Recently I combed carefully through the Book of Acts again, looking for what the Holy Spirit might have for me there. My special interest was in ecclesiology, but what really motivated me was to discover what made the early church so different from us today.
Just twenty years or so after the Ascension of Jesus, the church, by the testimony of a credible neutral, if not hostile, witness, had “turned the world upside down”. Now, if that describes your ecclesial experience, then a) I’m happy for you, and b) please contact me with information about how I can join your movement. Because, as for me, I see the church as compromised, disjointed and struggling. All that is ok, provided we’re moving in the right direction, but I wonder.
And so I began searching Acts once again to see what it was in the church DNA that we have lost. Before long, I came upon a curious little thing that writer Luke kept repeating. On the missionary journeys with Paul, he kept referring to the believers as “disciples”.
When I first noticed this, I easily dismissed it as a reference to the small band of missionaries that accompanied Paul. Paul’s MO was this: he typically would enter a town, preach Jesus in the synagogue, win converts, get thrown out of the synagogue, and then start a separate house church in the town, composed of both Jewish and Gentile believers in Christ. Mere days or short weeks later, Paul and his band were gone, often forced out by persecution, and headed for the next town.
So I figured that Luke’s use of the term “disciples” couldn’t possible refer to the brand new Christians. They were mere babies in the faith; they could only handle milk, not meat. So I reasoned.
But as I read on, I came across solid evidence that those new converts to the Lord were exactly whom Luke was referencing as disciples. And with that understanding, my eyes were opened to the difference between the church in the Book of Acts and the current state of the church in the West.
Paul and his band did not preach a cultural Christianity, or mere morals. They preached total consecration to the Savior and to His church. Baptism was a symbol of dying to Christ, of leaving all the things of the previous life behind. It was not to be entered into lightly. And the persecution that continually dogged Paul was vivid evidence to any prospective new believer that if he were to accept Christ, he could expect the same in his own life.
Consider the power the church would have to change lives and impact the nations, if we were to shed our preoccupation with loveless doctrinal minutia and structures, and focus on radical obedience to the Holy Spirit; if we were to abandon materialism and individualism and dedicate ourselves to each other. This is the power the nascent church wielded, that caused it to thrive in a hostile environment.
I’ve heard that Chinese church leaders continue to ask the West to send more bibles, but not to send popular Western Christian books. Their greatest fear is not persecution, under which they have thrived for decades, very similarly to the church’s experience in the Book of Acts, it is becoming infected with self-centered consumerism under the flag of religion.
And so, I concluded that the key to awakening the church lies in discipleship. Funny, that’s exactly what Jesus indicated as He left this earth:
Then Jesus came near and said to them, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.
Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” -Matt 28:18-20
We need to get back to basics. And it needs to happen now, in you and in me. The world is ripe for a final revival unlike anything it’s ever seen.
Not everyone is going to be willing to become a disciple. The cost is too great. Jesus understood that from the start. The Sermon on the Mount is universally acknowledged to be the greatest concentrated spiritual teaching in history, but look at how it happened:
When He saw the crowds, He went up on the mountain, and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him. -Matt 5:1
Jesus never trusted crowds. Here he drew himself away from the crowds, to a remote place. Only those people who were willing to climb the mountain after Him would hear his intimate disclosure of Kingdom principles. The rest remained down below, awaiting their next “blessing”.
Another time, Jesus was walking on a road, with large crowds following. He turned abruptly and proclaimed:
“If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his own father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters — yes, and even his own life — he cannot be My disciple.
Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. -Luke 14:26-27
Jesus purposely thinned the crowds. He would rather have a few who are serious than many who are just going along for the ride.
Yesterday I came across this video by Andrew Strom that speaks to the church’s need to recapture discipleship. Because these things have been reverberating in me lately, I found it riveting. I believe you will too. The sermon begins at around 11 minutes in.
I’m reading an ebook called Houses That Change the World, by Wolfgang Simson. It’s available as a free download from www.openheaven.com. It’s about the house church movement and its potential to change the face of Christianity, with an emphasis on the example of the burgeoning church in China.
The translation grammar is a bit fractured, but there’s a lot of thoughtful stuff in the book, and hopefully I’ll review it more thoroughly later. But for now I wanted to get out this powerful excerpt on the role of the Apostle, especially with reference to the broken state of the church. I can assure you, the implications of this excerpt are all too real.
If we ever do get our act together, we are going to see a move of God that will be unprecedented in scope and power. The world is ripe for harvest, but it is looking for something real and permanent. I believe it is going to happen, because it has to happen.
The predominant role of apostles and prophets for church planting
As important a role spiritual hospitals have to play, they cannot replace what apostles and prophets are uniquely gifted for: to build a supernatural base and foundation for a multiplying church movement, to accept nothing as impossible, to respond strategically to visions and supernatural revelations, to be prophetic talent-spotters.
They are not so human-centered and felt-need-oriented ”tenders” like good Pastors, Teachers and Evangelists, but God-centered: they have the God-given ability to see beyond things, beyond human needs and problems, and take hold of the tasks and visions of God. They do not want to just build ”a church”, they want the whole city or nation! They live very much in the future, for the future, from the future, going constantly pregnant with future developments, and can therefore pull and lead the church into the future, and prevent it from becoming a traditional institution only celebrating the past, or a fossilized monument of history long gone. The church is ”built on the foundation of apostles and prophets, with Jesus Christ himself as the chief cornerstone” (Eph.2:20), writes Paul. Jesus writes to the church in Smyrna ”that you have tried those who call themselves apostles” (Rev. 2:1-7) after almost all of ”The Twelve” had died. This suggest simply the continuation of apostles even after the ”age of apostles”, says Watchman Nee in his book ”The Orthodoxy of the Church”. Like with a foundation for a house, much of the work of apostles and prophets is not always seen but felt. That is why they are called ”first of all” (1 Cor. 12:28), because they are also ”called in” first of all to do the foundational work for ”founding churches”, the site spotting, earth moving, excavating, foundation laying, so that others like carpenter and plumbers and electricians can build on that foundation. Would you like to live in a house where the foundations are laid by a carpenter? I admire carpenters, but I would not like to live in a house where the carpenter has laid the foundation. That is simply out of his brief.
Instead of pastoral, evangelistic and teaching-models of church, apostles and prophets build prophetic and apostolic churches. The apostle, mentioned first in all the biblical lists of ministries, is one ”sent to attempt to solve the unsolvable for the purpose of facilitating the increase of the Church of Jesus Christ in quality as well as quantity”, says Barney Coombs in his excellent book ”Apostles Today”….
How God works
“God’s method is a man. Are you that man?”…
Healing the church trauma
Many apostles and prophets today are not in church at all, because they have not much room in traditional churches. They have been pushed to the side, they are often feared because they seem so strong, radical and different, and many have not only been marginalized, but truly rejected, and as a result have given up on church almost completely, maybe with a last flicker and a spark of hope still burning in them. Many of them are in business today, or have become medical doctors. More and more of them know deep down that they are made for more than just earning 10.000 dollars a month or operating ulcers, avoiding the church that hurt them, spiritually surviving by TV and Radio, and attending an occasional conference or a Christian businessmen’ ”Chapter”.
Those rejected, undiscovered or underemployed apostles and prophets suffer from what I call the ”church trauma”, a very deep and tricky wound inflicted to them by the very institution of healing, the church, which did not live up to it’s own calling and, an almost devilish scheme, has badly hurt those whose ministries it needed most. Many of those Christian businessmen therefore heavily support anything but the church, invest into parachurch ministries and missions, as long as they can stay clear of the church which have hurt them so much. The tragic of this is, that the church is God’s mission. Someone needs to find them, go to them, apologize to them profoundly, heal the ”church trauma”, speak to that glowing spark and fan it into a flame, and then recruit them, helping them to see how God sees them, and release them into their apostolic and prophetic potential for the building up of the church.
God gave the nation of Israel feast days so that they would remember and affirm who they were as a called-out people. They were to recount from where God had taken them, through what He had taken them, and to where He had taken them.
We’re in the New Testament age now, and there is no compulsion to maintain feast days. And when I started out many years ago, I didn’t place much value on them, but now I accept them unlegalistically and I see good in them.
(I love that about the Word. When I didn’t value the holidays, I had the freedom not to. When later it seemed good to me to enter in, I was free to. The Holy Spirit was free to minister to me according to my individuality, on His own timetable, not man’s. Not being under law is an advantage of our exalted position in Christ.)
I think the New Year holiday is a good time to reflect back on where we’ve been, where we are and where we’re going. Jesus often exhorted the first disciples to “come apart to a desert place”. We need to periodically change our mental scenery so that we can get a fresh perspective on ourselves. It could be a change of geography, it could be getting on a motorcycle or taking a walk, it could be a seminar or fasting in the prayer closet. But we need to break the dulling, hypnotic effect of daily patterns and responsibilities so that we can see ourselves afresh and creatively, as with the honest eyes of a child.