Spring Edition: February 1996 (Part Four)
LET'S GET BEREAN
Generations of Bible-believing Christians have ignored the Bible's teaching about the Body of Christ.
We love the Bible, don't we? We know that we must - especially in these days - hold to its doctrines and obey its commands, for the Bible is the word of God. When others try to lead us away from the scriptures by preaching man's doctrine, we resist them, and rebuke them - heeding the words of our Saviour: "Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ". Col 2:8
The Scribes and Pharisees of Jesus' day had a dead, legalistic religion. Jesus rebuked them: "...in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men...And he said unto them, Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition". Mark 7:7-9
We would never see ourselves in the shoes of the Scribes and Pharisees, would we? We have been delivered from dead religion and now walk in the truth.
Maybe not! Surprisingly, those who hold firmest to the Bible truths and claim to obey the word in all things ignore the Bible's teaching on the Church!
And those who most firmly resist the empty tradition of Rome, and deplore her teachings, follow Rome in their patterns of worship and ministry! How could such a thing have come about - and why are we not more alert to the dangers of disobeying God's explicit word on worship and church order?
Few know where they got their church worship - why they always attend a specially adapted building on a Sunday morning at 11am, sit in rows facing the front, and listen to a set service conducted by a man at the front. Even fewer wonder what would happen if they got up from their pew and openly disagreed with the man at the front!
Yet when the Church was new, there was no such restriction. Everyone was valued, and everyone was involved. As soon as Peter and John were released by the authorities after having been arrested for healing the lame man: "they went to their own company, and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said unto them. And when they heard that, they lifted up their voice to God with one accord, and said, Lord..." Acts 4:23-24
Do you see this? Their first thought was to "go to church", which meant they went to the home where they assembled with their brethren, and freely reported what had happened. Then, everyone prayed - not just Peter, not just one or two elders, but everyone. And this was not prayer read out of a prayer-book or service-sheet, either. This was Spirit-led, unplanned, spontaneous prayer that had the effect of shaking the whole house where they were meeting!
Notice that! ALL were filled, and THEY (all) spoke the word of God with boldness. We don't even come near this kind of experience today, yet this is the bible way of meeting. It is entirely in keeping with Paul's description of church meetings:
Can you imagine the reaction if YOU had something to say on Sunday morning. If YOU had a word from God burning on your heart and wanted to edify the whole Church with it? What chance is there that your Pastor would "hold his peace" long enough for you to get a word in edgeways?
The idea of any church member being allowed to say even one word out of place while the meeting is running its course is so alien to our thinking that we seem to accept this sort of "church" as the norm. But is it? Is it what God intended?
Far from being an unimportant issue, this matter of "church" is vital. The conventional kind of church meeting is suffocating the life out of Christians, producing weak, fearful, passive, dependent, man-following babes in Christ instead of the strong, confident, bible-literate church members that we need to withstand today's pressures and attacks.
The Church that Jesus left when He ascended to His Father was a VERY different being. It was a Living Body, each cell of which had a unique part to play. That is how Paul describes it in his famous passage in 1 Cor 12:12-31.
The Body of Christ was not a structured organisation. It had:
Even the word "church" which conjures up pictures of Sunday morning, bells and the sound of an organ is a misnomer, because the word that is translated "church" in the Bible means nothing of the sort. It is the Greek word EKKLESIA. This word is made up of EK (from, out of) and KALEO (to bid, to call forth), thus ekklesia actually means a calling out.
THE CALLED OF GOD
Whenever the Body of Christ is referred to in the scriptures as the "church" it is actually a reminder that here is a Body of chosen people who have been called out from among mankind to belong to God and to eachother and to do God's will on earth. They are truly the "called of God".
But surely, you argue, we must have men to lead us. If we don't have a man up front, who will teach us? Who will say the prayers? Who will chose the hymns? Who will write the sermons?
Well, beloved, it may come as a shock when you discover you have been following a pagan ritual in looking to your Pastor to do all that for you. It is pagan religion that needs a Priest to mediate between you and God. YOU are the Body! YOU are the ministers of the Body! Yes, it's all up to YOU.
According to the word of God, all members of the Body are gifted in some way to edify, teach, support or give practical help.
Yet nowadays it's a one-man-band (or three men if the Pastor is fortunate.) The full-time "professional" Pastor has to do everything - preach, teach, evangelise, counsel, pray, and in his spare time paint the vestry. No wonder many Pastors are at breaking point! They have to do all the donkey work while the church members put in one hour on a Sunday. Is this what Jesus meant by the Body?
A PARALYSED YOUNG WOMAN
I am reminded of a story I read in today's newspaper. It concerned an unfortunate young woman who had been paralysed after a car crash. She was initially put on a life-support system, but later when this was turned off, she was able to breathe on her own, and showed some signs of consciousness, but has remained in a coma, unable to use her body, for many years. Now this young woman has been made pregnant by some evil person who took advantage of her condition.
This struck me as an allegory of the Church. The vibrant young Bride that Jesus left on earth suffered a terrible accident in her early life - a "crash" from which she never fully recovered. This was the paganising effect of the Emperor Constantine who opened up religion to all-comers and thus robbed the Church of its early purity. The "experts" took over her life-functions and she was to all intents and purposes dead. For a long time this young woman, the Church of Christ, lived an artificial existence, but she made it through the Dark Ages and eventually began to breathe again on her own, when the Reformation brought biblical faith back to her.
However, only her head seems to be working now! Leadership has taken over the entire function of the Body. Her mouth forms words, her eyes follow you round the room, she takes in food and water - but the rest of her body lies paralysed. She has the will to live but is hindered by a body that never moves.
It's only the leaders who seem to be doing anything. The many limbs who should be contributing to an active and full existence are dormant and inactive. Her life ticks on with the head taking in just enough sustenance to maintain her basic life-functions. But what a miserable and useless life this is! She is no good to herself or anyone else. She can achieve nothing! In biblical terms she is the church in Sardis to whom Jesus said: "thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead". Rev 3:2
But now an even more terrible thing has occurred. Because she is unable to fend off attack, an enemy has crept up and impregnated the Bride with his demonic teachings and now she will give birth to a bastard child of evil. No doubt, in her spirit, she revolted against this, but because her body was comatose, she was rendered vulnerable, incapable of resisting evil. The spirit was willing, but the flesh was weak - and so she fell into this terrible plight.
It could never have happened, but for the present aberrant church system. This system we seem to be stuck with - the church building, the ordained priesthood, the order of service and all that goes with it - is really and truly an inheritance from the bad old days of Roman religion, and carries with it the sickness of that creed. Luther and the others brought back some lost doctrines but they did not go far enough. They perpetuated the old-style Roman priestly religion and did not deliver the people from man-led formalised ritual devotions.
Seemingly, people like it that way. It appeals to the ego of a man who has total control over his church and congregation and complete liberty to say and do what he wishes - in some cases he gets away with murder, but nobody dare lift a finger to object - after all, he IS the elder!
The system also appeals to the innate selfishness and laziness of human nature, which likes to sit back and be spoon-fed rather than get on with the hard work of praying and learning and ministering, and being all a Christian ought to be.
So great a hold does this religious system have on the minds and hearts of Christians that even when God in his mercy allows various individuals to get turned out of their churches (or they leave because of errors) they cannot let go of what they held so dear. Instead of praising the Lord for what is really a terrific opportunity to grow and rediscover biblical worship, they traipse around the district riddled with guilt, ashamed and fearful, desperately searching for a replacement - something ! anything! so long as it resembles a conventional man-led church.
What we all need to remind ourselves is this: the meeting in the home is the biblical norm for the Body! Small, intimate, family-based, unstructured groups - meeting whenever and however is most convenient to them - is what produces life and leads to growth and confidence. Each one, in the unpressured atmosphere of a family home, can begin to offer something to the Body - perhaps a song, a poem, a word of scripture that has become meaningful in some special way; perhaps some deeper study or teaching, or simply one word of comfort or prayer that will mean all the world to the one who receives it. As everything is done in humility, no one person taking control, and all totally dependent on the leading of the Holy Spirit, the coma victim begin to move at last!
The paralysed limbs begin to stir; the silent mouths begin to sing and pray; the passive minds start working as they are led to dig into and explore the Bible for themselves. Some will eventually be singled out by the Holy Spirit and recognised within the group as elders, having a more particular role to play in giving protection and oversight, as a Shepherd to the sheep. Others will be seen to have gifts of teaching or preaching that regularly edify the whole group. In this way individual gifts are recognised and encouraged.
Heresy doesn't stand a chance, for not one person, but ALL are keeping their guard over the doctrines of the word. Each is fully accountable to the other, and each bears a responsibility to speak up when things go wrong. Mutual correction, mutual responsibility and mutual love and respect - just the way a family ought to work. Loneliness disappears, spiritual hunger is satisfied and lives begin to be fulfilled and productive once more.
The only thing that stands between the coma victim and her full recovery is fear - the fear of pastors in letting go of their flock, and the fear of the flock in letting go of their pastors. Do we really believe what the Bible says, that each individual Christian is capable of hearing the voice of God, of being taught and guided by the Spirit? Do we really believe that we can grow in knowledge, grace, and faith and become an active member in the Body, exhibiting unique gifts that will bless others? Or do we settle for laziness and paralysis?
Unless we urgently review our understanding of "church" and look to the Bible to show us how we conduct ourselves within the Body, then we will remain weak, incapable and practically useless. God is at this time presenting us with a wonderful opportunity to meet with others on an informal footing and without the require-ments of organised religion. Let us (like former pioneers of faith) grasp this opportunity in both hands and run with it!