Jesus Christ is the head of His Church and He is to be central in the lives of the saints and in the meetings of the Church. The outworking of this principle in the Church is that Jesus Christ, His nature, and His work will generally be the central topic of communion between believers both privately and in their public meetings together.
The practical purpose of the Church as God has conceived her is to provide an opportunity for saints to encourage, admonish, teach, rebuke, and comfort one another concerning the centrality of Jesus Christ in their lives. The saints should be concerned about how to promote in their brothers and sisters the love of God and the love of others, and saints should continually, daily, seek to redirect themselves and the body of Christ towards their Head, both in doctrine and in practice.
The Church can only function as God would have her to, in this daily interaction and influence, when the saints are dwelling close to one another in community.
The men of the Church should provide leadership in the spiritual community of the saints, in both the meetings and in the daily life of the Church (1Co 14). This leadership should NOT be confined or restricted to one man (a preaching pastor), or to a limited group of men. I do believe that the Church should function much like a tribe. Pastors, people whose gift is to care for and shepherd others in a more effective manner, may arise among brothers naturally in the context of the organic life of the Church, an by nature have more influence than others.
In particular, the older men of a congregation, being more experienced and seasoned in life itself, will also generally exercise more influence among the men in decisions affecting the life of the body of Christ and of the individual saints, much as tribal chiefs, and will often have the final say in matters of emergency or dispute when disagreement is present. However, the leadership and direction of the Church does not revolve primarily around these men, but in the entire body of men as a group. (Ac 9:25, 15:13) The sisters should not provide direction for the Church in any manner, but should remain quiet, helpful, and cooperative in this, similar to the way that tribes on earth naturally exist today. (1Co 14:34) This is how the early Church functioned, and how God would have her function in our present day.
The early Church knew and worshiped the God of the Old Testament, and read the Old Testament Scriptures regularly in their meetings. (1Ti 4:13) They understood that the writings of Paul, Peter, Mark, Luke, etc., were also Scriptures (2Pe 3:16), and so copied and circulated them among the various Churches, and gave these writings equal place with the Old Testament Scriptures in their meetings and lives. These Scriptures (Old and New) were the primary means of direction and communication from God for believers in their relationships with Him, and that no deviation from any of the Scriptures was ever considered revelation from God. (Ac 17:11)
New Testament believers had regular access to the Old Testament writings through the Jewish synagogues, and committed large sections of Old Testament Scripture to memory so that they could access them readily in their daily lives. They did the same with the circulated letters of Paul and others which bore the witness of the Spirit as inspired by Him.
Paul consistently directed all believers to search the Scriptures daily and study them in their hearts as they sought a close walk with their God. Godly men always direct the saints to test any teaching and potential revelation by means of the Scriptures, even if this teaching is from themselves, and plainly teach that there is no other reliable authority for the life of the Church or for the life of the believer. (2Ti 3:16)
Walking by the Spirit was never seen as inconsistent with this, since the Holy Spirit was seen as the Author of the Scriptures. The saints saw the Scriptures as containing the essence of the expression of His Being and His life in a written, unchanging language. They saw that the Holy Spirit was the One helping believers to understand and live in the life of their Lord, which was expressed perfectly in this written language of the Scriptures as a guide for His expression of Life in the body of Christ. The Scriptures themselves were not the life of the believers, nor of the body of Christ, but the life of God in believers did not ever operate in contradiction to the Scriptures. God gave the Scriptures to the Church, and through them He nourished her, cleansed her, and kept her from falling into deception from her enemies. God did not intend for believers to walk with Him just by His Spirit alone, expecting believers to always discern, apart from using His written Word, between holy and unholy spirits which would be offering and providing guidance, teaching, and direction to the body of Christ.
God’s purpose was for the saints to walk with Him by His life in the power of the Spirit as He nourished and guided them through His written Word, as well as speaking directly to their spirits by His spirit. In any direct revelation, He expected others to test any claimed special revelation against what He had already taught them through His written Word. He told them to test all spirits, teachings, and doctrines by His Word (1Th 5:21), to help them reject and stand against false doctrine, and to help believers ensure that their lives conformed to the Life He expressed to them in His written Word. This implied that the Scriptures would be a central check in the lives of believers and in their communities (Is 8:20, Ps 119:105), to ensure that Jesus Christ Himself would truly remain central in the midst of His bride (Rev 3:8). The early believers held dearly to the Scriptures as a constant check to keep them in the pleasure of their Lord for this reason. (Col 3:16-7)
God abides in a Church when that Church keeps His Word (the Bible) as central in their lives and community and follows after Him in careful obedience as a group (Mt 18:20, John 15:4, note plural “you,” not “thee”). All Christians have this principle of obedience to His Word as a central and fundamental quality within them, and it is natural for Christians to want to obey and please their Father as they walk in fellowship with Him. (1Pe 1:2) This is generally much easier and natural when in the context of a genuine Church group that is like-minded in obedience.
A group of people who have become like-minded and who are obeying their Father together in community, loving Him and one another in the power of the Holy Spirit, are His temple in a sense that goes far beyond the individual saint. They help protect one another against deception from their enemy and against coldness toward their Lord, and it is generally the safest place for a believer to be.
God dwells in such a group, in her midst, as if in a perfect human temple, and His presence in her is apparent to anyone who enters to observe. She is without ritual, without clergy, without a physical temple, and she has genuine power against the forces of darkness. She is the living lover of God, His espoused bride and wife, in all of her glorious, corporate beauty. Such a group would likely be the most powerful and beautiful thing on the face of the earth; such a group is not only earthly, but she also has presence and power in the heavenlies, among the principalities and powers of darkness through her Groom and Father, such that nothing is impossible to her. She is the true Church.
Satan cannot resist or defeat her except by alienating her from her Head through deception, which is the essence of his purpose toward her. In seeking to destroy her he has the liberty to present himself to her as much like her Lord as he is pleased to adorn himself, in order to defeat her. He woos her through convenience, through worldly affection, through spiritual impression and revelation, through reason, through experience, through threat of pain, through the pride of knowledge and shallow self-righteousness, through the distractions and cares of everyday life, through threat of open persecution and tribulation, through false teaching.
He woos her from without, he woos her from within — through the violent throes of the god-hating world around her, from the subtle suggestions of brothers and sisters within. He will use tradition, he will use new teaching, any subtle twist to what her Lord has said. He will use bitterness, he will use lust, he will use community, he will use alienation, he will use pain, he will use pleasure. Anything is fair with him, so long as he can get her to disobey her Lord, to get her to and leave His side and the power of His life.
His primary attack, then, is often against the written Word of God, for that is the only real solid check that she has to defend herself and resist her enemy with. That is the sword of the Spirit. Satan will twist the Word through far-fetched interpretation, through re-translation, through denial. He generates discord through false brothers and sisters that he has sown in the midst of the bride, as tares among the wheat. He tries to alienate the bride from exposure to the Word, from hiding it in her heart, from meditating on it in her meetings. He is relentless and persistent in this, as it is his only hope. So long as she remains obedient and clean, she abides in her Lord and He in her, and Satan is helpless against her.
Inevitably, however, as he has learned over the years, she forgets, she wanders, she weakens. He would prefer to make this as painless and concealed as possible, offering in exchange for her strength whatever beauty, deception or comforts he can find to entice her to keep her weak. It is not always an ugly thing, at least initially. He comes veiled as an angel of light.
When he begins to find success by any means, and such a group begins to deviate from the life of God and His principles, as He has expressed them in the Bible, in any significant manner, God rebukes her through a believer and through the Bible and gives His bride a chance to repent. If she does repent, God continues to work in and through her as a body, strengthening her, cleansing her, and being victorious within her as she struggles in His strength against the powers of darkness, and He continues to abide in her in all of her tribulations for Him in intimate communion as a Lover and Provider.
If she does not repent, He removes His presence and His blessing from her as a Church, removes her candlestick out of its place so that she is no longer a Church, and the people – both disobedient believers and unbelievers — continue on without Him to waste away in the hands of the enemy until they turn back to Him. (Rev 2:5) The obedient believers, such as those in Sardis (Rev 3:4), continue on with Him in vulnerable isolated fellowship as best they can, spiritually outside of the rest of the community, until, if ever, the local portion of the Bride, the Lamb’s wife, recovers herself and returns to her Lord.
Every group or Church I have been in has either initially started out in the enemy’s hand from the very onset, has been crushed by the enemy in infancy through strife or deception, or has refused to repent when she was straying and was confronted by her Lord about it. I do not know of a healthy functioning Church of Jesus Christ in existence anywhere in the world, at all. I am sure that such groups must exist; I have just never seen one. All believers I have known who are following their Lord, are walking on with their Lord with limited personal Christian fellowship, alienated from their inheritance in the body of Christ as found in a corporate bride: they are mostly alone. I believe that this is why the Church is so weak and fragmented in our day, she does not exist corporately anywhere that I know of, only in the lives of these disconnected, obedient few. This perception is very painful to me.
I believe that it is quite possible and all too common for a group of weak Christians and false brothers and sisters (2Co 11:26) to be or become an assembly of Satan (Rev 2:9, 3:9), and that this also can appear to the flesh to be a very beautiful thing. I believe that this happens inevitably when the Bible is not the focus and authority in determining the principles the Church operates by, and which the saints live by. Even believers are quickly led away from their Lord by the enemy when they are not grounded in the Word of God (1Pe 5:8), even if they are sincere and begin well (Gal 5:7), and they invariably come to worship an image of God after their own carnal thinking that is lovingly offered to them by their enemy. I believe that any group or person which disdains the Scriptures in any manner whatsoever is already in the hands of the enemy in this way, and is in his control and under his direct influence. (Eph 2:2)
Brothers and Sisters, pray with me that our God would raise up again communities of saints to worship and follow after Him corporately, daily. Pray for your brothers and sisters who walk alone in these last days, and love them dearly when you find them. Pray that the believing remnant will be faithful, and will continue to be salt and light in the midst of this crooked and perverted world. Pray that our light will so shine before men that they might see our good works, and our passionate love for God and for one another, and glorify our Father which is in heaven.
Brothers and Sisters, move together and live amongst one another as you are able to do so. Sacrifice your temporal worldly comforts and conveniences to do this. Share your lives and hearts with one another in Christ daily. Forget that coming to a building, listening to a sermon, and driving home … was EVER called “Church.” That is a remnant of paganism that the Reformation refused to touch. We need another.
Pastors, step out from behind those fancy pulpits, and give the floor to your brethren! A brotherhood can do so much more than one man can by himself. We do not need your theological training (Neither do you, by the way:) to function as a body . God has designed it so. Stop building dusty little kingdoms around yourselves! Looking for ever greater and more elaborate, “sanctuaries!” Stop designing so many meaningless and life-draining “programs” and ministries to cater to this and that group! Stop taking salaries, stop taking offerings, stop preaching the tithe, and live on the free-will, spontaneous gifts of God’s people as God provides for you. Rather get a job than milk filthy lucre from the body of Christ by means contrary to His example and pattern. It would certainly do you some good to work alongside your brethren, for a while at least.
Pastors, don’t spend your time preparing “sermons” any more… that is not God’s call to you. Never has been. Never will be. Spend your time in prayer and in ministering to the flock one by one, family by family. There will certainly be times when our Lord will call upon you to address the body, but it will seldom be prepared in a sermon as you are doing now. That was not His way in Antioch; it is not His way now. Forget that you ever had a “job” as a “pastor.” God did not design that role to be a career sought and applied for, any more than fatherhood. Forget it. You should mostly be invisible in meetings, not running “the show.”
Sisters, be quiet in any formal assembly of the saints. Let your voices only be heard in song, and that meekly when the body raises a corporate voice, or when brothers bid you sing or testify on some occasion. It is a shame for you to take the floor in any public meeting of the saints on your own. Don’t even ask questions until you get home, or in some informal situation outside the meetings. Don’t even try to make excuses. Get back into submission; be under obedience. Just do it.
Brothers, get off of your spiritual buttocks! Turn off your televisions and monitors. Hang up your golf clubs, lock up your hunting rifles, put away your bowling balls, put down your newspapers, and turn off your cell phones for a while! Get down on your knees! Together! Open your Bibles and start memorizing them! Together!
Brothers, start functioning as your God has called you to! Stop waiting on “the pastor” to do all the spiritual work of leading the Church. Get out of the pew! Start leading your families in the Spirit, and start leading your Church in the same Holy Spirit. Put away the study guides and the curriculum and the liturgies. Plan the meetings of your local Church. Plan them around the Word of God — the incarnate Word, and the written Word.
Come prepared to meetings… prepared to share the life of God in you with your brothers and sisters. Come prepared to lead. Come prepared to submit to the leading of God in your brothers. Come prepared to pray for the sick, for the suffering, for the devil-possessed and oppressed. Come prepared, seeking direction from God for the body with your brothers. Come prepared to share a word of exhortation, of rebuke, of reproof (2Ti 4:2), of comfort, of doctrine, or a testimony of the love and faithfulness of God. (1Co 14:26) Come with songs in your hearts, with worship in your breasts, with burdens to share with the body. Be prepared to reach out to your brothers and your sisters… and to be touched by them… and their children, touch them with your words and with your life in Jesus Christ, and receive His touch through them.
Come prepared to challenge error in doctrine. Be prepared in humility, and in love, and in a deep grounded knowledge of the written Word of God. Come prepared to be challenged. Every time someone speaks to the body, Brothers, take time to publicly challenge what was said, to test it, to apply it, to internalize it, to refine it. (1Co 14:29) Come cleaned up, come prayed up, come ‘fessed up, come drenched in the word of God, but don’t come all dressed up!
And come next door!
Bring your wives, bring your children, and be a family in Christ with other families in Christ. Be with single brothers and sisters as your own, as aunts and uncles to your children. Be a community of saints loving and cherishing Christ in one another.
Be a wonder to angels, and to men. Be a threat to that ol’ Serpent. Charge his gates together, and carry them away… lock, bar and all. Bruise his head, yes bruise him badly, and do not fear his rage. One little word shall fell him.
Be a lover of Jesus Christ. A beautiful mysterious body in love with her husband. You are members of His Body, of His flesh, and of His bones. You are one with Him. He cares for you as He does Himself.
Be a wife, won’t you? Be the wife of the Lamb. You are.