(Yesterday while praying I found the following thoughts flowing so I hope to be able to insert this into the series I thought we had recently completed)
Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 59. Redemption and the Church
1 Cor 12:27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it
Now the Church: Yesterday we asked the question, ‘What is God doing with mankind?’ and made a few suggestions. Now I want to turn to another equally important question, what is God doing with the Church? The problem for most of us is that we each tend to be parochial, i.e. we are limited in vision to our own little experience and we assume that is the norm, but possibly it isn’t. Over the past century there have been a number of changes to the church world-wide but the greatest one, I would suggest, is the attitude and then experience of the church in respect of the Holy Spirit. Whole new denominations sprang up in the last century that were Spirit-focused. In the back quarter of the last century the charismatic movement took the Spirit into more traditional mainline denominations, while at the same time provoking a whole new outlook on ‘church’; the concept of the ‘body of Christ’ came to our awareness. Over the past twenty years or more, while the bulk of ‘the Church’ has been carrying on as normal, in some quarters it would appear that the Spirit is provoking new thinking about just what the church is. Indeed words like ‘fresh expressions’ seek to express something of this.
Expectations: (I speak for the UK, not the rest of the world). While these ‘fresh expressions’ appear to be popping up here and there, rather like unexpected mushrooms appearing in a lawn, what we see for most of church, is carrying on, “same old, same old.” In most, expectations for change, for life, for vibrancy, for impacting the world, is not great. Indeed it goes further than that, for in many there appears a world-weariness, except it is not weariness in respect of the world but in respect of the church. Talking recently to some long-term friends from elsewhere in the country who we only see every couple of years, this sold-out for God couple said, “We’re all just so tired. We’ve done it all, we’re so busy and we’re so worn out, we’ve got no more to give.” Another couple who are good friends closer to home had dinner with us recently, again long-term faithful Christians, and when I casually commented, “How is church?” they replied, “We don’t do church, it doesn’t do anything for us.” Again they are a couple worn and weary. We need a revival! I remember one well-known international prophet who a number of years ago prophesied a coming revival which, if my memory serves me right, would be about 2021 or 2022. Time will tell, but we need it.
Let’s make it personal: As a retired leader, I still have the heart to see life, growth, salvation, change, maturity and Spirit-life flowing in God’s people and out into the world, but so often as I watch Facebook pages, church comes over more as a social club, not God’s power-packed army of radical change. Church goes on, ‘same old, same old’! Change is resisted, life is absent. There are exceptions, in churches and individuals; there is a remnant of both that yearns for and wants to go in the Spirit and see Him being Lord. But when it is a case of ‘business as usual’ or world-weariness, what are we left with? We can either continue with the week by week ritual that lacks life, or we can drop out, or we can stand on the hillside like a prophet of old and declare the truth and trust for the Spirit to come and bring transforming life to the words we declare. Opt out, cop out or opt in? What will it be? As with Joshua I would like to say, “as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” (Josh 24:15)
Church Context: As an individual I am called to maturity, to grow up: using his word (Heb 5:14) and obeying his word (Mt 7:21, Mt 28:20), allowing his graces to develop in me (Jas 1:4), to be stable (Eph 4:14), learning to play my part in the ‘body’ (Eph 4:16), resisting the lure of distraction by riches & pleasures, and learning to deal with worries, all of which hinder growth, maturity and fruitfulness (Lk 8:14,15). But then in this context, the big issue is that I am also a member of the body of Christ, the Church (Rom 12:4,5, 1 Cor 12:12,27, Eph 1:23, 4:15,16,25, Col 1:18) designed to continue Christ’s expression and work of God on earth (Heb 10:5-7), a body to do the will of God on earth. Working all these things into reality in my life is what ongoing redemption is all about. So, if I am to opt-in, regardless of what anyone else might do, what is to be my role in this ‘body’ in these days, these days of uncertainty, of constant change, of world-weariness?
Holding the Truth: I believe we need to restate some of the most basic and obvious truths that can get submerged in this age that we’ve spoken about earlier in this series. For example: “What is a Christian? One who has become God conscious, one who has had a God-encounter, one who has surrendered to God, sought and received His forgiveness earned by His Son, Jesus Christ, one who has been made right with God by His Son, one empowered by His Spirit, one with an ongoing relationship with God that hopefully grows day by day, week by week, month by month and year by year, one who is being changed into the likeness of the Son, one who is open to Him, to be used by Him to bless others. A Christian is a divinely supernatural work of God.” We may become world-weary, but this is still a basic unchanging truth and if it is true – and I am certain it is – we need to be challenging ourselves and each other: God-conscious, surrendered, empowered, changed, used, divinely supernatural? Is that me? If not, then I am living as less than I am designed to be.
Let’s have another example: “What does it mean to be spiritual? To be spiritual means to be conscious and aware of another dimension, the dimension that complements the material world, the world of God, of the angels, of demons, of spirits, of powers and principalities. To be spiritual means to feed the spirit as well as the mind. To be spiritual means to flow in the spirit in harmony with the Holy Spirit. To be spiritual means to experience a living relationship with the unseen One, the Lord of all things, to refer to Him, talk with Him, question Him, ask of Him, worship Him and live with the awareness of Him.” Is that me, is that us? Aware, feeding the spirit, flowing in the spirit, referring to, talking to, questioning, asking, worshiping Him? Is that how I live, is that how we, the church, live?
Let’s just have one more of these ‘basic-truth’ concepts: “Why do Christians think the ‘will of God’ is so important? The Bible teaches that God is all-knowing and all-wise and that He is perfect, loving and full of goodness. This means that everything that God thinks, says or does cannot be improved upon (i.e. is perfect), and is an expression of love and goodness. It follows, therefore, that everything God wants for us is the very best, cannot be improved upon, is loving and utterly good. If this is true – and the Bible says it is – then we would be unwise to reject His plans for us (Eph 2:10) and should do all we can to find and follow His unique will for us.” Am I concerned with His will, do I trust that it is epitomized by love and goodness and His perfection, and that it is for my blessing?
Alone and together: Now these three things are, I suggest, just three of the many things that go to the heart of what it means to be part of the Church, the body of Christ. They are things I need to ponder on and apply as an individual, but they are also things that we need to ensure are at the heart of our church life. Without them, we are well off-beam. Now these are quite specific things, but the danger is that we expect the same of the way we each work them out. Now what I have noted over the years is that each Christian has different faith levels. This may be in general terms, i.e. someone has a generally low level of faith, or the opposite, or it may be to do with a specific area. For example, one person may have a high level of faith for praying but perhaps little faith for giving, while another person may have great faith for giving but little when it comes to praying.
Thus we should never take each other for granted; we are all different and I need your differences, I need your grace and your gifting. This is where those who opt out are at a severe disadvantage, they do not have the resource that is you. Even more – and I have observed this a number of times – when we step right out of the ambit of the church (and our criticisms may be spot on) we actually make ourselves vulnerable to attack from the enemy. That I believe was what was behind Paul’s teaching to the Corinthian church when he spoke about putting a specific sinner ‘out’ of the church, so that he would be vulnerable to the work of the enemy and be thus chastised and brought back to repentance (see 1 Cor 5:5,13). Sadly we take for granted the protection we receive by being a part of this living body. Paul’s teaching in 1 Cor 12 is twofold: first, I am unique, we are all different and, second, we need each other because of those differences.
Church being Redeemed? The church in the West seems to be reducing in numbers in terms of percentage of the population, but at the same time, many parts of it are looking healthier and are exhibiting life. Although many are indifferent to change and to life, there is still that faithful remnant that hungers and thirsts to be the real body of Christ that exhibits his reality, exhibits his life, his love and his goodness, his revelation and his power. The challenge to me, and to each of us, is will I opt out when I am faced with this indifference or will I determine, with His grace, to remain one of the faithful ones who will continue to hold to the truth and live it out? Will I be working wherever and whenever I am given the opportunity to bless, encourage and build those either side of me in this body, communicating and imparting His love and goodness wherever I can? Can that be you as well? This is how we play our part as God works in this ongoing process of redeeming the Church.