Somewhere A Church

somewhereachurch

Heard the one about there being no perfect church? It goes like this: ‘Well, there’s no perfect church because churches are made up of imperfect people’, or words to that effect.  It’s one of those often repeated Christianese statements that have no basis in scripture but are frequently thrown around as if they do.

I don’t buy it.

I believe there is a perfect church. Here’s why.

This week I was preparing an article for another blogsite about a woman born 100 years before me, who died twenty years before I was born. She was a dedicated Christ follower who sacrificed a brilliant career, fame and wealth to pour out her life in His service in an unfamiliar, hostile land. And we connected. As I researched her life, which was very unlike my own, I sensed a depth of bond with her that I’ve seldom known with any other believer. Our connection was in the Holy Spirit.

How is it that Christ followers can be united across boundaries of time, geography and culture in this way? How is it my spirit leaps when I recognize the same Christ in another as dwells in me, even if we have never met, even if we have never heard each other’s voices or physically sat together to worship or talk over coffee? How is it I often feel more closely bonded to someone half a world away who has shared their hopes, fears, and faith with me through emails and blog posts, than with people I share the same history, culture and cafes with?

It’s because there is just one church (Ephesians 4:4).

It’s because this one church, this Body of Christ, is a spiritual entity. Its members have been baptized together into Christ by the Spirit of God, to whom boundaries of distance, time, language and culture are irrelevant (1 Cor. 12:13)

It’s because this same Spirit refuses to be confined within the multi-denominational structures, doctrinal boxes and brick and mortar walls that are popularly called ‘the church’ on this earth.

Somewhere a church exists in the Spirit whose members are united and bound together by the Spirit of God (Eph. 1:3). Somewhere a church exists in the Spirit that looks, loves and sounds just like Jesus Christ whose members are being continually conformed to His image by the Spirit of God (2 Cor. 3:18). Somewhere a church exists in the Spirit that is perfect because its members are perfected and sanctified by the Spirit of God (1 Cor. 1:2; 1 Cor. 6:11; Heb. 10:14).

And when we as disciples of any colour, gender or culture connect with another by the uniting power of the Holy Spirit, we have found that Somewhere Church.   Our membership in it is guaranteed not by signing a card or regular attendance but by our faith in Christ.

But I keep hitting up against a problem. The latest example of this problem occurred recently when a local pastor implied we (husband and I) should be attending his church. Bear in mind he has not met either of us, we have not been to his church and have no indication from God that we should do so. We had simply contacted him by phone in connection with a practical matter to assist a close relative who does go to that church.

The problem? The problem is an almost blind assumption that those of us who choose to opt out of traditional organized Christianity are somehow spiritually less than those who do. The problem is others automatically presuming they know better than I how, where, and when I should worship. And the problem is friendship offered not on the basis of faith in Christ, but on condition of conformity to another person’s specific Christian tribe.

Seriously, if someone truly believes that Christ cannot sustain me outside the walls of their own church setting, then even when that church is the biggest in town, their church is too small and their God is too inadequate.

I know, it’s easy to label Christians ‘backslidden’ when they are less than enthusiastic about church involvement, or dismiss them as those pesky ‘perfect church’ seekers: easier, that is, than deal with the uncomfortable fact that there may actually be something missing in our local church that people are desperately seeking. I can’t blame anyone who chooses to think that way: we’ve all known people who are serial complainers, who are always more focused on the problem than the solution. We’ve all breathed a secret sigh of relief when they move on in search of whatever it is that will satisfy them.

But the largest percentage of non-church-attending Christians are sincere Christ followers who are non-attenders because the hierarchical, controlling atmosphere of many local churches has become toxic to them. And for many, institutional Christianity has become irrelevant. They are searching for, and often finding, other ways to assemble together, deeper more authentic ways of connecting to fellow believers and more diverse expressions of corporate fellowship than traditional settings offer. They are following a living Christ they have not been able to find within the hyped or stifled environments of their local church experiences.

If my words offend you, that is certainly not my intention. I bless my Christian brothers and sisters who acknowledge there are serious problems in organized Christianity and have nevertheless chosen to serve Christ from inside the institution. I would never question your ability to hear for yourself where and how, or in what setting, you should express your Christian beliefs. But I would ask that the same level of respect be given to those of us who worship Christ outside the walls of the local church by choice because that’s where we believe He has led us.

For the record let me clear up a few general assumptions often made about we ‘outside’ Christians:

*We are not all wounded, angry and bitter. Each of us as individual believers, whether attending a local church or otherwise, is on a journey into wholeness in Jesus Christ. It’s true many do cease regular church attendance because they have been deeply wounded or spiritually abused, but many find their healing through following Christ outside the institution rather than inside it. Wounded, angry, bitter people are just as often present within the walls of local churches as outside them.

*We are not spiritually dysfunctional or less of a Christ follower because we no longer find the atmosphere of a local church relevant to our Christian walk and growth. You don’t have to be an active member of a local church for Christ to meet you, heal you and lead you. If this is something that is incomprehensible to some readers may I gently suggest you leave aside what you do not understand rather than judge it as aberrant. God does not need to fit into our understanding of Him or give account to us for how He works with His own.

*We have not ‘left’ the church. It is no more possible for us to leave the church than it is to shed our natural skin. If we are in Christ we are church. Period.

*Finally, we are not your mission field. It is not your God-given calling to get us back into your church just so you can feel better about us. The mission field is anyone outside Christ – let’s all focus our evangelism there.

I share as one who spent over forty years in organized Christianity before God called me to follow Jesus outside the local church system. It came as a surprise and has certainly not been an easy path, but I have no regrets. Bread for the Bride is primarily a ministry to my fellow ‘wilderness dwellers’ – those who for whatever reason have not found Christ in His fullness within the walls of organized Christianity, or who have not found the local church scene to be the safe, nurturing environment it should be. I could hardly minister to this ‘congregation in the wilderness’ in the small way that I do without walking alongside them.

Whether someone is actively engaged in a local church, or has been called to another expression of the Christ Life that is in them, should really not be an issue. If we are in Christ we are the Church. Our connection to one another as Christ’s Body is in the Spirit, not within temporary structures, shared traditions or specific sets of doctrines.

I read something this week by a great teacher from a former time, T. Austin Sparks, that articulates the true nature of the church far better than I can:

You can only really see what the Spirit presents when you occupy a heavenly position. To see the Lord and His Church, as we have it in Ephesians, you must be in the position that is there: “He hath raised us up together with Him and made us to sit in the heavenlies in Christ Jesus.” It was from that position that Paul gave us the revelation of Christ and His Body.’

I am beginning to see the Church as Jesus sees her, from a heavenly perspective. I am beginning to perceive that great crowd of witnesses from every age since Adam whose individual testimonies of the living Christ are the organic cells that make up the Body of Christ. And I am beginning to understand why buildings, creeds, traditions, doctrines and organisation can never equal or contain this spiritual ecclesia whose members can only ever be knitted and held together by the Spirit of God.

If you are one who chooses to worship Christ from within a local church congregation, be blessed, and welcome to the Church. If you are a fringe dweller, seeking to follow Christ but unsure where you fit in, be blessed, and welcome to the Church. If you are following Christ outside the traditional venues, again, be blessed, and welcome to the Church.

I’ll meet you in Church….Somewhere.

*The Persistent Purpose of God, Chapter 8 “The Glory and The Spirit”, T. Austin-Sparks 

© Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2016. Copyright Notice: Permission is granted to freely reproduce any Bread for the Bride articles in emails or internet blogs, unaltered, and providing this copyright notice is included.     To permanently display an article on any static website please contact me for permission.

In Search Of Authentic Authority

Girl with magnifying glass taking a close look at a flower.

Leadership. For many of us the word leaves a bad taste. For some it evokes a sense of deep disappointment, emotional pain or abandonment. And for far too many it awakens traumatic memories of spiritual abuse.

Jesus didn’t have a lot to say about leadership, except to warn the disciples that His idea of leadership wasn’t the same as theirs (Mark 10:42-45). But He did have quite a bit to say about authority¹. So, is there a difference? Sadly, there can be a vast difference.

To know what leadership should look like in the Body of Christ we need look no further than Jesus. Throughout His ministry, however, it was His spiritual authority that defined His leadership. Those He interacted with recognised in Him a different kind of authority to the self-proclaimed authority they observed in their religious leaders. Jesus did not proclaim Himself as a leader or claim a leadership title. He didn’t need to. As He regularly pointed out, it was others who gave Him titles:

You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. (Jn. 13:13)

Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? (Lk. 6:46)

He said to them ‘But who do you say that I am?’ (Mt. 16:15)

When Pilate asked Him if He was King of the Jews, He replied ‘it is as you say’ (Mt. 27:11, Jn. 18:37).

Even when His disciples received the revelation from the Spirit that Jesus was the Christ, He warned them not to talk about it to others (Mt. 16:15-20). Could it be that Jesus preferred the Holy Spirit, rather than human opinion, to reveal who He was?  Only when questioned under oath in a court of law by the Jewish elders did He verbally confirm He was the Son of God and the Messiah (Mat. 26:63-64). And to a Samaritan woman at a well He confirmed He was Messiah only after the Spirit began to reveal Him (Jn. 4:25-26)

When Jesus did talk about Himself He spoke in terms of function rather than title². He said He was ‘the bread of life’, or ‘the light of the world’ to demonstrate an aspect of His service towards people, not a position over people. His favourite name for Himself, “son of man”, highlighted His humanity rather than His divinity. He chose to identify with us to the utmost degree.

Yet anyone who spent any time at all observing Jesus recognised His supernatural authority: 

Now so it was that after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers. Luke 2:46-47

When Jesus had finished these words, the crowds were amazed at His teaching; for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as their scribes. Mt. 7:29

But when the crowds saw this, they were awestruck, and glorified God, who had given such authority to men. Mt. 9:8

They were all amazed, so that they debated among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him.” Mar. 1:27

And He came down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee, and He was teaching them on the Sabbath and they were amazed at His teaching, for His message was with authority. Luke 4:31,32

Now Jesus started on His way with them; and when He was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends, saying to Him, “Lord, do not trouble Yourself further, for I am not worthy for You to come under my roof; for this reason I did not even consider myself worthy to come to You, but just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man placed under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to this one, ‘Go!’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come!’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this!’ and he does it.” Luke 7:6-8

The officers answered, “No man ever spoke like this Man!” Jn. 7:46

It was Jesus’ unmatched authority, not His leadership skills, that ordinary people marvelled at and religious leaders feared. His authority did not flow from any position bestowed on him by men, because He had no such position. On the contrary, it was His spiritual authority, imparted by the Spirit of God, that revealed Him as a leader.

Things have changed.

Within the organised Body of Christ leadership by authentic spiritual authority has largely been abandoned in favour of leadership by position. Church leadership is frequently assigned to those who best meet a pre-defined job description rather than an individual displaying God-given authority as Jesus did. In many cases the people assigned leadership positions carry no spiritual anointing for the position they fill, but they are chosen on the basis of education, experience, connections and even gender. Too often having a well referenced CEO style leader at the helm has become preferable to having someone with evidence of mature fruit of the Spirit.

It’s because of this reversal that titles and, in some cases, ecclesiastic uniforms have become so prominent. If men and women of God were recognizable by their spiritual authority, robes, collars and other such identifying objects would be unnecessary. So would special titles and business cards announcing ‘apostle’, ‘prophet’, ‘reverend’ and such like. Without such aids to distinguish such ‘leaders’ in the Body of Christ from the rest of us, how many would be recognised, as Christ was, by their spiritual authority alone?

Personally, I don’t care how many robes, collars or business cards people wear or carry in their pockets if I discern in them the spiritual authority that only comes via the Holy Spirit. Anyone in who that anointed authority is present, wielded with the humility and love of Christ, will have my respect. But leadership is about trust and trust should not automatically be granted based on title, position and a matching outfit. There are many of us seeking something more substantive from those who wish to be recognised among us as leaders.

What are we looking for? Just for starters:

We are looking for a genuine humility that walks unashamedly alongside us in the ordinary turmoil of our everyday lives without needing to be heralded or pandered to;

We are looking for hands and feet that will be the first to plunge into the sin-laden muck of this world so those who are trapped and covered in its filth will know they are not alone;

We are seeking those whose tears flow quick and free and whose faith is joyfully tangible;

We are desperate for leaders who love serving more than they love leading;

We are heartsick for leadership whose love is sacrificial, whose mistakes and failures are unashamedly transparent, whose intimacy with Jesus is as real as it is contagious, and who radiate a crucified Christ;

We need leadership that abandons the platform, that seeks fellowship with the weak and the wayward, and is neither threatened by our successes nor embarrassed by our failures.

And frankly we need leadership that has set its face towards Calvary rather than the nearest bank.

Quite simply, we are looking for Christ in our leaders, both His grace and His authority. We are exhausted with leadership hierarchies built on personality, doctorates, conference speaking and book authorship. Our souls ache for nothing less than authentic spiritual authority endowed by the Holy Spirit.

Jesus didn’t bestow titles on His disciples. He bestowed His Kingdom. He didn’t set rulers over His Body, He sent out servants. When He called some of them apostles it was more often than not a death sentence.

Leadership. For many of us the word leaves a bad taste. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Perhaps, as a kingdom of priests, we can begin to let go of our dependence on titles, positions and personal charisma and start discerning genuine spiritual authority in one another. By God’s grace we can then, together, move forward.

Footnotes:

¹(Matt. 9:6; 21:23-27; 28:18; Mark 13:34; Luke 9:1; 10:19; 19:17; Jn. 10:18; 14:10; 19:11).

²Jesus called Himself the Bread of Life to demonstrate He could satisfy the hunger of the human soul (Jn. 6:35). He told Martha He was the Resurrection and the Life and then demonstrated by raising her brother from the grave (Jn. 11:25). After refusing to condemn the woman caught in adultery He said He was the Light of the World to demonstrate that the darkness of sin need no longer rule humanity (Jn. 8:210-12). He said I am the door of the sheep to demonstrate He was the gateway to eternal life (Jn. 10:7). He said I am the good Shepherd, to demonstrate laying down His life for His disciples (Jn. 10:11). He said I am the true vine, to demonstrate His mediation between the human branches and the Father (Jn. 15:1)

© Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2015 and beyond.   Copyright Notice: Permission is granted to freely reproduce any Bread for the Bride articles in emails or internet blogs, unaltered, and providing this copyright notice is included.     To permanently display an article on any static website please contact me for permission.

I’m Not Your Hero

Dollarpherowoman

The Sunday morning service was about to start. The child squirmed and protested on my hip as I stood at the back of the room, struggling to keep him still and quiet. The woman approaching me didn’t notice my difficulty in keeping my charge under control. Nor did she discern the tiredness behind my smile. I guess she was blinded by the stars in her eyes.

With three children already between five and ten years my husband and I had recently become foster parents to a little boy with special needs. My friend had heard and wanted to tell me something. What she told me was pretty much what our other Christian friends were telling us, except for the few whose sidelong looks implied ‘you’re just crazy’, that is. Apparently we were exceptional Christians, dedicated, compassionate, self-sacrificing, inspirational…..the superlatives continued to flow, but, well, I’ll spare you.

“Well, I just know I couldn’t do what you’re doing!” she finally gushed before walking to her seat.

The child still squirmed and protested loudly in my arms. I still struggled. My body still ached with weariness. My mind still questioned God and the wisdom of our decision. But my friend, having delivered her message of unrestrained admiration, continued on her way no doubt feeling suitably warm and fuzzy inside.

Which brings me to the subject of this post.

I’m not your hero. Don’t put that burden on me. Don’t put it on anyone else for that matter. I absolutely, unequivocally, refuse to be your hero. If you need a hero for whatever strange reason go find one somewhere else. Go find several if you want to, but don’t include me. Furthermore, I promise I will never make you my hero. You can thank me later.

It’s years since that Sunday morning encounter, but I often remember it with an odd mixture of amusement and sorrow. If truth be told I should have responded, loudly and clearly, with what I was thinking: ‘Well, you know what, I can’t do it either!’ But back then I was in my wide-eyed ‘being a loving Christian means pleasing everyone’ phase. Thankfully, there’s been some water under the bridge since then.

What is it with Christian hero worship? Why do we build elaborate platforms and install our favourite pastor, author, ministry leader, or fellow believer on them? And not just in our churches, but more importantly, in our hearts? I’ve been on both sides of the hero worship and I never want to revisit.

This week I watched a video in which a renowned celebrity pastor stated God had blessed him with ‘a pretty big platform’ and so his heart was to ‘lift others up onto my platform’. Seriously?

It made me sad, because I knew that mega-church pastor before he was famous, before his name and his church became household words, before there was an empire and a brand-name to go with it all. I knew him when he was a friend and not a celebrity.

It made me sad, because I wished we could sit together again as equals, no platform between us, for a simple home cooked meal.  But we’re in very different places now.

And it made me sad because I, with my starry eyed hero worship, for a short time in my life helped build his platform.

I understand now what I couldn’t put into words on that Sunday morning when my friend elevated me above herself. In her effort to make me ‘more than’ herself, she didn’t realise she was actually making me ‘less than’. She didn’t know I would look back this many years later with the realisation I was robbed in that encounter.

Robbed of my right to ordinariness and human weakness; robbed of my right to be vulnerable; robbed of my need for authentic fellowship; and denied my opportunity to say ‘I need help’ and hear the words ‘help is right here’ coming back at me.

It’s what we do. We have access to all the resources of the Kingdom, each one of us, yet we insist on elevating our chosen ones to this super-spiritual hero status that separates the Body of Christ into classes.  We are proclaimed to be a joint heir with Christ, every one of us, yet we prefer hierarchy over community.

Even many of our Bible translations have a whole chapter we’ve labelled ‘heroes of the faith’¹.

In this Christian world of super heroes we’ve created, our ‘heroes’ are denied the freedom to fellowship with us simply as fellow travellers on this rocky, unpredictable journey into Christ. The luxury of publicly working out their own salvation through stumbling, failing and struggling as the rest of us do is disallowed. Their human need to express doubt, fear or inadequacy must be suppressed in case we are shocked by their insufficiency and turn on them.

We isolate these imaginary heroes into ever smaller circles of fellowship because they dare not admit they are anything less than the ‘Super Christian’ we desire them to be. Ultimately they in turn believe they are who we say they are and start talking about bringing others ‘up’ to their own level.  Or worse, they enjoy having their so called platform all to themselves.

Jesus knew something about the human heart’s desire for hero worship. After the miracle of feeding a multitude with one boy’s lunch, the crowd pressed in to forcefully make Him their king². But Jesus would have none of it and removed Himself from them immediately. The king they wanted was a political king, a superman like their ancient hero David, a hero who would defeat Israel’s Roman enemy and restore the Davidic kingdom. They were looking for a militant revolutionary to head up a renewed political nation their enemies would fear. And they wanted this hero on their terms, not Jesus’ terms.

It is appropriate for us to give honour where honour is due. It is good for us to encourage one another to walk out our spiritual giftings and functions. It is right that we acknowledge those who have gone before us and their contributions to the Kingdom. But none of us are true heroes.

David was a mighty, anointed king who used his power to sexually abuse a married woman and arrange her husband’s death. Moses saw God but failed to enter the Promised Land. Elijah hid trembling in a cave. Paul and Barnabas argued sharply and separated. Peter performed miracles that put the fear of God into people but lost his mettle when the circumcisers³ turned up.

Maybe you’ve known a Christian ‘hero’ who has turned out not to be the hero you thought they were. Maybe you’ve even helped build their platform. That’s the thing about hero worship. Eventually God has to bring our pseudo-heroes down to our own level to convince us there really is only one authentic Hero worthy of our worship.

In the end our tendency to elevate others onto spiritual platforms is an excuse for failing to pursue Christ to the utmost in our own lives. Like the Israelites sending Moses up the mountain as their substitute, we conveniently convince ourselves others can do a far better job of hearing and serving God than we can⁴.

The greatest love we can show another believer is to dismantle whatever platform we have elevated them onto and invite them to walk beside us as equals, learning, receiving from and supporting one another as we seek the fullness of Christ together.

That’s community, that’s true Body Life.

Or we can continue to elevate fellow believers to hero status and just be another celebrity fan club.

¹Hebrews 11

²John 6:15

³ Galatians 2:11-14

⁴Exodus 20:18,19

© Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2015 and beyond.   Copyright Notice: Permission is granted to freely reproduce any Bread for the Bride articles in emails or internet blogs, unaltered, and providing this copyright notice is included.     To permanently display an article on any static website please contact me for permission.

Exploring Community Part Three: Hierarchy and Leadership

community

Where does hierarchy fit in with authentic Christian community? What role, if any, does leadership have to play? These are questions many of us are struggling with as God continues to lead us out of ‘playing church’ into the day to day reality of Kingdom life. I offer the following two suggestions for consideration in the hope they will positively contribute to our search for genuine Christian community:

1.The absence of hierarchy does not have to mean absence of order;  and

2. The presence of leadership does not have to mean hierarchy, domination or control;

When believers consider the Three in One nature of God there is often a vague assumption that the Father is in charge and the Son and the Spirit are second and third respectively. I believe, however, the scripture is clear that there is no hierarchy within Elohyim. (For the sake of brevity I won’t go into my reasons for that belief here but I have written elsewhere about it in Hierarchy, Headship and All That Stuff which is easily accessible on this blogsite.)

The Father, Son and Spirit belong to one another willingly and without reservation in community, yet without the concept of exclusive ownership that we often subconsciously attach to the word ‘belong’. None of the three divine Members of Elohyim seek to rule over the other two Members, yet within this non-hierarchical environment there is perfect order.

Some who have witnessed abusive leadership within organised Christianity subsequently reject any place for human leadership at all within the Body of Christ. But the New Testament speaks both of a gift of leadership, and functional leadership gifts given by Christ to His church¹. Furthermore, Jesus did not rebuke His disciples for seeking to exercise leadership skills; He rebuked them rather for the carnal manner in which they sought to exercise that leadership through the hierarchical model they saw displayed in the world around them². He told them they would need to learn a new and revolutionary form of leadership that they had never witnessed before.

Just as there is authentic and non-authentic community, (see Part Two), so too is there authentic and non-authentic spiritual leadership. Genuine, God-endorsed leadership grows out of a desire to follow God, not a desire to gain followers.   We speak frequently about “servant leadership’, but one cannot be a servant of God’s people if one is not first and foremost a surrendered servant of God. True servant style leadership is essentially an act of service and worship, focused God-ward, not man-ward. Hierarchy, on the other hand, is the structure carnal authority builds around itself to maintain some semblance of perceived order and strengthen its power base.

Authentic, God-endorsed leadership doesn’t need the hierarchy on which organised religion is built because genuine spiritual authority does not require a man-made structure in which to operate. That doesn’t mean there are not examples of genuine leadership gifts within organised Christianity, but genuine spiritual authority will be evident regardless of whether or not it has the approval and recognition of an organisation. And often, too often, authentic gifts of leadership are hindered, stifled, and controlled by those who have found a comfortable niche within a hierarchical environment.

Jesus demonstrated a non-hierarchical leadership model that was radical and confronting both to His disciples and the religious leadership of His day.  At all times His leadership was evidenced by a genuine spiritual authority that was recognizable to those around Him³. He did not impose His will on people by emphasising that authority, or as we might say today, “throwing His weight around.” Those who recognised His authority He invited to join Him. Some did, some didn’t, but He didn’t rant against those who rejected His authority, labelling them as heretics and rebels.

Jesus never sought to prove His authority, even when faced with death⁴. He knew the level of spiritual authority He walked in and trusted the Father to confirm it. His leadership was an offering, God directed, not man directed. This is the authentic servant leadership He modelled for us.

Within the community of Three in One Elohyim none is less and none is more. Each Member is fully valued, fully functional, fully united in purpose and will, yet different in expression. Each delights in the Others’ fullness. We, in our fallen state, have yet to learn how we are to walk together in this kind of community if we are to be a Bride who reflects Christ on this earth.

There can be no true, fully functioning spiritual community where hierarchy exists. Hierarchical leadership is always dependent on the continual submission of someone other than the ‘perceived’ leader. Mutual submission one to another as we recognise Christ in each other is entirely Biblical. Requiring other individuals or groups to submit to us without reciprocity on an ongoing basis based purely on gender, race, title, position, or seminary training is not.

In Part Two I said the first result of the Fall was broken fellowship between Elohyim and humanity. The second result of the Fall was broken fellowship within the first human community, male and female. This male/female fracture is the oldest human division that exists, older even than racial division. It is entirely possible for us as God’s people to receive and embrace one another free of racial, social, economic and other divisions, yet still be clinging to hierarchy when it comes to gender relationships.

Christian community, to be complete and authentic, must be an inclusive atmosphere where both genders are free to exercise all their potential spiritual giftings and give and receive from one another without restriction, as it was in the beginning. This freedom to function as equals between male and female is foundational to true community, including in marriage, which was the first human community. Until hierarchy, i.e. the need to rule, is no longer an issue in either the home or the church, we will not experience spiritual community as God initiated it and desires it among us, for the broken fellowship between the genders will remain unhealed. Thankfully, the Holy Spirit is addressing this injustice within the Body of Christ and many are having their eyes open on this issue.

We have built a religious system in which we have mistakenly equated hierarchy with order, and in doing so we have controlled, quenched and excluded the Holy Spirit who was the only One charged with organising us⁵.  We have failed to discern true spiritual authority from false and have too willingly handed leadership to those whose authority is carnal. We have thought to do community by our meetings, our programs, our conferences, our agendas, our doctrines, our law keeping, our endless activities; but we have failed to learn to simply be the living, vibrant extended community of Elohyim to one another.

But God is not finished with us. From the beginning it has been covenant that has been at the heart of true community. Our covenant is first with Christ, and through Christ it is then with every other genuine Christ follower. It is only as we immerse ourselves ever more deeply into covenant relationship with Christ that we will increasingly participate in the community of Elohyim and discover that same mysterious Community present and vibrant among ourselves.

¹Romans 12:8, Eph. 4:8-12

²Matthew 20:25-28

³ Matt. 8:5-10; Mark 1:22, 27; Luke 4:32,36;

⁴ Matt. 26:53

⁵ John 14:16, 26

© Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2014   Copyright Notice: Permission is granted to freely reproduce any Bread for the Bride articles in emails or internet blogs, unaltered, and providing this copyright notice is included.     To permanently display an article on any static website please contact me for permission.

Related Articles:

Exploring Community Part One

Exploring Community Part Two

Exploring Community Part Two: True and False Community

community

We have seen how the very essence of authentic community lies within the mystery of Three in One Elohyim: the Father, Son and Holy Spirit dwelling eternally as vibrant, living, loving community among Themselves. We have seen how humanity is incapable of creating community, for it is not created, it is imparted. Apart from ongoing connection to its source, Elohyim, humanity is unable to maintain authentic community. (See Part One)

Here it becomes important to distinguish between authentic community and unauthentic community. We live in a world where we are constantly being told we are now members of a ‘global community’. Any apparent evidence of a ‘community spirit’ being demonstrated in our neighbourhoods, our towns or our nations is automatically considered a good thing. But is this the same as being members of one another¹ as the New Testament describes Christian community?  Is it the ‘koinonia’ fellowship with Father, Son and Holy Spirit that Christ-followers are called to²?

There is a sense of community available in the world that is rooted in a common crisis (e.g. a natural disaster), a common cause (e.g. ideology, sport) or a common experience (e.g. war, injustice, trauma). Nationalism, for instance, is an example of this kind of community spirit on a grand scale. We rally around the common experience of what it is be (in my case) an Australian, an Italian, a Scot or an American, or whatever the case may be. To be sustained this sort of community spirit needs to be continuously stirred and reinforced, for once the crisis passes, the cause is resolved or the common experience forgotten, it fades.

Christ, however, is not a crisis, a cause or an experience. He is Life. We, as Christ followers, have been called back into the vibrant, thriving, pulsating community of Life that exists in Elohyim, through fellowship with the Son by the ministry of the Spirit. This Christ-fellowship is a mystery, unbound by earthly entrapments of race, gender or class, administered from Heaven and flowing through to those who are Christ’s in order to bind them together as a spiritual community or family³.

How then, we ask, will we know when this true spiritual community is present and functioning among believers? I believe we may have been asking the wrong question. The first step is to cease trying to BE community and to receive by faith that we, as believers, ARE community. The difficulty is not in becoming community, for in Christ that is already being accomplished for us⁴. Our difficulty lies in allowing the Divine Community to manifest through us to one another.

From the beginning humanity was welcomed and embraced by the Divine Community of Father, Son and Spirit. Elohyim anticipated us, creating us in His very own image so that He could invite us into the heart of the unique community He enjoyed in His Three in Oneness.

The first result of the Fall was broken fellowship with Elohyim. When, through deception and sin, humanity fell out of community, Elohyim in His all surpassing Love immediately sought to bring back the one who had gone missing. There was no need for discussion or debate within the Three in One, in the same way as there would be no need for discussion or debate if a precious loved one of our own went missing. We would do whatever it might take to search, rescue and deliver that one back into our embrace. So much more was there perfect unity of will, purpose and action within the Three in One over missing humanity. Before humanity departed from the Garden Elohyim was already prophesying His plan for restoration⁵.

Within the Divine Community of Elohyim, perfect Love is constantly flowing, not as something Elohyim does, but as Who He is. Perfect Love is the means through which the perfect Life that is Elohyim expresses Himself.

In seeking to live our lives within an atmosphere of authentic Christian community, we seek to find our way back to the freedom of Perfect Love fellowship we knew in the beginning. Freedom is simply the absence of fear, and Perfect Love always casts out fear⁶.

We seek both to give and receive a Love that expresses life, not death; faith, not fear; freedom, not bondage. We seek an environment where Utterance, Breath and Life are present as the senior Members of our community. Utterance, the Word, will be honoured, not as law but as Life. Life will be flowing abundantly, spilling over from one member to the next. Breath will always be evident, manifesting Himself without hindrance, for where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom. And over all Love will provide the measure and the balance in all things.

I will be the first to admit I have yet to find an ongoing expression of this Divine Community flowing deeply, widely and continuously in the Body of Christ on earth. Like many others, I have glimpsed it briefly, tasted it momentarily, and yearned for its manifestation in fullness. But I believe passionately it is within reach as we learn to yield, abandoning ourselves without reservation to the Spirit of God, who is the same Spirit who raised Christ from the dead. As we have found Life in the Spirit, so will the Spirit lead us, if we are willing to walk with Him, until we emerge as the expression of Divine Community on earth⁷.

What are your thoughts on ‘Christian community’?  Please join the discussion!

Part Three of Exploring Community to follow soon.

¹Rom. 12:5; Eph. 4:25

²Phl. 2:1; 1 John 1:3

³Eph. 3:1-19; Gal. 3:26-29

⁴John 17:22,23

⁵Gen. 3:15

⁶1 John 4:18, Col. 3:14

⁷Gal. 5:25

© Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2014   Copyright Notice: Permission is granted to freely reproduce any Bread for the Bride articles in emails or internet blogs, unaltered, and providing this copyright notice is included.     To permanently display an article on any static website please contact me for permission.

The Search For Authentic Fellowship

Somewhere along my Christian ‘experience’  I managed to pick up some rather unhealthy ideas about what life as a believer should look like.  Many of those ideas are now the subject of some painful yet necessary rethinking.  For example, I came under the impression that following Christ means you automatically get to enjoy something called ‘ Christian fellowship’ with every other person on the planet who also calls themselves “Christian”.  You may have collected that one along the way as well.

Definitions of how this ‘fellowship’ thing actually looks and feels are hard to come by.  Christian fellowship seems to be one of those things everyone else in the church assumes you understand, right up there with some other mysteries that are rarely explained, like heaven, sanctification and eternal security (huh?  OK, we’ll leave that one for another day).  There is a vague, unspoken, belief that Christian fellowship means we should always be happiest when in the presence of other believers. Appearing to question the validity of this idea will almost certainly invite some serious eyebrow raising and doubts about your salvation from your fellow Christians. 

After all, we are the Body of Christ, are we not?  Isn’t it enough to know that? Well, no actually. The Body of Christ is a work in progress in which each member is still growing up into the fullness of Christ.  It is imperfect, meaning not yet completely functioning as it will when perfected.  Otherwise why would Paul, who seemed to have a pretty good revelation of the Body metaphor, suggest the Body needs to ‘grow up’ in all things into Christ (Eph. 4:15)?   

So what is Christian fellowship really all about and are our assumptions actually Biblically based?  There are endless ways in which people find fellowship.   Attending the same school, joining a hobby club, getting together to watch a sports game or connecting to Facebook can all be forms of fellowship.  People who have experienced trauma such as war or disaster, or who may have been victims of crime, often form themselves into fellowships to be with those who understand their experience.  Patriotism is another form of fellowship on a national scale.  All these provide the human soul with a sense of belonging and identity.  Regular attendance at a church can provide this same sense of fellowship also, but it’s a fellowship that comforts the soul rather than invigorating the spirit.

The Greek word ‘koinonia’ translated either as ‘fellowship’ or ‘communion’ in our  Bibles implies a unity of partnership, participation, sharing, and communication.    It took me a long time to realize that in my quest for the full expression of this kind of  Biblical fellowship in the Body of Christ I had been looking at things from the wrong perspective.  We, as followers of Christ, have indeed been provided with a model of perfect, lasting, unhindered fellowship.  It is rarely found, however, in church buildings or ‘fellowship suppers’.  It is found rather in the passionate and thriving communion between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Self-focused as we naturally are, we seldom take time to meditate on the perfect one-ness of our three in one God, but if we truly long to know what authentic fellowship is,  that unique Oneness must be our starting point. Most of us know Jesus spoke on numerous occasions about His deep communion with His Father.    Much less often do we consider Jesus’ relationship with the Spirit.  The relationship between the Father and the Son was not and is not a two way arrangement with the Holy Spirit tagging along as a junior partner.  He who had the Spirit without measure spent His final hours on earth introducing His closest followers to the Holy Spirit, impressing on them His absolute trust and intimacy with Him (John 16:7-13). 

If we wish to know how Christian love should look, look to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  If we desire to walk in the light with our brethren, we must first walk in the communion of Father, Son and Spirit (1 John 1:6,7).  We can spend years, even decades, trying to ‘love’ our fellow believers just that bit more, striving to feel some kind of elusive ‘fellowship’ with other believers because we have been taught that is what it means to be a member of Christ’s Body.   But we will fail, or settle for some carnal imitation of what we think fellowship should be, until we ourselves come into our own communion with each member of the Godhead, Father, Son, and Spirit.  All fellowship between Christ followers must flow from that active, living source and actively include all three members of the Godhead.   And guess what else?  If another believer is not tuned into that same threefold source it is impossible to have true, spiritual fellowship with them. 

What?  Did I say there are believers we can’t fellowship with?  Yes, absolutely.  I didn’t say we can’t love them; I didn’t say we can’t meet with them;  I didn’t say we can’t socialize with them and I didn’t say we can’t care for and serve them.   But we won’t be able to find authentic, flowing, living fellowship with anyone who is resisting the Spirit of God, because it is the Spirit who pours the love of God into us (Rom. 5:5) .To put it another way, the Spirit is the glue that holds the Body together and causes it to function in unity.   

There are those who deceive themselves that they are fellowshipping with Father and Son but can get by without the fellowship of the Spirit.  But the Spirit is not some kind of mindless magical force that turns up when God wants to accomplish something supernatural.  The Holy Spirit is divine Personality, an equal partner in the three-fold Godhead, a vital  and cherished member of the Community of Divine Love that is God (2 Cor. 3:17).   It is one thing to be ignorant concerning the Holy Spirit because we have not been taught accurately.  However, when we persistently and actively resist submitting to the Spirit and His desire for fellowship with us, we grieve Him.  And when we grieve the Spirit, we grieve the Father and the Son.  Pause and consider!

If we sincerely desire true fellowship with other Christ followers, it must be a fellowship in and of the Spirit.  Anything less is counterfeit and falls short of who we are called to be in Christ.  Christian fellowship has to be more than physically gathering together in a church, a house, a conference, or some other venue.   It must above all be a gathering in the Spirit.  Gathering together physically is not even always necessary for spiritual fellowship.     But if there is no fellowship in the Spirit, there is no true fellowship at all.

True fellowship cannot be built on knowledge (even if it’s Biblical knowledge), tradition, like-mindedness, or convenience.  It is built on the revelation of Christ in each one as it is imparted by the Spirit of God.  Again, there is no deep and abiding communion between believers without the active participation and welcome sovereignty of the Holy Spirit.  

It’s humbling to admit to ourselves we don’t really know how to do this ‘fellowship’ thing.  It’s costly to admit that there’s got to be something more than that which we’ve so far known in our relationships with one another.  It’s confronting to consider we may be grieving our Lord by resisting the Holy Spirit who willingly gives Himself to us as Christ’s most precious betrothal gift.

Some of us will choose not to grow up into all things in Christ, the Anointed One.  Some of us will choose to cling to that remaining trace of carnality that pridefully tells us we don’t need to change, everything’s fine as it is.  If we are satisfied with giving Christ our least, just making it to Heaven by the free gift of salvation, that attitude may work.  If, on the other hand, we are of those who long for the unsearchable riches of Christ, including the depths of communion with Him and His Body, we will not settle for anything less. 

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all.

2 Cor. 13:14

Discerning the Body Part Three

connecting-hands11  It was the apostle     Paul, under influence of the Holy Spirit, who gave us the word picture of church-life being like the life of a healthy, functioning human body.  “The church, which is His Body”, he wrote (Eph. 1:22, 23).   If he were alive today Paul would no doubt have great difficulty aligning this prophetic analogy with what passes for church life in the 21st century. 

To begin with the early Christians understood the Body of Christ in terms of His resurrection.  Christ’s Body to them was no longer hanging on a Roman Cross. They believed because Christ had risen His abundant resurrection Life actively flowed supernaturally within them. They were drawn into Christ’s Body because they were convinced He lived and could live through them.  “In Him was life…….”   They sought to gather with others in His Body not to prove by association they were now Christians but simply because the living Presence of Christ in each one was irresistible.  To them, to be His spiritual Body was to be deeply connected to His resurrection life. That Christ-life was the motivation that brought them together, bound them together and carried them forward together into an uncertain and often dangerous future.  Their fellowship was grounded in who they were becoming together, not what they did together.  And what they were becoming together was the fullness of Christ on earth (Eph. 1:23).

For many our experience of the Body of Christ has been somewhat different to that New Testament scenario. From the moment they come to Christ most new believers are now pressured into believing if they don’t immediately become actively involved in a ‘local body’ they will not grow as a Christian. Rather than genuine discipleship, the emphasis is placed on ‘fellowship with His Body”. (And yes, they are two different things.) New believers are not taught that Christ Himself can keep them.  They are taught they need the church in order to keep Christ.

And too often “fellowship” is not about sharing Christ’s life together…it is more about becoming like ‘us’, doing what “we” do, thinking what “we” think. So new believers quickly learn that the more they ‘fellowship’ in this way the more they will be accepted as part of Christ’s Body.  They are then taught that their main purpose in this new life is to convert others and bring them also into this ‘local Body’ in order that they too may be trained in this modern form of “bodylife’. And so the cycle is repeated.  Denominational Christianity makes no allowance for the Body of Christ existing outside of its own narrowly defined terms. 

What most call “the church” no longer accurately reflects the Body of Christ as it is described in the New Testament. Body-life has become church centred rather than Christ centred. The result is we have too many ‘church goers’ experiencing a false body-life that in no way truly represents the Body of Christ, and too many church leaders who believe body-life is about how many human bodies they can squeeze into the building before they can go ‘to the next level’, whatever that is.

The good news is that the true Body of Christ is far too dynamic and overflowing with His abundance to ever be confined to such a regulated and restricted mould. Despite how things may appear outwardly, we need not despair. It’s still Christ who is building His church, it’s still the Holy Spirit who is overseeing its growth and it’s still the Father who is granting increase.  The weeds will be allowed to grow with the harvest until the end of the age (Matthew 13:18-30). But Life, real Life which is found only in Christ, has a habit of spilling out uncontrollably whenever man tries to bottle it.

And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ (Eph. 4:11-13) (

We are on a journey into unity of faith and that unity of faith is intrinsically connected to the deep knowledge of Christ.  It is the knowledge of Christ as God, the perfect man….the intimate, experiential, living knowledge of Him as opposed to knowledge about Him… that connects each member of His Body to the other members.  This inborn knowledge of Christ, each member individually living in Him, by Him and through Him, forms the building blocks, the living cells, of the Body.  No wonder the Bible refers to these members as the ‘living stones’ (1 Peter 2:5)

The ultimate calling for Christ’s Body is not world-wide evangelism as some would have us believe.  Nor is it world-wide dominion as some others would have us believe.  It is to “all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ”.

The modern focus on ‘church planting’ is misleading and is an indication of how the modern “church” has elevated itself above Christ. There was and will only ever by ONE church and ONE Body.  It was planted by Christ when His Blood spilled down into the earth’s crust at Calvary.  Neither Paul, Peter, Philip or any other New Testament personality we might name ever planted a church.

When Paul spoke of having planted among the Corinthians he spoke in terms of having planted the gospel, not a church (1 Cor. 3:5,6). The seed that was planted in the parable of the sower was the gospel, not the church (Matt. 13:2-9).  Jesus never told His disciples to go into all the world and make churches.  He told them to preach the gospel. And essentially the gospel message is two simple truths:  The cross where Christ suffered and died in our place and the resurrection where Christ rose from death so we through Him may live resurrection life.

The emphasis of scripture on church growth is not outward but upward… INTO Christ. The primary purpose of the Body of Christ is not to tell the world what to do, or even to get the world saved.  It is to grow up in all things into the fullness of Christ.  Influencing the world and evangelising the nations are secondary to that upward growth and can’t help but flow out of body-life when it is healthy and Christ centred.

Christ….from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love. (Eph. 4:12-16)

It is from Christ and only Christ this spiritual Body is connected together, and it is by Christ in each member serving the others that the Body grows and is edified.  It may come as a surprise to some that the Body does not exist for our comfort.  Rather, we the individual members living in the supernatural power of Christ’s endless resurrection life, exist to ‘do our share’ to meet the needs of the other members of the Body.

A city set on a hill cannot be hidden” said Jesus.  Our search for the Body of Christ must ultimately lead us deeper into Christ Himself because it is in Him that His Body gathers.  It is only in Him that we will discover how to belong to one another with no agendas, false motives or strings attached.  

The Body consists not of cloned like-minded people, but of a diverse company of like-hearted people, often whose one common thread is Christ.   

The community we long for already exists in the divine community of the Father, the Son and the Spirit. As the Body of Christ we have been invited to partake of this eternally existing community.  Once we begin to understand this, no man-ordained substitute will ever satisfy us.  The city set on a hill cannot be hidden because it shines with perfect life, Christ Life.  “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men”. 

The key to authentic Body life is Christ in us, His endless resurrection life the light by which we live, connect to one another, grow and become His Body together.  When Christ reigns in us, then we will truly know what it means to be part of His corporate Body…..together.

Copyright Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2013