Modern Christianity and the Ekklesia

While modern Christianity sometimes seems to only remotely resemble that which we read about in the scripture, we must remember that, when it comes to the area of human opinion and reasoning, “All things are lawful” (I Corinthians 6:12, 10:23, NASB). In other words, we need to keep in mind that, due to the “freedom of the new covenant,” the “ekklesia” is not prohibited from adapting to contemporary culture in order to remain relevant throughout the ages and to expedite the mission to which Christ has called us. We need to remember that any practice is permissible; so long as it does not invalidate the word of God or circumvent God’s expressed will for our lives. As long as a given practice or tradition does not endorse, permit, promote, or advocate that which God, through His divinely inspired written word—the Bible—says is sinful, the practice is permissible. Likewise, so long as the practice or tradition does not hinder, invalidate, repudiate, circumvent, or disavow a specific commandment of God—that which the written word of God has expressly enjoined upon us—the practice is permissible. And, so long as the practice or teaching is not inculcating the personal opinions, beliefs, traditions, interpretations, or doctrines of men as though they were the word of God, and then binding those practices or teachings upon others and holding them accountable, as though their personal relationship with God or fellowship with the body of Christ depended on it, the practice is permissible.

For example, if the “ekklesia” in a given location decides that it really is in their best interest that they organize, incorporate, open a bank account, purchase land, build a building, and engage in corporate programs, projects, ministries, worship activities, and all the other trappings that seem to define a modern “church” in today’s world, the terms of the new covenant do not condemn such activity because “all things are lawful”; even though God’s people in Bible days did not do these things and there is nothing in scripture that specifically “authorizes” any of these actions.

By the same token, if the “ekklesia” living in various locations determine that they want to cooperate with one another and work together to provide some structure beyond the local community level in order to accomplish foreign mission work, or to build hospitals and clinics, or to found schools and orphanages, or other goods works, the freedom of the new covenant allows for these activities because “all things are lawful”; even though we have no specific commands or examples in the Bible that would specifically “authorize” such cooperation.

If however, some men among the “ekklesia” began to assume ecclesiastical authority over others, resulting in a separate clergy or priesthood, as some “churches” have done—locally, regionally, globally—this would certainly amount to a violation of the expressed intent of the new covenant because it circumvents what the scriptures specifically teach in regard to the priesthood of all believers (See: I Peter 2:9, Revelation 1:6, 5:10).

When we look at the “ekklesia” back in the Bible days, we see a beautiful example of the simplicity and elegance of Christianity played out in the context of local, community fellowship—just people loving God, living for Him, meeting in their homes, sharing life and love, and trying to make some eternal difference in this world. Those of us who are, perhaps, a little more fundamental in our outlook may ask, “Why can’t we engage in that kind of local Christian community today; free from all the corporate structure and organization of the modern era? Why can’t we just get together with a few other Christians in our homes for study, prayer, and to celebrate the Lord’s Supper; and laugh, and sing, and enjoy one another’s fellowship, and just live life together to His glory?” And the fact is, there is no reason whatsoever why we cannot, or should not, do that. In fact, authentic Christianity begins right there—not with “joining a church,” or “attending church,” but with simply determining in our own hearts and minds that we will “be the church”; that is, that we ARE the “ekklesia”—the “called out” children of God—and that we are going to submit to Bible teaching and continually “walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called” (Ephesians 4:1, NBSB).

While I enjoy occasionally getting together with large groups of Christians for special events and activities, and usually find such experiences stimulating, I know that personal faith cannot be long sustained by those kinds of big events. We need the power of intimate fellowship on an ongoing basis if we are to experience “the priesthood of all believers” and truly minister to one another on a meaningful level. We need people in our lives who are more than “brothers” and “sisters” in an ecclesiastical sense. Rather, we need people who know us well and love us anyway; people who are really our “friends.”

I, for one, am a bit skeptical of the large, corporate structure. As a matter of personal preference, I would much rather see dozens of small community fellowships scattered all across town and meeting together in one another’s homes, perhaps under the shared stewardship of an area-wide eldership, than to have a single mega-church routinely meeting in some big fancy barn down at the corner of Broadway and Main. But that’s just me. However, if you, dear child of God, find yourself compelled to join rank and file with one of those big “mega-churches”—you know, one with, oh say, fifty or more members—please make sure that you go out of your way to find therein the intimate fellowship that you need, and to which God calls you. Remember, it’s not about simply “attending services” once or twice a week. Don’t wait for the professional church ministerial staff to facilitate some “program” and “assign” you to a small group. Rather, pray that God will lead you into meaningful relationships with people who need you in their lives; people with whom you can go places and do things and share life and love; people who will not only minister to you, but alongside you as, together, you seek to make a meaningful difference for the cause of Christ in this world—to God’s eternal glory.

In HIS love and by HIS grace,

~ Salty ~

Luke 17:10

United in Christ – Destroying Denominationalism!

In his letter to the Christians living in the city of Ephesus, Paul exhorts us to:

… walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:1-5, NASB)

If the kingdom of Christ, God’s eternal family, the “ekklesia,” has the faith, the love, and the humility to agree on these seven essentials of the Christian faith, we can have the unity that God’s people experienced back in Bible times; prior to the wholesale division [denominationalism] that plagues Christianity today. These seven essentials serve as a foundation for cultivating community within and among the “ekklesia” and for identifying the people with whom we are called to share our Christian walk:

One body – the “ekklesia,” the saved body of Christ: Jesus said, “I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd” (John 10:16, NASB). Later He prayed, “The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me” (John 17:22-23, NASB). Due to the influences of Western capitalism, we live in a world today that pulses to the beat of trademarks and branding of every kind. However, when it comes to authentic Christianity, these things ought not to exist. Those who practice and advocate for division [denominationalism]—separate and distinct religious organizations, each with their self-identifying labels and practices around which they rally—are not adhering to the concept of the “one body,” and are working against Jesus’ prayer for unity.

One Spirit – the Holy Spirit of God: “that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you” (John 14:17, NASB). The Holy Spirit is given as a gift when we are baptized (Acts 2:38). He dwells in us (I Corinthians 6:19, Romans 8:11) to help us “put to death the deeds of the flesh” (Romans 8:12-14, NASB), to “help our weakness” and “intercede for us” in prayer (Romans 8:26-27, NASB), and to help us grow in all the “fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22-23, NASB). He is the guiding source of inspiration behind all scripture: “for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (I Peter 1:21, NASB).

One hope of your calling – eternal, life-giving, personal relationship with God: that for which we live, and the means by which we are able to attain it, can be summed up in Jesus’ words: “Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:1-3, NASB). People may seek to put their eternal hope in the many and various belief systems and religious teachings of men. Some say, it doesn’t really matter what one chooses to believe, that “there are many avenues to God”; or that “regardless of the road we’re on, we’re all going to the same place anyway!” But Jesus said, “When he puts forth all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. A stranger they simply will not follow, but will flee from him, because they do not know the voice of strangers” (John 10:4-5, NASB). The “ekklesia,” the new covenant children of God, those who hear the voice of their Shepherd, know that there is only one hope for all humanity. For Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14:6, NASB).

One Lord – Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of the only true and living God: The Apostle Peter stated it well when he said, in his first gospel sermon on the day of Pentecost, “Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ – this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:36, NASB). Later, the Apostle Paul would say, “For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11, NASB).

One faith – as presented in the “good news” (gospel) message of Jesus Christ: The apostle Paul said, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘But the righteous man shall live by faith’” (Romans 1:16-17, NASB). Writing to the people at Corinth, he said, “For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” (I Corinthians 2:2, NASB); and later, he wrote to them, saying, “Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (I Corinthians 15:1-4, NASB).

One baptism – the baptism commanded by Jesus when He said: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned” (Mark 16:15-16, NASB). It is the baptism exemplified by the Ethiopian eunuch when, after hearing the Gospel, he cried out, “‘Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?’ … and they both went down into the water, Philip as well as the eunuch, and he baptized him” (Acts 8:36-38, NASB). It is baptism “for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38, NASB) in that “all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death” (Romans 6:3, NASB). It is baptism of, by, and into the Holy Spirit, “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit” (I Corinthians 12:13, NASB). It the baptism that “now saves you—not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience—through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (I Peter 3:21, NASB). It is not some outward, legalistic work of law or religious regulation; but rather an expression of our personal faith in that we were, “buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead” (Colossians 2:12, NASB). It is the outward manifestation of our new birth into the family of God; as Jesus said: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:5, NASB).

One God and Father – the only true and living God, creator of heaven and earth, giver and sustainer of life, Who: “… after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world” (Hebrews 1:1-2, NASB); “and without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6, NASB). The Apostle Paul said, “For even if there are so-called gods whether in heaven or on earth, as indeed there are many gods and many lords, yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him” (I Corinthians 8:5-6, NASB).

That we may all be united in Him,

~ Salty ~

Luke 17:10

10.) God’s Forever Family

In bracing for the coming storm, I can tell you right now that I really don’t want to have to “go it alone.” I find myself reaching out to others, seeking any level of support and camaraderie—like, “all hands on deck!” I’m reminded of King Solomon’s wise counsel, when he said:

Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For, if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up. Furthermore, if two lie down together they keep warm, but how can one be warm alone? And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart. (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12, NASB)

I’m finding that one of the hardest things about facing cancer or, I suppose, any potentially life-threatening illness, serious hardship, trial, or tribulation in life, is finding someone, anyone, who will talk with you on something more than just a superficial level. But, for some reason, it’s hard to get beyond logistics, statistics, medical reports, or just general surface talk. It’s hard to discuss feelings and emotions; even with those who are near and dear. It’s hard to share those deeper matters of the heart—fear, loneliness, worry—or to talk about the changes going on within me and, I know, within those closest to me. I think there are several reasons for this.

First of all, I feel the need to protect those closest to me. They, like me, are standing so close to the “dragon” that I fear for them more than for myself. Why expose them to any more negative emotions than necessary? We all seem happier, at least outwardly, when we “keep it light” and don’t probe too deeply. I know that, perhaps, this is not the healthiest approach for any of us. I know that not only me, but also some of those closest to me, long to tear down those protective walls and share our feelings heart-to-heart. But I’ve also come to understand the reality of Jeff Tomczek’s (2012) observations when he says:

The people that love you will be just as scared as you are. Probably more. They will be worrying even when they are smiling. They will assume you are in more pain than you are. They will be thinking about you dying and preparing for life without you. They will go through a process that you will never understand just like they will never understand the process you are going through. (para. 4)

I know I need to have more faith in God’s ability to strengthen and protect each of our hearts; and I pray that He grants me the wisdom and grace to share what should be shared with those who love me most in this world.

Second, when it comes to people with whom I am, perhaps, not quite so intimate, it’s very difficult to “trust” because I feel so vulnerable—emotionally, spiritually, and physically. People, even with the kindest of intentions, say some of the goofiest and self-absorbed things. When they do, the trust factor, at least as far as my being able to confide in them, goes right out the window. I get the impression that, ultimately, it’s really just all about them and their agenda.

There have already been moments when I’ve felt my emotional and physical energy—and I’m finding the two becoming ever more inextricably connected—being sapped by specific, little things people have said and done. Sometimes the world seems fraught with vampires—people who just seem to suck the emotional energy right of me—yikes!

But please understand, I know it’s not just them; it’s me! Bracing for the coming storm has made me somewhat hypersensitive. So, I don’t trust myself to respond appropriately to other people’s words or behavior. I find myself having to fight down certain emotions, button my lips, or stop my fingers from typing some overly emotional reply. Again, healthy or not, it just seems easier to “internalize” it all and say little or nothing, rather than to risk hurting someone’s feelings.

As for seeking professional counseling, as some who have walked this trail ahead of me advocate, and even my medical doctors have encouraged, maybe it’s just me, but I have a hard time coming to terms with having to pay somebody to let me talk to them – ha! I know, I know, call me “old fashioned,” but I’m an old guy who comes from a long line of farmers, ranchers, tradesmen, and tough, independent types who have a hard enough time just talking with family and friends about the hardships we encounter in life; let alone some complete stranger who needs to be paid to listen. Somehow, that just doesn’t quite fit this old cowboy’s upbringing.

What does fit my global paradigm, however, is God’s wisdom manifested in that beautiful organization we call “the church”—the “body of Christ,” “the household of God,” the “kingdom of God among men.” The Apostle Paul says:

For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many… (I Corinthians 12:12-14, NASB)

Then, in describing how that one spiritual body—the church—functions, he compares it to our physical bodies, saying:

But God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked, so that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.   And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. (I Corinthians 12:24-26, NASB)

I think that’s a really beautiful concept; though, perhaps, some of you are thinking it’s a bit “Pollyannaish” in today’s world. And I do have to admit that, in more than thirty years of ministry, I’ve rarely seen a church actually function in a manner wherein all the members had “the same care for one another.” Yet, the passage still speaks to me of the importance of the “priesthood of every believer,” as we seek to mutually minister one to another. In its purest and simplest form, this is “community” taken to a whole new level—both physically and spiritually.

I long for this kind of community in my life. This is a Biblical picture of the community of Christ on earth, God’s forever family; sharing life, sharing love, praising God in unison, and being devoted to one another in brotherly love. I feel like, if I had that, I might be better able to find out who it is that God has selected to “minister to the minister” – ha!

So why, on this week when I’m about to face my first—and, prayerfully, my only—major surgery, do I feel so incredibly lonely as we gather together for our Sunday morning worship? Don’t get me wrong, I’m really grateful, and even inspired, by the small group of friends who surround me today, standing hand-in-hand to pray with me and for me. But my heart is panged by the absence of particular faces; faces of people who are dear to me and who, my heart says, should be here, but aren’t.

So yeah, it makes me kind of lonely; but only on a social-emotional level, I guess; because, on a spiritual level, I’ve never felt more complete, fulfilled, satisfied, or whole.  I know that I will face the upcoming surgery in a few days with courage and confidence. My prayer time with God is awesome, His word is ever sweeter to my taste, and I’m becoming more enraptured with my Jesus each day. How does one begin to explain what it feels like to finally “let go” of certain dreams, goals, and ambitions so closely allied with this carnal world and to choose, instead, to focus on those spiritual aspects of an abundant life with Christ?

But, still, I can’t help but feel a little sad today. I know there are a lot of precious people “out there” who love me and I’m grateful for every expression of love and support they’ve managed to send my way—I need them! But, yeah, today, as I brace myself for the approaching stormy squalls coming my way, I’m feeling kind of lonely; not for corporate church, not for some denominational organization, not for all the doctrine and dogma that some people insist on assigning to organized religion; but just for the warmth, the refuge, the safe harbor of God’s forever family.