“His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms . . .”— Paul, Ephesians 3.10HeartGroups Series
Embracing The “Mission” of New Testament Ekklesia.
Far from being a whipping boy in an effort to appease an angry God, Jesus’s death (and resurrection) was the result of a life lived in utter rebellion against the Powers. These Powers had claimed that WE belonged to Them. And Christ’s life, death, and resurrection have brought to us salvation, redemption, ransom, reconciliation, and yes, even atonement (see Leviticus 16 for how atonement fits within a “Victory against the Powers” paradigm).
I want to challenge you to take some time and read through the entire New Testament, but not in the order we find it in within most of our Bibles. I’d like you to read it in the narrative order in which it was written (or at least the most likely order by the estimation of most scholars). There are some great tools out there for doing this. One of the many that has received much acclaim recently is Frank Viola’s The Untold Story of the New Testament Church. And though I never agree entirely with any author that I read, I believe this resource will prove itself invaluable to you in simply getting your head around the narrative order of the New Testament alone.
When we take Paul’s writings within the context of when, where, and why they were written, we see a series of terms that I would love to unpack for you this week.
These terms are:
“principalities and powers”
“thrones and dominions”
“angels and archangels”
“heights and depths”
and even “law” and “knowledge”.
Paul’s words in his letter to the Ekklesia in Colossae, with these in mind, are astounding:
The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things IN HEAVEN AND ON EARTH, visible and INVISIBLE, whether THRONES OR POWERS OR RULERS OR AUTHORITIES; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (Colossians 1.15-17)
The Greek word here for “hold together” actually means “systematizes.” There is an organizational structure, or “system,” to how Christ “created” this world to function. What we begin seeing in Paul’s epistles is that although there is a reign of order among creation, and it’s an order which in its original intention was a Divine gift, most of the references to the “Powers” in the New Testament consider them as now fallen from their original intent. They are still present, still ruling, but now in a fallen state. They are no longer active as mediators of the loving, creative purpose of God; now we find them usurping an unascribed authority, gained through humanity’s rebellion, and using both their original and newly gained authority as follows:
1) We find them seeking to separate us from the love of God (see Romans 8.38).
2) We find them ruling over the lives of those who live far from the love of God (see Ephesians 2.2).
3) We find them holding us in servitude to their rules (see Colossians 2.20).
4) We find them holding us under their tutelage or instruction (see Galatians 4.3).
And although the authority of these Powers is not limitless, we still find them, in the mind of Paul, exercising their power, again, within both their original ordered function and the usurped dominion gained through humanity’s fall.
C.S Lewis referred to this reality in the following words:
“I freely admit that real Christianity . . . goes much nearer to Dualism than people think . . . The difference is that Christianity thinks this Dark Power was created by God, and was good when he was created, and went wrong. Christianity agrees with Dualism that this universe is at war. But it does not think this is a war between independent powers. It thinks it is a civil war, a rebellion, and that we are living in a part of the universe occupied by the rebel.”— C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity.
Some today refer to this cosmic conflict as a Great Controversy.
It was to deliver us and to defeat these Powers that Jesus came, lived, died, and was resurrected:
“When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own house, his possessions are safe. But when someone stronger attacks and overpowers him, he takes away the armor in which the man trusted and divides up his plunder.” (Luke 11.21, 22)
“Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil . . .” (Hebrews 2.14)
(I have written at length concerning this theme in our four-part Christus Victor series earlier this year. Please feel free to go back and reread that series if at any time you get “lost” while reading this week’s eSight.)
Notice the contrast between the Enemy’s words during the temptations and Christ’s words after the Resurrection:
“The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, ‘I will give you ALL THEIR AUTHORITY and splendor; it has been given to me [by Adam, See Genesis 3 and 1 Corinthians 15], and I can give it to anyone I want to. If you worship me, it will all be yours.’” (Luke 4.5-7)
“Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘ALL AUTHORITY IN HEAVEN AND ON EARTH HAS BEEN GIVEN TO ME. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’” (Matthew 28.19-20)
Jesus had come to gain this authority back for us, but not by bowing to these Powers as the Enemy had tempted. Jesus would gain back this authority rather by the long and slow process of living a radically subversive, other centered life, dying a cruel self sacrificial death at the hands of these Powers, and then through the final, glorious climax of a resurrection. By these methods and these methods alone, Jesus would establish His Kingdom in the place of Theirs. (A Dominion that at its core exists as a new way of doing life based on the character of God itself, i.e., the radical, other-centered, self-sacrificial love of God as revealed through the person of Jesus Christ. See Daniel 7.9,13-14 cf. John 12.31; Matthew 26.64)
Jesus’s message was:
“From that time on Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent, for THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN HAS COME near.’” (Matthew 4.17)
The message Jesus sent His disciples out with was:
“As you go, proclaim this message: ‘THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN HAS COME near.’” (Matthew 10.7)
Jesus’s last words to Pilate were:
Jesus said, “MY KINGDOM is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now MY KINGDOM is from another place.” (John 18.36)
Paul’s message till the end of his life was the same:
“He proclaimed THE KINGDOM OF GOD and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ—with all boldness and without hindrance!” (Acts 28.31)
The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus had been victorious! Paul’s letter to the Colossians again tells us of this victory:
“For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into THE KINGDOM of the Son he loves . . . ” (Colossians 1.13)
“. . . having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed THE POWERS AND AUTHORITIES, he made a public spectacle of THEM, triumphing over THEM by the cross.” (Colossians 2.14,15)
Again the words of Jesus in reference to the purpose of His own death and resurrection:
“Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the PRINCE OF THIS WORLD will be DRIVEN OUT.” (John 12.31)
And lastly the words of John:
“Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: ‘Now have come the salvation and the power and THE KINGDOM of our God, and THE AUTHORITY of his Messiah. For THE ACCUSER of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been HURLED DOWN.’” (Revelation 12.10)
But how does this relate to HeartGroups and New Testament Ekklesia?
This is the most exciting part of this week’s eSight!
“His intent was that now, THROUGH THE CHURCH [the Ekklesia], the manifold wisdom of God should be made known TO THE RULERS AND AUTHORITIES IN THE HEAVENLY REALMS . . .” (Ephesians 3.10)
WE, plural, together as the Ekklesia, in it’s original New Testament form, have been called to put on display, the accomplished reality of Christ’s defeat of the Powers on the Cross (God’s manifold wisdom; See 1 Corinthians 1.23,24). We have been called to put on display the radical beauty of God’s character of love which is at the core of this New Kingdom, to put on display the defeat of God’s (and our) enemies (see Epheisans 6.12), and that under this new Kingdom there is a new way of doing life!
But what does how we do Ekklesia have do with putting on display the Character of God and God’s Divinely accomplished defeat of the Powers? (In other words, what we are really asking is, “How does our form really relate to our function?)
Let’s start slow.
Ephesians 3 is at bare minimum, clear that we have been called to make known this “manifold wisdom of God,” (God’s accomplishment on the Cross) together, IN COMMUNITY to these Rulers and Authorities for all, both on earth and in heaven to witness.
I want to submit to you this week, something that I know is challenging to many, but if we are to be honest about taking the teachings of Jesus seriously we must take, even this into consideration. Please remain open minded. Even the form in which our gatherings take, in light of the God ordained function that we as His Body are called to, really does matter more than some realize.
Let me explain.
The Ekklesia is made up of Jesus’ followers that are announcing to The Powers that their reign has ended. Their very existence is to announces to the Stoicheia (Greek for “The Elements”, or rather The Powers: Galatians 4.3 and Colossians 2.8) that we who “used to live when [we] followed the ways of THIS WORLD and of THE RULER OF THE KINGDOM OF THE AIR” (see Ephesians 2) are now free from Them, because of Jesus, to live out our original design once again. What was that original design? Follow carefully:
Then God said, “Let US make humankind in OUR IMAGE, according to OUR LIKENESS; and let THEM have DOMINION . . .” (Genesis 1.26, NRSV, See also John 17.)
Remember from part 1 of this series:
“Within the Godhead we discover mutual love, mutual fellowship, mutual dependence, mutual honor, mutual submission, mutual dwelling, and authentic community. In the Godhead, there exists an eternal, complementary, and reciprocal interchange of divine life, divine love, and divine fellowship. There is an absence of command-style leadership. There is an absence of hierarchical structures. There is an absence of passive spectatorship. There is an absence of one-upmanship. And there is an absence of religious rituals and programs.”
When we mimic the Godheads form, when we return to the original intent of what the New Testament Ekklesia was supposed to be, we are rejecting a form that by contrast mirrors the power structures of the kingdoms (and thus the “Powers” behind them) of this world.
This is why Jesus so strictly forbid the church from, even in it’s form, looking anything like this world:
“Jesus said to them, ‘The kings of the Gentiles LORD IT OVER THEM; and those who exercise AUTHORITY OVER THEM call themselves Benefactors. [Remember we do not find this among the Godhead itself] BUT YOU ARE NOT TO BE LIKE THAT. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. (Luke 22.25-26)
“But you are NOT to be called ‘RABBI,’ for you have only one Master and you are all brothers [equal]. And do not call anyone on earth ‘FATHER,’ for you have ONE Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called ‘TEACHER,’ for you have ONE Teacher, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. (Matthew 23.8-12).
We find in these passages a stern forbiddance of hierarchal, “power over” structures within those who claim to part of Christ’s new Kingdom. Remember in Jesus kingdom, temple, sacrifice, and priest are no more. (We, as a living Ekklesia, are God’s dwelling place, how we do life, modeled after Jesus, is a living sacrifice, and we together as equals are a “priesthood” of all believers.) The Old Testament Levitical system is NOT what we are to patterned after, but rather, we are to be patterned after the original design of the Godhead itself (See Genesis 1.26) of mutual love, service, and participation. Christ came to restore us to this.
Again, we are not to have among us the hierarchal, power over, power structures we find all round us among the kingdoms of this world. We are called to put on display something radically different. We are called to the open, mutually participatory nature of the Godhead (our original Parents) Itself!
Our FORM in itself is a proclamation, a sign, a token to the Powers that their unbroken dominion, Their way of doing life, has come to an end! The Ekklesia, done properly, does not function under Their hierarchal power structures anymore (with passive spectators who passively submit, mirroring the kingdoms of this world which in turn mimick the Powers of this world.) The Ekklesia even by its form is to put on display that WE ARE UNDER NEW MANAGEMENT! We are now under the direct Headship of Christ, marked by mutual, open, every-member-functioning-participation like what we find within the Godhead and thus a demonstration of the Kingdom that is rooted in Their Love. Just the very existence of Ekklesia, when our form is in harmony with the teachings of Jesus, is an aggressive act against the Powers in a world still claimed to be ruled by those Powers. Ekklesia is an act of protest, saying we are no longer Their slaves, but freed ones, following a NEW rule, the rule of Christ. Just the mere presence of the Ekklesia is a sign to the Powers of the coming end, of Their emerging encirclement and Their imminent and final defeat.
Paul continues in his letter to the Ephesians:
“For our struggle is NOT against flesh and blood, but against THE RULERS, against THE AUTHORITIES, against THE POWERS of this dark world and against THE SPIRITUAL FORCES OF EVIL IN THE HEAVENLY REALMS.” (Ephesians 6.12)
This is a new kind of community (Kingdom/Ekklesia) conceived within the Godhead (John 17), given birth on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2), established and enlarged by the Cross (both Christ’s and ours; Luke 9.23) Genuine Ekklesia is a far cry from being “religious.” True Ekklesia is about putting on display the radical, other-centered, self-sacrificial love of God! But how we do Ekklesia is not mysteriously exempt from any of this.
Seeing that how we do “Church” is itself a protest against the “Powers” is loaded with meaning for those who are seeking to return to a more New Testament form of Ekklesia. All resistance and every attack against the “gods of this age” will be unfruitful, unless the Ekklesia, itself, IS resistance and attack. It is imperative that the Ekklesia itself demonstrates, in its own life and fellowship, how believers can live freed from the Powers. We can only “make known” the manifold wisdom of God to the Powers if our communal life together displays something radically different than how the Powers themselves demand life should be done. We do this, together, in so many ways. But NOWHERE is this more evident than by our absolute rebellion against the hierarchal power structures of this world and the “Powers” behind them. When we deliberately choose NOT to pattern our gatherings after the kingdoms of this world, but after the Godhead itself, when we choose to conduct our gatherings with an open, mutually participatory nature, under the Headship of Christ, this again put’s on display the Victory of Christ and that a NEW Kingdom has arrived!
(To be fair, I want to express again, this is not the only way we put on display Christ’s victory, but it is foundational to all else that we do. To be fair, we also do this too when we, as a community, choose to live radically self-sacrificially so that we might reach out in our larger communities to make a difference with our resources. (We put on display that we are now freed from “Mammon’s” clutches.) We do this when, in our gatherings, we no longer recognize any difference between peoples, whether by class, economic status, race, gender, or nation. (Galatians 3.19; James 2.1-4; Ephesians 2.13-16) We do this when justice, mercy and love prevail in our own gatherings and social differences (or any other differences for that matter) lose their power to divide us. Our manifestation of the manifold wisdom of God to the Powers is meaningful only insofar as it springs from an Ekklesia whose inner life is itself a proclamation and demonstration of a new way of doing life together. Through all these ways, it is as if we are screaming to the Powers, “This world is under NEW management! And we are the PROOF!”)
But let’s be careful not to go too far. Our duty is NOT to bring the Powers to their knees. Christ has already done this through His Cross! Our duty is to simply but firmly put on display Their already accomplished defeat! Our duty is to put on display, as a community, that we are no longer under Their rule! Ours is to put on display the beauty of our new King’s character of Love and His way of doing life. We are, together, to put on display what this NEW kingdom, NEW reign looks like. And, in the face of Their empty claims, which are now nothing more than a grasping at straws, to declare the reign of the Powers has come to an END!
Wherever the Cross is genuinely preached, the unmasking and disarming of the Powers takes place. And wherever genuine Ekklesia is accurately practiced through open participatory gatherings, the church demonstrates to other realms that Jesus Christ—God’s manifold wisdom (see 1 Corinthians 1.23, 24)—is alive enough to lead a fallen race who used to belong to God’s enemy.
Genuine Ekklesia is much more than simply how one does “church”. It’s about doing life, together, in such a way as to put on display the radical character of our God and the defeat of His Enemies, even to those very Powers themselves, for all both in Heaven and on Earth to see.
Lastly, this cannot be done by individualistic, personal, solo efforts, but rather by communities that mirror the relationship the Triune God, Itself, of mutual love, acting as one. (See John 17.20, 21.) Too many of us are still living as if we are just passing through. We are living as if our goal is to accept Jesus as our “personal” Savior (i.e., “get saved”) before we die, so we, individually, can “go to heaven.” This is a far cry from the New Testament’s paradigm. “Heaven” is not our home. THIS EARTH is our home! ITS DOMINION has been given back to us through Christ’s life, death, and resurrection! I’m sorry to have to say, we aren’t going anywhere. In the age to come, God is NOT taking us “home” to be with HIM! No, no. God is coming HERE to make His home WITH US via Return and Resurrection! (See Revelation 21 and 22 and 1 Corinthians 15.)
What does all of this mean? It means simply this:
1)The Cross declares that Jesus is already the Savior of the World! God’s Enemies have been defeated!
2)We, as the Ekklesia, have been called to embrace Him now as Lord, and to live out the radical beauty of His NEW Kingdom in community with one another, and by thus putting His Character and Kingdom on display, to declare God’s enemies are defeated, a new Kingdom has arrived, and we are to enlarge the borders of this New Kingdom, His Kingdom, one humble, loving relationship at a time.
This is EXACTLY what Jesus taught in the parable of “the mustard seed.” The Gardener planted it in HIS garden till it grew, subversively underground, sometimes even unnoticeably, and un-measurably, until it took over “the whole garden.”
“Then Jesus asked, ‘What is THE KINGDOM of God like? What shall I compare IT to? It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his garden. It grew and became a tree, and the birds perched in its branches.’” (Luke 13.18,19)
“He told them another parable: ‘THE KINGDOM of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it GROWS, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.’” (Matthew 13.31, 32)
Remember, we have not been called to conquer the world for Jesus, but to simply love the world (and one another) like Jesus, via Ekklesia!
So in light of God’s Victory on the Cross against the Powers, and His Glorious purpose for His Ekklesia, His Bride, in putting that Victory on display, go forth this week, and as community, live like Christ, think like Christ, serve like Christ, and love like Christ and thereby, go enlarge the Kingdom.
I love you guys.
We’ll see you next week.
For information about our new Renewed Heart Ministries’ HeartGroups please look us up on the web at: