I hope you enjoyed Don Atkins' "Apostolic Grace and God's Vehicle for Victory" posted yesterday. I noticed that in the margins was a very insightful quote from my friend Paul Hunter that I failed to include, so here it is:
"The 'gifts' Jesus gave the church are not church builders. Jesus said He would take care of that. The gifts are equippers given to the chruch he is building so that they can do what He needs them to do to manifest The Kingdom of God and put on display the wisdom of God."
With that taken care of, I'm excited to present the second article in Don's newsletter. This one is from Greg Austin.
IN SEARCH OF THE CHURCH
An Impassioned Plea for Divine Order
Each of us, in spite of our best hopes and most determined attempts to approach every spiritual truth,
every pillar of our faith in an objective and entirely non-biased way must finally recognize that we are
only able to view truth and faith through our individual, particular and personal lenses.
My purpose in writing is to both expose a glaring problem with the entity that is called “church,” to qualify a perceived problem
and finally to hopefully point towards a solution/answer.
It is a well-documented reality, and virtually every denomination and independent church system verifies that their membership,
parish or congregation continues to be reduced by the millions (in America alone) who are forsaking the “church” structure
they have long known and within which they have sought to grow in the grace and nurture of Christ. Many are searching
for something more significant, more relevant to the desires of their souls. Millions today are looking for “the city which has
foundations, whose builder and maker is God.” In reality, most are searching, whether they are aware or not, for the manifestation
of the kingdom of God, but that topic is not the subject of this discourse.
First of all, allow me to suggest that for those who have departed the current church structure, a wholesale return to the local
church, to the systems through which people were injured is not the answer to the flood of people leaving the established
church. Rather, the very system itself, the prevailing “religious” system, the institution that has called itself “the church” is the
core issue and dilemma.
Many have spoken of the “pastor-king” or papal structure of most local churches. This understanding of “church” is problematic
for obvious reasons. Chief among them, such structure is not biblical. Another point in passing concerns those who “lord
it over” the people, those who perceive themselves as some “special” agents of God’s grace and mercy. These so-called
leaders are in desperate need of God’s grace to see, to recognize, to understand where they have erred in the discharge of
their ministry efforts. These men and women need much prayer, they need humble hearts which are open to correction and
healing. Most often, it is the out-of-order “pastor” who is responsible for the lion’s share of injuries sustained by the sheep of
“his” flock. More troubling is that the abusing pastor is often oblivious to his own error and wags his finger at the pastor down
the street, complaining that it’s that guy who is abusing the sheep, but not, heaven forbid, himself. I’ve always smiled at the
scarcity of the biblical use of “pastor” as opposed to other ministry gifts described in scripture. The New Testament contains
two Greek words, ðïéìÞí (poimçn), a noun and ðïéìáéíù (poimaino), a verb. These are typically translated as either
“shepherd” or “to shepherd.” Combined, these two words appear a total of 29 times in the New Testament, most frequently
referring to Jesus. Yet “pastor” has come to mean in many cases “The” true and authentic minister of the gospel. The truth is
that the solo (or even combined with a “pastoral” staff) image of pastor is simply and pointedly not supported by scripture.
The new tendency or fad in order to deal with this is to utilize the title “lead” minister or “minister-in-charge.” Neither usage
deals with the root, and only puts a different color of paint on the same rotted and collapsing barn.
The prophet said, “the new wine is found in the cluster” (Isaiah 65:8). God’s Word advocates for and undergirds corporate
and not solo ministry. Paul, whose journey with Jesus began alone, separated from all others in the desert, was brought out
after three years’ time to join with the greater company of the apostles. Even though initial friction developed between Paul
and Peter, the two did not divorce themselves from each other, but maintained the bond of brotherhood and mutual cooperation.
There are many today who have been wounded, injured by their own self-centered and immature actions and fleshlymindedness.
Spiritual immaturity is rampant within and without the institution called “church.” Many of these flee any accountability,
have a spirit of independence (read, rebellion) and refuse to submit to any whiff of perceived “control” or authority
(which translates in reality to a rejection of God’s authority).
These people are in grave and perhaps eternal error. Spending any time in God’s Word will uncover the root of all of our
problems – it’s not Satan, but it’s the satanic trait of rebellion that destroys the soul and condemns it to unfruitfulness in this
life and eternal separation from God in the world to come.
These are the folks who eventually disappear from our fellowship and “plant” new “God-led works” where they may be the top dog
and sole proprietor of the graces of God, preaching to a choir of like-injured and the festering infection of insurrection while transmitting
their disease of rebellion to yet others with their own demonically infused “I will” (see Isaiah 14). Jude uses strong words concerning
such, informing us: They have gone in the way of Cain, and ran greedily after the error of Balaam for reward, and perished in the
gainsaying of Core. These are spots in your feasts of charity, when they feast with you, feeding themselves without fear: clouds [they
are] without water, carried about of winds; trees whose fruit withereth, without fruit, twice dead, plucked up by the roots; Raging waves
of the sea, foaming out their own shame; wandering stars, to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness for ever (Jude 11-13).
Advocating for the Innocent
But there is a second category of wounded believers. These are those innocent, God-loving, gentle-spirited believers who are inevitably
injured by the system of “church” and not because they have rebelled against or rejected God’s established authority in their lives.
It is for these that I advocate herein.
The society which has called itself “church” is in so many cases the wounding mechanism itself. Some would encourage the “out of
church” believer to return to his former assembly, repent of his straying and conform again to the “order of the house,” when frankly
the house itself is out of order. There must be another option because, if an out-of-order structure creates the wound, how can that
same out-of-order structure promote or provide healing?
To be forthright, a malfunctioning system is aggressively creating injury to innocent believers and rebels alike. We must pray for those
who have rebellious hearts and leave their future with God. But we must reach out to the harmless, we must develop relationship with
them, and encourage them to return not to the same old broken system, but to join with us in a quest for a church which accommodates
the will and the purpose of God, a church which encourages corporate participation in ministry (the recognition of the gifts and
the callings of God – something that mature, apostolic and prophetic folks must do), and the release of men and women into these
gifts and callings – the requirement of corporate ministry – the ministry of discipleship – the essential walk of relationship – the discipline
of mutual accountability.
Accepting an Undeniable Truth
Whether we desire to admit it or not, the face of “church” is changing before our eyes. Some of these changes are engendered by our
God. Some are the effect of rebellious flesh. We must know the difference, but we also must be willing to change with God, to embrace
what He is doing, even though it may be unfamiliar, uncomfortable; even though we may find ourselves diminishing in importance
and in primacy. And if we find ourselves decreasing “that He might increase” in our lives and in our midst, we may become the
very agents through which the Father brings healing to a host of wounded and broken warriors, and the people to whom He entrusts
the rising form and vehicle of His grace, the church Jesus promised He would build.
Much is written today about “fathers and sons.” The Father closes the Old Covenant teaching with an admonishment. “And He shall
turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a
curse” (Mal. 4:6). He prefaces this with the promise, “I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day
of the LORD” (4:5).
Are you the “prophet” for this hour that will “turn the heart of the fathers to the children?” Only as the “church” becomes the living family
of God will we have hope of convincing an untoward generation of the veracity of the claims of Jesus.
I urge each of us to consider the “house” or “church” – whether it’s a home church, local church, un-church, emerging church, or any
other conceivable expression of “church” we relate with and ask ourselves if we are merely carrying a tradition that has long since either
served its purpose or has strayed from the original template and purpose of the church. If the answer is even a slight “yes,” we
must ask God to reveal to us what His church ought to look like, how it should function, and what our place should be within it.
Several years ago, I was a guest in Clive Price’s home in the South of England. We spent a day on the beaches where the Allies once
practiced assaults in preparation for the D-Day invasion of Europe during World War II.
As I stood with Clive looking out over the sands where British, Canadian, American, and elements of free French, Poland, Belgium,
Czechoslovakia, Greece, and the Netherlands massed in preparation for assaulting France’s beaches, I thought about the men who
won the victory that gave the Allies a foothold from which to finally defeat Nazi Germany. I don’t know a singular man or even a single
unit that was responsible for victory that day: It was the collective “them” who won the day on June 6, 1944. So must it be with God’s
church in these closing days of time on earth.