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Thinking Spiritually About Church

I have found myself fearful in recent months.  Fearful that much of what we do in the church is man-made rather than Spirit-made.

I have spent time reading through the book of Acts recently and had the privilege of preaching through a couple of chapters in Acts at a church this summer.  It’s a unique and energizing book.   Furthermore, Acts is in many ways the Holy Spirit’s book.  I envision what happens in Acts as Jesus tagging out of the ring and letting the Spirit in.  It’s essentially His introduction to the Church, seeing who He is and what His role in God’s redemptive plan is.  And what we see is this absolute explosion of His power and presence out into the world, invading enemy territory, gathering and reclaiming what is the Son’s, a redeemed humanity bought and paid for through His sacrificial death.  Along with this we also see that the life and work of the Church is vicariously tied to the life and work of the Holy Spirit.

What worries me as I think about my own life, the ministry entrusted to me at USAO, and many of our churches, is that we don’t think spiritually about church very much.  This may sound strange, but let me explain.  We’re overly pragmatic, concerned primarily with programs and personnel and facilities and relationships, etc…, and if we get these things right, then the church will grow and things will be great.  Well, it’s true the church or ministry may grow, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the Holy Spirit has anything to do with it.  Behind much of this is a “genie in a bottle” approach to God, doing whatever we think works and people want, and then we just expect the Holy Spirit to be there and to jump on board with it.  Ask the Israelites how that worked out with the Ark of the Covenant.  Just wheel the thing out in front of the army and we’ll win the battle!  Wrong.  God doesn’t like people trying to manipulate Him.

Now, it’s not that I think pragmatic, practical concerns are bad or wrong necessarily, nor do I believe that the Holy Spirit doesn’t work through human means ( means like prayer, holiness, suffering, etc… primarily, not necessarily cultural relevance and the like), I think He does, but an awareness of the Holy Spirit’s presence and His impact seems distant from our collective consciousness, and not our primary hope and trust for the accomplishment of the work of the kingdom.   When’s the last time we walked into and then out of church, concerned solely with whether the Holy Spirit was there and whether we could sense and know His presence was among us?  Concerned with whether He accomplished an inward heart transforming work rather than us simply accomplishing a man-made, therapeutic, feeling based work?  When’s the last time we worried that God might not be in on what we were doing?  I don’t think we think spiritually about church the way we should, concerned about spiritual realities rather than physical, concerned about the Spirit’s labor rather than ours.  And I see this because I am a product of this kind of church culture as much as most anybody else.

Jesus exclaims to the church at Laodicea in Revelation 3, that He’s at the door knocking.  This is not a call to salvation, this is a rebuke for doing church while He’s outside of the meeting!  Moreover, we’ve stretched the “where two or more are gathered” line beyond its original context, which is one dealing specifically with church discipline and confronting a brother.  Just because we showed up doesn’t mean He’s necessarily there doing His work.

Christ says he will build His church, and this shouldn’t surprise us since I’ve yet to meet any human who has the ability to supernaturally transform a human heart and make spiritually dead people come alive.  Christ accomplishes this work through the sending of the Holy Spirit to come down into our midst and do this very thing according to His will and purpose and through His own appointed means.  There are a lot of things we can do as human beings even within the walls of the church: we can create community, we can develop relationships, we can fill up people’s lives with events and activities, we can create exciting and energizing atmospheres, and we can even pull on emotional heart strings and provoke responses from people.  And we can do all of this from human ingenuity and hard work.  But we don’t have to have the Holy Spirit to get that stuff done, just capable human leaders usually.  And that doesn’t necessarily mean they are spiritual leaders.  And that doesn’t necessarily mean the Holy Spirit is accomplishing a spiritual work in the lives of the people there.  I don’t think we think dependently on the Holy Spirit to work spiritually the way that the New Testament, and specifically the book of Acts, displays for us in the early church.  If we did we would pray more than we do.  Our leaders would pray more than they do.  We’d care about holiness and purity more than we do.  We’d trust truth and distinctiveness more than we do, rather than cultural relevance and a culturally palatable message.  We’d be different in many ways than we are.

I don’t believe issues like these are strictly black and white, that we either are completely doing them or completely not doing them.  There are certainly shades of gray here for us to be mindful of.  Nevertheless, trust in man, means, and methods (to quote my father) is one of the challenges of our context.  It’s more measurable and quite frankly, easier ( a lot easier than things like suffering and holiness).  We must search our hearts and discern what we have trusted in when it comes to the work of the kingdom.  God, help us to think spiritually more than we do.

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Discussion

One thought on “Thinking Spiritually About Church

  1. This was **excellent** Josh…I especially liked where you said:
    “When’s the last time we walked into and then out of church, concerned solely with whether the Holy Spirit was there and whether we could sense and know His presence was among us? Concerned with whether He accomplished an inward heart transforming work rather than us simply accomplishing a man-made, therapeutic, feeling based work? When’s the last time we worried that God might not be in on what we were doing?”

    Kind of reminds me where Jesus was asked what was most the important, and He mentioned loving the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and loving your neighbor as yourself. (Matthew 22: 37-40) As well, there’s: “above all things have fervent love for one another”. (1 Peter 4:8) It doesn’t say, “below all”, or “secondary to all”, but “above all”. And it doesn’t say just “love for one another”, but even goes above and beyond this command to “fervent love for one another”. And another: “For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith.” (Romans 12:3) But how often are there those in church, thinking more highly of themselves than others? Giving no grace to their “Christian family” members…dividing the church up into what they deem as “holier”, “longer saved”, “who has a wayward child”, etc. Coming alongside with offers of help for those that are favorites, and overlooking the needs of those that are not? Exhibiting a jealousy, one toward another, like the parable of the workers in the vineyard? (Matthew 20:1-16) Church is not a country club nor a political race, where there are divisions along many grounds…that’s the world’s view and way of doing things…yet how often the church follows exactly along these very divisive lines. And yet how He hates uneven scales…they are an abomination to Him…are they not especially so in the church?! (Prov. 20:23) We (that are saved) are all running the race to win (1 Cor. 9:24)…can we not all run alongside each other, “…that (our) hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, and attaining to all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the knowledge of the mystery of God, both of the Father and of Christ….”? (Col. 2:2)

    Timothy was young in the faith, yet thank goodness there were those that came alongside him. Thank goodness it was urged that Paul be given a chance amongst the believers. Thank goodness that John Mark was given a chance…even found useful. Thank goodness Christ gave Peter a chance after his triple denial. Thank goodness God used Rahab…that the Israelites took her in as one of their own, offering fellowship to her…she who would become part of Christ’s lineage. Thank goodness Christ died for each of us that are now saved, as we have nothing in and of ourselves, to proclaim about ourselves…especially nothing to proclaim about ourselves! Yet how often is the sin of pride there in our churches, one of those “respectable sins” (term taken from Jerry Bridges’ book) that I’m sure must break our Saviour’s heart! He, of all who had a right to be self-righteous, chose not to, and instead, emptied Himself, making Himself a servant to all. (Phil. 2:7) And what a gracious Saviour we had, He even prayed: “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34) What an humble example He set, yet we, as the church, continue to be blinded to the sinful severity of our own self-righteous divisions.

    Others that come to mind are: “Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another.” (Romans 12:10); “…through love serve one another.” (Gal. 5:13); “with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love.” (Eph. 4:2). And these name only a few of the verses covering the 2 commandments Christ stated were most important. Because the more one truly understands the Father’s love, the more one will love their brothers and sisters in Christ. And the more one will care about sharing the Gospel with those that are lost, rather than looking down on them. (they’re lost…so they will act exactly that…lost…sometimes I think we’re just like Jonah re: the Ninevites!) But truly loving and caring for others…His agape love…that is only a working of the Holy Spirit, and not of one’s self. Anyone can walk into a church and participate in programs. Anyone can walk into a church, and come up with ideas for programs. But what Christ is looking for are heart-transformed individuals…a regeneration not just of the mind, but of the heart, as well. A new creation! 🙂 Perhaps instead of churches praying for guidance for what programs to add; for different programs to succeed; for one’s church to grow…we should be seeking for guidance on how to fulfill His two greatest commandments…with Him first and foremost, and then amongst each other, and then the community. When we do that, our churches will grow, if that so be the Lord’s will. And our programs will succeed, if that so be the Lord’s will. But if they do, it will be because we are doing Christ’s work…what He has called us to do…rather than our own.

    We, as the church, will spend eternity with one another…it’s time that we started acting like that. The Pharisees knew all the laws…they just missed the whole boat as to what Christ came to proclaim. They were so focused on the law, that they even missed fellowship with the Messiah they had been waiting for…imagine!

    The church, as well as the world, does not need clanging cymbals declaring a knowledge of Christ. But if we can’t get it right with our own Christian brothers and sisters first, how in the world can we get it right in proclaiming the Good News to those that are so very lost?

    Yes, you said it wonderfully…there needs to be an “inward heart transforming work”. Lord, revive us all.

    (Btw, good reading along these lines, of a man’s quest that his Christianity walk the talk:
    Under the Overpass, by Mike Yankoski)

    Posted by provrb31 | September 20, 2011, 1:39 am

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