How Must the Glorious Church of Christ Function?
I am very concious that conversations have largely focused around the Church a great deal on this website, and other blogs that I love reading. Many topics are covered - such as Parachurch vs Local Church and my own assessment of the fact that if we are to see large 'Antioch'-style sending centres rise up then every member must be utilised. A great deal of attention is given to the fact that the Kingdom of God will only become reality through the Holy Spirit - here and here. Prayer and Worship have been looked at in the context of the 'model church' - Church of Christ the King in Brighton. Some of the best books that I have read recently are devoted to the Church: "Does the Future Have a Church?" - "Christ's Radiant Church" and "The Radical Church". This is all well and good but I have become increasingly concious that if someone turned round and said, "Okay - so you believe in restoration? How will the restored church function?" - I am not sure how clear my answer would take shape.
When speaking at Brighton Leaders Conference 2000, David Holden said; "Your eschatology affects your ecclesiology". Initially I didn't correlate the two - but I have come to realise that to hold a positive eschatology is vital if one is to be committed to the Church! Church dreary politics - Leadership Mishandling - Spirit-absent meetings. All these things can seriously "make the heart sick". Yet a positive vision of the Church can hold that passion. A triumphant vision of the Church can lift that and sustain that.
So I transcribed a sermon by Dr Ern Baxter on this very subject - it is taken from a series he called, "Laying Church Foundations".
"Any servant of God needs to be related to the Church. I personally must belong to a community of God's people to give validity to what I am doing. One of the dangers of going through any crisis of experience - whether it is personal or domestic or religious or national - is that having had some disillusionment and having experienced some pain from the misapplication of truth, the tendency for all of us is to then atone for the disillusionment by throwing out the whole thing - the baby with the bathwater.
I therefore want to refresh hearts with; "My Vision of Community". (Acts 2) The first community that came into existence in Jerusalem is a basic pattern for what God wants. It is not complete - you probably find a more complete deliniation of community in the Epistles. Our aim is to take a concordant walk through Acts 2.
This new community started with a group of disciples. That group weren't a bunch of intellectuals - or wealthy people but they were Galileans. They were uncultivated, unsophisticated and unacademic. There wasn't a Phd in the crowd! Putting a high value on the fact that despite your attainments, what God is dealing with is the raw, rough, primative, pristine stuff of human personalities that are committed to Jesus Christ. If you are going to have community - then you have got to have disciples. A disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ - that means one who comes under the disciplines of His Word. A disciple is one who has melded into a community of love and sharing and discipline.
One of our great difficulties in getting any sense out of contemporary Christianity is the measure of independent individualism that dominates our psyche. Frank Sinatra established the anthem of individualism when he sang, "I did it my way" - not knowing that he was enshrining the definition of sin; "All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned everyone to his own way". What is sin? Doing it "my way". What is redemption? Doing it God's way.
The people who came to Jesus Christ recognised in Him a new focal point for living. They saw the superiority of what He was and what He taught and everything else that they were hearing and they had heard a lot! Greek philosophy, Roman government, theory, Judaism. They simply said, "This Man is different. He speaks as One having authority". When His disciples were challenged to join those multitudes that were leaving the Lord, their response was significant; "Lord where shall we go? You alone have the words of eternal life". They may not understand all He was saying but they were sticking. We have got to start out with disciples. I don't have the option this morning of chosing what I want to do. I have to do what my Lord tells me to do and I have to do that not only through the directness and the access of my immediacy to Him but I have to do that through the relationship of His People.
The Dynamic of Power.
This little group of disciples were ordered by their Lord before He went back to haven to wait in Jerusalem until they be endued with power from on high. The disciples had to enter into a dynamic experience to enable them to function in community and in outreach - We must know personally the Pentecostal Experience. In obedience they waited together in Jerusalem and "when the Day of Pentecost was fully come, they were together with one voice in one place." Somebody said, "What is the secret of the primitive church's power?". That little phrase that reoccurs about eleven times in the book of Acts "with one accord". Such is the power of unity! That experience cannot come out of a philosophy only - you need to understand it but it must come out of a dynamic.
The unity we're talking about is not the unity of the miners in England or the unions in America - we're talking about a unity that is fed by the dyanamic of a constance experiencing of the Holy Spirit's Presence and Power. If you don't have that then your philosophy will fall through lack of dynamic. You won't accomplish a thing unless you have the dynamic to make it work! You are born to this unity! The community process involves discipleship and it involves a dynamic experience of the Holy Spirit. The immediate effect of the visitation of the Holy Spirit in the beginning was that it drew attention - there was a mighty wind and a lot of noise! (2:6) literally means that the noise was so great that the whole city heard. The immediate effect therefore was that they came running from every direction!
"And filled the temple court". They saw the phenomena of the new dynamic. Notice that sometimes when the Spirit of God moves and there are signs and wonders and miracles and conversions, noone takes the time to tell you what's going on and relate it to the Biblical rationale. That's why it falls apart. Revival after revival has been disappated by pure indulgence in emotion and experience only. The Scriptures say that you and I must be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in us. Why are we doing what we're doing? Peter stopped and preached for a long time! One might ask why he should preach in the highly charged atmosphere of the Pentecostal effusion. He could he do it? He did it because he had to do it! Peter was responsible for the balance of this thing and he knew that the experience was not enough. The mind had to be spoken to. He answer their questions, "These are not drunk as ye suppose".
You've had a sense reaction to a divine happening. You reckon it's wrong! What did he do? He provided them with a biblical rationale for what was happening. One of the main reasons that any move of God gets into trouble is because of ignorance among the people. If you don't know why you['re here and you're doing what you're doing then you are at a disadvantage and you could get hurt. There was a response to Peter's sermon. "Men and brethren what shall we do?". This is the initiation into community. They were baptised! Water baptism is not an appendige that is optional to the Kingdom of God! Teaching continued - "they continued steadfastly". Water baptisms are the Christian right to full initation. One of the things that we've missed about water baptism is that we baptise people into Christ's death and resurrection but 1 Corinthians 12:13 says that we are also baptised into people - into body at this time.
When you are baptised you are baptised into the community of God's people. Following your baptism and gift of the Holy Spirit, there is an "And". Follow the "ands". They continued steadfastly. There was a continuing character. These must be very important things to characterise the ongoing life of the community. It is taken for granted that you've received the Holy Spirit - that you have been baptised - that you've repented. What is the continuation of this initiation? What's involved in it? 1. Continuation in the apostle's doctrine. Teaching was clearly fundamental and central to the continuation of the community. Not projects but teaching. What can insensative and stupid non-entities mean by presenting non-threatening doctrines?
God never intended us to be brainless disciples! "I pray for you that you may receive the spirit of wisdom and of revelation". The term was coined at a Charismatic Convention in New York in 1950; "Baptised Brains". This is why reception of the Spirit doesn't guarantee that we won't do stupid things. When you receive the Spirit as life and power, you don't receive Him as intelligence. It is only as you let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly that you have the intelligence of the Holy Spirit. "Come into the charismatic experience out of the old wine denominations". 2. Experiential expression of the teaching. If teaching doesn't produce the second thing then you can question the validity of the teaching. Fellowship is the second thing. The baptism of the Holy Spirit or the experience of the Holy Spirit iand the experience of the Word need to combine to bring about the experience of community life.
True Unity by the Holy Spirit.
That is the community process. We are not here this morning because we have had some prior creature relationship with people. What brings us into relationship with other believers who attract our attention? A common experience of the Holy Spirit and teaching. We are held together by no other affinity but the people who have been baptised in the Holy Spirit and have been brought into the transcendent revelation pf God concerning what HE wants through teaching. The destiny of the world will not be fulfilled until the entire earth becomes a Spirit-filled, Word-instructed worshipping community of men and women declaring that Jesus Christ is Lord. That is why we are to go out and disciple nations - teaching them to observe all things.
The Lord's Supper and Prayer.
The Corinthian excess mingled their supper and the Lord's Supper until they were having both. It was a time to share in the bread and the wine and include God in the meal by the extraodinary meal of remembrance. The Lord's Supper is not unimportant. Remember that as we get involved in our outreach and our evangelism - it is only to be as good as our internal activity current with God. And that includes our frequent celebration of the Covenant meal. "In prayers" - a lot of people don't have a lot of time for prayer. They have time for praise and shouting but not for prayers. Prayer should be a liturgical thing - it should be part of our gathering - we need to have prayers.
Signs and Wonders.
(v43) "And as they continued steadfastly fear came upon every soul as signs and wonders were carried out". I have seen enough signs and wonders to make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up! When we see signs and wonders we should be looking for something alongside them - namely a sign people. We can see signs and wonders movements that are squandered by curiosity - only excitement and thrill - but never resulting in a sign people. We want the miracles but we should be wanting a miracle people. "God is here". We need the supernatural - not for an end in itself but to make us a supernatural people.
Resist vigorously the idea that the church ought to be diluted to socio-economic grey. What it does teach is that all we have is held in Jesus' Name to meet the needs of the people - but not to provide an equality.
The coming together of God's People has a biblical guarantee of a special kind of Presence that you don't have in your devotions at home. Something special ought to happen in the public meeting. They broke bread from house to house. Publicly they had their meetings and then went back from house to house to have a good time! The people were touched by this community - they had favour with the people (2:47) because they got along so well. That is why we should carry a constant distress in our hearts because the church column is often the scandal sheet. Why are we advertising the condition that we are in right now? Until we've got our house in order we have got no business trying to get people in. The people were coming because the community was so attractive that they couldn't resist it. It never said that the attractiveness of the community was lessened through suffering.
The Bible says, "Let the beauty of the Lord be upon us".