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What does a New Testament church look like? (part 2)

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Jesus transforms everything He touches, and the continuation of that touch is to be through the New Testament church that takes itself seriously as the body of Christ with vision for its locale and the world.

I once saw the beauty and power of that reality work in helping avert a war that could have gone regional.

I was part of an informal delegation from Washington meeting with a president and several other leaders of bordering nations. At one point, our host stared intensely across the table at the delegate from a neighboring country and accused him of attempting to lead an overthrow of the very leader in whose house we had gathered to talk peace.

READ:  Building a Jesus church and lifestyle for a turbulent world (part 1)

An awkward silence shrouded the room, stifling the diplomatic courtesies with which the session had begun. We all knew that the next words could set the whole region ablaze.

Richard Halvorson, chaplain of the U.S. Senate, was part of the Washington delegation. Suddenly, he spoke: “Senor President, let’s pray about your problem.” Then Dr. Halvorson prayed.

He was followed by others, until we had gone all around the table. The prayers were in the regional language, and I understood only a few of the words. However, the sense of Christ’s presence was its own translation. It seemed that the awareness of Jesus through the Holy Spirit had displaced the spirit of war and anger.

I learned that all spiritual warfare is about displacement — Jesus, manifested by the Holy Spirit and the Word of God, unseats, displaces, the spiritual adversary that seeks to unseat and displace Him.

The New Testament church is not a new incarnation, but it is to continue walking in the world as the body of Christ, manifesting His truth and love in local communities and entire nations. The genuine Church is to carry on His incarnate ministry wherever it is placed. So that day I watched a dozen Jesus-followers pray for and show Christ’s love to a man who had the power to set whole nations at war.

Peace was fragile then, and especially so now. We desperately need the touch of Jesus upon current world affairs.

Some years after the encounter in Latin America, I was a pastor, and sought to understand the nature of the New Testament church. Here are characteristics I discovered:

  • The Jesus church is Jesus-centered. At the center of every development plan is a vision statement that reflects the true worldview and values of an enterprise. The person and ministry of Jesus should be the core of every church’s vision statement. Such a focus will provide a new perspective regarding the preferred future and the nature of the Jesus church. Jesus-centeredness then should guide the lifestyle and practical ministry of the Church.
  • The Jesus church is Spirit energized. The Jesus church values Christlike transformation of individuals, families and societies. This calls for the recognition of the Holy Spirit in bringing dynamic transformation rather than mere institutional change.
  • The Jesus church has firm anchorage in sound doctrine. Good biblical teaching brought through the pulpit and small groups and classes gives the stability that keeps the Church from being “tossed to and fro” by fleshly “dynamism.”
  • The Jesus church is Kingdom envisioning. The Jesus church has, and cultivates continually, vision for the Kingdom of God, and Christ as Lord over the whole world, including nations, the people that inhabit and shape them, and other parts of the body of Christ that share this vision.

But what did Jesus do specifically to reach people and minister to them, and how do we do it today? I learned much about Jesus’s practical contemporary ministry from Dr. Ed young, pastor of Second Baptist, Houston. He was my pastor, boss and mentor for almost 20 years. The church has grown under his ministry from about 500 to more than 70,000. Growth, however, has not been the primary focus, but the development of ministry has and continues to be.

Here are components of Jesus’s practical ministry:

  • Attract. Jesus attracted people because He started by addressing their need, not as a trick to make His movement larger, but from His great heart of love, and His continual caring.
  • Attach. Jesus placed high priority — and gave His Church a commission to do the same — of making disciples, “learners,” of those He reached. They were equipped to minister as Jesus did, and themselves make disciples of those they reached.
  • Assimilate. Adding numbers is not to the goal of the Jesus church but assimilating those reached into the fellowship and helping them grow in the life of the congregation.
  • Advance. Jesus focused on helping people grow as disciples, and in an awareness of their spiritual gifts. As churches developed under the Apostle Paul and his companions, much importance was placed upon helping them apply the spiritual gifts to carry out Jesus’s ministry through the churches established post-Pentecost. He trained His followers to spread His incarnational work
  • Assign. Jesus instructed His initial band of men and women to “Go into all the world and make disciples…”  He gave specific assignments to His disciples to go into cities with His message and ministry.
  • Affirm. As Jesus’s followers returned with their mission reports, Jesus celebrated with then what God had done through them.

That is the style of ministry needed in the world across the ages. May the Lord raise it up in our present needy hour.

Next week: Steady balance midst turmoil

Wallace B. Henley is a former pastor, daily newspaper editor, White House and Congressional aide. He served 18 years as a teaching pastor at Houston's Second Baptist Church. Henley is author or co-author of more than 25 books, including God and Churchill, co-authored with Sir Winston Churchill's great grandson, Jonathan Sandys. Henley's latest  book is Who will rule the coming 'gods'? The looming  spiritual crisis of artificial intelligence.

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