The Wonder of the Church: Part 7 – Unique Ingredients
Mt 16:18 I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.
Taken for Granted: So much of the time, we as Christians take so much for granted. We became a Christian, we entered into the life of the church, if we have moved we may have experienced more than one local church community, we may have even tried out more than one local church community, but the fact is we ‘know church’. To counter that, the following are things we will consider in this – what I think may be the penultimate Part:
- Another quick look at ‘Vision’
- Power – for Life Transformation
- Power – for Life Service
- Power – for Living
- The Need for Faith
- More on Faith.
- Finale – the Church on God’s heart
The trouble is quite often we only know ‘our church’ and that means we have little knowledge of the bigger wider world of the church. To make the point that I want to draw out of this particular study, may I share something of my own experience and then you will see where it is going.
Growth: My own experience, my own local church for a number of years, was a little independent evangelical church. Have said it was independent, the reality was that it was part of a small denomination – until the Holy Spirit started moving among us and the denomination asked us to move on. We were quite small and so having heard about ‘House Churches’ we decided to meet (somewhat squashed) for three weeks in our front room. After that we made use of a public building that had a lounge in it that catered for us for a year or so. The amazing thing was that as soon as we moved out of the denomination (a long and quite exciting story) we started growing in numbers until a year or so later we had to move into a larger venue where we stayed, gradually taking over larger and larger rooms, and there we stayed for over two decades.
Bigger Changes: So far, we are still an independent little evangelical church with some charismatic leanings, but God in His grace didn’t leave us like that. In the period of transition out of the denomination, the Lord wonderfully – and the story is too long to share here – put us into contact with one of the ‘streams’ operating in the UK, in which all the Ephesian 4 ministries were recognised and operated. This meant lots of help and lots of outside input which was quite amazing. As people and as a church we grew and developed amazingly and various of us had opportunities to travel abroad with international ministries which also developed us. Jump forward twenty years and I felt the time was approaching where, because of age, I should retire, step down and let our leadership team carry on.
Moving On: To give them space to grow, my wife and I left, so they would not be constantly looking over their shoulders for my approval. We searched the local churches and settled in a lovely little congregation of another completely independent free church where we stayed, seeking to serve for some six years, as opportunity arose, until we felt it was time to move on. We moved into a larger denominational church where I have some measure of input. Now without naming them, this is an evangelical denomination that prides itself on being Bible believing and evangelistic, reaching out into the local community in a number of ways – all of which are excellent. There is also a charismatic undercurrent which the Minister desires to grow.
But…. But here’s the thing, in the light of the nearly two decades of operating with apostles and prophets, we find in the two churches we have experienced since I ‘retired’ a remarkable absence of teaching, knowledge of spiritual matters and spiritual warfare, linked to an absence of vision and understanding what vision is about. As we have pondered on this, we realize how rich our previous experience was, having apostles and prophets about, let alone excellent teachers. In the previous part on leadership I wrote about how, having known and experienced apostolic ministry first-hand, these apostles, men who were clearly church-planters, church-builders, men of faith, vision, power and authority, impacted the local church, energized and motivated the local church on, released faith and vision and enabled and equipped and empowered new leaders and new ministries. They were and are, if you like, God’s catalysts. In their absence, the only word I feel that accurately describes the local church in the West is ‘moribund’ meaning, as various dictionaries put it, in bad condition, veering towards death. Declining denominational numbers suggest this is true.
What is Missing? Apart from the obvious things I have just referred to, what are the ingredients of the New Testament church that are so often missing in the church of today. I suspect for many, if I mention four particular ingredients that were there two thousand years ago but so often are not today, there will simply be a gentle raising of an eyebrow which, if it is true, simply denotes an absence of understanding of four of the vital life forces of the Church. They are Vision, Power, Obedience and Faith. If you don’t believe me, it may be because you are a rarity, a member of a local church where these four things are very obviously demonstrated. Alternatively you may simply not understand what I mean by these four, and so I hope the following pages may explain something of what I believe is often an absence of ‘life’ in the modern church. Although we have considered ‘vision’ in Part 4, I will include one further study as an overview of the need for vision, what is it and so on. Stick with me if you can. But we will pick up the other three before we finish this Part.
The Uniqueness of the Church: And so to the title of this final Part. In Part 2 – A Different People, I looked at some of the things that make the ‘church’ different from any other group or organisation. Now we might say that a business has vision as the senior members of the company focus on their product, how they will develop it and where they will sell it and how they may trade most economically to obtain the greatest profit. Those won’t be the constituents of our vision, but it is vision. If we speak of such a business as having power, it is a completely different use of the word from that which we will find in the New Testament; that we will examine later on. To use the words obedience and faith in connection with a business is a complete misnomer, unless of course it is a company run by Christians who seek the express guidance of God.
So vision, yes, power, most definitely and obedience and faith, unquestionably. These four we desperately need in the Church today if we are even to survive, yet more, to flourish. The pressures of modern life in the West, as I have written in Study 4 of Part 1 of this series, threaten on one hand to crush the modern church, or on the other hand, simply to mould it into its own image, which is very different from the unique organism seen in the New Testament. These four things that we will examine here are, I suggest, the most crucial issues in the life of the church and will be determinants of its future. I hope you pray over each of these studies but please, please, do pray over the remaining ones in this penultimate Part so that possibly together we may catch fire and become instruments that Jesus can use in these Last Days.