Thursday, March 06, 2008

It is the Church!! The Hope of the World!!

I've been thinking a lot about the "Church" recently. It's been abused, scoffed at, mocked at, persecuted, martyred, praised, idolised, split off into cults, split off into Pharisaical, legalistic horror stories - yet despite all that it just won't go away after 2,000 years. It has been run by apostles and prophets where it has flourished, it has been run by pastor/teachers where it has developed strong foundations, it has been run by grace-haters who have controlled it and generally abused it for their own ends, it has been run by ego-maniacs who have drained the people dry of their money, their lives and their free-will - yet despite all that it won't give up the belief that Ephesians 4 Ministries have truly and genuinely been given by the ascended Christ to bring it to maturity. What IS this Church!?

Pete Day brought a note of severe perspective that any church leader (or indeed anyone who addresses the church) needs to take careful note of:

"The Church is the bride of Christ. Please be careful how you speak to His wife"

But what brought about this blog was a recent post by Mark Heath who is sharing some of his teaching on the Church from where he lives in Southampton. Mark asks; "If you could list up to five marks of the church, what would they be?". He noted that Calvin simply sees the mark of the Church as being the preaching of the Word and the administering of the sacrements.

I read John Piper and Justin Taylor's latest book; "The Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World" last night and Mark Driscoll has his own views on what makes the Church (or to be more accurate what makes the Gospel although he seems to reflect that in his church). They include female/male gender distinctions, Scripture as inerrant, timeless truth, the virgin birth of Jesus, our sin nature and total depravity, Jesus' death as our penal substitution and the concious eternal torments of hell.

It was very similar to Mahaney's right-hand man Joshua Harris's book; "Stop Dating the Church" that I found severely lacking. While I would agree with what both Driscoll and Harris insist is a vital part of the Church, I am left asking why they left what they did out. Or are those elements part of this; "two-handed approach to Christian ministry ... in our graciously open hand we must hold timely ministry methods and styles that adapt" - a concept that seemed to be very popular at John Piper's conference?

What about the manifest Presence of God? What about the Holy Spirit and His ministry not just in salvation but in sanctification, in empowerment, in glorification? What about worship? What about where we are going? It just strikes me that something is missing in our definition of church - "A form of godliness denying the power thereof".

I jotted down some notes that occured to me as "marks of a church" in a comment on Mark Heath's post and here's what I wrote;

"My answer is representative of the New Testament Acts Church stream (and it's inspired by Ephesians 2:19-22).

1. Church is a place where there is no hierarchy or clergy/laity but all are "fellow citizens with the saints".

2. Church is a place built on the foundation of apostles and prophets (not just the dead ones) with Christ Jesus living and reigning being the Chief Cornerstone.

3. Church is a place that is growing into a holy temple in the Lord - where holiness is not a set of rules and regulations imposed legalistically but holiness is a naturally flowing out of a realisation of our position in the righteousness of Christ - it's all about a relationship, not rules.

4. Church is a place that is increasingly becoming a dwelling place for God - the manifest Presence of God is more and more evident until unbelievers are coming in and rather than remaining indifferent are saying; "God is TRULY among you".

5. Church is a place where all of this is possible "by the Spirit". We recognise that all we do is only possible because we live in a "more glorious covenant" where we ALL are "ministers of the Spirit". Where it is not just about what we SAY but about what we DO. That the Spirit makes His Presence known by what we say (prophecy, tongues/interpretation, power preaching), what we do (signs, wonders, healing and miracles), how we live personally (crying "Abba! Father!" - in an intimate relationship with God Himself), how we worship (with bold access in the Holy of Holies) and where we are going as a people (seeing the entire earth covered with the glory of the Lord).

ALL because the Holy Spirit has been poured out and is our inheritance!!".

Ask yourself - (and leave a comment if you so desire) - what is the mark of my church? What should be it's mark? Are it's marks bound by the traditions of the Creeds or the traditions of the Charismatic Movement? Or are it's marks adhering as closely to the Bible as possible and to the Living Rhema Word of God as He speaks and sees His purposes come about now at the climax of the consummation of the ages?

6 comments:

Peter Day said...

A number of years ago our elders sought the Lord concerning our vision, and we wrote - we desire to grow into "a worshipping community of God's people where the Bible is taught, the Holy Spirit is welcomed and lives are changed to the likeness of Jesus."

We also said that we should "know the conscious presence of God at every service."

As God has taught me about grace and glory over these last few months, I would probably say more now - the church is a place where the Bible is taught, but not just a place where there is teaching, but there is transformation because the Holy Spirit takes the Word and sets people free to enjoy their glorious inheritance in the Spirit.

The church is meant to be a place where the Holy Spirit is welcomed - but so much more than just welcomed, where the Holy Spirit is saturating everything, because we are letting Him run His church.

The church is meant to be a place where lives are changed, but we must make clear that this is not through external rules, but through the truth of grace, and walking in the Spirit.

Yes, we should be conscious of the present of God at every service, but surely all the time - we are living in the Holy of Holies!! When we walk down the street, go to work, go home, meet with friends, witness, pray for the sick, spend time with people, worship - whatever, we in the presence of God.

Ultimately - we are a dwelling place for God in the Spirit. I love this word "dwelling". Not a visiting place, but a dwelling. A place where God rests, remains, stays, lives - His home in us, on us, and among us. He glory resting on us, touching all that we do, and all who come among us. That is church - the glory house of God.

ianmcn said...

Good post, however - is it really necessary to refer to Mark Driscoll as the "Dreaded Mark Driscoll"? Much as you may not be a fan of his, he is a brother in Christ and an influential minister - we should pray for people like him, not tear them down. He has a huge amount of responsibility on his young (and at times immature) shoulders, we should pray that he handles it well and that God gives him the grace to deal with it. We should also thank God that people such as Piper, Mahaney and Virgo are influences in his life - maybe they can help direct him and correct him.

Dan Bowen said...

Thanks for your comments 'ianmcn' - you are right, it wasn't really necessary to write that and I'm sorry - you will see that I've deleted that. At times I write more quickly than I think, and despite any personal feelings about Driscoll and his ministry, I should be remembering we are on the same size.

Thanks for pointing that out!

ianmcn said...

No problem, and thanks for your grace filled response. Shortly after writing my comment, I came across this post on challies.com http://www.challies.com/archives/articles/driscoll-piper-mahaney.php

I thought you might find it encouraging to know.

Dan Bowen said...

That's really interesting and encouraging - thanks for that link. As long as any true minister of the gospel can stand up and say "I'm sorry" but also listen to older brothers in the faith, then surely the smile of God will be upon them. Its a good example to follow.

Dan Bowen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.