New Book on the Journey

The following is the introduction for the new book: Return to the Wild by Mary Rodriguez

You can pre-order the book at this site: http://www.therebuilders.org/return-book.html

It has been reported that over one million Christians are leaving institutional churches every year in America alone. Most of them are not leaving because they are falling away from Christ. They are leaving because they hunger for more of Him. In short, they want a deeper walk with Christ and an experience of the church that is more closely lined up with what they read in their New Testament. They are seeking a church experience that is real and expresses the life within them.

Because of this mass exodus from institutional Christianity many are seeking alternative forms of church life such as house church, simple church, and missional church. However, the problem is that these “alternative” forms of church end up being, in essence, institutional themselves. The simple reason for this is that you can only do what you know and if your only experience is institutional, then whatever you do will be institutional. You may have left the institution, but has the institution left you?

This quandary has placed these institutional refugees in a difficult situation. How does a group of believers who have left institutional church now become an authentic organic expression of the church as we see it in the New Testament? They have never experienced anything other than the institutional.

Many have tried “Biblical Blueprintism” which basically means that they take the New Testament (especially the Book of Acts) study it together, and then try to imitate what they see there. But this doesn’t work because the Book of Acts isn’t a “pattern” to be copied; it is a record of the very life of God being lived out through His people.

So the question that is begging to be asked is; how do we learn to live by the same life that those people lived by in the record of the New Testament? The question is not, what did they do so we can copy it? But rather, how did they live? We are all accustomed to performance based religion and yet changing what we do will never bring about true body life. The rabbit hole goes much deeper than that.

The key is found in what Paul called a mystery:

Christ in you (plural), the hope of glory” Col. 1:27.

I am crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live in faith, the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me” Gal. 2:20.

The reason that we have such a difficult time finding authentic body life on this planet is twofold.

  1. It is not found on this planet! It is only lived by another Life which is not from this place. The “church” can only be lived by the divine life of Christ within us.
  2. We must completely turn from the old ways of our natural man and the systems of man. We have become “domesticated” (a term we use in this book) and need to be set free from the moorings of religion into the “wild” of the riches of Christ Himself.

We need to realize who we are in Christ and who Christ is in us. We need to discover our true spiritual “instincts” in order to see and experience Christ as our genuine food and drink. And we need to awaken to the reality of our need for true community life in His body. We need the help of those whom God sends to us who have experience in this life.

Receiving a “sent one” is a very important part of the equation (Matt. 10:40). Those attempting to live the organic expression of the church will need the help of an outside itinerant worker. This must be someone who is not only called, prepared, and sent to this work, but who also has experience living in and planting organic churches.

This book is an allegory of these spiritual realities. It is the story of our journey from the institutional to the authentic and the organic. Surely, you will see yourself along this path at some point. Our hope is not only that you will see where you are currently, but also where God wants to take you.

Dear believer, you are a true lion. And God wants to set you free to live the kind of life that fits your identity. He wants you to Return to the Wild.

You can pre-order Return to the Wild at the following link:
http://www.therebuilders.org/return-book.html

Impaired Vision Through Filters: Part 5 – Elitism

When the days grew closer for Jesus to be taken up to heaven, he was determined to continue his journey to Jerusalem. So he sent messengers on ahead of him. On their way they went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him. But the people didn’t welcome him, because he was determined to go to Jerusalem.

When his disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them, as Elijah did? But he turned and rebuked them, and they went on to another village.” Luke 9:51-56

Elitism: the Corporate Filter

Now we come to one of the most powerful filters around: elitism. What exactly is elitism? You could define it this way: the consciousness of or pride in belonging to a select or favored group. It’s when a group starts believing their own reviews and begins thinking that they are special. This filter is a little different than most because of it’s corporate nature. It’s a group mentality and a group deception. And it tends to go something like this:

We are special because we have deeper revelation or more accurate doctrine than all of those other groups.
We are special because we are more anointed with gifts, instances of healing, and miracles.
We are special because we follow so-and-so leader or preacher and they have more revelation, are more anointed, or sell more books than others.
We have a special calling and place in history that no one has ever had.
We are special because we know the Lord better than most and love the brethren more than most.
We are not really that interested in anything or anyone outside of our own church or movement.
We love all true believers but we are much more advanced spiritually than they are.
We look strange to most Christians because of our maturity level in Christ.
We follow so-and-so because he is the only man God has truly raised up for this generation.

I have personally heard all of the above statements (and more) come out of the mouths of some of God’s people. Once I was at a conference and there was a tiny group there that was spouting off some of these statements with reckless abandonment. No one could stand to be around them. It was a very graphic demonstration of what my co-worker Frank Viola calls the B.O. of the body. Everyone else knows you have it except you! And it really does stink to high heaven.

Of course, this is the basis for every sect, denomination, and just about every movement within institutionalism. The “we are superior to you” attitude is the very foundation for every denomination and that includes the groups that call themselves “non-denominational”. They have camped out around a particular truth, person, or way of doing things and told everyone within and without the group that this is the best (and really) only way. But this particular malady is not only found within the institutional church.

Elitism in Groups Outside the Religious System

This spiritually cancerous filter isn’t only found within the institutions. It is also widely spread throughout house churches, simple churches, missional churches, emergent churches, and organic churches. I have personally been in one house church and one organic church where this disease had been propagated as leaven in a lump of dough. This attitude caused untold damage to the saints of God and resulted in isolation, broken marriages, division, immorality, poor health and much more. Some have even left their faith completely.

Some of the history of groups throughout the centuries that stood outside the religious system is tainted with such stories. Some of these had awesome revelations of Christ with wonderful teachings and strong churches that dared to walk the line of the centrality of Christ and His Cross. And left all to follow Him so that He would have the fulfillment of His eternal purpose. But they fell into the trap of believing they were special and therefore superior to the rest of God’s people. That heart attitude will kill a group or movement faster than anything I have seen.

Safeguards Against Elitism

Now we all think that what we are currently doing is the best way, right? Of course we do or we wouldn’t be doing it! I honestly believe that the way that I am going is the way that God has directed me and firmly will hold to this position no matter what. I would be a fool to do otherwise. However, I cannot say that “my way” of following Christ is superior, therefore I AM SUPERIOR. This is the best way FOR ME. I cannot say if it is the best way for you or not. For me, authentic organic church is the only way to go. But that doesn’t make me superior to anyone. There must be grace, acceptance, and freedom within the Church of the living God.

So here are a few ways that we can help to safeguard ourselves against the plague of elitism:

  • Promote and encourage a healthy attitude of love and acceptance for all of God’s people.
  • Learn to abide in Him so that His humility is displayed through us
  • Visit other groups, attend conferences, and read books by other authors than those of your own movement
  • Develop and maintain relationships with believers outside your own little group
  • Always think the best of other believers and treat them as you would want to be treated

Impaired Vision Through Filters: Part 4 – Missional/Evangelism

“For this reason I, Paul, am the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you gentiles. Surely you have heard about the responsibility of administering God’s grace that was given to me on your behalf, and how this secret was made known to me through a revelation, just as I wrote about briefly in the past. By reading this, you will be able to grasp my understanding of the secret about Christ, which in previous generations was not made known to human beings as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets: The gentiles are fellow heirs, fellow members of the body, and fellow sharers of what was promised in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

I have become a servant of this gospel according to the gift of God’s grace that was given me by the working of his power. To me, the very least of all the saints, this grace was given so that I might proclaim to the gentiles the immeasurable wealth of Christ and help everyone see how this secret, which was hidden for ages in God who created all things, has been at work.

He did this so that now, through the church, the wisdom of God in all its variety might be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realm in keeping with the eternal purpose that God carried out through Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and confident access through his faithfulness.” Ephesians 3:1-12

The Cloudiness of Filters

I have been sharing how “filters” are mental distractions to the centrality of Christ which have been built in us over the years through religious teaching, training, and exposure. Many times, a filter can be built upon a scriptural and even a very noble and correct premise. But the problem is that the premise, principle, command, or teaching becomes everything and this clouds (like a cataract) the vision of the viewer. Christ Himself can no longer be clearly seen because now a certain aspect of Him or His will is blown up out of proportion and now viewed as being everything.

For example, I have known believers who are particularly attracted to the love of God. Of course, we know that God is love and He loves all of us. But that is just one aspect of who He is. However, these dear believers have made it everything. When they read the scriptures, it’s all about love. When they pray or share, it’s all about love. They just can’t seem to ever stop talking about love! That’s a filter, and it is clouding them from seeing the WHOLE Christ. It is blocking their full view of Him and therefore they cannot express Him in reality. Of course, it is only the Body that can express Him in all of His fullness (Eph.1:22,23). But His desire is that we know Him in His fullness WITH the Body so that we, as individuals, can share our portion of Christ in new and diverse ways in and with the Church.

The Missional (Evangelical) Filter

Though I have written on this subject before, it was in relation to the eternal purpose and not to the Christian life and the expression of Christ through His Church. This is definitely one of the largest (most popular) filters around. That’s mainly because of the rise and popularity of evangelicalism itself over the last hundred and fifty years or so. The only difference now is that the language has changed a bit. Now, instead of calling it evangelism or reaching out to the lost, etc. we call it “missional”. But really, at its core, it’s the same elephant just wearing different clothes.

Many Christians believe that the purpose of the Church, and individual believers for that matter, is to evangelize the world and help the poor. For them, everything is viewed through this filter. When they read the scriptures it is all about evangelism. When they pray, it is always about evangelism. They just won’t stop talking about evangelism! It’s almost as if they believe that Adam fell so that we could be used by God to go out and save him! These same folks usually believe that the purpose of the Church is to save sinners. But is that really in keeping with the gospel that Paul preached? Did the New Testament letters encourage the churches to be busy about saving all of those around them? To me, this is the worst kind of spiritual myopia. God’s purpose is much deeper and higher than merely populating heaven!

Understanding the Purpose by Looking at the Story

One of the main reasons we do not understand the purpose of the Church is because we do not understand the panoramic story of the early church. One of my co-workers has written a book on such a topic. See Frank Viola’s book entitled: “The Untold Story of the New Testament Church”. This book will give you the story in it’s proper chronological context. And once you see that story, you will realize that many of our filters (such as the missional/evangelical) just won’t fit into that story at all! It’s just not there.

If you read the letters to the Ephesians and Colossians with unbiased eyes you will see the true nature and purpose of the Church of Jesus Christ. Take your evangelical filters off and read it again asking God to show you the Truth, that is, His glorious Son. And you will find that the purpose of the Church is not about evangelism, missional, missions, rapid multiplication movements, reaching your neighbors, or reaching the world. It is clearly about one thing and one thing only.

The clear and unhindered expression of the fullness of the living Christ!

And that’s all I have to say about that…

Impaired Vision Through Filters: Part 3 – Political Agenda

Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would have fought that I might not be delivered up to the Jews. But now My kingdom is not from here.” John 18:36

As I approach the tackling of yet another filter that hinders our view of Christ, I can’t help but bring to the light this so prevalent idea of Christian involvement with politics. Now I agree that we should pray for our leaders. The scriptures tell us to do so. But the question really is how involved should a believer get in the politics of their nation and for what purpose? And could this be not only a distraction but an actual hindrance to Christ coming into full view through His Body? To answer these questions we will take a look at an example of this political filter in the scriptures.

From that time, Jesus began to show to His disciples that it was necessary for Him to go away to Jerusalem, and to suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and to be killed, and to be raised on the third day.

And having taken Him near, Peter began to rebuke Him, saying, God be gracious to You, Lord; this shall never be to You.

But turning He said to Peter, Go behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you do not think of the things of God, but the things of men.

Then Jesus said to His disciples, If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and let him bear his cross, and let him follow Me.” Matthew 16:21-24

So what was Peter’s filter here? Clearly, he had in mind the Messianic Kingdom agenda. He (and the others) was looking to Jesus to setup a physical/political government that would overthrow the Roman empire leaving the Jewish nation to rule under His Monarchy. This did not fit in at all to the idea of Jesus going to die on a cross! So Peter needed to have a talk with Jesus to convince Him that this just could not happen. But what was the Lord’s response?

But turning He said to Peter, Go behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you do not think of the things of God, but the things of men.
Then Jesus said to His disciples, If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and let him bear his cross, and let him follow Me.

Do you see what happened here? Jesus is explaining to his disciples that he must suffer and be killed and even that thought threatened the religious filters of these Jewish boys. Peter was just the one who spoke up, but I’m sure they were all thinking the same thing. Lord, you cannot die, we need you to fulfill our own agendas! What happened next is so amazing to me. Jesus rebukes Peter for siding with satan! In other words, choosing your own agenda instead of God’s purpose is satanic! It comes straight from the evil one. Why was Peter so concerned that Jesus politically take over the Romans? So that HIS own life would be easier! It was a totally selfish act. How do I know this? Simple.. by the Lord’s response.

“If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself…”

The Political Agenda Today

Why are so many American Christians trying to make this a Christian nation? Is it because they feel some kind of obligation under God to bring this nation back to God? Personally, I don’t believe this nation was ever founded upon Christian principles. But even if it was, is that what God really wants? Did God ever give us a mandate to make and keep a “Christian nation”? If so, where and when did he give us such a mandate? It was definitely not from the scriptures. In the biblical record God only ever has two “holy nations”. One is Israel and the other is the Church. I don’t see any place in scripture where any other nation is ever called to become a holy nation. And yet there are many Christians in the US who are praying and working toward the end of bringing this nation back to God.

This movement has used Old Testament passages (such as II Chr 7:14) to justify their theology. The problem is that all of these passages are referring to the nation of Israel! God was the one who did that! We cannot just try and make any random nation a holy nation! Do we really believe that God is an American? Does he favor America over other nations? Should we throw our lives into making this a Christian nation and yet ignore his eternal purpose? Note – if you are not sure what this purpose is, then I suggest that you read the following post – The Lost Elements of the Gospel.

The Dangers of Such a Filter

Here are some reasons why I believe this filter is so damaging to God’s purpose:

  • Our emphasis shifts from God’s purpose of having a true expression of his Son through the Church to an earthly, physical, and political agenda which only serves the world system and the religious system within it.
  • We are no longer focusing on the centrality and supremacy of Jesus Christ – the same Lord who said that his kingdom was not of this earth.
  • Those involved in this movement have become very elitist and sectarian. Those who are not helping to “save the nation” are looked down upon. I have had folks get very angry with me for disagreeing!
  • God’s goal in scripture is clearly the New Jerusalem which is the bride adorned for her husband who is the Lamb of God (Rev. 21,22). Why spend time, money, and energy on some other goal that is not the Lord’s?
  • It’s just another distraction from the person of Christ Himself. The veils (filters) will only fall away from our eyes as we totally turn to Him! (2 Cor. 3:14-18)

    May we be willing to let the scales fall from our eyes so that the only agenda that remains will be the Lord Jesus Christ Himself!

Impaired Vision Through Filters: Part 2 – Individualism

This filter is one of the most devastating to God’s goal and purpose. The New Testament is very clear that God wants His Son to be the Center and Head of all things.

making known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself, for the administration of the fullness of the times to head up all things in Christ, both the things in the heavens, and the things on earth, in Him, in whom we also have been chosen to an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of the One working all things according to the counsel of His own will …” Eph 1:10, 11

And that He accomplishes His purpose in and through His Church:

This grace was given to me, I being less than the least of all the saints, to preach the gospel of the unsearchable riches of Christ among the nations, and to bring to light all, what is the fellowship of the mystery having been hidden from eternity in God, the One creating all things through Jesus Christ, so that now to the rulers and to the authorities in the heavenlies might be made known through the assembly the manifold wisdom of God, according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord …” Eph 3:9-11

Individuality and Individualism

God created us all as unique individuals to display His incredible variety and creativity. I always marvel at how each person is unique and yet there have been billions of people born! This is individuality and it is a wonderful blessing and privilege for each one of us to be different and to express the Lord in a unique way.

But there is a difference between individuality and individualism. Individualism is a direct result of the Fall of Man and has blinded us to see God’s eternal purpose because of our own self-centered perspectives. I tend to see everything from my own individualistic viewpoint, instead of the way God sees things. God is not individualistic. In fact, He is not even an individual! He is three Persons (Father, Son, and Spirit) who are one. They are distinct but they are not separate. They are truly ONE! But oneness is a concept (and definitely an experience) that we have a real hard time with. Why? Because the Fall separated us from God and from one another. The Fall made us see everything from the individualistic (separated) viewpoint. Now, even as Christians, we see everything from this individualistic, self-centered perspective. Let me give you a few examples of what I mean.

Our View of the Lord Jesus Christ

I have written about this elsewhere, but let me just summarize here. We tend to think of Christ as being a lone individual. Ever hear the story of the “One Solitary Life”? His was never a solitary life! He lived in total oneness and community with the Father and the Spirit throughout eternity. Then, when He came to earth as man, He lived and worked in total alignment with the Father and the Spirit. In fact, He said that they were one and even lived in one another! (See John chapters 14-17) And yet we still see Him and think of Him as a separate individual. Don’t we?

Our View of the Scriptures

We also see the scriptures from the perspective of the individual. Don’t you know? The scriptures were written to me personally. It’s a “love letter” from the Lord to me! It’s all about Jesus and Me! God loves Me. He died for Me. He lives for Me. He saved Me. He heals Me. He teaches Me. On and on ad nauseum! Now of course God really does love you and care about you as an individual. But He wants us to grow up and be concerned about other things – namely, His eternal purpose! And the matter of fact is that the Bible was not written to individuals but to corporate entities.

The Old Testament was written to a corporate entity called Israel. The New Testament was written to a corporate entity called the Church. The letters (epistles) were virtually all written to local churches such as the church in Corinth, the church in Colossae, the churches in Galatia, etc. But yet we always take these scriptures and only apply them to us personally as individuals.

Our View of the Church

Even our view of Church is individualistic. Most Christians see church as a place where they go once a week to get their own personal needs met. The church is often viewed as either a classroom to educate or a restaurant to fill our spiritual bellies! But to God the Church is so much more. She is His house, bride, body, and family. She is His expression of His precious Son on the earth. This Church is the actual Body of the living Christ! And this Body is one. And this Body is definitely to be a corporate Image or expression of the Head. But yet we still approach the church as a vehicle for our own spiritual growth. Again, it’s about me and Jesus.

The reason it’s so difficult for us to live out the practical oneness and community life of God is that our mindset is so individualistic. Our culture is extremely individualistic and unfortunately, this culture usually has more pull on us than the Lord Himself! The community aspect of the Church suffers greatly because we are so busy with our own individual lives. This is why Jesus told us to lose our own lives and begin living the Christ-life. This life is community and this life is corporate.

Lord, please deliver us from the individualism that has hindered your eternal purpose for so long. Set us free from the filter of individualism to see You and Your Church as You truly are so that we can together be Your expression on the earth. Amen

Impaired Vision Through Filters: Part I – The Teaching Filter

When I was 18 years old it was discovered that I had a rare variety of cataract in both eyes. In case you don’t know, a cataract is a clouding of the lens of the eye and can eventually cause blindness. This was very strange for two reasons: one was that I was very young to be contracting any kind of cataract; two it was a very rare variety that usually only comes when someone is struck by lightning! It was decided by the doctor that I should wait until I was older to have surgery because then the eye would be much more pliable for the procedure. We waited until I was 35 years old and the clouding had become so bad that it was no longer safe for me to drive at night. When I had my first eye surgery completed it was like night and day! I had no idea how clouded my lens had become and now I could compare it to the other eye which still had the cataract in it.

Please excuse the personal reference but I tell this story to make a point. When we have something blocking our vision, that grows gradually, we don’t even realize it’s there! And we all have vision blocking filters that prohibit us from seeing the Lord clearly. This is a real problem when the Lord Himself wants to be our All in all and our every thing. These “filters” block us from seeing Him in all of His fullness. Let me explain with an example of one such filter in the New Testament.

An Example from Scripture

The scene is the little village of Bethany just two miles outside of Jerusalem. Lazarus, a good friend of Jesus, has died and his two sisters, Mary and Martha (and the rest of the town) are frantic. Jesus finally gets there four days after Lazarus has died. This is recorded for us in John 11:20-27. Martha comes to Jesus and tells him that if he would have been here her brother would not have died. Jesus tells her that her brother will rise again. How does she respond to this? She starts quoting some of the rabbinical teachings about the resurrection. “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection in the last day.” Then Jesus makes an incredible statement: “I AM the resurrection and the life: he who believes into Me, even if he should die, shall live. And everyone who lives and believes into Me shall by no means die forever. Do you believe this?”

Then Martha’s response is very telling: “Yes Lord; I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, He who comes into the world.” Of course, this is not what the Lord asked her. He asked her if she believed that He was the resurrection and the life. Yet Martha could not see Christ as her Resurrection and Life because her vision of Him had been limited by the teachings she had received. Here, Resurrection and Life Himself was standing right in front of her and all she could see were the teachings! That is the power of a filter.

Our Own Impaired Vision Because of Teachings

How many of us have missed seeing Christ in a greater degree because of the limitations of this kind of filter? I’m not saying that all teachings are bad or destructive. The problem is what we do with them. Unfortunately our religious nature tends to want to “camp out” and settle for what we already know and have experienced of Christ. Yet God wants us to go higher and deeper into knowing our Lord. For He is a glorious Lord who has no limits and whose riches are unsearchable and untraceable!

And not only that, but the teaching itself can become our whole focus and not the Lord Himself. Paul tells us in the first chapter of the letter to the Colossians that God’s purpose is that Christ HIMSELF would come to have the first place in everything. Not just teachings about Christ, but the Person Himself. Yet Christians love to focus on everything else but the actual Person of Christ. When that happens, you have a filter.

Martha was focusing on the teachings about resurrection and the messianic prophecies about the Christ. Yet the Person who IS resurrection and life was standing right there in front of her and she was missing HIM!

Lord Jesus, may we turn completely to You and behold only You so that the veils we have may be removed from our eyes and your purpose be fulfilled.

But whenever their heart turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away…

But we all with unveiled face, beholding and reflecting like a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, even as from the Lord Spirit.” II Cor. 3:16,18

Information or Christ?

Just some thoughts on something that has been concerning me lately.

Apparently we are now in what they are calling the “information age” and I don’t doubt it at all. Just look around you. People everywhere want to know something. What’s the weather? What’s the news? What’s the latest football score? How can I find a restaurant around here quick?

Now before I start ranting and raving a bit I want to say that I am definitely not against technology or having easy access to information. These tools can be very helpful in many ways. But c’mon! Is it really necessary to be looking down at your iphone every minute of the day? You see now people can carry instant information with them everywhere they go via smart phones and the internet. But my question is has this really improved our lives and brought us closer to realizing God’s eternal purpose? Has this brought us closer to being a community instead of a bunch of isolated individuals? And really, is knowledge power after all? Isn’t it possible to have too much information and knowledge of that kind? I mean really, why is it that we want to know so much after all?

I know many people who are constantly looking down at their iphones (or androids) are getting some kind of information which I know not of. This information is perhaps “secret knowledge” that they don’t want to share with anyone (at least they don’t tell me!). Or perhaps they feel superior because they are “in the know” and I am in the “know not”. This has caused me to not want these kinds of devices. Again, it’s not because I am against technology. I use my laptop everyday and I have a cell phone myself (though a very simple one). But I am simply asking the question:

Could it be that this thirst for instant knowledge/information has distracted us from knowing Christ in a deeper way?

For example, these phones can fill up every second of your spare time. Is this useful? Well, it could be. But what if these “down times” where ordained by God? What if some of those times could be times of quiet and resting in Him? What if some of those times could be spent fellowshipping with the Christ who lives within us? What if some of those times could be spent developing deeper relationships with our Lord and His people?

Isn’t experience more valuable than mere information? Why do we want to fill our heads with all of these facts anyway? There is only so much they will hold! I don’t know, maybe it’s just me. But the older I get the more I realize how valuable (and short) our time here really is. I don’t want to squander it any longer. I want to cherish every moment living in Him and getting to know Him personally and in my brothers and sisters.

Disentanglement

“If we are entangled with ourselves, we have no peace. If we are entangled with the world, we have no peace. Only the disentangled can have peace; and death with Christ does the disentangling, and resurrection with Christ leads to a life above the world and above ourselves.” T. Austin-Sparks

Just recently I attended my brother’s wedding in Southern California. During my stay in Southern California, my wallet was stolen. All of my credit/debit cards, forms of identification (except passport), and a little cash was in that wallet. The thief immediately tried to use my debit cards but was only able to use one card to purchase fifty dollars worth of groceries at a nearby supermarket.

Of course, I had to call my banks, order a new drivers license, etc. But the point of this article is not that I lost my wallet. I had a very interesting experience a few days later at a local shopping mall.

Disentangled from the World System

As I wandered through the mall I suddenly realized that I had absolutely no money and no way to get money. I had no wallet! Oh, the irony of that moment. Here I am walking through a haven of merchandising and I have no identity, no plastic, and no cash! But at that moment I realized more vividly than ever before that I was not a part of that system. In fact, I was totally dead to that system.

“But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal. 6:14).

It actually freed me up to a higher level of understanding and experience than anything I had experienced before. Even though I may have appeared to be just another “mall rat,” in reality, I was seated with Christ in heavenly places. I was walking through that mall in a complete state of “disentanglement.” The economic system had no control over me. And I felt like a bird set free.

However, I also became more keenly aware that I was a part of another “system.” This system is not an organization or a culture or anything political or of this world in any sense. This “system” is actually a living organism. It is really not an “it” at all. I am referring to the vast organic order of Christ Himself! He is God’s order and arrangement of all of His thoughts, visions, and purposes. This “system” is what Paul referred to as being “according to Christ” (Ro. 15:5).

Disentanglement from the Self System

Even though I realized that day at the mall that I was truly not a part of that system of materialism, consumerism, selfishness, and greed; I also saw in a deeper way that I have been set free from the “self-system” as well. That is my old man was crucified with Christ (Ro. 6:11). Now, it’s no longer about me and my world, but rather it’s about Christ and His Church! I am truly dead to myself but alive to God and His eternal purpose. It’s no longer me and my agenda, but it is God and His agenda. And His only agenda is Christ! That is, the full, whole Christ; Head and body, Vine and branches, Shepherd and sheep, Cornerstone and living stones, Wine and wineskin, Grain of wheat with the many grains, Bridegroom and bride, New Adam and new Eve, the Lamb and His wife.

Set Free to Live a Life Above

Of course, being crucified with Christ is only half of the equation. In order for us to live by His life there had to be a resurrection as well. He was raised so that we too could now walk in newness of life (Ro. 6:4, 5). How is it possible for us to share in His resurrection life? It’s because we were placed inside of Him and He is resurrection! (John 11:25) We have been placed in Him so we share all that He is. Isn’t this wonderful? Isn’t this good news?

Now the reason that we have been raised with Christ is that now we have the glorious opportunity to live by His resurrection life instead of our own human lives. He who is Resurrection now lives inside of you and me so that we can display this wonderful life of God to the world. But the problem is that instead of living by Resurrection, we choose to attempt to please God by our own human lives. This is called religion, and it is of no use to God. In fact, it actually repulses Him.

So how do we live this “above life?” How do we live by Resurrection life instead of human life? The New Testament gives us many hints but Paul very clearly shows us the beginning in Colossians chapter three.

“If therefore you were raised together with Christ, seek the things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things which are above not on the things which are on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:1-3).

One of the key principles in learning to live by Christ is to set our minds upon things above. What are those things? They are the riches of Christ Himself! This is a process of God renewing our minds (Col. 3:10) so that we think the “above thoughts.” But notice with me that it all begins by an act of our will: “set your mind.” We move our will into action by turning our thoughts to Christ and focusing on Him. May He become our life as we live this “above life” together!

Christianity or Christ?

The Colossian believers had abandoned their pursuit of Christ to chase shadows. They had heard the true gospel from Epaphras (Col. 1:5 – 7). This gospel was the same gospel preached by Paul of Tarsus. This gospel was not about a thing. This gospel (or good news) was not about an ‘it.’ This gospel was not about anything. This gospel is a Person: the very Person of the Lord Jesus Christ!

Let no one therefore judge you in eating and in drinking or in respect of a feast or of a new moon or of the Sabbath, which are a shadow of the things to come, but the body is of Christ.” Col. 2:16, 17

And He is before all things . . .” Col. 1:17a

The Colossian believers had abandoned their pursuit of Christ to chase shadows. They had heard the true gospel from Epaphras (Col. 1:5 – 7). This gospel was the same gospel preached by Paul of Tarsus. This gospel was not about a thing. This gospel (or good news) was not about an ‘it.’ This gospel was not about anything. This gospel is a Person: the very Person of the Lord Jesus Christ! Paul said that he preached this Person (I Cor. 1:23; I Cor. 2:2; Gal. 1:15 – 16; Phil. 1:18). He preached this Person as the good news to mankind.

But the Colossians left the one true gospel for other things. These “things” were only shadows of the reality, that is, Christ Himself. They got into matters of the Jewish law, holy days, the Sabbath, and so on. And these things or shadows became their new religion.

The Religion of Shadows

Life can never be found in things but only in a Person (John 5:39, 40). And it’s a very sad fact that most Christians still have not discovered this truth.

We have built a religion based upon the foundation of shadows. Pretty flimsy I would say! We have built a religious system based upon teachings, methods, and programs. All of these are ‘things’ and ‘its’ and not the reality of the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. When I say “we,” I am referring to most believers down through the centuries who have (unknowingly) built the religion of Christianity. Webster defines Christianity as “the religion of Christians, or the system of doctrines and precepts taught by Christ; conformity to the laws and precepts of the Christian religion.”

Sadly, most Christians today would agree with that definition. And so would I. That is the Christian religion. That is Christianity. So under this definition and description I must declare to you that I have once and for all time rejected Christianity! But Milt, you may be saying, have you rejected the doctrines and precepts taught by Christ? No I have not. But I have rejected the idea that the teachings of Christ can be separated from the Person of Christ. The teachings or doctrines are there to point us to the Person. The teachings within themselves are not the goal. The Person is the goal!

So we have created this system called the Christian religion or Christianity and it has become just another “thing.” Jesus never started the Christian religion. He never started any religion. He only pointed people to the only Way to the Father. And then He told us that He is the Way. The problem with religions is that they all point to a teaching, a concept, a philosophy, a method, or a program to help you reach spirituality or your acceptance with God. But Jesus only pointed to a Person.

The All in All

Paul told the Colossians that all the fullness of God was found in only one place. That place is inside of the Lord Jesus Christ (Col. 1:19). He is everything that everyone is looking for. The letter to the Colossians points the believers to this glorious and awesome Person.

This wonderful Person is:

* The allotted portion of the saints
* The Image of the invisible God
* The Firstborn of all creation
* The One in whom all things were created
* Our redemption
* The One in whom, through whom, for whom all things were created
* Before all things
* The One who holds all things together
* The Head of the Body, the church
* The Beginning of the New Creation
* The Firstborn of the dead
* The One who must have first place in all things
* The One in whom all the fullness dwells
* The One who reconciles all things to Himself
* The Word of God
* The Mystery hidden from the ages
* The Hope of glory
* The One in whom are hidden all treasures of wisdom and knowledge
* The Soil we are rooted in
* The Substance of the shadows
* Our Life!

This glorious Christ is so much bigger than any mere religion! No religion can contain Him. No doctrinal system can define or explain Him. No set of things or ‘its’ can ever confine this unlimited Christ. Even your thoughts and ideas about Him can never restrain this all sufficient Person. The confines of man-made religion (including Christianity) can never harness the Christ who is before all things. No thing can contain this vast Christ, and, anything less than Him will never satisfy the human heart.

Yet we continue to settle for lesser things. We continue to settle for things about Him instead of just Him. We continue to live in the shadows instead of the substance. I don’t know about you, but I am tired of living in the shadows. I want to live in reality. I want to grab hold of the substance of this Person. I desperately want to live this Christ who is the All in all!

Conforming to His Image

But where in the scriptures does it talk about becoming like Christ? Where did we get this idea from? The only things I can see are the passages that deal with being conformed to His image. Perhaps we have paraphrased that to be “becoming like Christ”. If that is so, and I believe it is, then we must look at the context of each of those passages. In what context are we to be conformed to His image?

Because those whom He foreknew, He also predestinated to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the Firstborn among many brothers.” Rom. 8:29

 

To Be Like Jesus

 

Today, we hear a lot about being like Jesus.  There’s even a song written by Rich Mullins called “It’s Hard to be Like Jesus”.  Preachers, and consequently believers, talk about Christ-likeness.  As individual believers we are told that this is our goal; to be like Christ.

 

Actually, this is what most “discipleship” programs are all about.  We are here to “make disciples” whatever that means.  After all, part of the “great commission” (Matt. 28:19, 20) is to make disciples.  We have interpreted this to mean that we are supposed to take individual believers and help them to be like Christ.  Usually we do this by teaching them doctrine, how to study the bible, how to “pray”, how to server God and others on the mission field, and basically how to be good Christians.

 

But where in the scriptures does it talk about becoming like Christ?  Where did we get this idea from?  The only things I can see are the passages that deal with being conformed to His image.  Perhaps we have paraphrased that to be “becoming like Christ”.  If that is so, and I believe it is, then we must look at the context of each of those passages.  In what context are we to be conformed to His image?

 

If you read the passages that have to do with being conformed to His image, you will quickly see that the context is always corporate (Rom. 8:28-30; Rom. 12:1-5; II Cor. 3:18; Col. 3:10, 11).  It is we who are being conformed to His image.  It is us together, the body, that is to look like Him.  You can never be like Jesus.  But She can!  I am referring to that beautiful woman, the bride of Christ, who is destined to be His wife (Rev.21:9).

 

If you will read the scriptures carefully especially the New Testament, from this perspective, it will become a new book to you.  You will begin to see the proper perspective for the testimony.  Things will make more sense when you read it with the “corporate view”.  That’s because God’s image is community.  So, of course, the process of being confirmed to that image must be communal.

 

Spiritual Reality and Practical Expression

 

The fact is that we are already one.  We are in Christ and He is in us.  This makes us one (John 17:22, 23).  How could we all be “in Christ” and not be one?  The problem is not our oneness, the problem is the practical expression of that oneness.  That comes through us walking it out together day by day.  That comes through us developing a “body consciousness” as Watchman Nee called it.  It comes through a revelation of the corporate nature of the Church.  It comes through developing a lifestyle of community and not one of individualism and independence.  And it comes by us sharing our lives

 

 

with one another and taking care of one another.  In a word, this is family, but family in the true sense of the word.  Not family as we have seen it in this world, but family as a genuine expression of the community life of God.

 

True Discipleship

 

Being conformed to His image (or becoming like Christ) is a corporate matter.  We are transformed together by the renewing of our minds (Rom. 12:1-5).  This renewal happens because we are learning to think as a body instead of just a bunch of individuals.  We are “learning” Christ.  We are learning and experiencing the oneness of the head and body.  We are learning to think and function as the One New Man (see Col. 3:9-11).

 

This is true discipleship.  It’s not a matter of being placed into a program of individual training of bible study, prayer, evangelism, and character development.  Rather, it is the life transformation process of being practically conformed into His image.  This is the out flowing of His community life.  It is the fleshing out of the fellowship of the Godhead.

 

Therefore, I can only conclude from this that all true “discipleship” happens in a corporate context.  We learn together how to live by Christ.  This is something that we all learn in the daily fires of organic church life.  This idea is not something new.  This “torch” burned brightly over five hundred years ago when the Anabaptists discovered true discipleship.

 

“The Anabaptists spoke of corporate discipleship, but they emphasized Christ.  Christ was the centerpiece.  The Anabaptists were loyal only to Christ, and out of that naturally grew corporate discipleship and loyalty to one another.  The Anabaptists did not write about loyalty to the church, loyalty to the brotherhood, or loyalty to God-ordained leaders.  They did not make two commitments, one to the head and one to the body.  Their unconditional commitment to Christ made all other commitments conditional.”*

 

“Christ was the centerpiece.”

 

They kept Him as the center.  This is extremely important.  It’s not enough just to have close relationships and a close knit group.  The one factor binding us together must be Christ Himself.  We should not be together because we all get along and have the same interests.  This is a social group, not the organic church of Jesus Christ.

 

What transforms us is the internal life of Christ within us all.* This is a together thing.  His image is corporate.  So, doesn’t it make sense that the process of conforming us to that image would also be corporate?

 

 

Paul tells us in II Cor. 3:18 that we are transformed into His image by beholding and reflecting the glory of the Lord as in a mirror.  We do this together with one unveiled face!  Notice how this verse begins.  “But we all with unveiled face.”  It begins plural (we all) but ends singular (face).  We all behold Him with one face.  When we look into the faces of our brothers and sisters and see the one face of Jesus Christ, then we are transformed into His corporate image.

 

“Because the God who said, ‘Out of darkness light shall shine’, is the One who shined in our hearts to illuminate the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”  II Cor. 4:6

 

This is very difficult to reconcile with our individualistic culture and lifestyles.  Even the nuclear family unit has broken down to the point where younger generations have no concept of community.  Either that or their only concept of community is one of dysfunction, abuse, and violence and hence the increase of street gangs.

 

The answer is found within the Godhead.  The Father, Son, and Spirit have this incredible fellowship that is flowing continuously like a river (see John chapters 14-17).  The way that They relate to one another is the model for all church life and discipleship.  We are being conformed to that image.  The community life and love that are shared inside of the Triune God are the exact same life and love to be shared inside the church (see John 17).

 

When we begin learning to see and hear Christ in our brothers and sisters, then real transformation (discipleship) will flow.  Let’s get this straight.  The image of God is Christ (Col. 1:15).  This Christ is corporate.  He is the Head and the Body (I Cor. 12:12).  He is the Vine and the Branches (John 15:5).  He is the Bridegroom and the Bride (John 3:29, 20).  He is the foundation and the stones of the house (I Pet. 2:4-7).  This corporate Christ is the perfect visible image of the invisible Godhead.  We are being transformed into that image from one degree of glory to another!

 

 

*footnote #1 – “The Secret of the Strength” by Peter Hoover page 129

 

*footnote #2 – See the author’s book, “The Butterfly Within”