Christianity 201

September 14, 2016

What it Takes to Have a Church

by Clarke Dixon

What do you have to have to have a church? Here are some possible answers I’ve heard along the way:

  • you have to have mission and vision statements.
  • you have to have music that reflects the culture outside the church.
  • you have to have music that reflects the culture within the church.
  • you have to have PowerPoint for the sermons, shorter sermons, or even no sermons.
  • you have to have a constitution, a budget, a proper system of governance, and a bunch of paperwork.  . . or risk losing your charitable status, which of course everyone knows you have to have.
  • you have to have buildings and paid staff.
  • you have to have programming for every age group and for every felt need.
  • you have to have values that reflect the society around you, which means ever changing values of course.
  • you have to have a worship experience that makes each person feel affirmed and good.
  • you have to have a good consumer experience for a happy customer.

House ChurchWhat does the Bible say you have to have to have a church? What better place to go than the Books of Acts where we read about the earliest Christians and the origins of the Church. In looking to the book of Acts there is one sentence that captures what you have to have to have a church:

Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. Acts 2:46-47

Did you notice what was there in the first church without which you cannot have a church? No, not food. Just two things: “The Lord,” and “those who were being saved.”

“The Lord.” You cannot have a church without the presence of the Lord. And by Lord we do not mean just any god, or God in a generic sense. This is the LORD, Who created the heavens and the earth, Who created all life including humanity, Who called Abraham with a promise, Who rescued His people from slavery in Egypt, Who gave His people the Law and the covenants, Who came to humanity in Jesus, and bearing a cross for our sin He rose from the dead, Who comes to us in the Holy Spirit, Who ensured we had a record of all this and more in the Bible. That LORD. The church is not in the business of promoting spirituality but rather has a ministry of reconciliation. We introduce people to that LORD. You can have all the things people generally think you have to have to have a church, yet if you are missing the presence of the Lord, then you don’t have a church.

“Those who were being saved.” We can read the entire book of Acts to be introduced to those people and find out what they are like. When we do we find out that they are an imperfect people, a growing and learning people, a praying people, a listening people, a preaching and reaching people, a generous people, a missionary people, a hope filled people, a changed people, and a willing-to-be-persecuted people. You have to have people like that to have a church.

Lego ChurchThere are some practical implications in needing only two things to have a church:

Church is a people rather than an organization. In the Book of Acts we are not given a manual on how to organize a church. Sometimes we might wish we were! We are given, rather, the story and stories of people responding and relating to the Lord. We do well to remember that we organize as churches, not for the sake of the organization created, but for the sake of the people God is re-creating. As you read through the book of Acts you never once hear a church named. There is no “Calvary Baptist,” or “Grace United,” or the like. But you hear time and time again about the Lord, about people, and about the Lord in relationship with people. When we celebrate a church anniversary, which is something we love to do for we like any excuse to have our cake and eat it too, we are not celebrating how long an organization has been organized. We are celebrating the lives that have been changed by God through the lives of the people who have been changed by God.

The church is something we always are rather than something we sometimes do. It is funny how when asked to describe our churches we quickly report on Sunday morning attendance. Instead we ought to report about what happens throughout the week. We should speak of the saints on their knees in prayer, those who visit, those who give, those who encourage, those who volunteer, those who forgive, those who are patient, those who are peaceful, those who are joyful, those who are self-controlled. . .  you get the picture. In the Book of Acts you never hear of a church described by numbers in attendance on a Sunday morning. But you you do read of people living their lives for the Lord every day. Church is what we always are, not something we sometimes do.

That you only have to have two things is good news for the small church. I must admit to being discouraged when I read a book written for small church pastors then realize they are written by superstar pastors, or that by “small church” they mean a church of 200. That is so not me, and so not us! Good news, to have a church you do not have to emulate the big churches and do everything they do. We are not to follow the lead of bigger churches, we are to follow the lead of the Lord. Small church leaders can learn to say as the church leadership said in Acts “it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us.” (Acts 15:28)

That you only have to have two things is good news for a church under threat. We are told we face the threat of becoming irrelevant. From that perspective, the first Christians must have seemed supremely irrelevant. The apostle Paul discovered that the Gospel was “a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles” (1st Corinthians 1:23). Yet the presence of the Lord together with the presence of God’s people was turning the world upside down.

Perhaps someday we will face the threat of losing our charitable status as we do not keep in step with a society that keeps changing step. Look to the first Christians. Never mind a privileged position in society, they were persecuted. Yet with the presence of the Lord and the presence of a people who set themselves to the task of keeping in step with God’s Holy Spirit, not even the gates of hell could stop the Church.

What do you have to have to have a church? Look to the Book of Acts where they did not have charitable status, buildings, mission and visions statements, organs, worship bands, a multitude of programs for every age, denominations, PowerPoint, constitutions, church growth consultants, or a very organized clergy. (Some days it seems the church I pastor still lacks organized clergy!) All they had was the presence of the Lord, and the Holy Spirit filled people of God. And it was brilliant. When we have those two things, it still is!

Scripture references are taken from the NRSV

Clarke Dixon is a Baptist pastor in Canada; read more at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon

July 17, 2013

Following the Promptings of God

I once heard a missionary sermon in which the speaker said, “I know many of you feel God has never called you to go, how many of you have heard a specific call to stay?” How many of us would be obedient if God gave us a specific location where he wanted us to be, and it didn’t line up with anything we had planned?

Luke 2 - 14

Cheryl Zelenka, the blogger at Facing Trials is writing from a unique vantage point, and a part of her journey is referred to at this post. You’re encouraged to read this at source and then visit around the rest of her blog for other articles.  It was originally titled Go, If God Says To Go!

“Pray that the Lord your God will tell us where we should go and what we should do.” Jeremiah 42:3 (NIV)

“Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before Me.” But Jonah arose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord.”                            Jonah 1:1-3 (NKJV)

Dear One,

The book of Jonah is one of my favorites in the Bible. The Lord used this book to help me stay on track during my recovery from brain surgery.  My spiritual race was wearing me out, and I wanted to move back home to Oregon. God however had other plans for me, all of which were waiting for me in Colorado.

As I recovered in an assisted living facility in Arizona, I decided to lay out a fleece and pray.  I asked the Lord for His permission to move back to Oregon.  If my house had not sold by the New Year, I would have His blessing to return to my adopted state. On the day I made this petition, I received an offer on my house. I had no doubt that God had answered my prayer and closed the door back to my old and comfortable life. 

Instead, I was thrown into an unknown wilderness.  He told me to GO and so I did.  I knew of Jonah’s disobedience and the consequences he had suffered.  He ended up right back where he started and I did not want to waste any time.  If I moved to Oregon, I knew I would eventually end up in Colorado.  There was no doubt in my heart He wanted me to make a fresh start in a new land.

When God tells us to GO, we must go.  We must keep a loose grip on the things we love and the homes we live. If we are able to maintain a loose grip on the things we hold dear, it won’t hurt as much if we loose them.  Lost, but replaced by new and better blessings. 

Are you sold out for Christ? Are you ready to lay down your whole life for His will and purpose? If so, you must be prepared to hand over all you love and desire.  Thankfully, if your will is aligned with the heart of God, your desires are already His desires.  Taking hold of His hand and allowing Him to lead you down unknown paths will seem effortless, thanks to your childlike faith.

If God said, “GO, share My Word with that man,” would you GO? (Even if he were a stranger?)  If God said, “GO, sell your house and move to Africa. I want you to become a missionary.” Would you go?  I hope so, but only if there was confirmation in the Word, and a conviction in your heart.  We are to do the Lord’s bidding, but only when we are certain HE is the one commanding us to GO. 

What if you are in the middle of a hardship or trial?  Do you get a free pass?  Nope!      If you are certain God is telling you to GO, the Holy Spirit will continue to nudge you.  Maybe God wants you to speak to a doctor or nurse caring for your loved one.  Maybe you heard a message at church that really encouraged and comforted you.  If the Holy Spirit tells you to thank your Pastor, please do it.  He probably needs the validation and encouragement.

Prayer allows us to hear the will of God.  Our life is His to use for His purpose and glory.  When He decides the time is right, He will ask you to obediently GO where you are needed. Until then, grow where He has planted you. 

Don’t be like Jonah and run from His commands. That is not the “GO” I am encouraging. If you don’t understand His purpose and reasons, faith must carry you along. If He prompts you to speak to a stranger, or an “enemy,” trust that He will give you the words and actions required.  He may use your pain and circumstance to comfort and encourage another going through a similar trial.  

Jonah did not want God to give his enemies an opportunity to repent.  However, we are called to do HIS bidding, even if we don’t agree with it.  After all, hasn’t He shown all of us boundless grace and mercy? Should we not extend the same measure of grace to all men? Dear One, GO and do the will of God. 

Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach to it the message that I tell you.” So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord.”  Jonah 3:1-3 (NKJV)

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The Book of Esther is another great story about when to GO and when to wait.  For Esther, God’s command to GO meant risking her life and going before the king so that her people might be saved from death.

June 4, 2013

Making Paul’s Prayer for the Colossians My Prayer

This is a first-time feature for the blog Grow Deep by Jerrell Jobe. This piece appeared under the title Paul’s Colosssian Prayer — click the title to link — and is part of a current series. The author personalizes the prayers of Paul; I’ve added the link for those who wish to review the original text.

The New Testament letter’s penned by the Apostle Paul contain instruction and doctrine, but they are also very personal. In 1 Thessalonians 2:8, Paul writes, “we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.”

Paul saw prayer as a significant element of the on-going transformation within the life of those he discipled. Not only their prayers, but the prayers he prayed for them. In nearly every letter we have by Paul, he makes note that he has been praying continuously for them. In a few places Paul even gives us a glimpse into not only the constancy of his prayers, but the content as well. There’s much we can learn about prayer from simply reflecting on they types of things Paul prayed. The past couple of weeks in New Community, we’ve been reflecting on Paul’s prayers.

I’ve encouraged  everyone to take the passages/prayers that we’re studying and commit to pray them throughout the week for:

  • themselves/immediate family,
  • someone they are close to, and
  • someone they have a hard time being around (but must interact with on a regular basis).
In addition to studying and reflecting on Paul’s prayers as they are written, each week, I’ve offered a rewrite of the passage. A remix, if you will, of the passage, what it means and how we could practically pray it for ourselves and others.
The following is the rewrite for Colossians 1:9-14.
 
God I pray that you grant unto me an experiential encounter with Your truth – the knowledge of Your will. Renovate my mind and establish the blueprints to Your kingdom deep within my heart. God, help me to see things from Your perspective. Everything, from who I am to what I do. Invade every sphere of my life – private to public. May I live as if You were living through me. I pray the very minute details of my life will bring an unending smile to Your face.
 
God, more and more, let me learn how to keep in step with Your Spirit in every part of my life. As I follow Your leading, the way You want things to be done, may my life be marked by the out-flowing of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
 
Father, expand the horizon of my vision, until I see Your present-activity in virtually every arena of my life. Strengthen me with the power of Your Spirit. As I’m empowered according to Your might, may I not bow down as a despondent coward in the face of adversity and difficult circumstances. No, in the power of Your might, may I find the wherewithal to stand and not give up. When I’m mistreated and in the midst of difficult people, may I be slow to anger and respond to others with love and grace.
Finally, I desire to be a wellspring of joy, giving thanks to you at every occasion. May I not get bogged down with the snares of this world to the point of my joy becoming strangled and my heart diminishing into decadence of complaining. May I never lose sight of the reality that I was once aimlessly wandering in sin, shrouded by death and held captive under the dominion of darkness. Not so any longer! I have been rescued out of darkness, snatched out of death and transferred into the kingdom of the Son of Your delight. I have been chosen, forgiven and redeemed because of Your never-ending love.
Amen!
…Here’s another example of taking scripture and making it personal that we looked at just over a year ago at Thinking Out Loud under the curiosity-inducing title A New Kind of Bible Translation.
…This passage from Colossians is one of my favorites. We’ve talked about it many times here, including some shorter earlier blog posts from 2010 here and here.