I was joined to another brother who was the pastor of a church in that same denomination in a nearby town. I would connect with him regularly and sometimes would preach at his church. We began freshly looking at God’s design for His church from both the book of Acts and the Epistles. As we did, the contrast became more and more apparent between God’s design and what we were involved in.
He eventually resigned from his church, moved back to the same town, and we began meeting together on Tuesday evenings, pouring over God’s Word regarding Jesus’ design for His church. Other young people began getting saved; many had backslid when they left home for college and returned to Jesus and joined our small group. God’s design for His house infected all of us. We knew we could not just settle for “church” as we had known it. We had to pursue His design!
A definition of authentic Biblical Christianity got a hold of us during those days was, “People coming under the loving Lordship of Jesus, being filled with the Spirit, and joined to other imperfect people, who together were learning to live His new life as His family. That family became living as missionaries in a world that needed Jesus. Thus, the church was more than attending a meeting or going to a building. It was a relational way of life together as we pursue His mission in the earth.
J. I. Packer said it well when he summed up the church’s mission, “The task of the church is to make the invisible kingdom visible as we live God’s values and presence among us in front of a watching world.”
During that time, I was asked to teach a class on the Book of Ephesians. While preparing for that class, God met me, and I saw more deeply His design for His church in light of His eternal purpose. I was ruined. Nothing else but pursuing God’s design would mark my life. Many became ruined by God’s ideal as we shared it with others. Cultural Christianity and consumer-driven church life would never satisfy the passion God put in us.
Not enough to know we must pursue
We were finding it increasingly difficult to pursue some of the essential features of His design in the denomination we were in. Through a mutual friend, we met leaders of a church in another city who were not only pursuing these things but had some of them in operation in their church. The ideal of God’s design in the Scripture had earthly reality to it! There was no turning back now. It was no longer a Biblical idea that we could take comfort in simply knowing. We had to go for it!
As we met with some of the denominational officials about what we were seeing and wanted to pursue, they showed little openness to many things. In order to pursue them, we would have to leave. The officials tried to talk us out of it, but we could not live our lives without pursuing the things God was showing us!!!! We gladly gave the building back to the denomination (most of which we had paid for), and almost the entire congregation left to form a new church. We even offered to pay the remaining building payments for the six adults who stayed behind.
God began leading us into relationships with others of like mind and spirit who were pursuing the same things. God joined us with many other beautiful people from all over the world in a family of churches called “Salt and Light International.” While we have made many mistakes and have not seen everything in His design walked out, we can’t settle for anything less!!!
Many times, the cost of pursuing God’s ideals took a heavy toll in terms of both emotional and spiritual challenges, but what other choice can one make when Jesus is “head of the body the Church so that He would come to have first place in everything” (Col 1:17-19). Over and over Jesus said in His Word, “Deny yourself, forsake all for my sake (cause) and follow Me” (Matthew 10:37-39,16:23-29, Mar, 8:34-38, 10:23-31, Luke 9:23-24, 5:11-28, 14:26-33, 18:22-30, John 12:25-26).
We must be in a place where His ideals have a possibility of coming to pass with a people who want to pursue them. After all, a vision is just a “good idea” unless one will sacrifice to see it come to pass. While we have not perfectly moved in all of them, like Caleb “We must by all means go and possess this land” (Numbers 13:30).
What are the essential elements of His vision we continue to pursue?
- The Kingdom of God (God’s active rulership through the Lord Jesus) is both embraced and expressed through His people. As people submit to Christ’s Lordship in all areas of their lives, His Kingdom is revealed (Acts 2:36-42, Romans 10:9-10, Colossians 1:17-19, Rev 1-3).
- Pursuing a continual and increasing Spirit-filled life with Biblical evidence is not optional, but essential. The book of Acts records 57 instances in which “Holy Spirit” moved upon people to act. God’s people are to be led by, filled with, and moving in all the power and gifts of Holy Spirit both in meetings and everyday life (John 7:37-39, Acts 1:8, 2:1-4, 4:8, 31, 6:3, 8:12-24, 9:1-17, 10:43-48, 19:1-6, 1 Cor 12-14, Eph 5:18).
- Heartfelt praise and worship in Spirit and truth (Jn 4:23-24), with all the physical expressions prescribed in the Bible. This includes all the Biblical expressions revealed in Scripture such as shouting seen 265 times, playing musical instruments (58 times), singing (29 times), lifting our hands (14 times), clapping (12 times), bowing or kneeling (12 times), dancing (9 times), and standing (7 times).
- A local church is God’s family living out His way of life as they follow Him together on His mission every day. A church is not a building, meeting, or organization. A local church is a family way of life together with Jesus and one another (Acts 2:38-42, 4:35-42). There are 59 commandments I call the “one another’s” in the Epistles that direct us in how we are to walk together as His family on His mission. You can’t practice very many of them in an occasional, once-a-week, corporate meeting.
- The local church is central, not peripheral to the plans and purposes of God (Matthew 16:18, Ephesians 1:23, 3:3-11, 5:25-32, Revelation 19:7, 21:2-9, 22:17). Many Christians see local churches the way consumers see online or retail outlets. Consumer Christians see the church’s existence as revolving around, accommodating, and satisfying their own needs and desires. Biblical church commitment is not a consumer-driven accessory for people’s personal dream fulfillment. God’s people are not to be consumers looking for the best church deal. God’s people are to be consumed by God in living out His purposes. (Titus 2:1-14).
- Local church membership entails being followers of Jesus together on His mission, not deciders who use Jesus to fulfill their personal ambitions. In the Gospels, Jesus says to “follow Me” as disciples 25 times. Only 4 times does He say to believe. The emphasis is clearly on following Him as disciples. About 269 times in the NT God’s people are referred to as disciples while only 3 times are they referred to as “Christians.” The emphasis is clearly on discipleship, which means following and putting into practice everything Jesus says (Matthew 28:18-20, Acts 11:23). Church members are not to be an audience of watching stones who attend occasional meetings. They are to be a family of “living stones” actively being built together in God’s house as they pursue His mission together (1 Peter 2:1-6, Colossians 2:1-6 etc.).
- God’s people should be engaged in Biblical “ministry” which is more than a few gifted people on platforms using their talents in corporate meetings. Ministry is about every person being equipped and using their God-given talents and spiritual gifts to build up the family of God every day to reach the world with the gospel (1 Corinthains 12-14, Ephesians 4:10-32, Romans 12:1-17, 1 Petter 4:10-11, 1 Timothy 4:4, 2 Timothy 1:6).
- The local church governed by a team of leaders (elders with deacons alongside) chosen by God, recognized by people, with Ephesians 4 ministries involved in their appointment(Acts 14:23, 15:4-23, 16:4, 20:17-28, Philippians 1:1, 1 Thessalonians 5:12, 1 Timothy 5:1-21, Titus 1:5-11, James 5:14, 1 Peter 5:1). This contrasts with a one-man “pastor” who works with a deacon or elder board appointed by the congregation who forms a committee to govern church affairs. Jesus prayed that these teams of leaders would walk together in family relationships like the Godhead (John 17:11, 21-23).
- All the Ephesians 4:11 ministries are essential, not optional, in the building of local churches. They bring “equipping” through increased vision, spiritual impact, good care, counsel, and accountability for local churches and leaders.
- God designs Ephesians 4 ministries to walk and work together as a family of servant-leaders. They are not “big shots” but servants helping advance God’s family (Acts 13-28, Romans 16:1-16, 1 Corinthians 16:10-24, Colossians 4:7-18, 2 Timothy 4:1-23, Philippians 4:1-23). Their input helps provide good family foundations (Ephesians 2:20, 1 Corinthians 3:10-12) as well as fatherly and motherly care into local church families (1 Thessalonians 2:7-11).
- The missionary call to the world is upon everyone, everywhere, all the time, both locally and beyond (Genesis 1:26-28, Matthew 28:18-20, Acts 1:8, Ephesians 1:22-22 etc.). Local churches are God’s family together on God’s mission. Missions isn’t a program or a special call upon a few people who live in faraway places. It is the daily call upon all the church, whether it be across the street or the ocean (John 17:23, 20:21). In Jesus’ model for missions seen in Matthew 9-11 and Luke 9-10, He sends them out in pairs and later the others joined them in the work.
- God desires His people to have a multigenerational perspective that reaches back to help those younger while reaching forward in pursuing His will. The post-resurrection call to Peter, the first leader of the church in Jerusalem, was to care for the little lambs first (John 21:15-19). If you are too big or important to care for the littlest ones of God’s people then you are too big and important! A first priority is to leave a spiritual legacy to those coming behind us (Ps 78, Titus 2 etc).
We must continue pursuing God’s revelation with the attitude of Paul.
“Not that I have already obtained or already become perfect, but I press on” (Phil 3:12).