Some Thoughts on the Purpose – Part 3

To Be Like Jesus

Today, we hear a lot about being like Jesus or being “Christ-like”. 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 serve 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 thing 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 (see these texts below). It is a “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 by yourself. But She can! I am referring to that beautiful woman, the bride of Christ, who is destined to be His wife (Rev.21:9).

“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.

For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren” Rom 8:28-29

“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.

For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.

For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.” Rom 12:1-5

“But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.” 2 Cor. 3:18

“Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him–
a renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all.”
Col.3:9-11

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 conformed to that image must be communal. Now I realize that in order to have corporate transformation, there must be individual transformation and I am definitely not trying to take away from that. But the whole context or environment for this transformation takes place in the “cocoon” of the community of Christ!

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, individual prayer, individual evangelism, and individual 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

The above article was taken from the book called “The Community Life of God” by Milt Rodriguez

I Want to Know You

But, no, rather I also count all things to be loss because of the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them to be trash, that I might gain Christ and be found in Him; not having my own righteousness of Law, but through the faith of Christ, having the righteousness of God on faith, to know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, having been conformed to His death, if somehow I may attain to a resurrection out of the dead.

Phil 3:8-11

Lord Jesus, I want to know you.

I want to know You in all of Your fullness and all of Your glory.

I want to know You in all of Your depths, heights, width and breadth, together with all of Your saints.

I want to know You within Your Church!

That is, I want to know all of Your unsearchable riches that are hidden within earthen vessels.

I want to know all of those things that our eyes cannot see and our ears cannot hear neither have come up into our hearts.

But I want to know all of those things that have already been given to us by Your Spirit.

I don’t want to know You in a shallow way.  I want to dive down deep into the depths of You.

I want to be a submarine, not just a sailboat!

I want to know You in Your righteousness, holiness, redemption, and salvation.

I want to know You AS my wisdom.

I want to know Your ways, thoughts, and character.

I want to know YOU, not just what You said and did.

I want to know the present (current) Christ, not just some historical figure from the past.

I want to know the risen, ascended, glorified, and eternal Christ.

I don’t just want to know You in my mind, but I want to know You in my experience.

I want to know You in my spirit.

I want this knowledge to be an experiential knowledge!

I want to know You as my Grace and Truth.

I want to know You as my Food and Drink.

I want to know You as the air I breathe.

I want to know You as my Vine and my Shepherd.

I want to know You as my New Man, New Creation, and New Covenant.

I want to know You as my Life Source and Life Supply.

I want to know You as my New Wine and New Wineskin.

I want to know You as the essence of all of the scriptures.

I want to know You AS my resurrection.

I want to know You as my Center.

I want to live by Your life.

I want to be able to say in truth that it’s not I who live but Christ who lives in me.

I want to know You so deeply and so truly that I will have forgotten anything that Milt ever came up with!

I want to know You in and with my brothers and sisters.

I want to know You in Your Body, Your Bride, Your House.

I am willing to lose all to know You in these ways and in every way.

Lord Jesus, I want to know You …

Impaired Vision Through Filters: Part 8 – The Solution

“But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed.”                      II Cor. 3:16

For the last two months or so I have been sharing 7 “filters” that cause a hindrance in our full unobstructed view of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.  These “filters” are simply things that distract us and fog our vision from seeing Christ.  Of course, there are many more filters than just seven!  I pray that God will reveal to you those that are impairing your own vision.

Seeing Before Expressing

Seeing Christ is the first step in expressing Christ.  The Lord Jesus told us that he only did those things which He saw the Father doing  (John 5:19).  We must see Christ before we can do (or live) Christ.  Spiritual sight must come before we can express the Lord.  Before we can be His Body and expression we must learn how to see Him not only individually but corporately.  Filters get in the way of all of that.  We can never fully be the expression of this glorious Christ (as his Body and Image) until the fogged up goggles we are wearing fall off of our faces.  But how does this happen?  Is it enough to simply know what filters one is wearing?  Is there something else that needs to happen to lose those pesky filters?  Yes, yes, definitely YES!

Turning to the Lord

Of course, the word ‘filter’ is not found in the Bible.  However, the word ‘veil’ is found there.  And the apostle Paul tells us the answer to the filter/veil problem in II Corinthians.

“Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses’ face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory? For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory.”  II Cor. 7-9

Here, Paul is comparing the two covenants and the differences of ministry between the two.  He says that the “ministry of righteousness” (New Covenant) must far exceed the glory of the “ministry of condemnation” (Old Covenant).

Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome of what was being brought to an end.  But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. ”   II Cor. 3:12-14

The minds of the Israelites were hardened regarding the Messiah.  This caused them to have a major filter/veil that clouded their vision.  When He came, the Christ looked much different than what they were expecting.  He did not come as a conquering ruler to take over the Romans physically and politically.  Instead, He came as the Lamb of God in the spirit of meekness and humility.  This veil remains to this day because only through Christ is it taken away.

“Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”     II Cor. 3:15-18

Here we see the secret of veils being removed.  It’s so simple.  You just turn to the Lord!  That is, the Lord Jesus Christ.  He is the Spirit.  He is the “veil remover” Himself.  But what does turning to the Lord really look like?  It means you turn all of your attention and focus on Him and only Him.  But how do you do that?  By faith.  You turn to Him who lives inside of you, that is, inside your spirit (I Cor. 6:9).  He lives inside of the deepest part of you, your innermost part, your inner man (Jn 7:38; Eph. 3:16). Turn your soul (mind, will, emotions) to that place where He resides.

But that’s just the first step!

Beholding the Lord

After you turn to Him and give Him all of your attention, then you behold Him!  But you don’t just do that alone.  You do that with the saints!  In verse 18 Paul tells us that “we all” (plural) with unveiled face (singular) behold the Lord.  It’s a we all thing!  And the word behold  is a very intense word in the Greek.  It means to gaze with great intensity, not just to look at casually.

As the church does this something miraculous, even glorious begins to happen.  She is transformed (transfigured) from glory to glory into His image!  She begins to express Him because she is seeing Him!

Bye-bye filters… hello the expression of the living Christ!

New Book by Jon Zens!

The Pastor Has No Clothes: Moving from Clergy-Centered Church to Christ-Centered Ekklesia

In this book Jon Zens has taken dead aim at the most sacred cow of all within institutional Christianity – the Pastorate. He does this with a precise biblical scholarship, and with a keen eye for details. No stone is left unturned in this study of this most unscriptural yet most popular role and practice. Jon hits the target dead on! Never before have I read such a biblically and experientially accurate treatment of the subject.

You can order this new book here:

http://www.jonzens.com/

Impaired Vision Through Filters: Part 7 – Obedience

I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.  John 15:5

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.  Galatians 2:20

This is our seventh (and perhaps last) look at religious filters that block our full view of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.  This is one that I personally was wearing for many years.  That is, obedience and submission to God and others.

Now this filter (as in all filters) at first glance, has the look of legitimacy and correctness about it.  Of course, God does want us to obey Him and submit to leaders and all others in the body of Christ.  In the New Testament there are over 58 “one anothers”.  One of those is to submit to one another ( Eph. 5:21).  Mutual submission is a very important aspect of body life that comes to us straight from the Triune God Himself.  But let me begin this expose of this filter by telling you a story of my own experience.

My Own Zeal and Obedience to God

When I was much younger and still a fairly new believer, I was a very enthusiastic, passionate, and even zealous young brother.  I wanted to be a great man of God and I was willing to go anywhere and do anything for my precious Lord.  I was told that obedience was better than sacrifice and all of my sacrifices didn’t really amount to a hill of beans if I didn’t obey God.  So I set my face like a flint towards being a faithful and obedient servant of the Lord.

I read many biographies of men and women of God from days gone by who lived lives completely devoted and set apart to God.  They loved God completely and I wanted to be like that.  Some of them would pray for hours each day on their knees!  Some would leave all and move to another country to preach the gospel to the lost.  Yet others would be severely criticized and persecuted for His name’s sake.  My thought about these folks was that if they could do it, so could I!  All it would take would be a strong resolve, unwavering determination, and strict obedience to God’s word.  Or so I thought.

At the time, I was also attending a church which believed in the “sheparding/discipleship movement’.  This was a movement in the 70’s where authority and submission to “spiritual” leadership was taught to be the way to know God and become a mature believer.  Obedience was the key to everything, we were taught.  If you are obeying your elders, then you are obeying God.  If not, then you were considered a rebellious person who would need chastising by the Lord.  Since I wanted to please the Lord with all of my heart, I believed this teaching and tried my best to obey the leadership in the church.  During this time of my life I would also pray for hours each day and study my bible for hours each day.  I would have to rise very early in the morning to do all of this!

Also during this time I was feeling that I needed to obey God more in the areas of helping the poor and reaching the lost.  So, for a time, I worked every week at an inner city rescue mission, went door-to-door witnessing, and preached the gospel on the streets.  I saw very few results from this work but I continued because I wanted to please God and obey His word.  I believed that if I only could pray harder, believe more, witness more, and serve Him more then I would be pleasing to Him.  Honestly, I almost had a nervous breakdown trying to please and obey God!

Getting Set Free from Obedience

No doubt there are some of you reading this post that will misunderstand the following statement.

I desperately needed to be set free from the tyranny of obedience!

After fifteen years of trying to please and obey God I had a revelation.

I hardly even knew this God I was trying to please by my obedience!

I discovered that eternal life was not based upon my obedience.  That Christ crucified me on the cross including my own obedience!  That I had made my relationship with Him all about law instead of about LIFE.  That I had no reason to boast in my obedience because in me, that is in my flesh (not even the “good” flesh), there was not one good thing.  I was brought to the end of myself and finally realized that apart from Him I CAN DO NOTHING!  That I had become self-righteous and elitist because I actually believed that I was more devoted and passionate and a better “obeyer” than most believers.  That I had become enslaved to an authoritarian hierarchal system of authority and submission that was holding my family in bondage.  That I had become a tyrant in my own home.

I discovered that there really was no way that I could ever please God.  There was only One who could please the Father and that was His only begotten Son (Matt. 3:17).  But that now I was in Him and that I was a new creation who was part of the Son and had the same relationship with the Father.  That there was only One Sonship and I was in Him!

I also discovered that I couldn’t even obey God.  Apart from Him I really could do absolutely nothing!  I discovered that abiding in Him was the key to it all.  That meant living by His indwelling life and not by my own human life.  And that if I would abide in the true Vine I would truly bear the fruit of all of His character and nature.  And that even included the obedience of the Son to the Father!


Impaired Vision Through Filters: Part 6 – Hebraic Roots

“So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.
But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.
For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.”

Galatians 3:24-29

First of all, I will need to define what I mean by the “hebraic roots” filter before I can adequately discuss it.

What I am referring to is the mindset that many Christians currently have (and it is increasing!) that Christianity and/or the Christian Church come from Jewish foundations established in the Old Testament and other “Hebrew” writings. Many of these same folks inaccurately assume that the model for the church is based upon the Jewish model of the synagogue. Some other more extreme proponents of this system also say that every Christian should learn the Hebrew language, observe the Jewish holy days, the law of Moses, and the feasts of Old Testament Israel. Many also claim that the “Hebraic model” should be the backbone of all institutions including marriage and family. This includes a patriarchal society and top down chain of command type authority structure with male dominant leadership. For some it even goes to the extent of the “firstborn” in each family getting all of the blessings!

I will attempt to address each one of these points in this post.

The Origins of the Church Come From Jewish Roots

I would agree that the New Testament is the fulfillment or reality of the Old Testament. In other words, the Old Testament (OT) gives us the shadows and types of the spiritual realities revealed in the New Testament (NT). The OT is a “picture book” in the sense that God is revealing His mind through the vehicles of pictures, metaphors, and images. Of course, these all speak of His eternal purpose which was in His mind way before the OT was even written (Eph. 3:1-12). The NT reveals to us His mind concerning this eternal purpose. Paul calls it a “mystery” that was hidden in God before the ages. This means before the OT, before the Jewish nation, and before creation itself!

We can see by comparing Colossians chapter 1, and Ephesians chapters 1 and 3 that the eternal purpose has everything to do with the centrality, supremacy, and exaltation of His beloved Son. And the fullness of that Son is supremely expressed through the Church; His Bride, His House, His Family, and His Body (Eph. 1:22,23). This is clearly revealed in the NT as an eternal purpose that originates inside of the living God Himself, that is, inside of the Godhead.

The Model for the Church is Based Upon the Jewish Synagogue

This is simply revealed to be inaccurate when one traces the origins of the synagogue system. It all started in the Babylonian captivity. Israel had been taken captive by the Babylonians and the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed. During their seventy year captivity, they became very comfortable in Babylon. They built homes, businesses, and bought property. Since they could not go to the temple, they invented a way to simulate the temple worship through building synagogues in each district. This was not God’s plan, it was a substitute for the true temple. Does this sound familiar to you? It’s actually what we have done in institutional Christianity! I don’t think that it’s wise to use the synagogue system as a model for anything!

Christians Should be More Like Jews

In my mind, this is simply the newest form of the same kind of thing that plagued Paul during his ministry. The Judaizers! They wanted to make everyone into Jews. To these folks I would ask the begging question of: “have you never read and understood the letters to the Galatians and the Hebrews?”. Paul wrote the letter to the Galatians because those four churches in that region had been visited by the “judaizers” who had preached to them another gospel. This gospel told them that Christ was not enough. They also needed legalism, judgement, condemnation, and regulations. Paul calls these people foolish (more accurately; stupid!) for even entertaining such a thought. They had been set free. Why would they ever want to go back into bondage?

Also, the letter to the Hebrews is a plea to the Jewish Christians spread throughout the empire to completely leave the Judaic system of law, legalism, performance based religion, and external props to completely and exclusively embrace a new and living way called the New Covenant. A much better covenant with better promises with a much better sacrifice made once and for all by The True High Priest!

Sisters and brothers, God has given us the most precious thing that He has; His only Son! Why would we ever want to settle for anything less than Him? Why would we ever focus on anything other than Him? Why would we ever even give one thought or spend one minute building a filter that would distract us from this living glorious Christ?

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…

The Dominion of Opinion

Make it your aim to be one in the Spirit, and you will be bound together in peace. There is one Body and one Spirit, just as it was to one hope you were called. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is the one over all, the one working through all and the one living in all. (Eph. 4:2-6 Phillips)

There is an interesting event that has been going on in my life recently. I have been reading a book by G.H. Lang about the life of Anthony Norris Groves. This book is both a biography on Groves and a history of the early Brethren movement in Ireland and England in the 1800’s. I definitely recommend this book to anyone wanting to learn the history of Christians who walked outside of organized Christianity.

The interesting thing about the Brethren (sometimes called the Plymouth Brethren) is that they set out to meet outside the religious system in a biblical way and one of their strongest founding principles was that of unity and acceptance of all true believers. However, later on in the movement, the Brethren became the most divided movement among all the groups outside the system. How could this happen? I have become determined to find out. I believe it is very important to learn from their mistakes.

The other interesting thing that is going on in my life to coincide with the book is that there have been several believers who have come to me recently who have either left or considered leaving their groups because of doctrinal differences. Hmmm . . . very interesting! Historical lessons being learned in the fires of current dilemmas. So, for me, this has brought up the question (again and again) of when and/or if Christians should ever separate from one another. So I will be quoting from the above mentioned book and the scriptures to share some of my thoughts with you.

What is the Source of Our Unity?

In the very beginning of the Brethren movement, unity was of the utmost importance. Later on in the movement, when John Darby was separating from certain brothers, Anthony Groves wrote him a letter. In 1845 Groves wrote:

One point only is fixed on my mind; to receive all, as Christ receives them, to the glory of God the Father. More than twenty years this point has been deepening in my mind; and all I hear and see makes it more precious: indeed amidst so much weakness and infirmity, with such partial and imperfect views of truth, I see no other way but committing all judgment to the Son, to whom the Father hath committed it.

One common slogan among the Brethren at the time was “life not light is the basis of union.” This makes perfect sense to me. If I make light (or revelation) the basis of union then I would need to separate from all Christians who do not have the same revelation of truth as I have. That would be a lot of separating! But if life is the basis of union then I would receive all those who have the life of Christ within them. But how will I know who has this life and who doesn’t? Usually we can sense these things. However, I really don’t know, so if someone professes to have His life then I must receive him because I am leaving all judgment to the Son. He who has the Son has the life. So, if life is our basis, then it’s all about the Son.

A Difference of Opinion

In 1848 problems arose within the Brethren assemblies in Plymouth and Bristol. Some leaders in Plymouth were accused of erroneous teachings and others rose up to stop them. This problem was not dealt with scripturally and some others traveled to Bristol and spread the controversies to that assembly. This “virus” continued to spread and divided the assemblies into two camps; the Exclusive Brethren and the Open Brethren. The Exclusive groups would only fellowship with those who agreed with their doctrines, and Open groups would receive all believers. These two “camps” still exist to this day. Ironically, many divisions have since occurred within Brethren groups over the issue of light or life. Do we receive believers based upon the light they have or the life they have?

In 1932 eight believers from Exclusive Brethren groups in England, Australia, and the U.S. went to visit the assembly in Shanghai, China and other places. These were some of the churches that Watchman Nee and his associates had raised up. The Brethren invited Nee to come and visit them overseas the next year which Nee did. However, on his trip, he also visited several other groups of Christians not of the Exclusive Brethren circle. This action by brother Nee was deemed by these Exclusive Brethren as having compromised his fellowship with them. The brothers in China wrote them a long letter about their position on this matter. Basically, it was a plea for open fellowship among all the saints everywhere. This, however, was unacceptable to these Exclusive Brethren and later that year it was decided that they would break off all fellowship with the saints in China.

To me, it is unbelievable and inconceivable that believers would treat one another like this. Here is an excerpt from the letter that the Chinese brothers sent to the Exclusive Brethren:

The Scriptures plainly show us that the basis of our receiving one another is “even as Christ also received you” (Rom. 15:7). The reason why we receive anyone is because “God hath received him” (Rom. 14:3). Hence the command of God to us is: “him that is weak in faith receive ye” (Rom. 14:1). This command is explicit, distinctive and irrevocable. It is a sin to refuse acceptance of him whom God has received, however weak or lacking in light he may be.

I must stand with these brothers from China and say a hearty “Amen!” We cannot reject or separate from our fellow believers because of doctrinal, structural, or theological differences. I like the way that Augustine put it:

In the essentials – unity
In the non-essentials – freedom
In all things – love

I would say that the “essentials” are the Person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Apostles Creed is a good basic guideline. However, someone could mentally agree on the basic tenets of the Apostles Creed and still not possess the life of Christ. Here again, it comes down to a matter of life. The early Brethren had it right! However, when they began to divide it was over matters of light. They didn’t all agree on their eschatology (study of end times). And this is definitely one of those non-essentials!

The Dilemma of Disagreement

I personally know of Christians who have separated from other believers because of their views on tongues, gifts, prophecy, end times, baptism, spiritual warfare, evangelism, leadership, hell and heaven, social action, tithing, ad infinitum. Yet all of these things are merely our own opinions of what the Bible teaches. And yet we are willing to take a knife and chop up the living Body of Jesus Christ for these opinions!

You see, herein lies the problem: We don’t believe they are opinions, we think they are facts! Our line of reasoning goes something like this: My view is fact; your view is opinion. My view is correct, you view is incorrect. And since your view is incorrect, that makes it erroneous. Therefore, I cannot fellowship with someone who is in such obvious error.

This was the line of reasoning used by some in the Brethren movement in the 19th century and that is why it became the most divided group of believers outside of institutional Christianity.

Life or Knowledge

Do you see this for what it really is? There were two trees in the middle of the Garden. One contained the knowledge of good and evil, right and wrong, truth and error. And the other contained God’s very own life. We chose to become judges over good and evil and it has brought us death ever since. Yet the Lord is calling to us and beckoning us to come to Him and partake of His abundant life.

I work with many groups of believers who want to experience organic church life. They want to live and function as the Body of Christ as did the early church. Most of them have been in the institutional church for many years. Some have been in various kinds of house churches. But they all have many opinions! More than once I have found myself sitting in a living room with half fundamentalists and half charismatics. How will this ever work? How can these people ever live as a community under the headship of Christ? There is really only one way.

They must lay down all of their opinions at the foot of the cross. They must present their bodies as a living sacrifice to God. They must be transformed by the renewal of their minds (See Rom. 12:1, 2).

Notice with me that Paul only recommended the separation of believers in two instances. One case was the brother in Corinth involved in extreme unrepentant immorality (I Cor. 5: 9-13). The reason for the separation was to bring the brother to repentance and restoration with the church. Paul also told the believers not to associate with those who cause divisions (Rom. 16:17). But nowhere does he tell anyone to separate from other believers because they have different opinions!

Dear reader, how will you ever find a group of people who agree one hundred percent with everything you believe? That will never happen. You see our oneness is based upon a Person. You and I are one with all of those who possess His life. We have not been made one in our opinions. We have been made one in Christ! He is our oneness. He is our unity. He is our life.

The believers in churches that Paul worked with all had many opinions. And then there were the opinions of those brought into these churches from the outside. In Galatia it was the opinions of the Judaizers bringing in rules and regulations. In Corinth it was the idolatry of the city and differing opinions of Christian workers. All of these opinions brought confusion and division into the churches. But what was Paul’s answer to all of this attention to opinion?

In the same way, my brothers, when I came to proclaim to you God’s secret purpose, I did not come equipped with any brilliance of speech or intellect. You may as well know now that it was my secret determination to concentrate entirely on Jesus Christ himself and the fact of his death upon the cross. (I Cor. 2:1, 2 Phillips)