“If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32). This passage speaks of complete understanding in that it is through abiding in God’s word that truth will be revealed, and in that truth, you will be set free of the bondage of not just the world, but yourself.
You see, I thought Jesus was just an awesome addition to my story. He was a component of MY testimony. This was like a spiritual prison. Growth was limited, and I put everything about being a Christian in a box. I did not abide in God’s word or hold fast to the teachings of Christ, so truth was only revealed so much, and my freedom was more so of having some chains taken off, but I was still locked up in a cell (or box). Freedom did not exist. Jesus Christ did not add to my story in life, my life was supposed to add to His story.
I came through a hard almost 10-year process of realizing that this whole “Christian thing” is actually simple when I asked myself if I was willing to put my life in the hands of God and have Him use it as His disposal and not my comfort. Please read this to yourself over and over;
“I am a sinner, born with a black heart with evil desires. Apart from God I am destined for death but it is through the blood of Jesus Christ that I have been forgiven, redeemed, and reconciled back to God the Father, my creator, and I have been given a new life that is shaped and formed with a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit in which God gave me. I am made brand new through Christ and in a relationship with the Holy Spirit. I am called to be governed by the Spirit and not the flesh. I am being sanctified, made holy, and set apart”.
My objective is to spread this Good News to people on this Earth, and it is through God’s Holy Word that Truth exists on everything from creation, relation, and eternal destination.
So, with that being said, where does church come into play? Well, you may have heard the cliché phrase that, “church is not the building, it is the people in it”. I would not disagree at all with that assessment. And for the people like myself who used to use the Matthew 18:20 verse which says, “for where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there”, as an excuse to not go to church (which to them is the building, not the people) I scream “heresy!” Ok, not really but I do say you have just entered a very popular group of people who misuse Bible quotes for their own comfort (as I once did). This verse has nothing to do with going to church as much as it does with church discipline. Now, without getting too “commentary” on you I will say that this verse is in reference to how to approach a brother or sister in the faith who you are not getting along with and if need be, you should bring along two or three witnesses to squash the drama between you guys. I am sure if you dig a little through the New Testament and even in the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 19:15-there is a freebie) you will see this “two or more” phrase come up quite often.
Now, back to church. If you want a perfect description of what church is biblically, without all the nonprofit, business and franchise feel, and also something to gauge not only your own church but other churches around the west, you need to go to the book of Acts chapter 2. If you read Acts 2:42-47, the Bible says;
“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”
This critical part of the Bible describes the earliest known church of believers and followers of Jesus Christ. Jesus has gone back up to Heaven by the time chapter 2 comes around, and the Holy Spirit comes at Pentecost. Now, many may be reading this and wonder how in the world anyone could emulate something, especially church, from 2000 years ago? My question back to the “many” would be are we even trying? Why have we strayed so far off course? Do you notice in all the churches of the New Testament, they all in a sense stray off course themselves? Paul finds himself revisiting churches to basically have them check what they are doing and if it lines up with what he told them to do. Why does it matter what Paul says? Well, Jesus Christ Himself revealed the Gospel to Paul (Galatians 1:12). I would think that gives Paul some authority indeed.
So, why did all these churches go astray from the Good News preached to them? Why did the structure and discipline laid out for them eventually break down? Why was the Gospel itself not even preached in some “Christian churches” back then? Because they allowed the outside culture to infiltrate the holiness of the church, the body of Jesus Christ. Maybe a bottom line financially wasn’t being met. Maybe they were scared of being persecuted. Maybe being poor was not all that fun or selling all their possessions was not a joyful thing. Maybe some political influence came in or an abstract sense of unity. Maybe they convinced themselves that because Jesus loves them and died for them, the Gospel was more of a “I can do what I want” card, rather than it being a recognition, no a revelation, no a FRUTITION, of ridiculous and incomprehensible grace and mercy by God the Father. Maybe, they made the Good News about them and their issues instead of about God and how big, loving, wrathful, truthful, merciful, and gracious (to name a few) He is.
Are we so different in America?
You see, Jesus dying on the cross for you and I was not some last-minute thought by God. Jesus dying on the cross was a planned event since the beginning. Genesis 3:15 says, “And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel”. Jesus’ death on that cross was God’s love for you and I coming to fruition, a planned event taking place. God is above all. Christ came to Earth to show us He is the only Way to the Father. It is our job, the church, to spread that news to others while always keeping Christ the focus and center of our ministries!
Now this is not a “bashing” session, but an attempt to plant some constructive conviction in folks. I am sure many people who go into the Book of Acts and read just the first two chapters may see some obvious and instant contradictions to church as THEY know it. As I said, this is not about tradition, this is not about you, so YOU should not be offended. This is about the Bible, God’s Word, which is the very instruction manual on how we should be doing church in the first place.
Joshua Randall Englehart is lead pastor of Agape Center Ministries in Michigan.