There are always “truths in tension” in Christianity with which we must contend—gospel (grace alone) and kingdom (the law of God applied by grace). Another such tension is navigating the details of daily living and the big picture of fulfilling God’s eternal purpose—the individual trees and the vast forest in which they exist. I always want too remember to balance my thoughts between those two
Today I want to look at the forest for the purpose of the gathering together of God’s people in the church. There are three pillars which I consider to be essential to a spiritually alive, functioning New Testament church. I noticed each on display at the Asbury revival. The size of the church does not matter, and, surprisingly, bigger is not better. As a matter of fact, after a church grows past a certain point, none of the pillars we will discuss can support it!
Jesus said, “For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20). This corporate indwelling of the Holy Spirit in His Church (“in the midst”) is far different than our personal, individual indwelling that all true Christians experience. It is this Holy Spirit presence, in His corporate temple rather than simply in its individual stones, functioning through the three essential pillars, that brings a church to life and makes it an unstoppable dynamo. Here are the three pillars:
- The church meeting is for instructing and building up the saints, not for evangelism.
“And He Himself (Jesus) gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-13).
Could anything be clearer? Jesus gave gifted men, the “equippers,” to the church to equip and edify the “saints,” the “body of Christ,” to do “the work of the ministry” out in the world. Shockingly, the ministry is not the unique job of these equippers. There is no “going into the professional ministry.” These equippers, every-day members, supply the church with what we need to minister to the world, the job of every church member. Evangelism occurs Naturally, Spontaneously and Unconsciously (NSU), as church members simply go about their daily activities, and, NSU, they demonstrate the life of the Lord to all they meet. They are “edified” and “equipped” to do so at church!
These equippers may be young men, not yet elders in the church. Elders are chosen by the church to lead them and be the authority in the church. An ”elder” is, as the name implies, “gray of beard,” “long of tooth,” and his “tread is worn.” On the other hand, God chooses and gives the ministry gifts of Ephesians 4:11 (apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers) to whomever and whenever He sovereignly chooses.
Their gifts are permanent and not bestowed by the church, and may not yet be recognized by it, or even by the gifted ones themselves. However, NSU, their gift comes directly from God, and the men themselves can’t keep those gifts from functioning, whether or not they are aware of them. This is described in detail in my book, “…and the Glory of the Lord Filled the Temple – The Holy Spirit Alive in the Church, available on my web-site, free as an EBook.
- The church meeting is participatory and not observational.
“How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification” (1 Corinthians 14:26). “Each of you,” each church member, has a unique contribution in the edifying and equipping process that no one else can contribute. These are not necessarily just those with the ministry gifts of Ephesians 4, but this is true of everyone in the church, even the “least honored,” and the whole church suffers when they aren’t present and participating (1 Corinthians 12:18-27)!
Notice that this includes even the possibility of a teaching from the Scripture, which all men are free to contribute. Women are restrained from teaching men in church, as that constitutes verbally exercising authority over them (1 Corinthians 14:34, 35; 1 Timothy 2:11, 12). However, they are allowed and encouraged to verbally pray, prophesy or share personally in church (1 Corinthians 11:5).
Those with the ministry gifts of Ephesians 4 may find themselves wanting to teach or speak more often, while others less frequently, but all men are allowed to do so, and everything they offer is “for edification.” The same goes for gifted musicians and singers. There will be a time when the life of the Lord is overflowing within you and you can’t keep quiet, NSU. When that happens, jump into church life; the water’s fine!
In the interest of keeping this posting to a consumable length, I will wait til next week to discuss the third pillar in the New Testament church. This third pillar, when in place, assures that the grace of God is foundational to any church expression of the kingdom of God, no matter the church’s immaturity or lack of ministry gifts among the members. Without it, the church will become just another legalistic church, its members still addicted to the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. I can’t wait to share it!