HeartGroups Series; Part 3 of 5

Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another . . . – Paul, Colossians 3.16The HeartGroups Series

Part 3

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 heartgroups@renewedheartministries.com)

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.

Herb

HeartGroups Series; Part 2 of 5

“What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up” (Paul, 1 Corinthians 14.26, emphasis added).

HeartGroups Series

Part 2

Mutual, Open Sharing in Living Rooms versus Passive Spectatorship in Auditoriums

This week, I want to build upon what we looked at last week: the relationship that exists among the Godhead (as taught by Jesus) is the clearest example we have been given of the God-intended nature of our gatherings.

From the very beginning, I want to say that this in no way a critique of any church fellowship, tradition, denomination, or institutional church. HeartGroups (as introduced by our Ministry Update news email last week) are not in competition with, nor meant to be a replacement for, whatever institutional religious experience someone may (or may not) already be engaged in. HeartGroups are only intended to be supplementary. HeartGroups are modeled after the early New Testament-era church gatherings. Yet, this should not be taken to mean that God cannot or is not working through other modes of gathering together as well. At Renewed Heart Ministries, we have modeled our HeartGroups after the early church, simply because 1) we have the clearest instruction for this type of gathering from the text of the New Testament, and 2) we have seen it to be the most holistic way for followers of Jesus to experience real and mutual growth, within the context of genuine fellowship and an authentic community.

But enough about all of that! Let’s dive right in to our topic this week by looking briefly at a few texts.

1 Corinthians 14.26: What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up. (Some have suggested that this was the problem with the Corinthian church, but a quick survey of the entire New Testament disproves this. This was how all churches in the New Testament operated. Paul, in his letter, does not seek to squelch the open, mutually participatory nature of the Corinthian gatherings that turned the majority of those gathered into spectators. On the contrary, Paul gives guidelines on how to exercise mutual respect, so that the mutual, openly participatory gatherings will be done orderly and respectfully.)

Romans 15.14: I myself am convinced, my brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with knowledge and competent to instruct one another.

Colossians 3.16: Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.

Hebrews 10.24, 25: And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Matthew 20:25, 26: Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.”

Matthew 23.8, 9: “But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven.” (This is not a gender exclusive statement. The early church included sisters too, some of whom were Apostles themselves; but at this stage, Jesus is talking, literally, to twelve “men.”)

Ephesians 4.15, 16: Instead, speaking the truth 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.

Meditate on these passages, if you will. This week, I want you to notice that, in each of the above passages, the nature of the early New Testament church is clearly described. They were open, mutually participatory gatherings where each person was free to share. They were not marked by command-style leadership. There were no hierarchical structures; no passive spectatorship; no one-upmanship; and no religious rituals and programs. Rather, just as we witnessed among the Godhead last week, these groups were marked by complementary and reciprocal interchanges, love, and fellowship.

These early New Testament gatherings were marked by mutual love, mutual fellowship, mutual dependence, mutual honor, mutual submission, mutual dwelling, and authentic community.

This actually explains that the role of a New Testament Apostle is so unique from anything we have today. (Apostles were church planters, but in a very unique fashion; see Ephesians 4.12, 13). After the Gospel had been preached and there were those who had genuine encounters with God through the person of Jesus, the Apostle would stay in the area for a temporary time, with one goal in mind: Establish and develop a group with an open, mutually participatory nature, and once it’s off and running, leave it! These fellowships were not to be led by the Apostle. No, no! They were to function with mutual participation, with Christ as their head (Ephesians 2.14, 15).

With the help and encouraging of the Apostle, those within the group who had a natural tendency to take over would have to learn, over time, to listen more to others in the group and to submit more to the headship of Christ Himself in each gathering (Ephesians 4.15, 16). Those who were not comfortable sharing needed time, encouragement, and support from the group, as they became more comfortable, and over time, confident, in sharing and edifying the group with the ways in which Jesus was leading them as well. From a human view point, the work of the Apostle was about teaching those who like to share to also listen more, and for those who are not comfortable sharing to become more comfortable. From a Divine viewpoint, it was about teaching a group to, together, submit to the Headship of Jesus Himself; it was not just having a gathering about Jesus, but actually allowing Him to sit in the driver’s seat and serve as the leader of each gathering (Again, see Ephesians 4.15-16).

The early church was marked by the very traits that we find in the triune God, particularly mutual love, mutual fellowship, mutual dependence, mutual honor, mutual submission, mutual dwelling, and an authentic community. The church’s gatherings were marked by:

•face-to-face community

•the functioning of every member

•open-participation meetings (as opposed to preacher-to-spectator services)

•non-hierarchical leadership

•the centrality and supremacy of Jesus Christ, not just as the central subject, but the functional leader and head of each gathering as well.

It’s such a paradigm shift to discover that almost all of Paul’s letters (Ephesians is the only exception) were written to open participatory “churches” that were in crises. He never addresses the “clergy” or “leadership offices” of those churches but always the churches themselves:

Galatians 1.1: Paul, an apostle . . . to the churches in Galatia.

1 Thessalonians 1.1: Paul, Silas and Timothy, to the church of the Thessalonians.

2 Thessalonians 1.1: Paul, Silas and Timothy, to the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

1 Corinthians 1.1,2: Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes, to the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours.

2 Corinthians 1.1: Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, to the church of God in Corinth, together with all his holy people throughout Achaia.

Romans 1.1-7: Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God . . . to all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be his holy people.

Colossians 1.1, 2: Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, to God’s holy people in Colossae, the faithful brothers and sisters in Christ.

Ephesians 1.1: Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to God’s holy people in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 1.1: Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, to all God’s holy people in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons. (This is the only letter that includes “overseers” (plural) in whom the letter is addressed to, and even this occurrence mentions them only in passing. Following this greeting, Paul talks to the church about its present problems. And he never again mentions the overseers. This trend is highlighted in the book of Hebrews. Throuought the entire epistle, the writer addresses the entire church. Only at the very end does the writer offhandedly ask the believers to greet their “overseers.” Hebrews 13.24 We’ll talk about “leadership” in just a moment.)

Why? Because there were no “clergy” as we know it today in these small gatherings. Why? Because there were no laity in Paul’s headspace, but rather a priesthood (today, it would be called “pastorhood”) of all believers.

Today, we are at the tail end of centuries of teaching the members of God’s church to simply function as weekly “spectators.” This is so deeply ingrained and has been done to such a degree that many don’t even have the confidence to embrace a gathering where they could take a more active, participatory role in exercising their own spiritual gifts. Many don’t even know what their gifts are (Some, on the other hand, are dying for this kind of mutual fellowship). But the mere fact that we have to resort to “tests” to discover our spiritual gifts, rather than letting them become obvious to everyone in an open, mutually participatory gathering, is proof within itself of how far off the path we have strayed.

Let’s take a look at another revealing passage that tells us how these gatherings were conducted:

Acts 2.42-47: They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship; to the breaking of bread and to prayer…They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God…

In light of this passage, one possible “HeartGroup” format (and I want to stress, ONE! Each HeartGroup will be a mixture of folks with different spiritual gifts; no two HeartGroups will ever look the same, just like the early church), is as follows:

Meet ahead of time for prayer. Mutually open, participatory gatherings require more prayer, not less. Then, as more people begin to show up, take time to actually eat together. Each person should bring a dish. This breaks the ice and gets things started. It’s what Acts 2.42 refers to as the “Breaking of Bread” together. Then, once everyone has eaten, you could move into a mutual sharing or praise time. Although this will be done in a way that respects each person (no one interrupting another), this is a time of spontaneity and open sharing, whether through song, something Jesus has shown you in his word that week, an experience where Jesus has taught you something that week, or periods of mutually participatory prayer. A unique but fun example would be if someone wrote a song about Jesus this week and wanted to share it with the group. This could easily become a sing-along. Or, if someone had some cool insight into one of the Gospels, then the group could openly discuss it, or even some life experience that Jesus was speaking to them through. Most of all, we want God’s direction to be first and foremost and for ours to always be held as secondary. Each person is open to share or even stop and pray. This is when we practice the 52 “One Anothers” of the New Testament.

One exercise I am extremely fond of that binds a group together is what I call “Encouragement and Affirmation Time.” This is a time where each person is, in turn, affirmed and encouraged by the group. This is the unique time when we get to, in a very unique and purposeful way, express our love for one another, encourage one another, and build each other up (1 Thessalonians 5.11).

Again, many of us don’t even know what our gifts are. For many of us, it’s going to take time for us to even work up the courage to share. Let’s face it; we have spent our lives, most of us, in training to be nothing more than weekly spectators. But, as each week passes, we will get closer to the mutually participatory nature that the gatherings of Jesus’ followers were originally intended to possess. Be patient with yourselves. This will not happen overnight. It’s a journey, not a destination. Enjoy it!

Over time, leadership will evolve in your group. (This is not a leadersless model.) But even when leadership evolve, this leadership is NOT hierarchal. It’s not top-down. It’s not one person leading out and everyone else “spectating”. New Testament “leadership” was “servant” leadership. The role of a leader/overseer was to protect the group’s mutual open sharing from being taken over by one or a few. The role of an “elder” or “overseer” in a group was not how they are defined in many churches today. Rather, overseers were to serve the group by protecting the mutual, open sharing of each gathering. (This was the role of the New Testament Elders. This was not an office in the early church, but a function of the older more experienced (i.e. “elders”) followers of Jesus in the group. This is our hope for HeartGroups as well. When leadership arises, and it always will, that those leaders realize they are simply overseers, theirs is a “role”. They do not hold an “office” but serve a “function.”)

Let’s finish up this week with a look at just three more texts:

Romans 16.5: Greet also the church that meets at their house.

1 Corinthians 16.19: The churches in the province of Asia send you greetings. Aquila and Priscilla greet you warmly in the Lord, and so does the church that meets at their house.

Colossians 4.15: Give my greetings to the brothers and sisters at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house.

Without entering into the endless debate about the necessity of “church” buildings, the fact the early church met in the homes of followers of Jesus is a point that must not be overlooked (For the first three hundred years of Christian history, followers of Jesus met exclusively in “homes.” The first “church” buildings did not appear until the fourth century after the “conversion” of Constantine. This, too, was a time when the church was growing exponentially). Why is this noteworthy? A HeartGroup can meet anywhere, but I personally know of no other environment that is more conducive to open, mutually participatory gatherings than a living room. It’s informal. It’s designed around relationships. And, it’s where the early church met too! There is no other setting that encourages, in my experience, a gathering of this nature to simply just “happen” as effectively.

This week, I also want to add that this type of gathering not only requires that one’s picture of God looks like Jesus, but also, like no other gathering to my knowledge, the fostering of fellowships and gatherings that, by their very nature, demonstrate most effectively the radical, other-centered, self-sacrificial love of God, as revealed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Remember, we demonstrate the truth about God, not just by our beliefs, but how we “do life” too! When it comes to how we do life “together,” this is no exception.

If you would like to try a HeartGroup on for size, or if you are already gathering in early New Testament style, please drop us a line (heartgroups@renewedhearministries.com). We’d love to spend some time either encouraging you, helping you start a HeartGroup in your area, and/or just listening to how God is blessing your already existing group. Remember, just like the children of every parent, (See last week where we discussed how the early churches were simply the “children of the Godhead.”) each HeartGroup is going to be just as unique from one another as two children can be who are from the same set of parents. But no matter how unique those children are, they will carry within them the same DNA. What is the common thread, DNA for a HeartGroup, that we also find in each of the early churches? The “One Anothers” of the New Testament. The every-member-lovingly-sharing, mutually open participatory (verses passive spectatorship) nature of the Godhead itself! No two HeartGroups will look the same. But what all HeartGroups should have in common, is what we have covered in this eSight at the very minimum. These are not glorified Bible Studies (although each person is sharing from their Bibles) where the same person leads out each week. Nor are these just “church” on a smaller scale. (Think of it like a church “Potluck” where everyone brings a “dish.” This is just Christ centered, praise and fellowship, Potluck style, where everyone has prepared and brought something (Not a whole meal (i.e a Sermon), but just a dish remember, of what Jesus has been teaching you that previous week) to share and edify the group with. Again, this is a gathering where Christ Himself is the head, and any human leadership that is present is simply ensuring that that Headship is not taken over by anyone else.

“But speaking the truth [to one another] in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.” Ephesians 4.15-16

It’s a new paradigm for some to think about, for sure. But, you don’t have to think too hard. Try starting a HeartGroup in your area and see where Jesus leads it. You don’t have to be in charge; He’ll take care of that. You simply provide the location. The group itself, through the leadership of Jesus Himself, provides the food, the fellowship, and the mutual teaching, instruction, encouragement, and edification.

As always, keep living in love, loving like Christ, and keep enlarging the Kingdom, one relationship at a time.

I love you guys,

I’ll see you next week.

HeartGroups Series; Part 1 of 5

I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours . . . I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one . . . As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world . . . My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you 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. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me . . . Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them. — Jesus (John 17.9-26)

The Gospel, the Church, and the Nature of the Godhead.

This week, we are beginning a series on what I consider, when properly conceived and practiced, to be the most powerful proclamation to the world of God’s character of Love as revealed through the person of Jesus Christ that we have been given. But, just as our understanding of “God” is turned on its head when we encounter the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, so does our understanding of this. What am I referring to?

I’m talking about the Church. BUT I want to be quick to add that just as so many have misconceptions of the character of God, we have just as many misconceptions of the character of the Church. For now, let it suffice to say, that when I use the term “Church,” I am most likely referring to something completely different than what many think of when they hear the word church.

Let’s begin here:

The Church was conceived within the Godhead and given birth on the day of Pentecost.

I want you to take a moment and meditate on that sentence.

When I use the term “church,” I am not speaking of a particular denomination, nor an institution, nor an organization. The church is not an organization; it’s an organism. It is referred to in the New Testament as the body of Christ, with Christ as its Head. (We’ll speak more about this in a moment.)

I also strongly recommend, as a foundation for what we will be covering in this series, the material in chapter 3 “Eternal Longings” in my book Finding the Father.

You also may wish to listen to Discovering Your Purpose (or Finding Your Purpose, depending on which version of the series you are listening to) from the newly updated Life Unlimited series that we have online. You could also listen to the presentation “Repenting of Religion” from The Jesus Dialogue series that is online as well.

Although the Church is never explicitely defined in the New Testament, many images are used to try and depict Jesus’ vision for the church, including:

A Body

A Bride

A Family

The New Man

A Vineyard

A Field

An Army

A City

All of these reveal, again, that the Church was never intended to be a dry, hierarchical, corporate organization, but rather a living, breathing, organism!

Some have objected to this idea by saying that not all images of the church in the New Testimant are organic (with this term, I am simply referring to the church as a living organism). There is one image that is not a living breathing organism, and that image is the church as the Temple. But I would like to quickly point out that even that image (and that image is the only possible exception), even that image is not really an exception at all. Please note how the image of the Church as a Temple was understood:

Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 2:4, 5

Yes, the image of a temple is used. But it, too, is a living temple, made up of living stones.

Why is this idea so important?

All life forms carry a certain resemblance to their “parents” with them. (Science refers to this as DNA, but for the sake of simplicity and a sincere desire to show that this is truly rooted in the teachings of Jesus Himself, we will not be using this modern term.) When it comes to the living, breathing organism of the church, there is no exception to this principle of “resemblance” to “parentage.”

Notice the following statements made by Jesus.

Matthew 10.25—It is enough for students to be like their teacher, and servants like their master.

Luke 6.40—Students are not above their teacher, but all who are fully trained will be like their teacher.

John 15.18-20—If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘Servants are not greater than their master.’

These statements of Jesus find no greater application than Jesus’s words in John 17 above. Again, the church was conceived within the Godhead itself. And we are to resemble it. Follow closely.

A person’s heritage largely determines his or her “traits.” A person’s parentage does not necessarily determine who that person will be, but it does determine what obstacles or advantages he or she inherits on the journey to becoming whoever he or she chooses to be. When this idea is applied to the “church,” the whole concept of the “church” is revolutionized. This week, I want to begin this series by actually taking a look at the nature of the Godhead itself and seeing what it whispers to us of what the nature of the Church itself was originally intended to be.

The followers of Jesus uniquely proclaim a triune God.

Matthew 28.18, 19— 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 . . .”

Paul also ended his second letter to the Corinthian church with these words:

2Corinthians 13.14— May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

God’s triune nature means that God is social or relational—some have said that God is the “social Trinity.” For this reason, we can say that God is “community.” God is the community of the Father, Son, and Spirit, who enjoy perfect and eternal fellowship.

For years, I have given teachings on the doctrine of the Godhead. But I never found any practical application of these teachings to my life. I found even my own studies on the Godhead highly abstract and impractical. Later, I discovered that understanding the activity within the triune God was the key to grasping everything, from start to finish, in terms of what it means to follow Jesus and to be a part of His Kingdom—including the church.

Let me share with you, in addition to the chapter I referrenced in my own book, the following statements that others have made:

“The Trinity is the most comprehensive and integrative framework that we have for understanding and participating in the Christian life.”—Eugene Peterson

“The doctrine of the Trinity is ultimately a practical doctrine with radical consequences for the Christian life.”—Catherine LaCunga

“The triune God stands at the beginning and at the end of the Christian pilgrimage and, therefore, at the center of Christian faith.”—Miroslav Volf

Jesus’ teaching of the Godhead is not an exposition of the abstract design of God. Instead, it teaches us about God’s nature and how we too are to operates in a community that is endeavoring to follow Jesus. The Godhead should not be relegated to the position of some abstract doctrine that we simply attach to a dry statement of beliefs or as an endnote to the gospel. Rather, it should shape our communal lives as we seek to follow Jesus together. We are to do life “together” in the same way that They do life together. Jesus’ teaching on the Godhead is most likely the single greatest model that we have to inform us of His idea regarding the practices of His “church” that we have been given.

Let us begin by pondering these two statements made by Jesus alone:

“Father … you loved me before the creation of the world” (John 17:24).

“The world must learn that I love the Father” (John 14:31)

From these alone, we learn that a mutual love was flowing within the Godhead, even before the foundation of the world.

In the opening chapters of the Genesis narrative, we discover that there is also fellowship within the Godhead:

“Let us make man in our image, in our likeness” (Gen. 1:26. Here we see the triune God taking counsel and planning.)

Of all of the Gospel proclaimers, John teaches us the most about the nature of the community of the Godhead.

The Son lives by the life of the Father (5:26; 6:57).

The Son shares and expresses the glory of the Father (13:31–32; 17:4–5).

The Son lives within the Father and the Father lives within the Son (1:18; 14:10).

The Son lives in complete dependence upon the Father (5:19).

The Son reflects the Father in His words and deeds (12:49; 14:9).

The Father glorifies the Son (1:14; 8:50, 54; 12:23; 16:14; 17:1, 5, 22, 24).

The Son exalts the Father (7:18; 14:13; 17:1, 4; 20:17)

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. Amazingly, through Jesus, this same relationship has been restored, passed on from the Divine into the human once again. This communal mutuality has moved from the Father to the Son, from the Son to THE CHURCH! (John 6:57; 15:9; 20:21). It has moved from the eternal Godhead in the heavens to THE CHURCH here on earth. For the Church is simply the body of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. The church is to be an extension of the triune God themselves. The Church was conceived in Christ before time (Eph. 1:4–5) and was born on the day of the Pentecost (Acts 2:1.). Properly understood, the Church is a gathered community that shares God’s life and expresses it on the earth. Put another way, the church is the earthly image of the Godhead, the character of God, put on display for all others to see. (Eph. 1:22–23; 3:10). It is to be the natural expression of what God is, not just in its beliefs, but in its practices as well.

What does all of this mean?

It means that when a group of Jesus’s followers actually submits to its spiritual “parentage,” its spiritual “genes,” so to speak, the members of the group will gather in a way that matches the mutual life of the Godhead itself—for they possess the same life that exists among and is possessed by the Godhead. (While we as followers of Jesus, collectively, are by no means divine, we have been called to be “partakers of the divine nature”—2 Peter 1:4 NASB.)

Consequently, the church is to be marked by the very traits that we find in the Godhead, particularly mutual love, mutual fellowship, mutual dependence, mutual honor, mutual submission, mutual dwelling, and authentic community.

“The ultimate basis for our understanding of the church lies in its relationship to the nature of the triune God Himself.” —Stanley Grenz

“[The] model on which ecclesiology should be formulated. On this premise, the inner life of the divine Trinity provides a pattern, a model, an echo, or an icon of Christian communal existence in the world.” —Kevin Giles

“The Godhead is the paradigm for the church’s native expression.” —Frank Viola

“The oneness of God is not the oneness of a distinct, self-contained individual; it is the unity of a community of persons who love each other and live together in harmony.… They are what they are only in relationship with one another…. There is no solitary person separated from the others; no above and below; no first, second, third in importance; no ruling and controlling and being ruled and controlled; no position of privilege to be maintained over against others; no question of conflict concerning who is in charge; no need to assert independence and authority of one at the expense of the others. Now there is only fellowship and communion of equals who share all that they are and have in their communion with each other, each living with and for the others in mutual openness, self-giving love, and support; each free not from but for the others. That is how Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are related in the inner circle of the Godhead.” —Shirley Guthrie

Look again at the triune God. And notice what is absent. 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. Command-style relationships, hierarchy, passive spectatorship, one-upmanship, religious programs, and the like were created by fallen humans. And they run contrary to the LIFE of the triune God as well as LIFE of the Church. Sadly, however, after the death of the apostles, these practices were adopted, baptized, and brought into the Christian family. Today, they have become the central features of an “institutional” church.

Pay close attention to the “mutual” nature of the Church in the New Testament. (We’ll be unpacking more about this in upcoming parts.)

1Corinthians 14.26— What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up.

Romans 15.14— I myself am convinced, my brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with knowledge and competent to instruct one another.

Colossians 3.16— Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.

Ephesians 4.16— 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.

Hebrews 10.24,25— And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Matthew 20.25-26— Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.”

Matthew 23.8-9— But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven.

The open, mutually participatory nature of the New Testament Church, again, was conceived in the Godhead itself and given birth on the day of Pentecost. In the early church there were no Clergy. There were no Laity. There WERE gifts. And each of those gifts were exercised by each person present. What we see in the early church is a priesthood (or pastorhood) of all believers, mutually living the 52 one anothers of the New Testament together in community, just like the Godhead. (We’ll be exploring this more in the upcoming weeks, but for now, go back and reread the beginning passage from John 17 again with these glasses on.)

Does this resonate with you? It does with me, too! This week, we will be sending out a news email (make sure that you are signed up not just for our eSights, but for our Ministry Updates as well) announcing an exciting new opportunity for Renewed Heart Ministries that we are thrilled to offer all of you. Keep your eyes open. We will be announcing this new opportunity in just a few days.

Wherever this finds you this week, keep living in love, loving like Christ. And keep enlarging the Kingdom.

I love you guys,

Herb

 

The Active Nonviolence of Jesus: Taking Up The Cross (12 of 12)

PART 12 OF 12

Taking Up The Cross

BY HERB MONTGOMERY

Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for you to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit your very self? If any of you are ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of you when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God” (i.e. the Cross). (Luke 9.23-27)

This is it! This is the last installment of our 11 part series on the Active Non-violence of Jesus. I’m quite sure there is so much more that could be said, but I’m quite confident that for now, at bare minimum, enough has been said. Over the course of this series, I have watched many come on board to partner with RHM in the Picture of the Father we are endeavoring to proclaim and demonstrate to the world. (Sadly, I’ve seen a few walk away too.) We’ve had such positive feedback from so many of you.

This week, let’s begin by taking a moment to define some terms, as we wrap things up. So many of you have shared the wonderful paradigm shift you have encountered by seeing your “enemies” as someone Christ died for too. Some of you have embraced Jesus’ teachings on “non-violence” through this series for the very first time. Non-violence, at ground level, means non-LETHAL force. Please don’t think for a moment that, through this series, we have defined non-violence as also including other forms of “force” that preserve the value, worth, and life of the assailant. This is why I have gone to great lengths to define Christian pacifism as still doing SOMETHING (it’s NOT passive!). But we must also allow the fact that Jesus died for all parties involved to govern HOW I stop whatever violence I encounter. Do I respond to violence with more violence, or do I, as a Christ follower, endeavor to overcome evil with good (See Romans 12). My goal, again as a Christ follower, is twofold—not just to stop the violence, but to do so in a way that leaves open the redemption of the one who is committing the violence as well.

Now, that doesn’t absolutely leave us in the clear yet. What types of non-lethal force are appropriate for a Jesus follower? As you read authors on this topic, you will find a whole gamut of opinions out there on what sincere Christian pacifists believe is acceptable. I’m going to be very transparent with you—I’m not saying that I’m right, I’m simply saying that I’m in the process of finding out what forms of non-lethal violence are acceptable and what are not. I’m convinced that the answers are still out there. These are the very questions that we need to be asking as followers of Jesus.

What forms of “non-lethal” force are acceptable to a Christ follower and what forms are not? To say we believe in non-violence is only saying that we don’t believe LETHAL force is acceptable for a Christ follower. But what forms of NON-LETHAL force are acceptable? And this is where we can agree, disagree, discuss, argue, and go back and forth. (While I personally have no problem with a Taser, in certain situations, I do have significant issues with a gun. More times than not, guns lead to lethal force, even when not intended.) I have no problem with restraint or Aikido, but (and this is just me personally) I do have a problem with physically striking someone, and I would be quick to say that you and I are perfectly fine to disagree on what forms of non-lethal force we deem to be appropriate.

Yet, even if we disagree on some of the finer details, please be careful to note where our disagreement actually lies. It’s on what TYPES of NON-LETHAL force is acceptable for a Christ Follower! I’m ecstatic that we have even gotten to the place where THIS is the question that we are wrestling with! This is exactly why I did this series. Until we, as Christ followers, reject LETHAL force, we don’t even move to ask the questions of which forms of non-lethal force are acceptable or not. If “Christians” would truly embrace just this (stop killing each other), there would have to be deep repentance to the world for YEARS of “killing others” in Jesus’ name. Untold damage has been done to the world’s picture of God (producing atheism, agnosticism, etc.) much more through Christianity’s ethics than through its theology (although I do believe one produces the other and vice versa). But, this is the point of the series.

Christ’s teachings in Matthew 5 (see part 3 and part 10) clearly illustrated nonviolent ways of “forcing” the assailant in each example to come to terms with what they were doing. Therefore, Christian pacifism is NOT about never “forcing” a situation. No, no! It is about doing so in a way that leaves open the chance to redeem the assailant too! Therefore, Christian pacifism IS most definitely about non-LETHAL force. So, if your opinion about “killing” has changed through this series—and so many of you have freely admitted that it has—I’m stoked! Whether you actually like the term or not, each of you have, like me, become a Christian pacifist (which can be different from other forms of pacifism). You have become a Christian pacifist who, like other Christian pacifists (including me), is now in the process of answering the questions revolving around “what forms of non-lethal force is acceptable and what forms are not?” (The fact that we are even wrestling with this question, rather than whether it is ok to kill or not, IS THE POINT!) So let’s wrestle on!

It doesn’t matter whether we all agree on what forms of NON-LETHAL force are acceptable or not. Those who reject LETHAL FORCE (i.e. pacifists) have NEVER agreed on the fine details of how to apply NON-LETHAL force (and I have no desire to split hairs on that one now). My burden is simply to get those who claim to follow Jesus to stop killing others in Jesus’ name, including other Christians and, hopefully, even their enemies. Then maybe, just maybe, we can rediscover what it actually means to LOVE our enemies. I know that goes far beyond not killing (I cannot kill someone and still hate their guts), but I don’t see how we can love our enemies while still feeling that it’s ok to end their life. We have to start somewhere. I believe that just getting followers of Jesus to say that “killing someone is never acceptable” to a Christ follower (and that we would rather suffer death than inflict it) is where the early church was and where we must return.

Again, if you, through this series, have come to embrace the reality that, for a Jesus follower, killing our enemies is opposed to what Jesus’ kingdom is all about, then whether we like the term or not, you have embraced Jesus’ teachings on pacifism. Now, we can move forward to wrestling with determining which forms of non-lethal force are acceptable and which forms are not. You know, we may never agree on that one (we’d be the first in history to, if we did). I will be perfectly open and honest that I, too, am in the process on this, just as many of you are, and I’m ok with that.

If you would like to purse this topic further, then let me share with you some great material that I believe you will find helpful:

The Politics of Jesus—John Howard Yoder (Not an easy read.)

A Faith Not Worth Fighting For—Various Authors (A much easier read.)

The Myth of a Christian Nation—Gregory Boyd (Excellent!)

Non-Violent Atonement by Denny Weaver (Profoundly challenging.)

There are others, but these are a great place to start.

Let me also address just a few other comments that have come in regarding this series. Some have responded with, “Usually the love of God has been your thing; why are you now talking about non-violence?” I want you each to know that I hear you loud and clear. Please let me explain what is taking place. It’s not that I “usually” focus on the love of God and now I’m talking about something else. I have been over this ground before. What you may be used to from me is a focus on Jesus’ revelation of God’s character of love and how that revolutionizes our “theology.” In this series, I have simply sought to focus on Jesus’ revelation of God’s character of love and how that revolutionizes our “ethics.” The picture of God that Jesus gives us radically affects BOTH.

I remember the strong objections by some that I received years ago when I began truly allowing what Jesus reveals about the Father (on the Cross) to be embraced and fleshed out “theologically” among us. I remember many people saying, “We are so used to you presenting God’s love; why are you trying to apply that to our other beliefs?” (They were quite upset.) Some of you today have experienced profound blessings through our efforts to stick with it and truly flesh out what the Cross is saying about other theological beliefs.

What I want you understand, and hopefully see, is that we are traversing that same, exact ground in this series too, but not with how Jesus’ revelation of God turns our “theology” on its head. What we are dealing with in this series is how the truth about God’s love, as revealed in the person of Jesus, also turns our “ethics” on their head too. And really, theology is important, but our actions speak way louder about the God we believe in than our words and ideas ever will. When Jesus spoke the loudest about God’s character, it was not in a Bible study or a sermon. It was when He was actually hanging on a cross, being put to death by His enemies. This is how Jesus won back humanity’s dominion from the devil and gave us back dominion of this Earth. God’s plan for humanity has never been translation, but redemption, restoration, and transformation.

I want you to each know that, on a deeply relational level, I’m truly sorry that some (and, I emphasize, only some) feel the subject of the truth of God’s character and the ethics of non-violence are unrelated, or at minimum, separate topics. This is fruit, or evidence, if you will, once again of the changes that took place in the fourth century. Just as a person’s picture of God and their theology cannot be separated, as they are intimately related to each other, so too are a person’s picture of God and their ethics. The subjects of God’s love and non-violence are more interconnected and intimately related than, I’m afraid, many have yet to realize. The Cross was God’s nonviolent act of defeating His enemy in the great cosmic conflict (see the podcast series entitled Christus Victor and the new book coming out next fall entitled Whom Do You See?). God’s love, when one truly encounters it, doesn’t just revolutionize our beliefs (our theology); it also revolutionizes how we live (our ethics).

I know it’s way more comfortable to just sit around and debate theology, but at some point, the world has to SEE that we have a different picture of God, not because of how we preach, but because of how we live. The early church did not grow through multiple evangelistic series, but through simply loving their enemies. Again, we are all in process. None of us have all the answers. But, if I have simply challenged someone to think about and begin living in a way that reflects the Jesus we claim to be following, I feel it’s all worth it. At some point in Christian history, those who bear the name of Christ have to not only “believe” like their Jesus, but actually live as he did too (1 John 2.6).

Let’s wrap things up with a look at a few of Jesus’ statements, which I believe really demonstrate that Christian pacifism is more central to communicating the truth about God’s character than many have yet realized.

Matthew 10.38:

Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me.

Matthew 16.24:

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.

Matthew 27.42:

“He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him.

(Again, Jesus was not passive. He continually went around “saving others,” but not by violence; He always interposed His own safety and well-being. See John 8. It’s pacifism, NOT passive-ism.)

Mark 8.34:

Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.

Luke 9.23-27

Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for you to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit your very self? If any of you are ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of you when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God” (i.e. the Cross).

Luke 14.27

And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

Luke 14.33

In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.

John 15.20:

Remember the word that I said to you, “Servants are not greater than their master.” If they persecuted me, they will persecute you.

What does it mean for you to want to be like Jesus?

What does it mean for you to, in your own everyday life, take up the cross as not just your message, but also your way of life, as your method of relating to others?

What does it look like for you to choose to be mentored (be a disciple) by the one you want to be like?

Isim: A distinctive practice, system of belief, philosophy, or ideology.

Ismatic: Someone who thinks according to, and lives by, a certain “-ism.”

Cruc: Cross.

Crucsim: The only “-ism” worth dying for (Christianity and the world has been victim of too many other “-isms”).

Crucismatic: Someone who lives by the practice, system of belief, philosophy and ideology of the cross.

A Crucismatic movement: A group of 2 to 12 people placed all over the world who seeks to influence society, not through wielding a sword, but through the practice, the system of belief, the philosophy, and the ideology of a cross instead.

What both the world and the church need today is a decidedly Crucismatic movement. May it start with me! May it start with you! Who’s with me?

I have a HUGE announcement to make soon in October! This is going to be BIG. We, at RHM, have been praying and working out all the details. Please pray that God will give us wisdom as we endeavor to know how to move forward into what it really means to follow Jesus and proclaim and demonstrate God’s radical, other-centered, self-sacrificial love.

Keep living in love; keep enlarging the Kingdom. Vive la Révolution! Lift high the Cross!

I love you guys.