Recovering the Church

The term “emerging church� has been bandied around for the last several years to speak to a new generation of leaders who are seeking to “be the church� in a postmodern context that speaks to this generation in a way that perhaps the modernist approach, with its love for absolute truth and structure, cannot.

As a Gen-Xer, I am not so much concerned about the postmodern context in which the church finds itself so much as I am concerned about the Church period. What we need, other than innovative but scripturally grounded approaches to sharing Christ with the world is recovery, but recovery of what?

Community

First, we have to recover a biblical understanding of community. Community as it relates to the church is modeled quite nicely by the early New Testament church (cf. Ac. 2:42-47). Make no mistake: community is not a panacea or default answer to every ill of the church or of society. But it sure does help to have it. I do believe, however, that regaining a biblical call to community will help to remedy the “stay away saint syndrome� that is crippling the Church. I don’t know about you, but I cannot claim to love Jesus, embrace His Word and His lordship over my life and then stay away from the very ones I am called out with to be the Bride of Christ. It simply doesn’t work that way, folks. We are saying we belong to Christ with our lips but our actions (or lack thereof) betray where we really are. As one of my former pastors used to say all the time, “If it’s right to be in church, then it’s wrong to be out of church.�

To go even further, the church is not the corporate worship service or the building but the Body of Christ that the blood of Jesus purchased on Calvary’s Cross (yeah, I’m about to go fundamentalist on us right now!). A worship service is not supposed to be a smorgasbord of programs whose sole function is to meet my every waking need. A worship service is a time of corporate meeting where believers in and followers of Christ Jesus meet to exalt the One who is the center of our worship: GOD. Our needs are not the center or focus. I am convinced that as we exalt Him seek to glorify Him in worship that His Spirit will minister to us in ways that no purpose-driven copying from other “successful� ministries can.

Community from a biblical perspective is the place where those who have heard and seen the Gospel of Jesus and the in-breaking of the kingdom of God are drawn in by the Spirit and discipled, loved, and nurtured in the faith. How this can happen while we go golfing with our “I love Jesus� t-shirts on during worship times is beyond me.

Lordship

For the last several years, there has been a theological war of words over the place of Lordship and salvation. In one camp are such dispensationalist theologians as Charles Ryrie, who teaches that salvation comes to the one who confesses Jesus as Savior. In the other camp, however, are those like fundamentalist pastor John Macarthur who believes that one could not claim Jesus as Savior without Him being Lord. The drama is known in theological circles as “The Lordship Salvation� controversy.

While I certainly don’t want to ensnare myself with the petty legalism that has hampered evangelicalism the last several decades, I also do not want to be content to stand in front of a church, claim that Jesus is my Savior, and then proceed to live a life void of any discernable fruit of conversion. I am beginning to embrace the rightness that Robert Webber suggests in his book Ancient-Future Evangelism in which he urges evangelical churches to embrace the renunciation of evil as part of the baptism rite. This was to “speak to how Jesus Christ rescued the world from the powers of evil. These symbols also speak to how their commitment to die to sin and be raised to the new life in Christ is symbolized in baptism� (Webber, 95).

Of course, renouncing evil does not mean that persons won’t sin. Otherwise, there is no need of 1 John 1:9 for the believer. But I do believe that the rite of renunciation symbolizes a conscious recognition of the need to forsake sin and live lives that bear the fruit of repentance.

Jesus, our dear sweet Savior who is often portrayed from pulpits like some emasculated spiritual eunuch, laid the smack down on any notions that following Him was meant to be comfortable or easy:

Luk 14:25 Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them,
Luk 14:26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.
Luk 14:27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.
Luk 14:28 For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?
Luk 14:29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him,
Luk 14:30 saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’
Luk 14:31 Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand?
Luk 14:32 And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace.
Luk 14:33 So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.
Luk 14:34 “Salt is good, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored?
Luk 14:35 It is of no use either for the soil or for the manure pile. It is thrown away. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

Jesus lays down three negative representations of persons who cannot be His disciples: those who value other relationships and people over Him (v. 26), those who will not take up their own cross, a symbol of suffering and sacrifice, to follow Him (v.27), and those who will not renounce all that they have for His sake (v.33). Sound easy? Sound like anything we are reading from the most popular books in Christian bookstores or hearing from pulpits today in America?

Simplicity

Do not think for a minute that “name it, claim it� theology or materialism started with televangelists. As much as materialism has poisoned some of the leaves of church life, much of the blame belongs squarely on the shoulders of those in the pew. After all, if we were not so drawn to possessing things as much as we were possessing the riches inherent in Christ, we would avoid these false teachers like the plague and stop contributing to their self-serving ministries who make a mockery of the Word of God and turn the Lord Jesus Christ in some divine Gordon Gecko from “Wall Street.� How pervasive is materialism and the idol of wealth in our American churches?

In certain circles—-primarily charismatic and Pentecostal circles—the “endtime harvestâ€? and “sign of Christ’s returnâ€? have nothing to do with spiritual revival in the Church or winning people to Jesus Christ. And the aforementioned signs certainly have nothing to do with the Bride of Christ being purged of sin and being made ready for Christ’s return. On the contrary, if I am to believe some folks, the endtime harvest and true sign of Christ’s return is the appropriation of wealth for myself and the Church. That’s right, folks. The sign of endtime revival and the soon-coming Lord Jesus Christ is that my house is bigger and that my bank account is larger.

How dare we treat the Lord Jesus Christ and the very blood He shed to atone for our sins like lukewarm milk set aside for the dregs of materialism!

But don’t think for a minute that slick TV preachers and their lesser-known imitators are the only ones. We only need to look at our check registers to see what we truly believe. God forgive me for spending more money on lattes than on ministry. I am not saying that we Christians shouldn’t enjoy the fruits of our labor. But I do believe we honor the Lord when we give generously to the kingdom of God for the benefit of those we are reaching and ministering to.

Humility

I am speaking exclusively to church leaders and I will keep this short and sweet. We who are called to preach the Gospel and shepherd the flock of Jesus Christ need not think for a minute that the clothes or jewelry we wear or the car we drive is a sign of God’s favor upon our lives or ministries. The apostle James warns us not to lust after becoming teachers of others since “we who teach will be judged with greater strictness� (Jas. 3:1)

Neither should we think that our education puts us on a pedestal just a step below the Triune God. The stripes on a preaching robe will never have the delivering, liberating power that the stripes laid on the back of the Lord Jesus Christ took in our place.

Humility invites the power and presence of God, something that is absent from a lot of churches today. Humility embraces the reality of human finitude and weakness while gloriously embracing the awesome mystery of the One wears time on his wrist like a cheap Timex watch.

Power
When I say power, I am referring to dunamis, the dynamite resident in the spiritual gifts imparted by God to the Church for ministry. The very idea that some well-educated theologian can decree her or his list of spiritual gifts that he believes no longer function in the Church pisses me off, frankly. Perhaps this fallacy explains why we have become program and self-help book addicts, waiting for that next quick fix for our churches. I remember belonging to a church that was so void of power that I would literally cry after every service. I vowed never to go through that again. The bottom line is that the Holy Spirit did not take a vacation from the activity of the Church. He is so gracious, however, that he will allow us to obsess over the latest church growth methods and sweat over our latest dry offering of church programming just so that we will finally get it through our heads that Jesus Christ is the Head and Source of the Church. You don’t have to hang from the chandeliers of your sanctuary and act a stark, raving mad fool just because you are “Spirit-led.� Please. The ultimate fruit of the Holy Spirit’s presence and power is surrendered lives of Christ-followers sowing the Good News wherever they are, communing with the Spirit and ministering to the needs of others.

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