Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another . . . – Paul, Colossians 3.16The HeartGroups Series
The Sufficiency of Christ
This week, I want to move even closer to communicating the New Testament basis for Renewed Heart Ministries’ new HeartGroups, especially in the context of the Sufficiency of Christ. Again, we are basing the nature of HeartGroups on the nature of the New Testament Ekklesia (which was really just an extension of the relational nature of the Godhead itself. See Part 1).
To the early church gatherings, Christ was EVERYTHING!
Christ was their FOCUS.
Christ was their HEAD.
Christ was their PURPOSE.
What does each of these mean? Let’s take a closer look.
Christ as Focus
These small groups (early New Testament churches, the “ekklesia”) were rooted and grounded in the story of Jesus (the Gospel). They were not focused on a person with a charismatic personality, nor were they elitist, gathered around some nifty doctrine. Jesus, His story, His resurrection, and His Kingdom became EVERYTHING to these gatherers. Jesus was the central focus of each of their gatherings. Even when they studied together, the subject they studied was the story of Jesus. Why?
It’s simple. First, Jesus was their doctrine. Anyone who sought to share with these gatherers a “new” doctrine faced the test of the story of Jesus. In Paul’s letter, notice his definition of a sound doctrine. A sound doctrine is one that conformed to the story of Jesus as they heard it from him.
“…the sound doctrine that conforms to the gospel [i.e. the story of Jesus].” – 1 Timothy 1.10,11
Second, Jesus was their NEW moral standard. For the Jews, their standard of morality was no longer the law of Moses but the teachings of Jesus as revealed within the Jesus story (i.e., the Gospel). The Gentiles were also called to leave their immorality and idolatry to follow the teachings of Jesus. However, JESUS was their new definition of morality, not their culture (Gentiles) or the Law of Moses (Jews); Jesus Himself was the new standard by which they sought to understand how they were to live their lives. (Reread Galatians, James, and Hebrews. Yes, the entire letter, each of them. When you read these letters in one sitting, the point of each letter becomes overwhelming. Jesus was the new standard of morality.)
The Story of Jesus (the gospel) was everything to the early church!
Christ as Head
As we covered last week (see Part 2), nowhere in the New Testament does Paul or any other author state that any other person is to be the Head of their gatherings. Their only Head was to be Jesus Himself. Therefore, these early gatherings were not glorified Bible Studies in which the same person led out each week. Nor were they simply, “Honey I shrunk the church,” as we know that term today, where we gather simply to hear a sermon. No no! These early gatherings were marked by the open, mutually participatory, every member sharing, functioning, and expressing whatever gift Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, had given to edify the group as a whole. (Please see last week’s eSight for more on this topic.)
Paul makes this clear:
Instead, speaking the truth [to one another] in love, we will in all things grow up into Him who is the HEAD, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and HELD TOGETHER BY EVERY SUPPORTING LIGAMENT, grows and builds itself up in love, AS EACH PART DOES ITS WORK. Ephesians 4.15,16
Some will ask, “But didn’t the early church have leadership?” Of course! However, notice its style of leadership. The overseers (the older, more experienced individuals in each group, i.e., the elders) were simply to serve the group (for Jesus’s command of servant leadership, see Luke 22.25,26) by making sure the Headship of Christ was not hijacked by any one person, a group of persons, or even themselves during their gatherings.
Christ Himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors, and the teachers, to EQUIP HIS PEOPLE FOR THE WORK OF MINISTRY so that the body of Christ may be built up … Ephesians 4.11,12
These early gatherings were marked by a group of people coming together (assembling, the ekklesia) in an authentic community in an open, mutually participatory manner, an every member functioning, priest (or priestess) hood of all believers’ style, (Jesus had done away with Temple, Sacrifice, and Priest) coming under the Headship of Christ and letting HIM lead each of their gatherings. (Note that Paul never writes to individual believers about what they need to do to grow in Christ. On the contrary, Paul always writes to the assembly, the ekklesia, encouraging the body in regards to what the body needs so that each “member” might grow up into Christ, who is their Head. More on this in upcoming weeks. Maybe.) No hierarchical leadership existed in these gatherings save for the Headship of Christ Himself.
Christ as Purpose
Today, we are a conglomeration of church hoppers and church shoppers. We are a community that has been culturally conditioned by the paradigm of our functioning, first and foremost, out of our consumer-driven needs. Although this may or may not be acceptable in other forms of our life (that debate is still raging), a consumer needs-based drive is never acceptable as a motive for ekklesia. We are not gathered together to meet our own needs or desires but the eternal purpose and strong desire of Christ Himself (see John 17, as well as Part 1 again).
Again, this means that, first, these gatherings are not times for glorified sermonizing or bible studies during which only one person’s agenda each week is being pursued and the rest of the group simply spectates for the entire time. Again, the gatherings of the early church were not marked by the same person sharing each week while the rest just listened and then went home. Not at all! These gatherings were marked by each person taking turns listening and sharing, within the same gathering, as they together came under the direction and Headship of Christ. (They actually allowed HIM to direct their gathering.)
What happens when someone in the group has a truth or a doctrine, or something lengthy, that they feel is important and would like to share with the group?
Such a situation may be handled in many ways. For me to simply tell you what to do would be so easy right now. However, I’d like to suggest, instead, that first and foremost, at this moment the group needs to stop and pray together. Submit the idea to the Headship of Christ and ask how He wants your group to handle this. (Recently, I saw a group handle their dilemma with “child care” during their gatherings this way and the solution that God gave that group was beautiful!)
All that said, one possible solution could be (again, this is just one possible way, submit it together and see what your HEAD, Jesus Christ says to the group) as follows:
If someone in your group has a pet doctrine or a theological hobbyhorse that he or she continues to peddle in your meetings, and that detracts everyone else from Christ, you can try this. Set aside a special meeting (one event) during the week at which this person presents his or her doctrine to the group without interruption. Make an agreement with this person ahead of time. After this person has shared his or her heart, the group will react. If the person has convinced everyone about his or her doctrine, then he or she must agree to no longer bring it up during your meetings. Everyone is convinced, so there is no need. If the person does not convince everyone, then he or she must agree to stop talking about it altogether. Remember, your meetings are centered on the story of Jesus; in other words, the Gospel and Christ IS sufficient. These gathering are not to be used as a platform to expound your favorite doctrine. Therefore, leave any other specialized doctrine that does not conform to the Story of Jesus (i.e., the Gospel) at the door and do not monopolize your gatherings with them.
Again, these gatherings in the New Testament were neither bless-me clubs (where people came to have their own needs met) nor were they elitist by nature. Nothing even close. These groups were assembling to fulfill, together, the strong desire and longing of Christ Himself that reaches back all the way to the beginning.
Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness …” (Genesis 1.26)
“I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (John 17.20,21)
As we have covered in previous weeks, this is God’s strong, original, and eternal desire. It was lost through humanities’ belief in lies about the Father. Jesus came to restore to us this life of Love. THIS is the eternal longing within God; for us to experience His radical, other-centered, self-sacrificial love in a community that lives and breathes the very ebb and flow of the love found within the Godhead. Just as this was lost through lies about the Father, Jesus would restore to us this experience by revealing to us the truth about God’s character of Love (see John 17.25,26 and John 8.32).
Again, God’s strong desire is that we will, together, as ekklesia, enter into the pleasure of His eternal ebb and flow of self-sacrificial, other centered, radical Love, the very love of the Triune God. This He longs for us to experience with Him and with each other. This is HIS Desire. His eternal purpose! And thus the PURPOSE of our gatherings.
When we come together, we are to hold Christ’s desire for ourselves to enter into the Godhead’s love (see John 17) as paramount above all other possible agendas. Through our expressed love for Christ and our expressed love for one another, we are gathering to give to Christ Himself the fulfillment of His eternal desire. Our aim is that HE will feel overjoyed as we too become simultaneously the conduits for and the recipients of Their other centered love. In our gatherings, we are there to testify OF HIM. We are there to, together, give praise TO HIM. We are there to, through mutual prayer, engage the enemy on behalf of those whom we know, and who have inestimable value TO HIM. (And to help and bless those very same ones as we have means and opportunity.) We are there to “teach” and even “instruct” one another (Ephesians 2; Romans 15), sharing with each other HIM as He has, and continues to, share Himself with each of us.
We are assembled to practice the “one anothers” of the New Testament in an authentic community, not to meet our own needs or our own desires, but through entering into the very “one another” love of God, the “one anothers” of the New Testament, again, that God Himself might feel over-loved and overjoyed, as He sees His strong desire for us experienced, encountered, and fulfilled in our ekklesia! Christ is not simply our focus, He is not simply our head, but He and His desire actually is the very PURPOSE for which we have gathered.
We become the ekklesia, the assembly, the dwelling place [house] of God, His LIVING sanctuary, His LIVING temple, His body, the living manifestation of God’s dwelling among us for all to see. (As a side note, the evangelistic power of these kinds of gatherings is astounding! But that is an entirely different topic. See 1 Corinthians 14.24,25)
Does a gathering of this nature by a group of mutual Jesus followers in someone’s living room resonate with you this week? It does with me! If you would like to hook up with a HeartGroup in your area, or if you are interested in hosting a gathering like this in your own living room, drop us a line here at Renewed Heart Ministries. (304.520.0030 ext. 100 or firstname.lastname@example.org)
As always, keep living in love, loving like Christ, and together let’s enlarge the Kingdom.
I love you guys.
We’ll see you next week.