The Church Part 3

In my previous two posts I focused on the idea of the kingdom, on earth as it is in heaven and that the church/ekklesia is called to demonstrate the kingdom. I noted that as the ekklesia, called out ones, we are both called out from something (the world if we read John’s letters and James) and called to someone, Jesus. We have been called to Jesus to represent, re-present Him.

I have intentionally been using the word ekklesia rather than church as no matter how we frame the idea, in practice most Christians refer to the church as a building rather than a body of people. If you look at the church in the book of Acts, they didn’t have a dedicated building. In Jerusalem they met outdoors at the temple or indoors in the homes of believers. This was the common practice in the world of the New Testament. What the word ekklesia denotes is gathering for a purpose. In Matthew 16:18, if we paraphrase, Jesus said, ‘I will build my gathering of believers called out to serve My purpose.’

I believe that whether believers gather on a Saturday, Sunday or a Friday evening, they still gather for a purpose. What needs to be addressed is whether that is the same purpose Jesus had in mind when He spoke of building His ekklesia. My friend Evelyn stepped from time into eternity a few years ago. In conversation she frequently used the phrase “the church that Jesus is building.” She saw it as something different from what took place at a typical service.

In my decades of church attendance what I have normally experienced is some degree of worship (singing), some public prayers and a sermon. These are all okay things in and of themselves, but perhaps they fall short of what Jesus saw as the purpose of the ekklesia. For example, Paul was clear in scripture that the gospel he taught was given to him by Jesus. Here is one thing Paul said we were to do.

8 To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, 9 and to make all see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ; 10 to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places, Ephesians 3:8–10 (NKJV)

Verse 10 says we as the ekklesia are to make known God’s manifold wisdom to principalities and powers in heavenly places. Paul uses the term ‘principalities and powers’ again in Ephesians 6:12 so we know that in both chapters he is referring to spiritual beings in heavenly places. Do you think that happened at your last gathering? Did principalities and powers tremble as we gathered?

What we need to determine is just how we as the ekklesia demonstrate the Father’s wisdom to principalities and powers if we are function as Jesus called us. A good part of the answer is in the rest of the chapter. Understanding that through what Jesus accomplished we have access to throne of grace – for a purpose! We are called to demonstrate His kingdom in the context of our culture.

Here in part is how Peter and Paul understood Jesus’ goal for the ekklesia.  

4 Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, 5 you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 2:4–5 (NKJV)

19 Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, 22 in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit. Ephesians 2:19–22 (NKJV)

As the ekklesia we are called to gather and build one another into a spiritual house, a holy temple, the dwelling place of the Spirit that reflects Jesus to the surrounding culture. As for my building, I have fallen short of what I intended to accomplish in this post. In my next post I will look at ‘being assembled together’ in Hebrews 10, the role of joints regarding how and what they supply, Ephesians 4, and what that looks like in practice, 1 Corinthians 14 and tie it back to principalities and powers.

            More to come.

The Church Part 2

In my previous post I referenced the idea of the church (ekklesia) being called to demonstrate the kingdom. To further clarify the distinction between the church and the kingdom here is what George Eldon Ladd wrote some decades ago.

The Kingdom is primarily the dynamic reign or kingly rule of God, and derivatively, the sphere in which the rule is experienced. In biblical idiom, the Kingdom is not identified with its subjects. They are the people of God’s rule who enter it, live under it, and are governed by it. The church is the community of the Kingdom but never the Kingdom itself. Jesus’ disciples belong to the Kingdom as the Kingdom belongs to them; but they are not the Kingdom. The Kingdom is the rule of God; the church is a society of women and men. George Eldon Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI.: Eerdmans, 1974, 2000), 109.

Again, we as the ekklesia are not the kingdom, we are to demonstrate the kingdom and to come under the authority of the kingdom. Following on that, a better understanding of the meaning of ekklesia leads to being better equipped to demonstrate the kingdom. I previously referenced that ekklesia means the ‘called out ones.’ Inherent in the idea of this calling is that we are both called out from something and to something. We better understand this by hearing from Paul.

1 Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated to the gospel of God Romans 1:1 (NKJV)

Here I believe Paul is contrasting his calling into the ekklesia with his calling as a Pharisee. The distinction is between Paul’s calling ‘to’ versus a calling ‘from.’ Pharisee literally means a ‘separated one.’ The Pharisees identified themselves by what they were separated from. When Jesus called Paul, he no longer identified himself by what he was separated from but by the One he was separated to – Jesus! In the same manner, at our conversion we were called to be part of the ekklesia, called out and separated not from something but to someone, Jesus, for His purpose. When we see that we can then consider what our focus should be. We have the overview in Matthew.

18 And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen. Matthew 28:18–20 (NKJV)

Jesus called us as the ekklesia to demonstrate His kingdom and disciple and teach nations, which in the context of Matthew is people groups, ethnicities. We have the same message in Matthew 24:14.   

14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come. Matthew 24:14 (NKJV)

Some have taken the Great Commission in Matthew (with variations in Mark 16:15-16 and Acts 1:8) to mean that as the ekklesia we are to disciple nations as in nation states. Yet that is not Jesus’ focus in Mark and Acts. Jesus directed us to make disciples of all ethnicities in the earth within the context of nation states. In this age the goal is not Christian nations but an effective ekklesia, Christians engaged in their calling, within nations. In my next post I will look at examples from the New Testament around the ‘how’ and let that lead further into church history. Hint, showing up on Sunday, sitting and standing on cue and then departing won’t accomplish the task and is not what happened in church history. What did happen is changed lives, communities and social structures.

More to come.

The Church Part 1

If you are happy and content with church as you experience it, perhaps stop now. I want to look at church as we practice it here in the West and look at whether what we are in engaged in is actually what Jesus had in mind. As you walk through this with me consider how you think the average 1st Century Christian would view our practices in light of what they knew and understood.  

The obvious starting point in understanding what we are to be as the church is looking at what Jesus taught us. In His preaching and teaching Jesus talked about both the church and the kingdom. A simple way of understanding the relationship between the two is that the church is called to proclaim and demonstrate the kingdom. A kingdom is simply a place where the king rules or has dominion. In this case we are to extend Jesus’ authority in the earth, we are to bring heaven to earth (see Matt. 6:9-10, 28:18-20). We do that by being the church, or more accurately the ekklesia. Ekklesia refers to an assembly or congregation. You may be familiar with the term ‘called out ones’ as that is literally what ekklesia means. In the Greek culture from where we draw the word, the ekklesia is both called out from something and to something. In ancient Athens all adult male citizens were considered part of the ekklesia, the assembly, and could participate in governmental decisions for their city. It seems that this is what Jesus had in mind when He instituted the church. Not a secular or human government but an assembly of those who could proclaim and demonstrate His kingdom in the earth. Below are some key passages from Matthew that will inform our study.  

9 In this manner, therefore, pray: Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. 10 Your kingdom come. Your will be done On earth as it is in heaven. Matthew 6:9–10 (NKJV)

18 And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. 19 And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Matthew 16:18–19 (NKJV)

18 “Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. 19 “Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.” Matthew 18:18–20 (NKJV)

14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come. Matthew 24:14 (NKJV)

18 And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen. Matthew 28:18–20 (NKJV)

There are some key phrases in these verses such as, ‘on earth as it is in heaven,’ ‘the gospel of the kingdom’ and the concept of ‘binding and loosing.’ We will look at those and more as we continue. For now, I invite you to mediate on the above passages. For example, the idea of ‘agreeing’ in Matthew is generally used of prayer. Have a look at the context. It isn’t about prayer.  

More to come.

Jesus Answered

At times we come across interesting verses. Here is one.

25 At that time Jesus answered and said, “I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to babes. Matthew 11:25 (NKJV)

The verse starts out noting that Jesus ‘answered.’ I have thought about this in the past because it is evident that no one was speaking to Him. At least that is evident on the surface. In Greek the word ‘answered’ means just that, to answer or respond. The answer for us requires a little digging, but first a seeming rabbit trail.

Recently I was out for a walk with a pastor friend and he asked what I thought it meant to ‘walk in the Spirit’ (Galatians 5:16). He was going to preach on the passage and felt the Spirit had focused him in this verse. We tossed our ideas back and forth while focusing on the significance of the word walk.

This was significant for me because I often think about our walk with/in the Spirit and this dialogue brought me back to something I read a couple of decades ago. It was Rick Joyner relating a prophetic vision he had. He shared how he was caught up in this prophetic vision and found himself standing on a shoreline by the water with a mountain in the distance. Far down the shoreline he could see a figure walking toward him and said he knew it was the Lord because “He is never in a hurry.” The image has stuck with me all these years. Jesus walking purposefully down the beach. Not dawdling, not running, not distracted. Walking with composure and purpose.    

This is how I see we are to navigate our daily ‘walk’ in the Spirit. I also see this as where we find Jesus ‘answering.’ In His earthly ministry Jesus walked in communion with the Father and lived out of that reality. Here are some examples from scripture.

19 Then Jesus answered and said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner. John 5:19 (NKJV)

49 For I have not spoken on My own authority; but the Father who sent Me gave Me a command, what I should say and what I should speak. 50 And I know that His command is everlasting life. Therefore, whatever I speak, just as the Father has told Me, so I speak.” John 12:49–50 (NKJV)

8 But immediately, when Jesus perceived in His spirit that they reasoned thus within themselves, He said to them, “Why do you reason about these things in your hearts? Mark 2:8 (NKJV)

In each of these example Jesus was describing or demonstrating how He lived from another realm while walking in this one. The Greek word translated as ‘walk’ in Galatians 5:14 means to walk or conduct ourselves. That is what Jesus did and we are called to do the same. Let’s learn to look to Him and live in and out from an awareness of His presence. Let’s ‘walk in the Spirit.’