BREAKING THE STAINED GLASS BARRIER

RETHINKING THE NATURE AND FUNCTION OF CHURCH

BY: ROBERT FITTS

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS

 

TREND

TITLE

PAGE

 

FOREWORD

1

2

1

FROM THE SANCTUARIES TO THE STREETS

3

2

FROM CHRISTIANITY TO CHRIST

4

3

FROM CHURCH HOUSES TO HOUSE CHURCHES

7

4

FROM UPWARD TO OUTWARD GROWTH

8

5

FROM “PROFESSIONAL PASTORS” TO “HOME GROWN PASTORS”

8

6

FROM SPECIAL DAY CHRISTIANS, TO EVERY DAY CHRISTIANS

9

7

FROM HIERARCHY TO SERVANT LEADERS

10

8

FROM WEEKLY WORSHIP TO CONSTANT WORSHIP

11

9

FROM BRINGING PEOPLE TO THE CHURCH TO BRINGING CHURCH PEOPLE

12

10

FROM SYMBOLISM TO REALITY IN THE LORD'S SUPPER

13

11

FROM DENOMINATIONS TO SPIRIT-LED NETWORKS

14

12

FROM SOCIAL RESPECTABILITY TO SALT AND LIGHT

14

13

FROM PERFORMANCE BY PROFESSIONALS TO OPEN CHURCH FORMAT

16

14

FROM TEMPLE BASED CHURCH TO HOME BASED CHURCH

20

15

FROM THE SEMINARY SYSTEM TO THE APPRENTICE

20

16

FROM TENTH TO TOTAL

21

17

FROM SELECTIVE SUBMISSION TO COMPLETE SUBMISSION

22

18

FROM TITLES TO FUNCTION

23

19

FROM INDEPENDENCE TO INTER-DEPENDENCE

24

20

FROM PAPER MEMBERSHIP TO BODY MEMBERSHIP

25

21

FROM THE WHEEL TO THE VINE

27

22

FROM ORGANIZATIONAL UNITY TO SPIRITUAL UNITY

27

23

FROM SEEKING PATTERNS TO SEEKING GUIDANCE

28

24

FROM “US AND THEM” TO JUST “US”

29

25

FROM PLANNED CHURCH TO SPONTANEOUS CHURCH

30

26

FROM BONDAGE TO FREEDOM FOR WOMEN

31

27

FROM OLD COVENANT TO NEW COVENANT

33

28

FROM ARBITRARY GUIDELINES TO BIBLICAL GUIDELINES

33

29

FRO M “MY PASTOR” TO “MY PASTORS”

35

30

FROM RAISING UP LEADERS TO APPOINTING SERVANTS

35

31

FROM LOCAL VISION TO WORLD VISION

36

32

FROM BUILDING MY EMPIRE TO BUILDING HIS KINGDOM

37

33

FROM INTELLECTUALISM TO SUPERNATURAL ANOINTING

38

34

FROM REJECTING ONE ANOTHER TO ACCEPTING ONE ANOTHER

40

35

FROM LAW KEEPING TO LIVING BY GRACE

43

36

FROM OVERWHELMING OVERSIGHT TO RESTFUL OVERSIGHT

45

37

FROM “WE WILL BUILD” TO “I WILL BUILD”

46

38

FROM DEPENDENCE ON PROGRAMS TO DEPENDENCE ON PRAYER

49

39

FROM SINNERS TO SAINTS

52

40

FROM RELIGION TO RELATIONSHIP

53

 

CONCLUSION

55

APPENDIX

 

 

A

MY STORY

56

B

THE HOUSE CHURCH IN TH NEW TESTAMENT 

58

C

THE BAPTISM IN THE HOLY SPIRIT

61

D

THE MINISTRY TRAINING SCHOOL

65

E

STARTING A HOUSE CHURCH

66

F

THE HEALING PRAYER CLINIC

68

 

FOREWORD 

 

No one who has his eyes open and his ears attuned to present trends can deny that a new reformation is taking place in the church today. IT IS A TIME OF BREAKTHROUGH! We are breaking through religious barriers that have hindered the growth of the church for centuries! Multitudes are beginning to see and understand what it is to be free from stifling formalities of religion and tradition. Honest seekers are taking the risk and walking out into the fresh air and sunshine of a new day of freedom in Christ!

 

The following forty trends are only part of what God is doing in the earth today to bring the Church, the Body of Christ, out of traditionalism, institutionalism, and commercialism back to the dynamic simplicity of the early church.  Some of these trends are beginning to move forward in all kinds of churches worldwide. Not every trend has to do with the nature and function of church. Some of them deal with coming out of darkness into light concerning the teachings of the church.

Some of what I have called a "trend" is actually more of a beginning than a trend. However, I have felt it to be the beginning of something that will go on and become a trend that will bring the present day church back to the simplicity and power of the first century church.

 

The form I have chosen to use, "From this to that" is not always clear-cut.  Sometimes it is not intended to convey the idea of coming fully out of this and fully into the other. The true intent of the word "trend" is more to say, "Moving away from one and toward the other."  Nor am I saying that in all cases the "from" is bad and the "to" is good.  It is meant to say that there are some things going on in the Church that are very bad, some are just bad, some good, some are better, and some are best.  The Lord is leading the church to move toward the best!  May God enable us all to see the problems, to acknowledge them, to address them, to repent of them, and to take steps to correct them.

 

These forty trends are written to and for the whole Body of Christ worldwide. Several years ago the Lord began to teach me to embrace the universal Body of Christ, not just my church or my denomination or my ministry. He gave me what I call a Declaration of Unity. He told me to say it out loud often and to teach others to speak it out loud as a declaration of our unity as one Body in Christ Jesus. I invite you to join me in making this Declaration of Unity.

 

I belong to everything that belongs to Jesus and everything that belongs to Jesus belongs to me. It is not us and them. It is just us! There is only one Body of Christ. And the problems of the Church, the whole Church, are our problems, for we are The Church! And we can do more united than we can do divided. So let's unify, simplify and multiply! 

 

As we think of the trends of the church today, we must not forget to factor in the divine plan of God. We need to see this picture as He sees it. One of the most profound statements I have ever read on the ultimate victory of the Church both on earth and in heaven was made by Watchman Nee in his final days as a prisoner in China under communism. It was so encouraging to me that I have it framed and hanging on the wall in my study. Here is his statement that I call "Seeing the Accomplished Fact."

 

SEEING THE ACCOMPLISHED FACT

BY WATCHMAN NEE

 

"We are His masterpiece." (Ephesians 2:10) The Church is the very best God can produce.  It can never be improved upon.  

 

We look around and see breakdown everywhere and we wonder, "What is the Church coming to?"  I tell you she is not coming to anything; she has arrived!  

 

We do not look forward to discover her goal; we look back.  God reached His end in Christ before the foundation of the world and we move forward with Him on the basis of what already is.  

 

As we move in the light of that eternal fact, we witness its progressive manifestation - you advance spiritually by finding out what you already are, not by trying to become what you hope to be.  

 

It is when you see you are dead that you die (i.e. manifest ones death in Christ); 

 

It is when you see you are risen that you arise; 

 

It is when your see you are holy that you become holy.  Seeing the accomplished fact determines the pathway to the realizing of that fact.  

 

The end is reached by seeing, not desiring or working. The only possibility of spiritual progress lies in us discovering the truth as God sees it; the truth concerning Christ, the truth concerning ourselves in Christ, and the truth concerning the Church, the Body of Christ." 

 

As we consider the following trends, it will be good to go back from time to time and re-consider the words of Watchman Nee concerning how God sees the Church already in its perfection in Christ.

 

TREND No. ONE

From the sanctuaries to the streets . . . doing the works of Jesus wherever we find a need.

 

As we read through the life of Jesus in the New Testament it is difficult to find him organizing a religious gathering or an evangelistic meeting, or in fact, any kind of meeting.

 

It seems that all of his large meetings, such as the feeding of the five thousand or the multitudes that gathered on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, took place more or less spontaneously as crowds would gather to hear what he was saying and to be healed of their diseases.  People knew he had power to help them and they did not wait for a special meeting to get his help.

 

Jesus sometimes spoke in the synagogues on the Sabbath.  Once he sent out the seventy into the towns and cities where he himself would come later. He arranged for the final meal with his disciples, but aside from that, most of his earthly ministry happened spontaneously as he walked among the people, taught them, and responded to meet people's needs as they confronted him.

 

Jesus’ strategy was to go where the people were, see the needs and minister to those needs.  We find him healing a man at the Pool of Siloam as he walked by; feeding the hungry, ministering, teaching in the Temple, on the streets, at the beach, in the synagogues or on a mountainside.

 

Once as he sat near a well waiting for the disciples to return with food for lunch he spoke the word of life to a woman of Samaria who had come to draw water. This resulted in so many people coming to him and receiving his word that he stayed in that town two days preaching the Kingdom of God. 

 

Nicodemus came to him at night seeking to know who he was and Jesus shared with him the message of salvation. It was to Nicodemus that Jesus spoke the immortal words that night, "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life." (John 3:16)

         

As he walked along a crowded road one day he saw Zaccheus, a man small of stature, who had climbed a tree to get a better look at Jesus as he passed by. Jesus was impressed with his zeal and invited him to come down from the tree and as they ate a meal together Jesus led him out of his darkness into the light of life. Zaccheus was converted and became a different man right on the spot!

 

As Jesus walked by the Sea of Galilee and through the streets he called out twelve men to be his disciples; to be with him and to learn from him so that he could send them out to do the works of an apostle.

 

He healed Peter’s mother-in-law of a fever when he arrived at their house for a meal.  She immediately arose from her bed of affliction and began to serve them.

 

Jesus' primary ministry was spontaneous responses to the needs of people as he walked through each day. In every place where he found people in need, he met that need in the power of the Holy Spirit. 

 

At the age of seventeen, when I first started going to church, it was a tremendous challenge to learn "church talk." The King James Bible was the only Bible people used in the early fifties where I lived in West Texas. Everybody prayed using KJV language. It was unthinkable to address God in our prayers as "you." To be respectful, we had to use "Thee" and "Thou." Then there was "wouldest" and "couldst" and "whence" and "whither." But finally I got used to it. Then I had another problem, I was finding it difficult to talk to people about spiritual things when I was not in church; to talk about Jesus to people at work or to my friends who did not know Jesus was a leap of faith for me. Then, when I knew that God was calling me to preach, to stand up on a stage, behind a pulpit and speak formally to a lot of people through a microphone was the scariest thing I could imagine! The first time I had to do that, I became physically ill as I sat waiting my time to talk. I almost vomited on stage right there in front of the congregation, but somehow I got through the ordeal. It was only a three - minute talk on "Youth Night" at our church, but it was a major challenge for me as a teenager.

From the time I was a very small boy, I was always very shy and bashful around people. The fear of man was on me something awful for as long as I can remember!  But I went off to Bible College and finally learned how to bring formal teachings from the pulpit and how to lead a public prayer.  But in spite of the curious language we always used as we prayed in church, I learned how to witness to people one on one, telling them about Jesus. 

 

But something was still missing. It was not the spontaneous, unplanned kinds of things that Jesus did. All our evangelistic and teaching ministries had to be planned well in advance so that we could be well prepared and most of our evangelistic efforts were inside the four walls of a church building.  I was still not trained to always be ready to minister healing to the sick or do the other things Jesus did, such as, speak a word of wisdom, word of knowledge, a word of prophecy or rebuke the devil as I went about my daily routine. That was all in another realm of ministry that I trembled to think about. 

 

TREND No. TWO

From Christianity to Christ . . . 

Not a philosophy or a system but Christ in you, living out his life through you

The word "Christianity" is not found in the Bible.  It is a word we use to designate a religious system. The early church did not build a system or priesthood, or denomination, or mission, or organization.  They were "followers of The Way."  It was a way of life.  But deeper than that, it was a new relationship with God.  It was Christ in you!  It was God living inside every follower of The Way.  

 

No other religion from that time to this has been established on the same ground as that of Jesus Christ. Every other religious leader who ever lived also died and remained in the grave. Jesus died and rose again, but more than that, he reincarnates himself in the lives of his followers. CHRIST IN YOU is the genius and the uniqueness of the religion of Jesus Christ! I know some of you winced when you read the word "religion", but "religion" is not a bad word! James talks about "pure religion and undefiled before God." The word itself simple means to be re connected to God. Re means "again" and ligion means "to be linked or connected." To have religion is to be reconnected to God, and that's a good thing, so long as it is the religion of Jesus Christ!

 

Jesus said, "He who dwells in me is the one who does these works." That is exactly how we are to operate.  God is in me doing the same kind of works Jesus did.  Paul had grasped this truth when he said, "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me."  In another place he says, "For me to live is . . . Christ." Again he said that the "mystery" that had been hidden from ages and from generations was, "Christ in you, the hope of glory." Christ in me is the only hope of glory, which means the outshining radiance of the presence of God shining through our lives.

 

Perhaps the most powerful personal letter ever written explaining this mystery of the indwelling Christ was written by the man who founded the China Inland Mission, the Englishman, J. Hudson Taylor. Here is his letter to his sister written while he was still in China in the early days of that Mission:

 

A letter from Hudson Taylor to his sister, Amelia, October, 1869 (used by permission of OMF International)

 

"My own dear sister - So many thanks for your long dear letter.  I do not think you have written me such a letter since we have been in China.  I know it is with you as with me, you cannot, not you will not.  Mind and body will not bear more than a certain amount of strain, or do more than a certain amount of work. 

As to work, mine was never so plentiful, so responsible, or so difficult; but the weight and strain are all gone.  The last month or more has been, perhaps, the happiest of my life; and I long to tell you a little of what the Lord has done for my soul. 

 

I do not know how far I may be able to make myself intelligible about it, for there is nothing new or strange or wonderful - and yet, all is new!  In a word:  “Whereas I was blind, now I see.”

 

Perhaps I shall make myself more clear if I go back a little.  Well, Dearie, my mind has been greatly exercised for the past six or eight months, feeling the need personally, and for our Mission, of more holiness, life and power in our souls.  But personal need stood first and was the greatest.  I felt the ingratitude, the danger, the sin of not living nearer to God.  I prayed, agonized, fasted, strove, made resolutions, read the Word more diligently, sought more time for retirement and meditation - but all was without avail.  Every day, almost every hour, the consciousness of sin oppressed me.  

 

I knew that if I could only abide in Christ, all would be well, but I could not.  I would begin the day with prayer, determined not to take my eye from Him for a moment, but pressure of duties, sometimes very trying, constant interruptions, often very wearing, would cause me to forget Him.  Then one’s nerves get so fretted in this climate that temptations to irritability, hard thoughts and sometimes unkind words are all the more difficult to control.  Each day brought its register of sin, failure, and lack of power.  To will was indeed present with me, but how to perform, I found not.

 

Then came the question, “Is there no rescue?  Must it be like this till the end - constant conflict and, instead of victory, too often defeat?”  How, too, could I preach with sincerity that to those who receive Jesus, “to them gave He power to become the sons of God,“ (i.e. God-like) when it was not so in my experience?  Instead of growing stronger, I seemed to be getting weaker and to have less power against sin; and no wonder, for faith and even hope were getting very low.  I hated myself; I hated my sin; and yet I gained no strength against it.  

 

I felt I was a child of God; His Spirit in my heart would cry, in spite of all, “Abba, Father”, but to rise to my privileges as a child, I was utterly powerless.  I thought that holiness was to be gradually attained by a diligent use of the means of grace.  I felt that there was nothing I so much desired in this world, nothing I so much needed.  But the more I pursued and strove after holiness, the more it eluded my grasp, till hope itself almost died out, and I began to think that perhaps to make heaven the sweeter, God would not give it to us in this life.

 

I do not think I was striving to attain it in my own strength.  I knew I was powerless.  I told the Lord so, and asked Him to give me help and strength and sometimes I almost believed He would keep and uphold me.  But on looking back in the evening, there was sin and failure to confess and mourn before God.

 

I would not give you the impression that this was the daily experience of all those long, weary months, but it tended to be a too frequent state of soul and I almost ended up in despair.  And yet, never did Christ seem more precious a Savior who could and would save such a sinner!  And sometimes there were seasons not only of peace but of joy in the Lord.  But they were fleeting and at best there was a sad lack of power.  Oh, how good the Lord has been in bringing this conflict to an end!

 

All the time I felt assured that there was in Christ all I needed, but the practical question was how to get it out.  He was rich, but I was poor; He was strong, but I was weak.  I knew full well that there was in the vine, in the root, the stem, abundant fatness; but how to get it into my puny little branch was the question.  

 

As gradually the light dawned on me, I saw that faith was the only prerequisite to laying hold of His fullness and making it my own.  But I had not this faith . . . I strove for it, but it would not come; I tried to exercise it, but in vain.  Seeing more and more the wondrous supply of grace laid up in Jesus, the fullness of our precious Savior - my helplessness and guilt seemed to increase.  Sins committed appeared but as trifles compared with the sin of unbelief which was their cause, which could not or would not take God at His word, but rather made Him a liar!  Unbelief was, I felt, the damning sin of the world - yet I indulged in it.  I prayed for faith but it did not come.  What was I to do?

 

When my agony of soul was at its height, a sentence in a letter from dear McCarthy was used to remove the scales from my eyes, and the Spirit of God revealed the truth of our oneness with Jesus as I had never seen it before.  McCarthy, who had been much exercised by the same sense of failure, but saw the light before I did, wrote (I quote from memory):  “But how to get faith strengthened?  Not by striving after faith, but by resting on the Faithful One.”

 

As I read I saw it all!  “If we believe not, He remains faithful.”  I looked to Jesus and saw (and when I saw, oh, how joy flowed) that He had said, “I will never leave you.”  “Ah, here is rest!”  I thought.  “I have striven in vain to rest in Him.  I’ll strive no more.  For has He not promised to abide with me - never to leave me, never to fail me?”  And Dearie, He never will!

 

But this was not all He showed me; nor one half.  As I thought of the vine and the branches, what light the blessed Spirit poured directly into my soul!  How great seemed my mistake in having wished to get the sap, the fullness, out of Him!  I saw not only that Jesus would never leave me, but that I was a member of His body, of His flesh and of His bones.  The vine now I see is not the root merely, but all - root, stem, branches, twigs, leaves, flowers, fruit; and Jesus is not only that; He is soil and sunshine, air and showers, and ten thousand times more than we have ever dreamed, wished for, or needed.  Oh the joy of seeing this truth!  I do pray that the eyes of your understanding may be enlightened, that you may know and enjoy the riches freely given us in Christ.

 

Oh, my dear sister, it is a wonderful thing to be really one with a risen and exalted Savior, to be a member of Christ!  Think what it involves.  Can Christ be rich and I poor?  Can your right hand be rich and the left poor?  Or your head  well fed while your body starves?  Again, think of this bearing on prayer.  Could a bank clerk say to a customer, “It was only your hand that wrote that check, not you,” or “I cannot pay this sum to your hand, but only to yourself?”  No more can your prayers, or mine, be discredited if offered in the name of Jesus (i.e. not in your own name, or even for the sake of Jesus, but on the ground that we are His, His members) so long as we keep within the extent of Christ’s credit - a considerably wide limit!  

 

If we ask anything unscriptural or not in accordance with the will of God, Christ Himself could not do that; but “If we ask anything according to His will, He hears us; and . . . we know that we have the petitions that we desired of Him.”

 

The sweetest part, if one may speak of one part being sweeter than another, is the rest which full identification with Christ brings.  I am no longer anxious about anything, as I realize this; for He I know, is able to carry out His will and His will is mine.  It makes no difference where He places me or how.  That is rather for Him to consider than for me; for in the easiest positions He must give me His grace, and in the most difficult His grace is sufficient. 

 

It matters little to my servant whether I send him to buy a few dollars worth of things or the most expensive articles.  In either case he looks to me for the money and brings me his purchases.  So if God places me in great perplexity, must He not give me much guidance; or in positions of great difficulty, much grace; or in circumstances of great pressure and trial, much strength?  There is no fear that His resources will be unequal to the emergency!  And His resources are mine for He is mine, and is with me and dwells in me.

 

All this springs from the believer's oneness with Christ.  And since Christ is now living in my heart by faith, how happy I have been!  I wish I could tell you instead of writing about it.

 

I am no better than before (in one sense, I do not wish to be, nor am I striving to be); but I am dead and buried with Christ - yes, and risen too and ascended; and now Christ lives in me, and “the life that I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”  

 

I now believe that I am dead to sin.  God reckons me so, and tells me to reckon myself so.  He knows best.  All my past experiences may have shown that it was not so; but I dare not say it is not, when He says it is.  I feel and know that old things have passed away.  I am as capable of sinning as ever, but Christ is realized as present as never before.  He cannot sin; and He can keep me from sinning.  

 

I am sorry to have to confess it, but I cannot say that since I have seen this light I have not sinned; but I do feel there was no need to have done so.  And further - walking more in the light, my conscience has been more tender; sin has been instantly seen, confessed, pardoned; and peace and joy (with humility) instantly restored; with one exception, when for several hours peace and joy did not return - from lack, as I had to learn, of full confession, and from some attempt to justify self.

 

Faith, I now see, is “the substance of things hoped for” and not mere shadow.  It is not less than sight, but more.  Sight only shows the outward forms of things; faith gives the substance.  You can rest on substance; you can feed on substance.  Christ dwelling in the heart by faith (i.e. faith in His word of promise) is power indeed, is life indeed.  And Christ and sin will not dwell together; nor can we experience His presence with love of the world or carefulness about “many things.”

 

And now I must close.  I have not said half I would like to say if I had more time.  May God give you the grace to lay hold on these blessed truths.  Do not let us continue to say, in effect, “Who shall ascend into heaven? that is, to bring Christ down from above.”  In other words, do not let us consider Him as far off when God has made us one with Him, members of His very body.  

 

Nor should we look upon this experience, these truths, as only for the few.  They are the birthright of every child of God, and no one can dispense with them without dishonor to our Lord.  The only power for deliverance from sin or for serving the Lord is Christ.

 

Your own affectionate brother, J. Hudson Taylor"

 

TREND No. THREE

From church houses to house churches . . . simplify to multiply

 

For the first 250 years of the Christian movement there were no church buildings. We are told that during that period of time the church grew faster and with more power to leaven all of society than at any other time in history.  Of course it takes more than changing the size of the gatherings to return to the dynamic power and simplicity of the early church, but it’s a good place to start.

 

A close friend of mine, Dr. John Amstutz, a leader in the Four Square movement, wrote me a very balanced letter about the desirability of house churches while also making room for other ways to gather and worship Jesus.

 

Dear Brother Bob,

 

Your article on house churches was excellent!  It reflects what many of us have believed for years that the expansion of the gospel to all the nations would require a simple, infinitely reproducible form of church planting. This is the kind that is found in the scriptures themselves, as well as in countries that will not permit open worship and witness, like China, Burma, and Nepal. 

 

In our denomination, our most rapidly growing works in restricted access nations are house church movements.  In Sri Lanka, Nepal, Pakistan and Burma this is true.  Further, in other countries where there is a measure of freedom, house churches are also being encouraged as the quickest way to get a true movement happening.  The biggest challenge in opening minds to house churches is in countries where the gospel has been for many years, like Europe and Latin America. Asia has proven the easiest to encourage house churches.

 

Bob, I suggest that you encourage house churches wherever you go, especially in third world countries.  Also, help the people stay humble about it lest they look down on believers who have and believe in buildings.  

 

The great need today is for unity in the Body of Christ.  We really don't need to divide over buildings.  So help people to lovingly make room for different methodologies, and that really is what we are talking about.  What is important is that we get the gospel to all the world as quickly and as effectively as possible.  In some cases buildings may be needed, in many other cases house churches will work and, in a few places, perhaps both will be needed.  

 

If the fulfillment of the Great Commission is our goal, then let's use any legitimate means available to get the job done.  I believe there is no more effective way than planting new churches to fulfill this goal, and house churches is one of the most efficient ways of planting churches.

 

                                    In Jesus' Bonds, John Amstutz

 

TREND No. FOUR 

From upward to outward growth . . . the rapid multiplication of simple church networks

 

God is teaching us to pray for the rapid multiplication of simple church networks, and it is stretching our faith. It stretches my faith to pray for the birth of one church. It is harder to pray and believe for two or more. It is more of a challenge to pray for the multiplication of networks of simple churches, but in India they pray for “The rapid multiplication of house church networks!“  However difficult that may seem, we are to pray and believe the day will come when we will witness in North America what is now happening in China, India, and Africa, and is beginning to happen in Latin America  . . . THE RAPID MULTIPLICATION OF SIMPLE CHURCH NETWORKS. We will continue to pray till we see it happening all over the world!

 

It is normal to have a desire to see the work grow that God has called me to do. The problem comes when I only have eyes for that little patch of ground God gave me to tend and forget about the larger field which is THE WORLD!  Jesus said, "Lift up your eyes and look on the fields that are ripe for harvest."  He knew the tendency was to keep our eyes fully focused on our little group while we pray, "Lord, bless me and my wife, my son John and his wife, us four, no more. Amen."  The great need is to LIFT UP OUR EYES!

 

It is okay to grow upward so long as I am willing to release that growth outward from time to time. Too many Christian workers get caught up into an obsession to keep on adding to the numbers within their own sphere of control. This often leads into the subtle snare of "Empire Building" and there is no room for two kings in the Kingdom of God. There is only one . . .  his name is JESUS!

 

One way to multiply house churches is to send off two or three couples from time to time to start another church. When you are starting house churches, it is very simple. We don’t have to think in terms of "losing" those families anymore than we think of losing our children when they get married and start another family, live in a different house, and have their own kids. That new little family is our pride and joy!  So why shouldn’t a new church be our pride and joy if we send them off with our blessing? The sad thing is that, because most churches have not made any provision for sending people off to start new churches, it is always a painful experience with many broken hearts resulting when people leave the church, no matter what their reason for leaving. Then enters that awful, dreadful, chilling word, which describes the traumatic experience some of us have suffered through . . . a church split!

 

If we ever catch the vision for church multiplication, we will never again have to go through a church split. It will be called a "church birth" or something that will elicit dancing, singing, and shouts of joy just like the celebration of a newborn baby!

Don’t wait for and dread that awful "church split." Plan a church split!  Pray for a church split! Make it a beautiful experience for everyone. Send off some of your best workers to start a new church in a nearby city or in another part of your city. You will be blessed! They will be blessed.  God will be blessed.  More souls will be saved. The Kingdom of God will be enlarged. The devil will be defeated, and you will hear the words, "Well done, good and faithful servant!" 

 

TREND No. FIVE

From "professional pastors" to "home grown pastors"  . . . rejecting the clergy/laity system

 

Many of those who desire to serve God as leaders in the church go away to Bible colleges and seminaries with their hearts full of faith, fervor and zeal. A few years later they graduate and they come away with most of that faith, fervor, and zeal all washed away in a sea of intellectualism. 

 

In the average Bible College or seminary the students are trained to serve the churches as a special priesthood. They are no longer classified as a layman. They are called "men of the cloth." Men of the Cloth? What cloth? They are now to wear a priestly garment, priestly cloth!  Apparently it is a throwback from the Levitical Priesthood that required the priests to wear special linen garments? Let's not forget that the veil of the temple was rent from top to bottom when Christ died on the cross, signifying that the old was gone and the new had come. The Old Covenant had ended and the New Covenant was now in place.

 

"For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion for a second. This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people." (read all of Hebrews chapters 8 and 9)

 

Certainly we all have special gifts and callings, but we are all on the same level in the Kingdom of God. We are all to function as a kingdom of priests. The work of a priest is to represent men to God and to represent God to men. As the priest in the Old Covenant would go before God in behalf of men, so are we to stand before God in intercession and prayer for the lost and needy. And as the priest was to go before men in behalf of God, we are to go as ambassadors for Christ and share the good news of God’s love and forgiveness to all men everywhere.

 

There is no room in the Kingdom of God anymore for a system of clergy on one level with God and the layman on another level. There should be nothing that we wear, or say, or do as pastors, evangelists, prophets, teachers, and apostles that is calculated to set us apart as a different breed of "holy men" or a special priesthood. Jesus is our High Priest and every born-again believer is a priest unto God and unto men.

 

When I went away to Bible College, we were told that "the high calling of God in Christ Jesus" was the call to preach, to enter the "ministry." The world was divided into two classes . . . "preachers and creatures." We, the preachers, were to preach the gospel to the creatures, to every creature! Others could testify or witness, but that was not preaching.  Only preachers could preach. Preachers were also called pastors.  In some churches they were called priests.

 

I have since learned that every believer should be a preacher and that the word, "preach" simply means to herald the good news or share the simple message that CHRIST DIED FOR OUR SINS. (I Corinthians 15:1-4)

 

Not only is every believer to be a preacher, but according to Ephesians 4, every believer is also to be a minister. The apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, and teacher all have the job of equipping the saints (all of them) to do the work of the ministry. That makes them ministers! (Ephesians 4:11-13)

 

There is no longer a "priesthood" separate from the common people. We are all a "kingdom of priests." We are all called "saints" meaning "holy ones." We are "A Royal Priesthood, a holy nation." And that includes every believer.

 

TREND No. SIX

From special day Christians, to every day Christians . . . following the example of Paul

 

My Dad was born and raised in Texas and my Mother was born and raised in Arkansas.  They seldom went to church, but they taught us what they knew. One of the things they taught us was that you are not supposed to work on Sunday. Back in those days, people would preserve garden vegetables and fruits in jars. Mother said if we canned on Sunday, it would likely spoil, for you had violated the Holy Sabbath. It was almost like a curse would be on that food. 

 

Religion opens the door to a lot of superstition. Jesus came to fulfill the symbolism of every holy place, every holy thing, and every holy day. Jesus is our Sabbath rest for we have entered into His finished work. (Read Hebrews 4) 

 

Paul, an apostle in the early church, was given the revelation of the gospel of the grace of God beyond all his contemporaries. In his letter to the Colossian believers he makes it clear that Jesus is our Sabbath when he says, "Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ." (Col. 2:16-17)  

 

Jesus is the substance. The Sabbath day is the shadow that predicts his coming and finishing the work of salvation. Just as God finished the work of creation and rested, Jesus finished the work of salvation and rested. He is our Sabbath Rest. He said, "Come unto me all you who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest." He said to the woman of Samaria, "A time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem . . . A time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth." (John 4:22-24) 

 

In saying this, Jesus did away with any significance of holy places. Even the Holiest Place was done away with. When Jesus died the veil of the temple was torn from top to bottom, signifying, first of all that only God could do that, and that the way was now open for all to enter the awesome presence of God in the Holiest Place. In those days, that was open to only one person, the High Priest, and that only once a year on the Day of Atonement.

 

Concerning special days, Paul says in Romans 14, "One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind."

 

Paul is showing graciousness to those who are immature in the Lord for the sake of unity and peace. He made it clear that he was one who considered every day alike when he wrote in Colossians chapter two, "Do not let anyone judge you with regard to . . . a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ." The Sabbath and every article of the Tabernacle, the priesthood, and the Old Covenant were all shadows which prophesied the coming of The Substance! Jesus Christ is that substance and He fulfilled them all . . .  perfectly, including the Sabbath!

 

To the Galatians he wrote, "How is it that you are turning back to weak and miserable principles? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? You are observing special days and months and seasons and years! I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you." (Gal. 4:9-11)

 

All truth is God's truth and all error has a measure of bondage connected to it. If I am walking in the shadows instead of the substance, I need to be released into the full liberty of the truth of God. There are whole denominations that were formed over the issue of what day is actually the Sabbath Day when we should rest and worship God. Paul made it clear that those who believe and know the truth can worship God and rest on any day of the week. There is no day that is more sacred than another. Jesus came and fulfilled all the types and shadows of the Old Testament, including the Sabbath.

 

If we walk in the light that Paul walked in, we will not put any special significance on one day above another, nor will we put our brothers down who still do not see this truth. I have a dear friend who sets aside every Saturday as his day of rest and worship. It is a great blessing to him to go aside and spend hours and hours in prayer, Bible study, worship, and meditation. I do not see it as he does, but I bless him and I thank God for him. Paul also said, "Who are you to judge another man's servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Yes, and he shall stand, for God is able to make him stand . . . Receive believers who are weak in faith, and don't argue with them about what they think is right or wrong." (Rom. 14:1-4)

 

The more truth and light we walk in, the more freedom, liberty, joy and peace we have. God is bringing us out of religiosity into reality.

 

TREND No. SEVEN 

From hierarchy to servant leaders . . . recognizing servants as the great ones

 

The dictionary definition of hierarchy is, "a ruling body of clergy organized into orders or ranks, each subordinate to the one above it." The keyword in that definition is the word "above." Wherever there is a ladder-oriented organizational structure, there will always be those whose ambition and desire is to climb up one more rung of that ladder till they reach the top. The urge to be "above" is almost irresistible to the flesh. Hierarchy is a system of this world, not of the Kingdom of God. 

 

Jesus said the Kingdom of God is a brotherhood. "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. Nor are you to be called 'teacher' for you have one Teacher, the Christ. The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled and whoever humbles himself will be exalted." (Mt. 23:8-12) NIV

 

After Jesus said this, he demonstrated the servant spirit by stooping down to do the work of a common servant . . . washing the feet of all twelve disciples. Then he said, "Do you understand what I have done for you? You call me 'Teacher' and 'Lord' and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you." (John 13:12-15) NIV

 

It is difficult to find Christian leaders who are not seeking to climb the ladder of hierarchy. Thank God for those who walk in the spirit of Jesus and are humbly serving the brothers and sisters. How refreshing it is to find a servant leader whose aim is to pour out his life for the saints and for the world!

 

TREND No. EIGHT 

From weekly worship to constant worship . . . worshiping everywhere, all day long (Romans 12:1)

 

We often call the Sunday morning service at church a "Worship Service." The word "Worship" is a contraction of two words; worth and ship. When we "worth-ship" God, we are declaring His worth; how much we value our God! He is worthy of our praise.  Paul says in Romans 12:1 "Therefore I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God, which is your spiritual worship." Paul brings us down to the "bottom line" where true worship really starts. Spiritual worship starts with a total surrender of my self to God. 

 

That act of submission carries over into all the activities of every moment of every day. We are worshipping God all day long if we are walking in his will. Doing the will of God from the heart is an act of worship, no matter where we are or what we are doing. I may be sweeping or mopping the kitchen floor, taking out the trash, washing dishes, driving to the store to get groceries, taking a bath, or writing a letter, but everything I do, if I am in God's will, becomes an act of worship. Worship is more than singing songs in a church service! Singing his praises certainly has its place, but we put too much emphasis on how we sound or whether or not it is producing goose bumps on our goose bumps. We tend to worship our worship and praise our praise. The starting point of true praise and worship is a total abandonment to God. It is laying my life on the altar as a living sacrifice. 

 

The singing that really matters comes after that act of spiritual resignation to God. The singing of songs and hymns that does not begin with that full and complete consecration of our lives to God is not worship at all. It is just . . . singing words that put us into the category of those whom Jesus rebuked when he said, "You hypocrites! Isaiah was prophesying about you when he said, 'These people honor me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. Their worship is a farce!'" (Matt. 15:7) NLT

 

We do not have to be in a so-called House of Worship, or Sanctuary to be fully worshipping God. One of the snares we have laid for the saints is that very thought. It is not taught in so many words, but the idea is given off that "this is the sanctuary, the holy place. This is the place where true worship happens. This is the house of God." It has been a tremendous release to me to know that as I go from one thing to another throughout the day, doing the will of God from the heart, I am worshipping God and giving Him the praise due to his name! It is my life that praises as well as my lips, and if my life is praising God, then my lips can praise him, too.

 

TREND No. NINE

From bringing people to the church to bringing church to the people . . . expecting miracles

 

Pray the following prayer sincerely everyday and eventually you will become a minister and an evangelist wherever you go, all day, every day! 

 

"Father, give me a divine appointment today with someone who is hungry for God, or sick, or in need and give me grace to minister the love of Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit."

 

God will always answer that prayer. You may miss a day or two now and then, but if you faithfully make that your prayer every morning, some time during the day the Holy Spirit will nudge you and say, "This is the one. Tell him about Jesus!" or "This is the needy person that you can help, or the sick person you can minister to in the name of Jesus."  When God sets up the appointment, you can be certain you are dealing with the right person and that the seed or the deed will fall on prepared and fertile ground. They are either hungry to know God or they have a need that you can help fill, whereby you show them the love of God. They may be sick, which gives an opportunity to lay hands on them and minister healing in the name of Jesus. 

 

God will give you much fruit and you will live a very exciting life as a consistent witness for Jesus. The following story was sent to me by email. It is a remarkable instance of how God will answer the "divine appointment" prayer. The following is a true story told about Beth Moore on one of her videos:

     

Beth was sitting at an airport terminal waiting to board a plane. She was sitting there with several other people whom she did not know who were also waiting for their flight.  As she waited, she pulled out her Bible and started to read. All of a sudden she felt as if the people sitting around her were looking at her. She looked up but realized that they were looking just over her head at something behind her.

 

She turned to see what everyone was looking at and when she did she saw a stewardess pushing a very old man in a wheelchair.  He was the ugliest man she had ever seen!  He had long white hair that was all tangled and such a mess! His face was wrinkled, and he didn't look friendly at all.

 

She didn't know why, but she felt drawn to the man, and thought at first that God wanted her to witness to him. In her mind she was thinking "Oh, God, please not now, not here." No matter what she did, she couldn't get the man off her mind. All of a sudden she knew what God wanted her to do. She was supposed to brush this man's hair.  She went and knelt down in front of the old man, and said, “Sir may I have the honor of brushing your hair for you?“ He said “What?” She thought, “Oh great, he's hard of hearing.“ Again, a little louder she said “Sir, may I have the honor of brushing your hair for you?“ He answered, “If you are going to talk to me, you are going to have to speak up! I am practically deaf.”

 

So this time, she was almost yelling, “Sir, May I please have the honor of brushing your hair for you?” Everyone was watching to see what his response would be. The old man just looked at her confused, and said, “Well, I guess if you really want to.“ She said, “I don't even have a brush, but I thought I would ask anyway.“ He said, “Look in the bag hanging on the back of my chair, there is a brush in there.”

 

So she got the brush out and started brushing his hair. Beth has a little girl with long hair, so she had lots of practice getting tangles out, and knew how to be gentle with him. She worked until every last tangle was out.

 

Just as she was finishing up, she heard the old man crying. Kneeling in front of him, she put her hands on his knees and looking directly into his eyes she said, “Sir, do you know Jesus? “ He answered, “Yes, of course I know Jesus. You see, my bride told me she couldn't marry me unless I knew Jesus, so I learned all about Jesus, and asked Him to come into my heart many years ago before I married my bride.”

 

He continued, “You know, I am on my way home to go and see my wife. I have been in the hospital for a long time, and had to have a special surgery in this town far from my home. My wife couldn't come with me, because she is so frail herself. He said, I was so worried about how terrible my hair looked, and I didn't want her to see me looking so awful, but I couldn't brush my hair, all by myself.”

 

Tears were rolling down his cheeks, as he thanked Beth for brushing his hair. He thanked her over and over again. She was crying, people all around witnessing this were crying, and as they were all boarding the plane, the stewardess, who was also crying, stopped her, and asked, “Why did you do that?“ And right there was the opportunity, the door that had been opened to share with someone else the love of God.

 

We don't always understand God's ways, but be ready, He may use us to meet the need of someone else, like He met the need of this old man, and in a moment, also calling out to a lost soul who needed to know His love. 

                                                           (End of story)

 

One of the most powerful ways to win others to Jesus is to write your own story of what life was like before Christ, how you came to Christ, and the changes that have come into your life since you became a follower of Jesus. Type it out with your picture on the front so the person who receives it knows this is not a generic tract, but your own personal journey of faith. You may be surprised how God will use your story to lead others to Jesus. 

 

For a sample of how to make up your own "My Story" brochure, send me a letter or email requesting one of mine and I will send it to your mailing address. It is easier to send you one than to try to describe how to make it. You can make copies at any of the office super stores, or use your own copy machine. It can be done on one sheet of typing paper using front and back, tri-folded.

Three times in the book of Acts we read the story of Paul's conversion experience on the road to Damascus. Paul told his story wherever he went. His story was so important that God had it repeated over and over. It is just as important for us to tell our story as a means of winning others to Jesus. WRITE IT OUT! You will use it all the rest of your life. (See appendix "A" for My Story)

 

TREND No. TEN

From symbolism to reality in the Lord's Supper . . . taking it often

 

Paul said, "As often as you eat this bread and drink this cup you do show the Lord's death till he comes." He uses the word "often" and says that they are actually sharing the gospel when they take the Lord's Supper. One of the most effective forms of evangelism is the frequent observance of communion. To show forth his death is the same as proclaiming his death or heralding the gospel. In I Corinthians 15:1-3 Paul gives the gospel in words few and simple: "Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you . . . that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, that he was buried, that he raised on the third day."  Every time we take the cup and the bread we are proclaiming that same message of good news . . . Christ died for our sins. He was buried to prove he was dead and he was raised from the dead to prove he was who he said he was.

 

We are not only preaching the simple gospel message when we take communion; we are also declaring that Jesus is our Lord and our life and that he is coming again.

 

He said "This is my body . . . this is my blood." We might say it is symbolic, but Jesus said, "This is . . ." He could have said, "This represents my body" or "This symbolizes my body." But he said "This is my body." Then he said, "Except you eat my flesh and drink my blood you have no life in you." Those words were easy to misunderstand because, when he said that, all except the twelve disciples went away and walked with him no more. It sounded too ridiculous to them! Who but an egomaniac would ever be so brazen or so stupid as to utter such words? And how could anyone who wanted to continue following him ever fulfill such an unusual command? 

 

But Jesus went on to say, "The words that I speak unto you are spirit and they are life." That which is spirit is real, not symbolic. It is real to believers. They that eat the bread and drink the cup in the communion service are indeed (spiritually, not literally) eating his flesh and drinking his blood. They are eating of the bread that came down from heaven. Jesus said, "I am the bread of life. He who eats of this bread shall live forever."

 

He was saying that when we eat the bread and drink of the cup, we are spiritually, which is really, partaking of the blood and the body of Christ. Only those who are believers can partake of the elements in the reality of the spirit. An unbeliever cannot spiritually take it, for he is not in the spirit, but in the flesh. 

 

Watchman Nee said that when the house churches in China, called "little flocks," started taking the Lord's Supper every time they met, it brought a dramatic new flow of life into the whole movement just before the blood bath took place when the communists took over China in 1949.

 

It is a good practice to have a meal together each time you meet and have communion either at the beginning or at the end of the meal. Have someone share a revelation God has given them about the meaning of the bread and the cup.

 

TREND No. ELEVEN

From denominations to Spirit-led networks . . . embracing the whole Body of Christ

 

Denominations and Christian Organizations can become a problem as to the cause of division in the Body of Christ. It opens the door to a subtle snare, a spirit of divisiveness. Israel was one people with one God, one nation, one religion, and one army, but there were twelve tribes, each having its own identity, its own space in the camp, and its own unique banner. So there can exist different groups with specific designations or names without a spirit of division and sectarianism. These "Spirit-led networks" come together by divine direction and not by the organizational skill of men. There is a free flow of liberty and freedom in each house church without any legalistic pressures from a denominational headquarters, and there is no "I am of Paul. I am of Apolos, I am of Cephas" spirit entrenched in the fellowship.

 

Sectarianism is a spirit. It is a spirit of exclusivity. You can be non-denominational and yet be very exclusive toward anyone and everyone who does not understand and teach the Bible just like you do. You can be the most dedicated house church adherent and still be divisive. That is the crux of the problem . . . and that is what the word heresy means . . . divisiveness. 

 

A heretic is a divisive person. You can even hold to the truth and still be a heretic. Paul made that clear when he reproved the Corinthians. He said, "Some of you are saying, I am of Paul, some, 'I am of Apollos' some, 'I am of Cephas', and some, 'I am of Christ.'" But wouldn't it be correct to say, 'I am of Christ'? Yes, it would be correct, but in this case it was spoken in a spirit of divisiveness, and therefore it was heresy, which is basically a party spirit, a clique, causing disunity or division. 

God draws near to open, broken and humble hearts no matter where he finds them. There are people in denominational churches with open hearts and there are people in house churches with open hearts. We need to receive our brothers and sisters everywhere, regardless of their denominational label or organizational affiliation. Anything less than that is a spirit of division.

We are not compromising our beliefs when we reach out to one another in this way. There are a lot of people in all the churches who differ with me on certain points, but we are committed to walk together while we work out our differences. That is also my commitment to my wife and hers to me in our marriage relationship and it has been working for us for over fifty years now! We are committed to keep on walking through life together while we work out our differences.

 

TREND No. TWELVE

From social respectability to salt and light . . . turning the world upside down!

When Paul and his team arrived in Thessalonica and began sharing the good news about Jesus, they caused quite a stir.  Several Jews and a great multitude of Greeks received the message of salvation, but the unbelieving Jews gathered together a crowd and set the whole city in an uproar. They shouted, "They that have turned the world upside down have come here also." (Acts 17:6)

A strong, vital, Spirit-filled, anointed church will be sending out teams to turn the world upside down, which, in reality, is turning it right-side up! This is done by the bold proclamation of the simple message of God's love and forgiveness as well as seeing the Lord confirm our words with signs following. This is the ministry of Jesus being multiplied in the lives of his followers.  When Jesus sent out his disciples, he commanded them to do the same things he was doing. "He gave them authority to cast out demons and to heal all kinds of disease and illness." (Matt. 10:1 NLT) He still does it that way today. 

 

Along with proclaiming this message, we are to do as Jesus and the early church did; we are to heal the sick, cast out demons, get every believer baptized in water and in the Holy Spirit and freed from all demonic bondage. Such a church, no matter what size it is, be it a traditional church with thousands in attendance, or a house church with a dozen in attendance, that church is in the business of turning the world upside down.

 

We cannot hold to the idea of "business as usual" unless that business is the bold, aggressive, radical proclamation of the gospel everywhere, at all times, to everyone who will listen. This was the work of the early church and it is the work of the church today. It is not sufficient to proclaim the word only. It was said of the church in the book of Acts, "They went everywhere and preached and the Lord worked with them, confirming what they said by many miraculous signs." (Mark16:20) NLT

 

I remember well how difficult it was for me to enter into a "signs following" ministry. The only churches I had served as pastor were evangelical churches that had strongly resisted anything that slightly resembled anything Pentecostal or Charismatic. Then one day, as I was reading a book about the baptism in the Holy Spirit, I received an overwhelming outpouring of the Holy Spirit such as I had never received before. I tried to keep it hidden and go on about my business, but the very next day one of the ladies in our church called and asked me to go and pray for her sick mother who had not been able to get warm or sleep well for several weeks. 

 

I drove over to the lady's house and when I prayed over her, she felt an immediate release in her body and was remarkably healed. She was able to sleep soundly without feeling cold, for the first time in weeks. I had prayed for the sick before, but that was the first time I laid hands on the sick expecting them to recover. I actually did not touch her with my hand, but raised my hand about an inch above her head. It was the first time, as a Baptist pastor, that I have laid my hand on (in this case close) a person. These kinds of things began happening in my ministry and within a few weeks the deacons asked me to resign as pastor of the church. It was a "bitter/sweet" experience, but God opened the door to become an associate pastor of a newly organized church where there was complete liberty to talk about and move in all the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

 

That was the beginning of the most fruitful and anointed ministry of my entire life. Since that time God has sent me out to other countries to proclaim Jesus as Savior, Healer, and Deliverer from all the works of the devil. I have found it to be much easier to do the works of Jesus in other countries than it is in the USA. The people of Russia, China, India, Africa, Asia, and Latin America are much more open to the supernatural realm than most Americans are but, thank God, that is beginning to change! The church in America is beginning to stir and soon it will awaken to the most powerful spiritual revival it has ever experienced in the history of the USA! From the reports we are getting, it has already started. I just received this email from John White, a house church coach, who read a "soon to be published book" by George Barna on the major shift in the church scene that is currently taking place in the USA: 

 

"Perhaps the most stunning talk at the recent National House Church Conference was given by Thom Black who works closely with church researcher, George Barna. Black reported that year after year their research had indicated that 95% of born again Christians attended a local church. Then, about 6-7 years ago this number began to steadily decline until today their data indicates that only 70% attend a traditional local church. What's more, Barna is predicting that this number will continue to decline over the next 20 years. Until now, this huge shift in the religious landscape of America has been totally unknown to most church leaders. The implications of this development will be immense. 

 

The financial challenges facing traditional Christian churches are often linked to building projects. Many undergo great tensions when considering the massive investments required, which are a burden for the members for many years. But many church building projects are not even necessary, according to a recent study in the USA.

 

"Revolution", George Barna's new book, will be published in September. Barna leads a church research institute, and is currently the most-quoted person in the Christian church in the USA because of his statistical work. Below is a summary of the book's most important conclusions:

 

* The number of Christians attending local church in the USA is declining rapidly. Today, 70% of Christians attend traditional churches, but this will sink to 30-35% in 20 years;

* The number of followers of Jesus who do not attend a local church will grow from 30% to 70% in the next 20 years;

* Alternative fellowship forms (house church/simple church, post-modern churches etc.), currently home for 5% of USA Christians, will grow to make up 30-35%; another 30-35% will live out their faith in the fields of media, arts and culture; the remaining 5% of Christians attending non-traditional forms of church will have a family-based spiritual life; 

* Conclusion: a minority group presently not even noticed by many will become the mainstream of North American Christianity in only two decades.

 

"This is a revolution, and will change not only the recruiting strategies of seminaries and Bible schools, but also radically question church building projects," says Barna. If only half as many people will be visiting traditional congregational services in 20 years, a smaller building will suffice. Source: George Barna "Revolution" 

 

TREND No. THIRTEEN

From performance by professionals to open church format . . . doing your part in the meetings

 

"When you meet, one will sing, another will teach, another will tell some special revelation God has given, one will speak in an unknown language while another will interpret what is said. But everything that is done must be useful to all and build them up in the Lord." (I Corinthians 14:26) NLT

 

To some it may come as a surprise to learn that there is nothing in the New Testament about church buildings, pulpits, pews, membership lists, or even a pastor of a local church! There were elders appointed, but the entire eldership was to be watching over the entire flock in the citywide church. There is no record in the New Testament of a pastor of a local congregation. We have some of the names of those hosting the meetings in their homes, but no mention of one pastor for one local gathering. (See Acts 20:20-31)

 

There was no such thing as a clergy-laity distinction in the early days of the church. All believers were taught to do the works of Jesus and proclaim the good news. The special priesthood and the distinction between the "clergy" and the "laity" emerged over a long period of time. 

 

Much of what we see among the "clergy" such as priestly garments, robes, special shirt collars and special titles are a carry over from the Old Testament priesthood. We tend to forget that the Old Testament shadows, symbols, and types were all fulfilled in Christ. The Old Testament priesthood was done away.  No longer is there a special priesthood. We all have something to share when we come together in the name of Jesus. (Hebrews 10:19-20)

 

This certainly does not mean that God has done away with leaders in the Body of Christ. There will always be leaders. God gave these ministries to the Church. Apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers are gifts from God to his people. These all have their place and function. We will only be blessed when we receive them in the name of Jesus and hear what they have to say. 

 

All of these are traveling ministries, including the pastor/teacher. The pastor/teacher has a smaller circle geographically than the apostle, prophet, and evangelist, but according to Acts 20:17-31 Paul expected the elders of Ephesus whom he called overseers (bishops) to shepherd (pastor) the flock (one flock) in Ephesus. So in some sense, every pastor/teacher in Ephesus was responsible to move about among the believers and feed the Flock of God in Ephesus. This means that no pastor could put his brand on a few of God's sheep in Ephesus, build a sheep pen (sanctuary) and call them his own. They all belong to Jesus and the job of the pastor is to lead and feed Jesus' sheep. Jesus did not say to Peter, "Feed your sheep." He said, "Feed my sheep!"

 

Paul gave a solemn warning to the shepherd who would "draw away disciples after himself." trying to make them exclusively his own. (Acts 20: 29-31) The entire flock within the city was the responsibility of every pastor. Radical?  Yes, that is radical in the fullest sense of the word, for the word means "getting down to the root of things!"

 

The opposite error is also wrong, and that is the hireling shepherd who sees the wolf coming and flees, or even worse, a shepherd who never takes up any responsibility for the sheep at all.  The tension between possessive oversight and zero oversight is always present in any position of leadership.  There will always be servant leaders and there will always be self-serving leaders.

 

Paul wrote to the Corinthians that it was not his purpose to lord it over their faith, but rather to work with them for their joy.  But neither did he start new churches and just walk away and forget them. He watched over the churches that he established.  He prayed for them, wrote to them, visited them, sent others to visit them, counseled them, scolded them, rebuked them, praised them, taught them, and poured out his life for them.  I know what it is to be under overwhelming oversight, and I know what it is to have no oversight at all. Neither of these two extremes are the will of God. True spiritual oversight is healthy, productive, fruitful, and fulfilling to everyone involved.

 

The biblical plan is for apostolic ministries to "appoint leaders in every city" as Paul instructed Titus to do all over the Island of Crete.   He also gave him certain guidelines as to what kind of people to put in leadership. (Titus 1:5-9). There are still many godly leaders who have the true heart of a shepherd to humbly pour out their lives caring for Jesus' sheep.

 

Moses appointed rulers of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens for one simple reason; to meet the needs of the people.  The very word "organization" implies that it is a structure made up of organisms.  We cannot say, "The church is not an organization; it is an organism."  Sounds pithy, but it's just not true! It is both!  The truth is that the church is indeed an organism, but there is always a lot of organizing going on whether it is house church or traditional church. 

 

There is nothing wrong with organization in itself. That is exactly what is done when we fight a war.  Someone has to organize thousands of men into armies, divisions, brigades, corps, companies, platoons, etc. and leaders have to be put in charge of each unit.  The only way to win a war is to form an army.  And that requires organizational structure.  And the church is at war with the powers of darkness!

My wife cannot plan and present a meal without some organization going on. I cannot plan and present a prayer meeting or a house church meeting without some organizing happening. That does not disqualify the meals or the meetings. The problem of organization is not in organization itself, but rather in those who would manipulate the organism to the point of suffocation. I can kill the life and spontaneity of church by over-organizing and making everything depend on me if I am a self-serving leader.

 

But we have become so fearful of self-serving leaders in the Body of Christ that we tend to despise all leadership.  There will always be leaders in the church and there will always be two kinds of leaders: those who are self-serving and those who are servant-leaders.  God will give you sensitivity to know which kind you are following or which kind of leader you are.  That problem will always be with us.  There is no way to organize that is risk-free, but neither is there any way to remain disorganized that is risk-free! Furthermore, there is no way to fall in love and get married that is risk-free.  The only way to make sure your wife or husband never leaves you for another man or woman is to never get married; just live a solitary life.  That option has its own set of problems.  

 

For years I refused to organize anything for fear of producing a denomination. As I continued to pray about it and seek the mind of God, he showed me that organization, in itself, is not evil.  It is only evil when it is in the hands of evil men.  Money is not evil.  It is only evil when it is in the hands of evil men.  Even good things can be turned into evil things in the hands of selfish people. 

 

The simplest definition I know for organization is to make a plan and implement the plan.  Out of necessity we do that everyday, all through the day, from the time we get up in the morning till we go to bed at night. 

Moses organized and began meeting the needs of the people in a much more efficient way by appointing men of integrity in places of leadership . . . servant leadership. (Ex. 18:13-26)

 

Jesus gathered seventy of his followers and sent them out in teams, two by two, into all the towns and villages where he himself would later go and preach.  That is organization.

 

On another occasion he appointed twelve to be his apostles, taught them and sent them out two by two with a command as to what they should do and not do. That is organization.

 

Paul organized.  He told Titus to appoint leaders in every city on the Island of Crete. That included geographical boundaries, included every city within those boundaries, and specified what kind of people to ordain  

The deterrents to self serving leadership are: the Word of God, the Body of Christ, the guidance of the Holy Spirit, Godly leaders and the example of Jesus. 

 

Paul said to Timothy, "If any man sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task."  (I Timothy 3:1)  It is a noble thing to serve as a leader.  Paul called it a task, which means it is work, labor, sweat and tears. It is noble and honorable when it is done like Jesus did it.

 

What is servant leadership? Consider the following:

 

The scout in the pioneer days of the march West who rode ahead of the wagon train to find water in a desert place and then led the wagon train to the water, saving the lives of the early pioneers . . . that is servant leadership.

 

The traveler, who is awakened at night by the smell of smoke in a burning hotel, finds a way out of the building, then goes back in to lead others out to safety . . . that is servant leadership.

The pastor who faithfully feeds the saints the truths of God . . . that is servant leadership.

 

The husband who loves his wife as Christ loved the church and daily lays down his life for her and his little ones . . . that is servant leadership.

 

With or without organizational structures, we will always have to deal with our motives.  Do we want to be in a position of leadership to be seen of men; to be in the spot light; to be praised by men; to fulfill our ego; to make money; to have power; to rule over other people? Or do we lead to do the will of our Father in heaven?  I must answer that question on a daily basis as the years go by. You must do the same if you are in a position of leadership. Jesus said, "My food is to do the will of Him who sent me and to finish his work."  

 

Did Jesus put himself in places where he would be seen? 

 

Yes.  

 

Did he draw large crowds?  

 

Yes! 

 

Did he claim to be The Son of God at the risk of his life?  

 

Yes! 

 

Did he cause a stir wherever he went? 

 

Yes!  

 

Was he famous?

 

Yes!

 

Did he challenge the religious leaders and the religious system of his day?  

 

Yes!  

 

Was he doing the will of the Father?

 

Yes!

 

 He took the risk of being misunderstood in order to do the will of his Father. Whether God’s call on your life brings you to a place that is hidden away from the praise or censure of men or out into the blazing light of notoriety, it is enough to know that you are doing the will of him who sent you.  That is what I want to do.  Do you?  Take the risk!  Go for it!  

 

Over the past several years the Lord has repeatedly spoken two statements in Paul's writings to me: "Ordain elders in every city." and "That which comes upon me daily, the care of all the churches." 

 

Paul had the liberty, even the responsibility, given by the Lord Jesus, to systematically establish churches city by city, and also, in some way, to watch over and care for them. On one occasion he even appointed (ordained) Titus to appoint (ordain) elders in every city on the Island of Crete. This would be equal to appointing someone to take on the responsibility of appointing elders (leaders) in every city within a state or province. 

 

Since 1990 God has led me to help plant simple churches both in the US and in other countries. It has been a challenging assignment and we have seen good fruit from this effort. After nineteen years of experience, I am convinced that I have been overly careful and have lost the heart of what Paul expressed in the verses above. He had a God-given call to start churches in every city, ordain elders in every city, appoint others to ordain elders in every city within a larger geographical area and continue to give oversight and care to those churches.

 

After holding back for all these years from any kind of organizational structures for fear that it would grieve the Holy Spirit or somehow dishearten or confuse house church people, many of whom are fearful of anything that looks like organization, I believe the Lord is saying that it is time to appoint elders (leaders) to plant and care for the churches, as well as to train and release others to do the same. In doing so, we will not try to shield them from input from the larger Body of Christ. We are all admonished to receive pastoral, apostolic, prophetic, and civil authority wherever it crosses our path. We are not seeking to create a kingdom within a kingdom. The words of Oswald Chambers ring thunderous and clear here: “The church ceases to be a spiritual society when it is on the lookout for the development of its own organization.”

 

These appointed leaders will start house churches that will seek to relate to the whole Body of Christ in the city and to participate with what God is doing in the city-wide church. They will reach out to the world by networking with missionaries, foreign workers and missionary organizations to help spread the good news. They will submit to every spiritual authority that God sends into their lives including pastoral, prophetic, apostolic, civil, and Biblical authority. 

 

Our responsibility will be to encourage and help the churches.  We will hold retreats, conferences, and seminars, schools, and Healing Prayer Clinics that will encourage and strengthen the leaders, and the churches. 

 

What is the purpose of an organization? "One shall chase a thousand and two shall put ten thousand to flight." We can do more together than we can do scattered. That is spiritual synergism! When we enlist an army, we can win a war. There are too many little groups dying because of isolation and lack of vision. The book of Acts shows that there were churches in houses, but they also moved together under servant leaders into a mighty army that moved out to preach Christ into all the world. 

 

We will be doing what Paul was doing. He established churches, returned to strengthen them, and at times would send someone else to help them. He wrote to them, prayed for them, and maintained a working relationship with them. But can we have organization without hierarchy? YES! The ground is level in the Kingdom of God. Servant leaders are not ladder climbers.                  

    

The word elder, apostle, evangelist, pastor, prophet, teacher, all speak of a function and not a level of authority or importance in a pyramid structure. Every leader in this ministry will look to the Lord for his financial supply. God's work, done in God's way will not lack God's supply. What God orders, he pays for, and where guides he provides.

 

Our purpose is to obey the Lord's command to go into all the world and preach the gospel to everyone in the power of the Holy Spirit.

 

TREND No. FOURTEEN

From temple based church to home based church . . . moving back to our roots

 

If we divide the Body of Christ into three major groups, liturgical, evangelical, and informal, and ask the question, which of the three has more meetings and more people per week, worldwide, the answer would be . . . Informal. By "liturgical" we mean churches with a prescribed form of conducting public services such as Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran, or Episcopal. "Evangelical" would be the Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Pentecostal and every other denomination that regularly have public services that meet in a sanctuary or temple. "Informal" is the category into which house churches would fall. 

 

We might also ask, "Which has been around longest?" And the answer to that question is that house churches have been around longest and, worldwide, there are more informal house church meetings and more people that meet in house churches every week than in either evangelical or liturgical churches. Of course this includes China, India, Africa and many other countries around the world which are beginning to explode with house church movements.

 

According to church history there were no church buildings for the first 250 years of the spread of the gospel into all nations. The house church is mentioned often in the New Testament. Here are a few:

 

"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." (I Cor. 16:19)

 

"Give my greetings to the brothers at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house." (Col.4:15)

 

"And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their food with gladness and singleness of heart." (Acts 2:46)

 

"And Paul dwelt two whole years in his own hired house, and received all that came in unto him, preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ, with all confidence, no man forbidding him." (Acts 28:30-31)

 

This is how the First Century Church spread throughout the known world within a very short time. They were not slowed down by the need to buy land, build buildings or hire a staff. They just did church in homes and found that it worked just as well for them as it did for Jesus. 

 

TREND No. FIFTEEN

From the seminary system to the apprentice system . . . using Paul's method

 

In II Timothy 2:2 Paul says, "The things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses, entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others." We can see four generations in that verse. The first generation is Paul; second, Timothy; third, reliable men; and fourth "others." That sets the stage for amazing multiplication as it develops.

Just before the start of the Second World War, Dawson Trotman was a sailor on a battleship in the Pacific Fleet. He was a dedicated Christian who believed in Paul's method explained in II Timothy 2:2. He led another sailor to the Lord and began to "entrust" the things of God to this young man. For several months he met with him regularly and taught him to memorize Bible verses, to share his faith with others, to pray, to give, and to walk with Jesus daily.

 

After about a year he commissioned his friend to go and do the same for some other sailor as he had done for him. Dawson then began to disciple another sailor and his first disciple began to work with one of his friends. Now there were four. In time there were eight, then sixteen, then thirty-two. By the end of World War II Dawson Trotman's ministry had multiplied to such an extent that there were disciples on every ship in the Pacific fleet that could trace their lineage back to Trotman and his first disciple. 

 

Out of that "one on one" experience, he formed a ministry called The Navigators who now have disciples in nearly every country in the world and are still growing. All this happened because one sailor had a vision to invest his life into one other sailor and teach him to do the same. It still works and it is the best form of teaching known to man. It is the way the greatest teacher who ever lived did it. He had a small group of disciples, but he still made it a one-on-one approach even within the small group.

 

No one has ever improved upon the apprentice system for education. The ideal for teaching is the teacher on one end of the log and the student on the other.  If I know how to fly an airplane, I can teach you how to fly an airplane. But you have to be in the airplane with me sitting in the passenger seat and you sitting in the seat reserved for the "Pilot in Command." I teach as you fly the plane. Of course I have all the controls on my side as you have on yours.

If I know how to swim, I can teach you how to swim. If I can speak the Spanish language, I can teach you how. One on one is always best. Small groups are next best. But even in the small group, one on one must also take place.

 

The formal seminary and Bible school format is too close to the cloistered life that takes the student out of normal life and puts him into an artificial situation for a period of years. When he comes out of that environment, he has a difficult time spanning the gap back into real life situations. Some never do. 

 

Classroom teaching has its strong points, but it is significant that Jesus chose to call his students alongside him while went from town to town, from place to place, doing the works of God in the presence of his students (disciples) and teaching them to do the same things he was doing. He not only told them how; (classroom) he showed them how; (workshop). Even with all our modern methods and tools of education designed for the classroom, the apprentice system is still unbeatable. More than that, it is essential!

 

TREND No. SIXTEEN

From tenth to total . . . giving generously and expecting the promised blessing

 

Most of us were taught that when we give our tithes and offerings to God, we are to expect nothing in return. In one sense this is true. We are to give without expecting anything in return from the one to whom we give. But all through the Bible when God admonishes us to give, there follows a promise of blessing to the giver. This blessing is to come from the hands of our heavenly Father himself. Here are a few of the passages that encourage us to give, followed with the promise of material blessing:

 

"There is one who scatters, yet increases all the more. And there is one who withholds what is justly due, but it results only in want." (Proverbs 11:24)

 

"Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make every material blessing overflow to you, so that in all things, at all times, having all that you need, you will overflow in every good work." (II Corinthians 9:7-8)

 

"Honor the Lord from your wealth and from the first of all your produce; so your barns will overflow with plenty and your vats will overflow with new wine." (Proverbs 3:9-10)

 

"The generous man will be prosperous and he who waters will himself be watered." (Proverbs 11:25)

 

"Give and it will be given to you, good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, they will pour into your lap. For whatever measure you deal out to others, it will be dealt to you in return." (Luke 6:38)

 

These verses and many others make it clear that we are not only to give generously to the Lord but we are to look to the Lord to fulfill his promises to bless those who give. 

We cannot ignore any of God's promises without offending his goodness and mercy toward us. The reason these promises have not been fulfilled in many lives is because we have been taught to give without any expectation of return; that it is wrong to give expecting something in return. It is not wrong to give and then expect God to do what he has clearly promised in his word that he would do. That is called FAITH, and without faith it is impossible to please him. 

 

It is dishonoring and disrespectful to God to completely ignore a promise he has made to me. I am father to two sons and five daughters. If I make any one of them a promise and they take it lightly or completely ignore it. That does not make me feel good. It makes me feel sad. It says they don't believe me.

 

God gives promises to us so that we may take hold of them and be blessed. It is a trick of the devil to blind us to these promises of material blessings by making us think, "You're just giving to get which is pure selfishness." You can give unselfishly, then after you give just remember his promises and expect to see them come to pass. For many years I gave expecting nothing in return and that is just what I received. Then one day I saw my error and began to give with expectation of material blessing. I have found that God keeps his promises to the one who is trusting in his promises. I call it GENEROSITY WITH EXPECTATION!

 

TREND No. SEVENTEEN

From selective submission to complete submission . . . to every authority, everywhere, all the time

 

In the late nineteen seventies and early eighties I got excited about what was then called, "The Discipleship Movement" also called the Shepherding Movement." The main proponents of that movement were some of the most prominent Bible teachers in the USA and the world. I fed on their teachings by cassette tapes and ultimately joined the movement, submitting myself to the oversight of one of their leaders.

 

Most of what we were doing was very good and needful in the Body of Christ, but there was "poison in the pot." One of the main problems was what I call, "Selective Submission." After my wife and I, along with our children, had languished in the movement for four years, we walked away from it and felt a huge release! But for those four years I tasted the bitterness of a system that taught us to submit to one special shepherd and close our minds and hearts to any other voice. The Holy Spirit was grieved and so were we. Day after day in my early morning walks I prayed, "Father, what is it about this movement that is sapping my spiritual life away?"

 

To me, those four years were like going to a university and coming away with a degree in how to recognize legalism in the Body of Christ. Since that time I have been able to sense legalism a mile away. It is a very subtle thing, but once you have suffered a lingering death in the throes of legalism, you can easily detect it when you get near it. Since that time, if anyone asks me the question, "Who is your covering?” or “Who are you accountable to?" or "Who are you submitted to?" I look straight into their eyes and say, "I am accountable to you and if you have a word from the Lord to me or a word of wisdom, or caution, or admonition, or encouragement, I am listening." That person has the responsibility to deliver that word and I have the responsibility to weigh it to see if it is truly a word from the Lord or not. 

 

If I am submitted to the King of the Kingdom, I am automatically submitted to His delegated authority wherever it crosses my path.  If I am not submitted to every God ordained authority, I am not submitted to God. I do not have the liberty to designate who has the right to speak a word into my life. God may speak to me through the mouth of a donkey! He has done that before! I can just hear Balaam saying to the donkey, “Hey! Wait a minute! You are not a member of my church! You have no right to speak into my life!”

 

Submission is a heart attitude and stays with me at all times, toward every authority. I cannot arbitrarily choose some special person to whom I will submit, thereby leaving others out. I must live life with an attitude of submission toward the Lord Jesus Christ and every God ordained authority, everywhere and at all times. 

 

God will give me certain close relationships, but that is not the criteria for submission or accountability. We are accountable to God at all times and we are submitted to God at all times. For that reason, we remain submitted and accountable to any and all of God's people who represent His authority. If we are truly living a submitted life, we will welcome the input of the Body of Christ in all places at all times. This includes spiritual overseers but is not restricted to them. God may speak to you through a perfect stranger. That’s what happened to Paul when Ananias, a perfect stranger, came and spoke the word of the Lord to him as he was on a three day fast right after the Damascus Road encounter with the Risen Lord. Did Paul recognize God's authority in Ananias? Yes, he surely did!

 

To be sure, there is a submission for all of us to God ordained authority, and we do not have to fear the idea of submission, for the good news is that Jesus is our King! If we are submitted to the King of the Kingdom, JESUS CHRIST THE LORD, then it follows that we will automatically be submitted to His delegated authority anywhere and everywhere it touches our lives. We will also have a spirit of submission to one another. This is the Spirit of Jesus. Submission is a heart attitude toward God and toward every God ordained authority He sends into our lives. I do not have to submit to an authority that does not exhibit the spirit of Jesus Christ.

 

What about the word, "Covering?" Has anyone ever asked you, "Who is your covering?" I do not use the word "covering" because people who use it usually want to bring you under their "covering" and take control of you in spiritual matters. The word "covering" is only used one time in the New Testament and that is in I Corinthians  11:15 where Paul speaks of the hair of the woman being given to her as a covering, symbolizing her submission to her husband. It is unreasonable to try to make that mean what people try to make it mean with regard to walking humbly before God in a spirit of submission.  

 

"Who is your covering?" This is never a valid question, for it implies that you need to select some individual or ministry to watch over your life to the exclusion of everyone else! We are to be submitted everywhere, at all times, to every spiritual authority that crosses our path, and we will be, if we are truly submitted to Jesus. The "covering" question is usually tied to the idea "selective submission" which is WRONG! We cannot choose to whom we will submit. We MUST submit to all spiritual authority as unto the Lord himself. There is no such thing in the New Testament as selecting a certain ministry or individual to whom I submit.  It is always everywhere, all the time, to all God ordained authority, church wide, city wide and world-wide. 

 

TREND No. EIGHTEEN

From titles to function . . . designating the function, dropping the titles

 

Jesus was hard on those who were out to call attention to themselves. He publicly rebuked the religious leaders of his day for the way they tried to look important and special and great and learned and holy and indispensable.

 

There is a fine line between title and function, but there is a difference.  Paul often reminded those to whom he ministered that he was an apostle. But he was explaining his function to the church, the Body of Christ, while at the same time he was establishing that he was truly sent from God, not from men, to proclaim the gospel. 

 

The word "apostle" simply means, "one sent forth." Paul was saying, "I have been sent by the Lord to do what I am doing." We never read even once in the New Testament the phrase "The apostle Paul." It was always, "Paul, an apostle." Not even "Paul, the apostle", just "an" apostle. 

 

So, what is the difference? It is the difference between a title and a function. Jesus said, "Call no man teacher," and yet we read in Ephesians 4 that God has given teachers to the church for the equipping of the saints for the work of the ministry. But if I require people to address me as "Teacher Robert Fitts" or "Apostle Robert Fitts" or "Prophet Robert Fitts," I am going against Jesus' warning.

 

I was standing in the hallway of a church, talking to Bill, the pastor of the church when one of his church members passed by and said, "Hi, Bill!" as he walked by. The pastor immediately called him back and said, "My name is Bill, but you are to address me as ' Pastor Bill,' okay?" It was an embarrassing moment for me and especially for the poor church member who received such an unnecessary, stinging and open rebuke. There are many ways to show respect for our spiritual leaders without violating the command of Christ to avoid the use of titles. 

 

But why would our Lord make a point of forbidding us to use titles? Is it not an obvious fact that titles are intended to impress, to intimidate and to establish a sense of superiority or importance by those who use them? Why should it be necessary for God's people to boast about any of their accomplishments? Isn't using a degree as a title an advertisement of your accomplishments?  Isn't it the same as the Pharisees did by blowing a trumpet in the street before they said their awe-inspiring prayers audibly so all could hear? 

 

If someone asks you if you have a degree in one of the arts or sciences, and you answer the question, this is not a problem. But to go around advertising it is another thing. To insist on being called by a certain title after you receive your degree is falling right into the snare Jesus warned us to avoid. 

 

The most obnoxious of all religious titles is "Reverend" and some denominations have gone to the extreme by using the title "Right Reverend." The word "reverend" is only used one time in the Bible. Here it is: "He sent redemption unto his people: he hath commanded his covenant forever: holy and reverend is his name." Psalm 111:9 KJV  

The word "reverend" in the above verse is from the Hebrew word "Yare" which means, fearful, dreadful, terrible, to be feared, awesome. The NIV uses the word "awesome" instead of "reverend" in this verse. Isn't it HIS name, not ours, that is "holy and reverend?" The use of that title is calculated to perpetuate the "clergy/laity" system which ought to be done away with now and forever!

 

May God help us to take the words of Jesus at face value in this matter and refuse to be entangled in this subtle snare of using impressive titles! 

 

TREND No. NINETEEN

From independence to inter-dependence . . . Embracing the citywide church

 

Everything that belongs to Jesus belongs to me and I belong to everything that belongs to him. That's what it means to be an heir of God and a joint heir with Jesus. I am a member of every church in town and every other ministry that belongs to Jesus, worldwide!  A "joint heir" does not own half of the inheritance, he owns it all and so does every other joint heir! Every joint heir owns it all . . . jointly . . . at the same time.

 

I do not have the same measure of responsibility for every other church or ministry, but it still belongs to me and I belong to it. On the other hand, every ministry that God has given me belongs to every other believer, too. We are members one of another, bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh. We do not have the same level of involvement or responsibility, but we all own it jointly.

 

How does this play out in practical ways? It should cause us to pray for and bless one another; to give us a sense of oneness or unity; to melt away a feeling of competition, and to dissolve the walls that separate us. It should also cause us to fellowship with one another and even admonish one another when necessary, even though we may not attend the same fellowship. All the "one another" verses in the New Testament were directed to the city-wide church, not to a local fellowship.

 

A few years ago a pastor friend of mine was going through a strong temptation to leave his wife for another woman. The woman in question was a member of his church and his wife would not attend the church.  I was not a member of his church but he and I used to meet and have a prayer-walk once a week. I really did like this brother! We had had lots of good times of prayer together.

I saw the direction his marriage was going. Everybody was talking, but nobody wanted to say anything to the pastor about it. One day on our weekly prayer walk I decided to talk to him about the direction he was going as a brother to his brother. He seemed to be openly courting the single lady while his wife and children were almost left completely out of his life. It was just going from bad to worse.

 

I have to admit I was not prepared for the violent reaction from this brother when I admonished him about this problem. "What right do you have to stick your nose into the affairs of my life and family? You're not a member of my church!" With that simple argument he felt he had every right to push me out of his life.

 

"That's where you are wrong, my friend!" I said. "You and I are both members of the Body of Christ and we are both members of his Church! There is only one and you have every right and responsibility to admonish me and I have the same right and responsibility to admonish you concerning things of this nature even though we do not attend the same worship service weekly. There is no such thing in the New Testament as local church membership. Paul wrote to the Church in Ephesus, in Corinth, in Rome as one body, not as several groups. We are all one in Christ."

 

He did not agree with me and that was the last time we ever walked and prayed together. He finally left his wife and family and married the other woman. He had to leave the church, but he went out and started another one. The last I heard, he was still leading that new group. If we had a better conception of the church in the city, things like this would not happen so often. Somehow we have drifted into the idea that we are only to obey the "one another" admonitions in the New Testament with those with whom we fellowship in the local church and not the city-wide church. I am happy to report that this concept of the city-wide church is beginning to be received by more and more of God's people everywhere.

 

TREND No. TWENTY

From paper membership to Body membership . . . rejoicing in our unity

 

One of the most subtle and grievous problems in the Body of Christ today is that of paper membership. This is a practice that goes directly against the warning Paul gave to the elders not to "draw away disciples after themselves." Consider his words to these elders in Acts 20:29-30, "I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them." 

 

That should be warning enough, but somehow it has not penetrated the minds of many church leaders who are doing exactly what Paul warned not to do. They require believers to register themselves into their particular church as members and then gently lead them to the understanding that since they now belong to "their" church, they do not belong to any other church in town. They seek to brand them with their own particular brand so that they will feel constrained to show their loyalty and allegiance to that church and that pastor to the exclusion of other churches and other pastors.

 

"But isn't that the way it should be?" some will say. "How can anyone be a member of more than one congregation and how can they have more than one pastor?" The book of Acts presents ONE CHURCH, One Body of Christ to which all believers felt joined. This comes across loud and clear! It was the Lord who added new converts into the membership. It is the Holy Spirit who baptizes us all into THE BODY OF CHRIST, which includes all believers everywhere! (Acts 2:47 and I Corinthians 12:13)

 

And do not believe the deception that we are to "make covenant" with those with whom the Lord has given you relationship in your local church. We are already in covenant with every other believer in the world! There is one covenant; the one we celebrate every time we take communion together. There is no such thing as a special covenant between special friends in the Body of Christ. To do this is to open your life up to exclusivity and to a spiritual bondage of the worst sort.

 

Certainly there are more intimate relationships that develop within the Church, but that is not another covenant. When we take communion we are celebrating the ONE COVENANT of blood that joins every member to every other member of the Body of Christ. We should be able to take communion with every other believer at any time and in any place. Depth of relationship has nothing to do it. We are all born into the same family through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. There is only one Body and we are all members one of another.

 

Some of the problems of paper membership are:

First, we are presuming that we know who is truly born again and therefore qualified to be added to the number.  Only the Lord knows who is saved and can be added to the church.

 

Second, a membership list is normally a device used to receive people into a formal on-going relationship.  This seems innocent enough at first glance but it tends to lock them away from the rest of the Body of Christ within the city.  This creates isolated factions within the citywide church.  Why do we do this and then whine because the Body of Christ is so fragmented?  We need to wake up and see that WE are the reason why the Body of Christ is so fragmented! This is what Paul warned would happen, "Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after themselves."  Paper membership is calculated to draw away disciples into the fold of one pastor exclusively! 

 

Third, paper membership challenges the true basis of what the church is and how we become a part of it.  The requirement for becoming a member of the local congregation is the same as the requirement for becoming a member of the Body of Christ, namely, being born again through faith in Jesus Christ. We become members of that worldwide body the instant we are born of the Spirit of God by faith in Jesus Christ.  There are no other requirements.

 

Fourth, to teach that people can be a member of the entire Body of Christ and still not be a member of your local church is to be divisive. There are many local churches but they are each a part of the city wide church.  Therefore, if I am a member of the whole, I am automatically a member of each part.  The scripture never even touches the idea of being members of an organization or of a local fellowship.  It simply says, "We are members one of another."  That includes all believers in all places, worldwide.

 

Fifth, a membership list is wrong because it projects the pastoral idea that, "These sheep are mine!  Stay away from my sheep!"  There is not one verse of scripture that ever gives me, as a pastor, the right to say that any of God's people are "my sheep."  It is true that a pastor is a shepherd, but Jesus said, "You feed my sheep."  There is one Chief Shepherd, many under-shepherds, and many sheep, but only one flock.  The sheep are not told to relate only to one of the under-shepherds.  The sheep can receive nurture and guidance from any and all God-called shepherds. Do we not allow the sheep to receive input from multiple teachers, prophets, apostles and evangelists? Why, then, should the concept of multiple pastors be any different? We all need input from any and all of God's ordained ministers, all the time. Some of the mega-churches have a whole staff of pastors, and they are to have input into the whole congregation as the need arises. Does this not teach the same rule? 

 

"But where will my salary come from?" cries the unbelieving under-shepherd.  It will come from the hands of the Chief Shepherd for whom you labor, who promises to meet all your needs as you do the work he has called you to do.  He is your Jehovah-Jireh, your provider.

 

Every local church within the city must see itself as a vital part of the citywide church and of the church worldwide.  There must be no special requirements for becoming a member of a local church beyond that of receiving Jesus as Lord and Savior. A church is a gathering of God's people where everyone is welcome even those who do not yet know the Lord as their Savior.

 

Pastors and leaders must never lay claim to any of God's sheep as belonging to them.  They are to nurture, protect, guide, and counsel, but never to be possessive over God's inheritance. We are co-laborers together with God, but we must learn to let go of the reins and trust the Spirit of Jesus to accomplish the work of building His church, using us in whatever way he chooses.

 

The elders (also called shepherds, pastors, teachers, and bishops) of each locality should develop working relationships so that they can more effectively watch over the flock of God over which the Lord has made them overseers. 

 

TREND No. TWENTY-ONE

From the wheel to the vine . . . releasing church planting teams

 

Many traditional churches are recognizing the need for small groups that meet weekly in homes for the purpose of encouraging and strengthening one another in their walk with Jesus. There is a dynamic dimension of in-depth nurturing in the small group that does not happen in the larger celebration.

The largest church in the world led by Pastor Cho, says "we are the largest church and the smallest church in the world." They have thousands of home cell groups that meet during the week, and on Saturdays and Sundays they fill their huge auditorium many times over with tens of thousands of worshipers.  

The early church grew even faster by taking a different path. The difference is similar to that which exists between a wheel and a vine. The wheel has spokes going out in all directions and coming together at the hub, the center of the wheel.  A church which starts midweek cell meetings led by its members will certainly strengthen and multiply its evangelistic outreach. This is the picture of Pastor Cho's church in South Korea. We praise God for all the good that is accomplished throughout the world using this method. Pastor Cho has the largest church in the world and has been instrumental in spinning off many other large congregations!    

 

The Vine church could be compared to a strawberry plant. It grows out in all directions, multiplying itself over and over as it puts new roots down, giving birth to multitudes of baby strawberry plants which, in turn, put out vines that put down roots that give birth to more and more strawberry plants. It is the same principle as II Timothy 2:2 where Paul says to Timothy, "The things you have heard from me among many witnesses, the same commit to faithful men who shall be able to teach others also."

 

The most dramatic growth in the history of the church since the first century is taking place now in China, India, and Africa. And they are all house church movements. The advance of the kingdom of God through the rapid multiplication of house church networks is thoroughly embedded in the history of the church, both in ancient times and in modern times, right up to the present.

 

This means that it is not enough to start a house church. We must start a house church movement by starting house church networks. This can be done by sending off two or three couples from time to time to start a new group either within the city or in a town nearby. Normally it is not best to divide a group into two groups. There is too much tearing in the relationships and it is discouraging to the people. It is better to send off missionaries to start the new groups. The church planting team can even continue to meet with the original house church for a time, which will make the separation easier and strengthen the hands of the new church leaders.

 

The Chinese house church movement has the following motto: "It is good to lead someone to Christ. It is better to start a house church. It is best to start a house church network."

 

The India house church movement has their motto which says: "Everyone can start a church. Every home can become a church. Every church can become a Bible School."

 

TREND No. TWENTY-TWO

From organizational unity to spiritual unity . . . discovering the one simple step to unity

 

There is only one step to unity in the Body of Christ and the key word is found in the following two verses from Paul's letter to the church at Rome.  

 

"Receive those who are weak in the faith but not for the purpose of contending over different opinions." (Romans 14:1)

 

"Therefore, receive one another as Christ also has received us to the glory of God." (Romans 15:7)

 

Unity is an attitude. It is an attitude of the heart. It is lovingly receiving each other as members of the same Body even though we may not agree on all points of doctrine or methodology. If you have come out of darkness into His marvelous light by being born of the Spirit through faith in Jesus Christ, then God is your Father and I am your brother and we can walk together and work together while we work out our differences.  We will probably never see everything alike until we get to heaven, but we are still one through the blood of the everlasting covenant.

 

 As we read the book of Acts we see the church having some measure of conflict from time to time.  Paul and Peter are at odds with each other over a doctrinal issue concerning Jews eating with Gentiles.  Paul and Barnabas split up over whether or not to take Mark with them on a missionary journey. The early church disagreed over the Jewish rite of circumcision and keeping the Law of Moses. The issue became so confusing they had to call a special conference to decide what to do. Some of the Jewish believers were ready to do away with Paul because of his understanding that the Gentiles were to be a part of the Body of Christ. There never was complete harmony on all points, but there was unity in the spirit because they were willing to receive one another and keep walking together while they sought to come to an agreement on their differences.

 

On and on we are given to understand that even though the early Christians had differences, they continued to receive one another as brothers in the Lord and worthy of their love and acceptance. That is keeping the unity in the bond of peace.

 

Some of them did not receive each other and they were severely admonished by their leaders when they exhibited a spirit of sectarianism. Paul gave that kind of admonition when he said, "I am informed of you, my brothers, by the household of Cloe, that there are contentions among you. Some of you are saying, I am of Paul; and I am of Apollos; and I am of Cephas; and I am of Christ. Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul?"  To ask such questions is to answer them. It was evident to all that to say such things was reprehensible.

 

In all of this the goal of the New Testament church from its inception was to hang together while they grew in their understanding of the truth. Any other attitude was rebuked in clear and certain terms.

 

We are not all called to be doing the same thing together, but we are all called to receive one another with the proper love and respect as brothers and sisters in the household of faith.

 

Denominational walls are getting thinner and thinner throughout the world and the day will come when we will not be looking over any walls. We will be inviting each other to come through the doors and partake of all the Lord is doing among us all. Oh, Father, hasten the day when we will see and experience this kind of unity in the Church worldwide! 

 

TREND No. TWENTY-THREE

From seeking patterns to seeking guidance . . . following the Early Church’s example

 

The early church did not look for a "pattern" in the Old Testament for fulfilling Jesus command to go into all the world and preach the good news, and they did not have the New Testament to read, for it had not yet been written.  Nor did they find a pattern anywhere for how to build and conduct the church. They had a simple and trustworthy method. They had Jesus' example and they depended on the Holy Spirit through prayer to show them what to do next. That was their strategy and that still works today. If I am looking for a pattern to follow, the pattern I just described is the predominant pattern we find in the New Testament. 

 

Jesus said, "I can only do what I see my Father doing." In another place he said, "I can only do what I hear my Father saying." Notice the word, "only." That gives us a clear and simple understanding of how Jesus walked before God on a daily basis. If Jesus only did what God told him to do and showed him to do, it is safe for us to walk even as he walked. We do not walk by precedence or by principles or by rules. We walk in the Spirit and do only what God tells us to do. That is always safe and it is always the most fruitful.

 

Several years ago I worked with four different churches that tried to copy the methods of Pastor Yonggi Cho of Korea. After all, he had built the largest congregation in the world and the largest in the history of the Church, he had the ear of every church leader in the world. We were listening, too, but all four churches failed to grow by meticulously trying to copy Cho's methods.

 

A few years later I was listening to an interview of Dr. Cho on the radio. When asked, "What is your formula for success in building such an enormous congregation?" I was amazed and blessed to hear his answer! He gave his formula for success in six simple words: He said "I JUST PRAY AND I OBEY." That formula will work in any country, among any people, of any culture, at any time, by any Church! More recently I hear he has shortened that answer to four words: "I pray. I obey."

 

But there is one little word in that formula that needs some explanation and that is the word "obey." You can only obey a command that is clearly heard and understood and where there is no command, there can be no obedience. Backing up a little more, even if there is a command and one does not hear the command, there can still be no act of obedience. The very word "obey" itself, in the original language, means "to hear under authority." The most basic requirement in the matter of obedience is to hear a clear command. 

 

Most of our praying is talking to God. But prayer is also listening.  Pastor Cho not only prays, he also listens. And what he hears he obeys. That is the secret of the pastor of the largest church in the world . . . and the smallest.

 

If there is one "bottom line" pattern in the New Testament for building the Kingdom of God and conducting the affairs of the church, it is Cho's six powerful words, or rather four powerful words "I pray. I obey." The pattern is prayer . . . listening prayer.

 

TREND No. TWENTY-FOUR

From "Us and them" to just "Us". . . Rejecting an "us and them" spirit

 

One of the problems among some house church people is that of a critical attitude toward the traditional church. It is true that God is dealing with some very basic problems that exist in the traditional church. But He will also deal with a sour, sick, ugly attitude toward any part of the Body of Christ if I allow it to exist in my church or in my own heart.

 

We cannot afford to nurture an attitude of antagonism toward the people of God, no matter what their problems might be. We are to receive our brothers and sisters who belong to Jesus as part of the Body of Christ. They belong to us and we belong to them.  God is purging, burning, scourging, transforming, teaching, and bringing His people out of the old and into the new, out of the problems and into the provision of His grace. He is bringing us all out of our shallowness and into his fullness. I need the longsuffering patience of our Heavenly Father as much as anyone. I also need the love, patience, and understanding of all my brothers and sisters in the Body of Christ.

 

The prophet Daniel fully identified with the sins of the people of Israel in his prayer of repentance in Daniel chapter nine. He himself was not guilty of the sins he confessed that day, but he was interceding for his people and fully identifying with them. Here is a part of his prayer:

 

"O Lord, you are a great and awesome God! You always fulfill your promises of unfailing love to those who love you and keep your commands. But we have sinned and done wrong. We have refused to listen to your servants the prophets who spoke your messages to our kings and princes and ancestors and to all the people of the land. Lord, you are in the right but our faces are covered with shame just as you see us now. This is true of us all, including the people of Judah and Jerusalem and all Israel, scattered near and far, wherever you have driven us because of our disloyalty to you. O Lord, we and our kings, princes, and ancestors are covered with shame because we have sinned against you . . . We have not obeyed the Lord our God, for we have not followed the laws he gave us through his servants the prophets. All Israel has disobeyed your law and turned away, refusing to listen to your voice."

 

Daniel could have easily taken a different attitude and stood in a place of censure and condemnation toward his fellow Israelites.  In Ezekiel 14:14 we read "Even if Noah, Daniel and Job were there, their righteousness would save no one but themselves, declares the Sovereign Lord."  So Daniel was not guilty of the sins he was confessing, but he was willing to be counted with the guilty and stand with them in a time of confession and repentance. Am I willing to stand with all my brothers and sisters in the church of Jesus Christ worldwide and confess our sins to God? May God help us to be willing! 

 

Jesus took his place along with sinful man when he presented himself to John the Baptist to be baptized with a baptism of repentance even though he had never sinned and had nothing to repent of. Even so must we all identify with the sins of the church, even if we feel we are not personally guilty. This is the ministry of the true intercessor. The problems of the church, the whole church, are our problems for we are the church! It is not us and them . . . it is just US!  There are not two Bodies of Christ . . . just one. And when one part of the Body suffers, the whole Body feels the pain. 

 

TREND No. TWENTY-FIVE

From planned church to spontaneous church . . . 

Recognizing church wherever two or three gather in Jesus' name

 

Certainly we will plan and we will attend our regular church meetings, but we will also be open to spontaneous church, too! Jesus said, "Where two or three come together in my name, there am I in their midst." Any gathering of two or more people who are called by the name of Jesus is the Body of Christ, which is the Church. The gathering may be planned or unplanned; Jesus is still with them and it is still the Body of Christ. 

 

Spontaneous church happens more often than we have realized or recognized. If we can receive it, Christ is in the midst of every gathering of believers even if it is just for recreation, a meal, a work project, or whatever. However, to experience the dynamic and the blessings of church, we must recognize and honor His presence, but He is there, in the midst, nonetheless.

 

Jesus did not say that he would be in the midst of two or three who come together in his name to study the Bible, or pray, or sing praise.  He said, "Where two or three come together in my name." The phrase, "in my name" refers to those who are called by his name because they have been born again and they belong to him, flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone, named by his name.

 

The Body of Christ, the Church, is made up of people and is to function as Church in every area of life, not just in so called "religious" gatherings inside the walls of a "sanctuary." 

 

Can the Church go fishing together? Can the people of God work on a building project together? Can the Body of Christ paint a house together? Can they play a game together? Can they eat a meal together? Can they go on an outreach together to share the good news? To all these questions, the obvious answer is "Yes, they can!" But the other obvious question is, "Is Christ in the midst of gatherings that do not look like "religious gatherings?" Again, the answer is, "Yes." Jesus said so himself. 

 

The Church of Jesus Christ is a "they" not an "it."  Church is not an event or a place. The Church of Jesus Christ is a people. The Church is two or more believers together, not an individual believer. Jesus can be inside an individual believer, but he cannot be "in the midst" of an individual believer. He can only be in the midst of two or more, and he is, no matter what they are doing. The two disciples walking along the road to Emmaus were not in a building called a church, but Jesus came into "their midst" and it immediately became church. (Luke 24:13)

 

If we begin to understand this we will begin to honor and respect his presence and treat the most ordinary and common activities with the same honor and respect we are used to giving him in a special building called a "sanctuary." The whole world becomes a sanctuary when we know and believe the truth. I can never say, "I am the church," but I can say, "We are the church," even if there are only two of us together.

 

It takes at least two to make a Church, and they must be together in the same place, but they do not have to be in any special place or doing a special activity to be the Church, the Body of Christ. Let us determine to recognize and honor the presence of Jesus every time we get together with another believer, no matter what the occasion. We may be amazed at what will happen! 

 

TREND No. TWENTY-SIX

From bondage to freedom for women . . . Releasing the other half of God's army

 

More and more books are being written today to point out the need for women to be released to function in the Body of Christ. I will only add the words of the two scripture references I have cited below, taken from the New International Version of the New Testament:

 

"In the last days, God says, I will pour out my spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my spirit in those days, and they will prophesy." (Acts 2:17-18)

 

"You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." (Gal. 3:26-28)

 

It is not insignificant that the largest church in the world, located in Seoul, Korea, began its explosive growth when it defied the traditions of the church and of Korean culture and allowed women to do the work of the ministry. Read the life and ministry of Dr. Paul Yonggi Cho, the pastor of that church. You will be amazed!

 

The amazing multiplication of house churches taking place at this time in China and India is being initiated mainly by young people and the majority of them are girls.

 

Please read and meditate on the words in Acts and Galatians above and read some of the books listed below. Every woman who names the name of Christ needs to have the same liberty to function in the gifts and callings of God as men. Paul made it clear that women were to function under the spiritual authority of their husbands, but men are also commanded to be submissive to God-ordained spiritual authority. I am aware of Paul's words, "I suffer not a woman to teach nor to exercise authority over man," but I believe the meaning is that she is not to teach 

 

The following is a list of books which examine the various Bible passages on the subject - Genesis, chapters 1-3, Acts 2:17-18, Galatians 3:28, Ephesians 5:21-33, 1 Corinthians 11:3-16, 14:34-40, 1 Timothy 2:8-15, and  many others and come to similar conclusions regarding the release of women  as equals with men in the home, church, and all of life.

 

Bushnell, C. Katherine, God's Word to Women, privately reprinted c/o Ray B. Munson, P.  O. Box 417, North Collins, NY 14111, 1923, 390 pages.  One hundred detailed Bible studies on woman's place in God's plan.  Much use is made of Hebrew and Greek.  For someone who wants to do more than just casually read on this subject.  One of the first - a classic.  This book is also available on line at www.LighthouseLibrary.com 

 

*    Bilezikian, Gilbert, Beyond Sex Roles, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI 49516-6287, 1985, 291 pages.  A scholarly presentation.  One of the best.  The underlying premise is the community of oneness based on the unity of the Trinity.

 

Bristow, John Temple, What Paul Really Said About Women, Harper Collins Publishers, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022,  1988, 130 pages.  Paul taught a full release of women, but this is often misinterpreted by the influence of Greek philosophy.

 

Cervin, Richard S., Does kephale ("head") Mean "Source" or "Authority Over" in Greek Literature?  Available from Christians for Biblical Equality, P. O. Box 7155, St. Paul MN 55107-9998, 19-page paper. Examines the various Greek uses of "kephale" to determine what it meant at the time of Paul's writings.

 

Gundry, Patricia, Heirs Together, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI 49506, 1980, 186 pages. Gives insight into Jewish, Greek, and Roman marriages of the First Century.

 

Haubert, Katherine M., Women as Leaders, MARC, 122 East Huntington Dr., Monrovia, CA 91016-3400, 1993, 101 pages. Basic, easy to read.

 

Hull, Gretchen Gaebelein, Equal to Serve, Fleming H. Revell, a division of Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI 49516-6287, 294 pages.  This book looks at Biblical examples of women in leadership.

 

Keizer, Walter, Hard Sayings of the Old Testament, InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL 60515, 1988, 259 pages.  Deals with hard to understand portions in the Old Testament, including Genesis 3:16.

 

Keener, Craig S.  Paul, Women & Wives, Hendrickson Publishers, 

P. O. Box 3473, Peabody, MA, 01961-3473, 1992, 350 pages, a look at Marriage and women's ministry in the letters of Paul. A Scholarly work.

 

Kroeger, Richard and Catherine, I Suffer Not a Woman, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI 49516-6287, 1992, 253 pages.  Rethinking 1 Timothy, 2:11-15 in light of newly discovered, ancient evidence.

 

Kroeger, Richard and Catherine, Women Elders, Sinners or Servants? Council on Women and the Church, The United Presbyterian Church in the U. S. A., 475 Riverside Dr., New York, NY 10027, 24 pages about the possibility of women elders.

 

Krupp, Joanne, WOMAN - God's Plan, not Man's Tradition, Preparing the Way Publishers, 2121 Barnes Avenue SE, Salem, OR 97306-1096, 1993,  163 pages.  Examines every major passage in the Bible on the subject. Very readable.

 

Martin, Faith, Call Me Blessed, Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, MI 49503, 1988, 180 pages.  Gives a good overview, with special insight into the state of women in the Old Testament.

 

Mickelsen, Alvera, Women, Authority  & the Bible, InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL 60515, 1986.  A  scholarly dialogue by 26 evangelical leaders at the Evangelical Colloquium on Women in October, 1984.  A variety of views are expressed.

 

Pape,  Dorothy R.,  In Search of God's Ideal Woman, InterVarsity Press, Downers  Grove, IL 60515, 1976, 370 pages, one of the first on this subject. Basic and comprehensive, especially good on Jesus and women.

 

Penn-Lewis, Jessie, The Magna Carta of Woman, Bethany Fellowship, Minneapolis, MN 55431, 103 pages, a book on the release of women by the author of War on the Saints. This writing is also available on-line at www.LighthouseLibrary.com .

 

Torjesen, Karen Jo, When Women Were Priests, HarperCollins Publishers, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022, 1993, 278 pages.  Shows place of women in leadership in the early Church, as long as it remained centered in the home, and how that changed when the Church moved to buildings.

 

Trombley, Charles, Who Said Women Can't Teach?  Bridge Publishing, 2500 Hamilton Blvd., South Plainfield, NJ 07080, 1985, 235 pages.  Basic, easy reading.

 

Tucker, Ruth A. and Liefield, Walter L., Daughters of the Church, Academie Books, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand  Rapids, MI 49506, 1987, 552 pages. The role that women have played throughout Church history.  Excellent!

 

Wright, R. K. McGregor, A Response to the Danvers Statement, Christians for Biblical Equality, P. O. Box 7155, St. Paul MN 55107-9998, 1989, 33-page paper.  Scholarly!

 

Also, Loren Cunningham and David Hamilton's book, WHY NOT WOMEN? Published by YWAM Publishers

 

These are recommended as starters. Most of these books are available through Christians for Biblical Equality, P. O. Box 7155, St. Paul MN 55107-9998; phone 612/224-2416, fax

612/224-3504.

 

The list above has been prepared by Nate and Joanne Krupp, 2121 Barnes Avenue SE, Salem, OR 97306-1096; phone 503/585-4054, fax 503/375-8401, e-mail kruppnj@open.org. Used by permission.

 

TREND No. TWENTY-SEVEN

From Old Covenant to New Covenant . . . moving away from a sacred/secular dichotomy

 

Many of the most entrenched problem areas in churches today come from either ignorantly or stubbornly hanging on to the shadows and types of the Old Covenant. The vestments, the altar, the emblems, the priestly garments, the incense, the special priesthood, the stilted language, the tithes to the priestly tribe, the teachings, special holy days, the temple, and the temple furniture all tend to hold the people under a certain bondage to the old covenant. Read all of chapters eight, nine and ten of the book of Hebrews in the New Testament to get the full impact of what the writer is saying about the Old and the New Covenants. Here are a few excerpts from those three chapters taken from the New Living Translation:

 

"But our High priest has been given a ministry that is far superior to the ministry of those who serve under the old laws, for he is the one who guarantees for us a better covenant with God; based on better promises. If the first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no need for a second covenant to replace it. But God himself found fault with the old one when he said, 'The day will come, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah. And this is the covenant that I will make with the people of Israel on that day . . . I will put my laws in their minds . . . and write them on their hearts so they will obey them. And I will forgive their wrongdoings, and I will never again remember their sins.' When God speaks of a new covenant, it means he has made the first one obsolete. It is now out of date and ready to be put aside . . . The old system in the Law of Moses was only a shadow of the things to come, not the reality of the good things Christ has done for us."

 

There is no special priesthood anymore. The Church of God is a Kingdom of priests who offer up the sacrifice of praise to God continually and point men to Christ as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

 

We need to read the book of Hebrews again and again till we see clearly that we are living under a new covenant. Some of the things we are still doing are no longer to be done, the special priesthood being the most prominent and most destructive to the covenant of grace. "From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another. For the law was given through Moses: grace and truth came through Jesus Christ." (John 1:16-17) NIV

 

TREND No. TWENTY-EIGHT

From arbitrary guidelines to biblical guidelines for appointing elders . . .

Looking for godly character more than scholastic achievement

 

God has ordained spiritual leaders just as certain as he has ordained that there should be civil leaders or civil government. "Obey the government, for God is the one who put it there. All governments have been placed there by God. So those who refuse to obey the laws of the land are refusing to obey God . . . " (Romans 13:1-2) NLT

God has ordained civil authority and spiritual authority. Men have abused civil authority and spiritual authority, but that does not negate the fact that these authorities exist and they are for our good, for God is good and he only designs good for us. Some would like to totally obliterate the whole idea of spiritual leaders who have some measure of spiritual authority in the Kingdom of God, but that will never happen. Just remember that those in authority will answer to God for how they exercise that authority.

 

Not all spiritual leaders are using their authority to "Lord it over God's heritage." Paul certainly exercised his authority, but never for any purpose but for the good of the Churches. He gives us some very clear guidance as to what to look for in a person we are thinking of putting in a place of leadership.

It is not primarily a matter of how much intellectual training, but first the character of the individual that matters, such as purity, truth, devotion, anointing, and faithfulness. He is not to be a novice, but neither is he required to have a degree in theology.

 

An elder can be any one of the four ministries mentioned in Ephesians four; apostle, prophet, evangelist, or pastor/teacher. There will always be a difference of opinion as to whether it is four or five different ministries in Ephesians four, but I believe it is four. A teacher is a pastor in the sense that he is capable of feeding the sheep, and a pastor is a teacher, otherwise he is not a pastor. And if you are teaching you are doing the work of a pastor by feeding the sheep. You do not have to be an evangelist to do the work of an evangelist, or a prophet to prophesy. Even so, you can teach without assuming that you are a pastor. A teacher is not necessarily a pastor, but a pastor must be a teacher.

 

We do not have to appoint (ordain) elders as soon as we plant a church. A study of Paul's first missionary journey shows that you can plant churches first and appoint leaders later. In most cases that is probably the best way. It gives leaders that God has gifted and anointed and called time to begin doing the work of leading and becoming recognized as leaders before they are commissioned as elders. Let them function in their office for a time and then let them be recognized for what they are. They are elders. Each one of the ministries listed in Ephesians chapter four is an elder. If you are an apostle, you are an elder. The same applies to the evangelist, the prophet, and the pastor/teacher.

 

Here are the requirements for spiritual leaders Paul lists in his letters to Timothy and to Titus:

 

"It is a true saying that if someone wants to be an elder, he desires an honorable responsibility. An elder must be a man whose life cannot be spoken against. He must be faithful to his wife. He must exhibit self-control, live wisely, and have a good reputation. He must enjoy having guests in his home and must be able to teach. He must not be a heavy drinker or be violent. He must be gentle, peace loving, and not one who loves money. He must manage his own family well, with children who respect and obey him. For if a man cannot manage his own household, how can he take care of God's church? An elder must not be a new Christian, because he might be proud of being chosen so soon and the devil will use that pride to make him fall. Also, people outside the church must speak well of him so that he will not fall into the devil's trap and be disgraced." (I Timothy 3:1-7) NLT

 

"I left you on the island of Crete so you could complete our work there and appoint elders in each town as I instructed you. An elder must be well thought of for his good life. He must be faithful to his wife, and his children must be believers who are not wild or rebellious. An elder must live a blameless life because he is God's minister. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered; he must not be a heavy drinker, violent, or greedy for money. He must enjoy having guests in his house and must love all that is good. He must live wisely and be fair. He must live a devout and disciplined life. He must have a strong and steadfast belief in the trustworthy message he was taught; then he will be able to encourage others with right teaching and show those who oppose it where they are wrong." (Titus 1:5-9) NLT

 

A leader is a servant of the people, not a king, or a ruler. We have to look at the life and ministry of Jesus to find out what a true leader is. A true shepherd will lay down his life for the sheep and a godly spiritual leader will pour out his life for the saints. He will also bring adjustment and correction to those to whom he ministers. This is clearly seen in such passages as I Corinthians 4:21, "I know that some of you have become arrogant, thinking I will never visit you again. But I will come - and soon - if the Lord will let me, and then I'll find out whether these arrogant people are just big talkers or whether they really have God's power. For the Kingdom of God is not just fancy talk; it is living by God's power.  Which do you choose? Should I come with punishment and scolding or should I come with quiet love and gentleness?" NLT

 

Correction is not rejection, but what we do not correct we will eventually reject. Let us remain open to godly input and correction into our lives by men and women of God whose lives and ministries touch our lives. I must also be willing for God to use me to bring correction into the lives of others; not an easy task, but a needed one indeed!

 

TREND No. TWENTY-NINE

From "my pastor" to "my pastors" . . . tearing down dividing walls

 

When Paul called the elders of Ephesus together he referred to those elders as overseers (Bishops), and pastors (shepherds). "Paul sent to Ephesus for the elders of the church. When they arrived he said to them, 'Guard yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God.'" (Acts 20:17-30) 

 

In this passage, Paul refers to the elders by three different names: Elders, Bishops and Pastors (shepherds). Therefore, a bishop is an elder and a pastor is also an elder. An elder is to serve the Lord and the Church as an overseer (Bishop) as well as a pastor (shepherd).

 

It is also important to note in the above passage that Paul refers to all the saints who lived in Ephesus as "The Flock" and not "The Flocks" as if there were more than one flock of God’s sheep in that city. There was only one Flock and the elders were all commissioned by Paul to shepherd that one Flock.

 

We are not told how they all collectively went about to watch over, feed, and nurture the flock, but we are told that they were all responsible for the spiritual oversight of all the sheep in that city. They were not to divide the flock up and dole out a certain number of sheep to one shepherd and some to another. They were not to divide up the flock till all the sheep had their own favorite shepherd and every shepherd had his own following. We know this was not the norm because of Paul's stern warning to them in this same passage, "I know that after I leave savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears." (Acts 20:29-31)

 

How would it sound if I said, "My apostle", or "My Prophet" or "My Evangelist?" Sounds very strange to me and completely unscriptural! It should sound just as strange to say, "My Pastor" when it implies that you only have one pastor and could not possibly have pastoral input from more than one spiritual leader.  Pastors are to function for the whole Body of Christ like the other offices on the equipping team. They all have a mandate from the Lord to "Feed my sheep" anywhere, anytime, to any of God’s people as the Lord may direct them. Likewise I must remain open to apostolic, prophetic, evangelistic and pastoral input wherever it crosses my path. I cannot select who will be my exclusive pastor any more than I can select who is going to be my exclusive prophet or apostle. The ministry of the evangelist is primarily to the lost, but he also has a ministry equipping the Body of Christ in how to evangelize the lost. 

 

As to how this is to be put into practice, God will direct us if we are willing to obey his clear teachings, and seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit. There is already a lot of cross-pollinating going on within the Body of Christ, which has not been happening for centuries. The trend is definitely toward more networking among denominations, churches and ministries. People are feeling more freedom to attend different churches and relate to the whole Body of Christ within the city without feeling like they are being disloyal to one particular congregation. More pastors are catching the vision for doing away with paper membership and opening their arms to receive God's people into their meetings without making requirements regarding "signing in" and becoming exclusively "a member of my church . . . one of my sheep."

 

Pastors are getting together in many cities across America to pray together, seeking to break down denominational barriers which have caused devastating divisions within the church for hundreds of years. We praise God for this new day! More pastors and leaders are building bridges and tearing down walls than ever before in the history of the church! This is cause for rejoicing! Could this be simply because there are more walls to be torn down than ever before in the history of the church? I think so.

 

TREND No. THIRTY

From raising up leaders to appointing servants . . . keeping the ground flat in God’s kingdom

 

The phrase "raising up" gives the impression that in order to be a leader you have to be "raised up" or elevated above the common, ordinary people. In some of the older church buildings, especially in Europe and New England the pulpits were raised high above the people, so high that the speaker had to climb a winding stairway to reach it. This gives the wrong impression. (a gracious understatement)

 

In reality the process God usually employs to prepare true leaders rather than "raising up" would more accurately be described as, "battering down" leaders! You may be going through the "battering" process and know what I mean. The process of spiritual preparation that God puts us through to become servant leaders inclines us to be servants rather than "lords." Jesus said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you.  Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be chief among you must be your slave, just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.'"  (Matt.  20:25)

 

The "clergy-laity" system has fostered the idea that the common people should be pouring out their lives to minister to the spiritual leader, as if that leader were some sort of a "queen bee" of the hive; that they are more important and need lots of attention. In some churches the impression is given that the only way to give to God is to give to the "man of God." As if giving to the poor or to missionaries would not count. There is more about giving to the poor in the Bible than about giving to meet the needs of pastors and ministers. "He who is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward him . . ." (Proverbs 19:17)

 

Another way the clergy puts themselves above the common people is to quote this scripture from the Old Testament, "Touch not God's anointed," as if the pastor is anointed and the people are not. The New Testament makes it clear that all believers are anointed; not just certain leaders. "I am writing these things to you (all believers) about those who are trying to lead you astray. As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you . . . " (I John 2:26-27)

 

It will not take long to discern if you are following a servant leader or not. The servant-leader pours out his life for others. He lives to give. The self-serving leader leads a life of taking. He may be ever so smooth, gentle, and polished in his teachings and in his public ministry, but he is still a "taker" more than a "giver."

 

One of the most amazing facts about the Kingdom of God is that the way up is down and the way down is up. "He who exalts himself shall be abased and he who humbles himself shall be exalted."

 

TREND No. THIRTY-ONE

From local vision to world vision . . . 

Obeying Jesus' command to go into all the world, to every nation and to every person.

 

A very encouraging word concerning the progress of the Christian Movement into all the world came to me recently by email about a book that describes a tidal wave of Christianity. From this and other reports that come to me from week to week, it is clear that the church is returning to the simplicity of the book of Acts and the gospel is going forth with greater speed and power. Read the follow and rejoice!

 

A Tidal Wave of Christianity

Source: CBN -  http://www.cbn.com/CBNNews/News/030819a.asp

 

September 11th focused a lot of attention on the growth of Islam. What most pundits and scholars have missed is the incredible growth of Christianity, and where it's growing. We like to think of ourselves as the Christian West. But there is growing evidence that the center of Christendom has moved. Africans are running to accept Jesus Christ. It is a scene playing out all across the developing world.

 

It may sound like an exaggeration, but it's not: Christianity is sweeping across the southern hemisphere and Asia like a tidal wave. 'The scale of Christian growth is almost unimaginable,' said Dr. Philip Jenkins, distinguished professor of History and Religious Studies at Penn State University.

 

Jenkins shocked and probably panicked some of America's political and media elite with his acclaimed book, The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity. Jenkins argues the greatest movement of the past century was not communism or capitalism. Do the math and the winner is Spirit-filled Christianity, or what he terms in his study as "Pentecostalism." 

 

'The modern Pentecostal movement begins at the start of the 20th century,' Jenkins said. 'So, say this begins with a few hundred, a few thousand people . . . today you're dealing with several hundred million people, and the best projections are by 2040's or 2050's, you could be dealing with a billion Pentecostals worldwide. By that stage there will be more Pentecostals than Hindus. There are already more Pentecostals than Buddhists." Jenkins says in just 20 years, two-thirds of all Christians will live in Africa, Latin America or Asia."

 

Back in 1900, there were about 10 million Christians in Africa representing about 10 percent of the population. Today, there are 360 million, representing just under half the population. That is one of the most important changes in religious history, and I think most of us didn't notice it,' he said. A lot of people still haven't noticed it.

 

Then there is China. There are about 80 million Christians in China, according to former Time Magazine Correspondent David Aikman, who predicts China will be a Christianized nation in 20 to 30 years. He does not predict a Christian majority, but a China that is 25 to 30 percent Christian. Enough, he says, to change society and government. "If you have a Christianized China, the leadership of China would reflect a Christian worldview to some degree," 

 

The reports of the growth of Christianity below are from the Friday Fax 2004 Issue 46, 26 November, 2004

 

1,000 NEW CHURCHES PLANTED EVERY WEEK

 

The mission agency, Christian Aid, was founded in 1953 by Bob Finley, who worked closely with Billy Graham. It was one of the first American mission agencies to support local missionaries instead of (expensive) Americans, particularly in nations where Evangelical Christians are an oppressed minority. Today, they support 90,000 missionaries, and are training 40,000 mission workers in hundreds of Bible schools. They plant over 52,000 new churches every year! That's 1,000 each week. Source: www.christianaid.org

 

GOD AMONG THE TRIBES

 

"How do we recognize when a new Christian church has been planted in a people group?" asks New Tribes Mission, which works among unreached people groups around the world. "Is it the presence of a concrete church building, or a straw-thatched meeting room? No, a new Christian church has been planted when the locals start to tell their own story of how God freed them from their life of sin to worship him. Source: New Tribes Mission

 

We are indeed living in exciting times! The people of God are moving all over the world in a powerful way and more and more of His people are catching a vision to evangelize the world!

 

TREND No. THIRTY-TWO

From building my empire to building His kingdom . . . equipping and releasing the saints

 

Church, in many countries, has become big business, especially in the USA! Whether it is taught or not in the seminaries and Bible colleges, the philosophy of success that is embraced by many pastors and leaders is that success is measured in nickels, noses and beautiful temples. A big offering, a big attendance in a gorgeous big temple brings with it the sweet smell of success!  In addition to a large following and a good income, it helps to have an astonishingly beautiful building, usually called, "the sanctuary."

 

We need to heed the words of Oswald Chambers, “The church ceases to be a spiritual society when it is on the lookout to develop its own organization.”

 

Along with this philosophy comes a large open front door and a tightly closed back door. There is a huge welcome to everyone to "come and participate in this ministry," but, in most cases, there is no way to be sent out from that ministry to start new ministries in other places. After all, "if we are going to get bigger and bigger and build that larger building and have a larger staff, we need to have a larger and larger attendance ourselves!" It is not, "Come and let us help you fulfill your calling and your vision." It is "Come and help us fulfill our vision." 

 

I have noticed that the ministries that help people find the will of God for their lives and do everything they can to help equip them for their calling or ministry and get them started in it are the most successful in extending the Kingdom of God. It is the primary task of church leaders to "equip the saints for the work of the ministry" according to Ephesians 4:11-13. That cannot be done if there is not also a plan in place to send them out once they are trained and equipped.

 

The following is a word from Rick Joyner concerning this need to equip the saints and then send them out to do the work of the ministry: "I have asked in many conferences and large churches how many people know their ministry, or the gifts of the Spirit that have been given to them. Usually the result is that less than 5 percent know the answer to this question. How would you be doing if only 5 percent of your body was working? Yet, this is the present state of the body of Christ. Obviously this is because there are very few true New Testament ministries now in the church or they would be "equipping the saints to do the work of the ministry" as we are told in Ephesians 4:12. For this reason the modern church probably has more in common with a spectator sport than the biblical model we have of the church - you basically have a few people playing the game and everyone else watches and cheers them on. However, this will begin to change and change quickly. We have come to the time of the restoration of all things, and it will begin with the church being restored to her purpose, and maturing in it as a light to all people of what they were created to be." 

 

The local churches are the primary equipping and sending agencies. We live in a time when Bible colleges and seminaries have tried to take over this responsibility and it is just not working! The best way to equip men and women to do the work of the ministry is to have them begin doing it right there in the local assemblies. This was the way Jesus did it. His disciples were with him in the work he was doing and learned to do it by first watching him and then by doing the things he did under his supervision. It is the best method under heaven for equipping the saints and sending them out to do the work of the ministry. There never was a better way and there never will be. If God used it when he was here in the flesh, it must be the very best way possible. (See Appendix D for information on how to start a home based training school based on Ephesians Four, "Equipping the Saints for the work of the ministry.")

 

TREND No. THIRTY-THREE

From Intellectualism to Supernatural Anointing . . .

Going into all the world, but waiting till I have my clothes on

 

Jesus said to his disciples after his resurrection, "This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high." (Luke 24:45-49)

 

"It is not for you to know the times or the dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."  (Acts 1:7-8) NIV

 

The primary equipment of the early apostles and evangelists was not intellectual furniture, but a divine touch from God that enabled them to do the works of Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit. It was not just the words of Jesus that attracted the crowds. It was mainly the miraculous works of God that he was doing. These included:

 

Healing the sick

Raising the dead

Casting out demons

Walking on water

Feeding a multitude with a handful of food

Turning water into wine

Calming the storm with a command of authority

Withering a fig tree with a word

Exposing the inward thoughts of people

Disarming his detractors with the word of God

Telling people details about themselves that only they would know

Predicting things to come

 

Here is a list of things we count as essential in our day for taking the gospel into all the world:

 

Television

Computers

Radio

Telephones

Airplanes

Automobiles

Newspapers

Magazines

Books

Organizations

Temples, Sanctuaries, Buildings, etc.

And lots of money!

Jesus listed one thing that would be sufficient to get the job done: POWER! Miracle working power! "You shall receive power after the Holy Spirit comes on you and you will be my witnesses . . . to the ends of the earth."

 

We may say, "But there is nothing wrong with using every available means to take the good news to all the world." And we would be right, but it still stands that the baptism in the Holy Spirit was the only equipment Jesus mentioned both in Luke 24 and in Acts 1 as essential preparation to becoming effective in getting the gospel into all the world. 

 

Check out the list above. How much of that list did the early church have? None! They had a few scrolls of the Old Testament, perhaps, but no books. They were taking a very simple message to share with all who would listen . . . Christ died for our sins! 

This is not to minimize the training that they had in walking with Jesus for three years, but still Jesus said in effect, "Go, but don't go until you receive the power of the Holy Spirit."  Jesus received it the day he was baptized in the Jordan River. They received it on the Day of Pentecost and Jesus referred to it as a baptism.

"On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command, 'Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised which you have heard me speak about, for John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.'"  (Acts 1:4-5)

 

The apostles understood how important it was to minister in signs and wonders like Jesus did. The church came under severe pressure and threats from the authorities who commanded them not to preach in the name of Jesus. They apprehended them, beat them, threatened them, and let them go. They went immediately to their own people and reported what had happened. "When they heard this they raised their voices in prayer to God, 'Sovereign Lord' they said, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.'" (Acts 4:23-30) NIV

 

That is a prayer the church today should be praying continually in every country and among every people group. "Oh Lord, consider the unbelief, the materialism, secularism, atheism, witchcraft and Satan worship that surround us and stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders among the people through the name of your holy servant Jesus."  

 

The immediate results of that prayer was amazing! "And the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus and great grace was upon them all.  And the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people." (Acts 4:31, 33, 5:12) NIV

 

Some things are essential and some things are extra. We thank God for the extras such as the list of modern inventions listed above, but none of them are essential in taking the gospel to the ends of the earth. The one thing that is essential is a man or woman preaching the gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit with signs following. Using that equipment, within the first 250 years the early church took the gospel to the known world, and they did it without any of the things on the list above; things we consider to be essential.

 

It is significant that Jesus did no miracles until after he was anointed on the day of his baptism in the Jordan River. The Holy Spirit came "upon" him right after his water baptism. He had the Holy Spirit "within" him all his life, but he received the Holy Spirit "upon" him on that day. After that, he did hundreds of miracles. 

 

But is this a trend in the church and in the world today? Are we moving away from intellectualism to the anointing Jesus spoke of in Luke 4:16 when he said, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to preach . . . to heal . . . release the oppressed?"  It is the anointing that we need to do the works of Jesus, and, thank God, it is taking place like a mighty wave of spiritual power all over the world in increasing volume and intensity, as we are seeing in report after report from all over the world. 

 

RECENT REPORTS FROM CHRISTIAN AID:

 

Laos: miracles bring many to faith Despite the Communist authorities' best efforts, hundreds of people in Laos are turning to Jesus, many of them after they have witnessed a healing in Jesus' name. The Government is doing its best to intimidate Christians and prevent the Gospel spreading further; officials threaten Christians with jail and severe punishment if they witness to others. Church buildings were closed, but many brave Christians continue to meet in them. 

 

Many members of mountain tribes, traditionally Animists and Spiritists, are becoming Christians. The obvious authority the indigenous missionaries have over demons speaks for itself, and many miracles open the people's hearts for God. The churches in Laos are growing faster than they have for many years, and even the most determined government cannot stop that. 

 

TREND No. THIRTY-FOUR

From rejecting one another to accepting one another . . .

Recognizing our brothers and sisters who do not look like us

 

Like Jesus, we can only work closely with a few individuals, but we can receive, accept, and bless every other believer God brings across our path. Not everyone will be excited and blessed that you are seeking to multiply house churches throughout the city. Some may ask, "But won't all these little house churches scattered throughout a city cause division and disunity in the Body of Christ within the city?"  As a matter of fact, little churches cause no more division than big ones.  Very large churches and very small churches have the same challenge when it comes to unity. We may not be able to have "organizational unity" with all of our brothers and sisters, but we can have spiritual unity simply by receiving one another in the name of Jesus and praying for them.

 

ORGANIZATIONAL UNITY AND SPIRITUAL UNITY

 

What is the difference between spiritual unity and organizational unity? We are all members of the same Body, therefore we are one spiritually.  I may not be a member of your organization, but if you belong to Jesus, you belong to me and I belong to you, because all that belongs to the Father and to the Son belongs to all the children of God everywhere.  We are members of his flesh and of his bones and we are members one of another.

 

ONE CITY-ONE CHURCH

 

Paul never wrote to the churches of any city.  He always wrote to "the church" of that particular city.  There is only one church in each city, or locality.  He writes to "the church" in Rome, Corinth, Ephesus, etc.  But he writes to "the churches" in Galatia, "the churches in Asia," because these were provinces and not cities.  There is only one church in each locality, though there may be scores or even hundreds of "churches" that meet in Jesus' name within that locality; the many smaller gatherings that make up the one church in that city.  Just as all the churches in all the cities in the world make up the Body of Christ - the Church Universal- so all the churches (congregations) within a locality make up the church in that city.

 

KEEP THE UNITY

 

In Ephesians 4:3-6 we read, "Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.  There is one body and one Spirit, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all."  

 

In the above passage Paul did not say, "Establish the unity of the Spirit." He said, "Keep the unity of the Spirit", as if it were something that was already established.  He speaks here as if unity were something that comes automatically as a part of the package.  We are born again into unity because, "There is one Body, one Spirit, one Lord, one Father, one God."  Our part is simply an acknowledgment that we are already one.  To fulfill the command to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace is to keep something that we already have. This unity is not seen in external structures.  It is neither born in external ties nor maintained by external ties.  It is born in the Spirit and in the heart.  It is an interior attitude.  It is an inward attitude toward the people of God.

 

UNITY WITH DIVERSITY

 

We can have all the diversity we want to have as far as organizations, denominations, and fellowships are concerned and still have unity in the Spirit.  We are not held together by formal membership. We are held together by "the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace."  On the other hand you can have one giant organization that includes every Christian on earth and still have no real unity in the Spirit, though you may have organizational one-ness.

 

The "bond" in Ephesians 3:4-6 speaks of something that ties together, like a rope or belt.  That bond is "peace." The opposite of peace is strife or war or antagonism.  If you have an attitude of love and acceptance toward your brothers and sisters in other churches and organizations, you are "keeping the unity" with them.  You are not creating it.  You are keeping it alive in your own spirit, and that is where unity exists, in the heart.  It works itself out in different ways, but it exists in the spirit by means of the Holy Spirit.  Conversely, if you have an attitude of strife, divisiveness, or sectarianism, you are not keeping the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.

 

AN INWARD STEP

 

The one step to unity, then, and there is only one, is found in Romans 14:l and 15:7, "Accept those whose faith is weak without passing judgment on disputable matters...Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you.”  The word "accept" means to welcome, embrace, receive, to acknowledge kinship, to confess and declare the fact that we are one because by the new birth we have all been born into the same spiritual family.  We are all brothers and sisters because Jesus is our Savior and God is our Father!  Just as Jesus received us with all our brokenness, faults, and immaturity, so let us receive one another.

 

TAKE THE STEP NOW

 

This one step to unity can be taken right where you are this very moment.  You can turn to the Lord right now and pray, "Father, in the name of Jesus Christ my Lord, I do acknowledge that I am a member of your spiritual body, the church in this city and throughout the world.  I do accept and receive every one of your children as my brother or sister because you are our Father.  It doesn't matter where they live.  It doesn't matter what race they are, what peculiar beliefs or practices they may have, whether they are post, pre, or a-millinial.  It doesn't matter if they baptize by sprinkling, pouring, or by immersion, whether they are Arminians or Calvinists.  It doesn't matter if they go to church on Saturday, Sunday, Monday or Tuesday, whether they are Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox or Jew.  I don't care if they are Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian or Four Square.  I declare in the name of Jesus Christ the Lord, the Son of God that I am one with every other born again believer that lives, that has lived or ever will live in time and in eternity.  I accept them.  I receive them.  I love them and support them.  I will pray for them and, as you direct me, Lord, I will co-labor with them, and I will endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.  Amen!"

 

When you sincerely pray that prayer, you have taken the one step to unity.  But, you may say, "What about doctrinal unity?  How can we walk together accept we be agreed?"  God is not directing us all to walk in the same direction.  We are told in Ephesians 4:12 that we are to keep this unity of the Spirit, "Until we all come into the unity of the faith." We can still have spiritual unity while we are coming into doctrinal unity.

 

ONE CENTRAL TRUTH

 

There is only one central truth around which we can all declare our unity and that truth is not a teaching or a concept or a principle or a doctrine.  It is not a church or denomination or a movement.  That Truth is a person. Jesus is the Truth.  He said, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life."   When we come to him, He gives us life.  We are born again!  When the Philippian jailer asked Paul and Silas, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" the answer was not, "Believe our doctrine and join our organization." It was, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved."   We believe on a person and are born into the kingdom of light.  When we are joined to Jesus we are joined to one another.  We are one in Him.  He who has Jesus has life.  He who does not have Jesus does not have life.  We are saved, not by embracing a doctrinal position, but by receiving a person . . .  Jesus Christ himself.

 

RECEIVE ONE ANOTHER

 

In every church, whether it is a house church or a traditional church, we must accept every other believer as members of the same Body without regard to denominational affiliation.  God may lead us at times to cooperate in larger projects, but the most powerful expression of unity is in accepting and affirming one another in what we are already doing on many different fronts in many different places.  

 

MANY LEADERS - ONE ARMY

 

We are all in warfare and there are many generals, Lieutenants, captains, and foot soldiers, but there is one Head, our Commander in Chief, Jesus Christ himself.  He said, "I will build my church." And that is what he is doing.  Let's make room for him to build his church. He has charge of every small unit of his mighty army.  We may be in different divisions, in different units, or on a different front, but we are still one army, one people, fighting the same war against the kingdom of darkness.  Let us affirm and support one another in our various places of service without thinking that we are separated just because we're not all in the same place doing the same things at the same time under the same banner.

 

MANY TRIBES - ONE NATION

 

There were twelve tribes in Israel, each with its own territory, genealogy, leaders and banner.  But they were still one people, Israel.  We may be made up of hundreds, or even thousands of denominations, organizations, and churches, but we are one people, the people of God, the Israel of God.   We do not have to be physically together doing the same things under the same flag in order to be one.  We are already one so let us boldly proclaim our unity and go about our business of extending his kingdom while affirming, accepting and receiving one another.  That is "keeping the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace."

 

The church in Jerusalem was one. It was one Body. There were many house churches, but the unity of the citywide church remained intact. There is not a hint of division within the Body. In those days no one was saying, "I am of Paul, I am of Apollos, I am of Cephas, I am of Christ." The whole Body belonged to everybody! They were free to attend any gathering of believers they chose. There is no indication that they were signing into one group to the exclusion of other groups. Denominations had not come into being yet. The only name that was important was the name of Jesus.

 

One of the worst offenders of this kind of freedom which the first Christians enjoyed was the introduction of church membership in the local church, which says, "If you belong to this congregation, you cannot belong to any other congregation." And the motivation behind that, in all likelihood, is the profit motive. More sheep means more wool. More adherents means more income. More members means more money. The Old Testament teaching of the tithe was strictly incorporated into the mix which promised a curse upon those who did not give a tenth of their income to the Lord, which meant, "into the offering plate".

 

Some years ago when I began to understand how free I was to fellowship with all believers within my town, I started saying, "I'm a member of every church in town." That sounded really good to me, but it sounded like heresy to some of my friends. But I have held my ground and I still say, "I'm a member of every church in my town, your town and every other town, because there is only one Body of Christ in the whole wide world." 

 

We are one! We are born into spiritual unity "for there is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all." We are members one of another whether we know it or not and whether we like it or not! That's just the way it is! To acknowledge that truth and live as if it is true is "maintaining the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace."

 

TREND No. THIRTY-FIVE

From law keeping to living by grace . . . 

Standing fast in the liberty with which Christ has made us free

 

It is a sad fact that a great segment of the Body of Christ is either bordering on law keeping as the means of salvation or they are blatantly teaching salvation by works rather than salvation by grace through faith.

 

This is not something new. It was the most serious disagreement within the early church. The question was then as it still is today, "Are we saved by grace as a gift of God or by keeping the commandments of God, or by a mixture of the two?"

 

Paul met the law keepers head on when he confronted Peter in Antioch. Peter had no problem eating with Gentiles until the leaders of the church in Jerusalem came to check things out, then Peter pulled away from eating with Gentiles and would only eat with Jews. Here is Paul's version of what happened that day:

 

"When Peter came to Antioch, I had to oppose him publicly, speaking strongly against what he was doing, for it was very wrong. When he first arrived, he ate with the Gentile Christians, who don't bother with circumcision. But afterward, when some Jewish friends of James came, Peter wouldn't eat with the Gentiles anymore because he was afraid of what these legalists would say. Then the other Jewish Christians followed Peter's hypocrisy, and even Barnabas was influenced to join them in their hypocrisy. When I saw that they were not following the truth of the Good News, I said to Peter in front of all the others, 'Since you, a Jew by birth, have discarded the Jewish laws and are living like a Gentile, why are you trying to make these Gentiles obey the Jewish laws you abandoned? You and I are Jews by birth, not sinners like the Gentiles. And yet we Jewish Christians know that we become right with God, not by doing what the law commands, but by faith in Jesus Christ. We have believed in Christ Jesus that we might be accepted by God because of our faith in Christ and not because we have obeyed the Law. No one will ever be saved by obeying the Law.

 

"I make myself guilty if I rebuild the old system I already tore down. For when I tried to keep the law, I realized I could never earn God's approval. So I died to the law so that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ. I myself no longer live, but Christ lives in me. So I live my life in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I am not one of those who treat the grace of God as meaningless. For if we could be saved by keeping the law, then there was no need for Christ to die.'" (Galatians 2:11-21) NLT

Many are beginning to see what Paul saw so clearly and to embrace their freedom and to stand fast in that freedom. There will always be religious leaders who are ready to bring you right back under the bondage of law keeping. The NIV says it like this, "It is for freedom that Christ has set you free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again with a yoke of slavery . . . you who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace." (Galatians 5:1, 4)

 

Read the entire book of Galatians. It was Paul's letter to the Galatians that sank into the soul of Martin Luther and exploded into a major move of God throughout the world, beginning in Germany. Luther said, "I have wed my soul to the book of Galatians." It was the great freedom cry of the Reformation, "SALVATION BY GRACE WITHOUT THE WORKS OF THE LAW." And that was also the message of Paul. It was Paul's message on grace without the works of the law that brought upon him such grief and persecution from the Jews. They had received Christ, but felt that was not enough. They were zealous to also be circumcised and keep the law.

 

In the following brief overview of Paul's letter to the Galatians I have been greatly helped by Kenneth Wuest's summary of Paul's message to the Galatians, chapter by chapter showing the apostle's central message to them and to us. You will find the full treatment in the book, Word Studies from Galatians in the Greek New Testament. Published by WM. B. Eerdmans.

 

In Galatians 1:1-10, Paul establishes his apostolic authority and by emphasizing redemption through the name of Jesus, he protests their doctrinal error. He rebukes the Galatians Christians and denounces the Judaizers for mixing law and grace.

 

In 1:11-14, Paul's revelation of the gospel came directly from Jesus Christ and not through man. His whole life training had been directly opposed to the teachings of grace, but rather based in law keeping.

 

In 1:15-24, Paul was not taught the gospel by the apostles in Jerusalem for he had not seen any of them except Peter and that for only a period of fifteen days. It was all revealed to him by Jesus.

 

In 2:1-10, Even when he returned to Jerusalem, he was not subservient to the other apostles, but was on their same level as an apostle, being sent out by Jesus.

 

In 2:11-21, Paul exercises his God given spiritual authority when he rebuked Peter for mixing law and grace in the matter of eating with gentiles and then not eating with them, then requiring gentiles to keep the law.

 

In 3:1-5, Paul reminds them that they had received the Holy Spirit by faith and not by obeying laws.

 

In 3:6-9, Abraham was justified by faith and not by keeping any laws therefore the true children of Abraham are justified the same way.

 

In 3:10-14, The Judaizers were teaching that keeping the law was God's way of bringing us to justification. Paul taught that the law brought only condemnation and that it is only through the cross of Christ that we are released from that condemnation.

 

In 3:15-18, God made provision for both Jew and gentile to be justified and to receive spiritual gifts before the law was ever given. Therefore the law cannot set aside God's previous provision.

 

In 3:19-4:7, Why, then was the law given? It was given to show that sin is a direct violation of the laws of God; so that being convinced that we have transgressed God's law, we would then be willing to receive God's remedy for sin, the sacrificial lamb of God that had been prophesied for centuries. 

 

In 4:8-20, Paul appeals to the Galatians to maintain their freedom from the law, and not go back to law keeping, reminding them of how they had received him and his message with joy and of his desire to be with them again.

 

In 4:21-31, The history of Hagar and Sarah illustrates the present status of law and grace. As the son of the bondwoman gave place to the son of the free woman, so law has given place to grace.

 

In 5:1-12, Paul exhorts them to hold fast to the freedom from law which the Lord Jesus procured for them by the blood of His Cross, and not become entangled again in a legalistic system.

 

In 5:13-26, Having been liberated from the law by the blood of Jesus, they are not to think they now have liberty to sin. They have been liberated from an elementary, extrinsic method of controlling conduct and released into an exciting, powerful intrinsic, inward control of the individual by the indwelling Holy Spirit who will give them power over sin.

 

In 6:1-5, In this life of victory over sin, we are to help restore any who fall prey to Satan's wiles, considering ourselves, that we are all capable of falling into sin, sin of the worst sort.

 

In 6:11-18, Paul's final warning against the Judaizers, those who would seek to blend law and grace, and his final words. 'May God's mercy and peace be upon all those who live by this principle. They are the new people of God. (margin "the Israel of God.")

 

It is a matter of much rejoicing that this is a day in which the message of grace is beginning to be taught and caught by the Body of Christ worldwide. There is no greater bondage than religious bondage, but Jesus said, "You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free." Let us daily thank God that we are saved by grace through faith, not of works, lest any man should boast.

TREND No. THIRTY-SIX

From overwhelming oversight to restful oversight . . .

Allowing the church to function as it was designed to function

 

A few years ago while making the transition from serving as pastor of a traditional church to getting involved in the house church movement, I began to pray that God would show me what changes this would involve. Over a period of a few weeks the Lord showed me that there would be a lot more rest for pastors than I had ever thought. 

 

First he reminded me of the words of Jesus in Matt. 11:28, "Come unto me all you who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me for I am meek and lowly of heart and you shall find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."  As I reflected on all my experience as a pastor I would never have characterized the work as "easy" or "light." But God began to show me some things through three simple parables:

 

TWO MOTORS

 

One night as I was ministering in a church in Mexico City, I woke up in the middle of the night and felt impressed to read Ephesians chapter four in my Spanish New Testament. As I read about the ministry gifts to the church, God spoke a parable to me. He said, "In every car there are two motors, one that runs on gasoline; the other on electricity. The gasoline motor is huge in comparison to the electric motor, but it is the tiny little electric motor that is designed to start the gasoline motor, and it is the gasoline motor that is designed to provide the power to move the car. As soon as the big motor engages, the little motor disengages. If it did not, it would burn out in a very short time."

 

The apostle, prophet, evangelist, and pastor/teacher are servants to the body of Christ to act as initiators (starters) to get the body functioning and then, just as the starter motor disengages as soon as the big motor starts, so it is with the wise leader. He must not stay engaged or he will burn out, just as a starter motor would do if it did not disengage after starting the big motor.   

 

As long as the little starter motor is trying to move the car by the power of a single battery, the car will never function as it was designed to function. It is only the big gasoline motor that has been designed to move the car. And it is only as the Body of Christ is released to do the works of Jesus will it ever attain unto the fullness of maturity in Christ and be able to win the world to Christ.

 

A TOMATO PLANT

 

A few days later the Lord spoke to me again on the same subject. He gave me another parable, the parable of the tomato plant. While eating lunch one day with my wife I remarked how tasty the tomatoes were we had raised out on our patio. I said, "These are so much more fresh and delicious!" Just as I spoke those words, I heard the Lord say,

 

"How much work did you do to produce that tomato?" 

 

"Not very much," I thought to myself, "I just prepared the soil in a clay pot, bought the tomato plants, put the roots under the soil, and watered them from time to time. A couple of times I put some plant food in the water." 

 

"That's how it is with the church" the Lord said. "You didn't have to do very much work to produce those tomatoes.  The tomato plants themselves did most of the work. You just had to set the conditions for growth and they grew. It is programmed into those tomato plants to work constantly day and night to bring forth those beautiful, red, juicy, delicious tomatoes. So it is with the church. The church of Jesus Christ is an organism and if you will just work with me to help set the conditions, the church will grow of its own accord and you will enjoy watching it grow as you rest in me. Then the church will produce lasting fruit that will remain and multiply, for I have ordained it to be so." 

 

A FIRE ON THE BEACH

 

Not long after that the Lord gave me another analogy: I was down on the beach early in the morning as was my custom when we lived in Laguna Beach, California a few years ago. I used to go down to the beach almost every morning with a beach chair, some matches and old newspapers, some books and my Bible. There was always plenty of driftwood that I could gather off the beach to build my fire.  On this particular morning I built my fire as usual and after an hour or so, I took a walk on the beach. When I returned the fire had died down. I found some more wood and stoked the hot coals, then put the wood on the coals. In less than a minute I had a good fire going again. I sat down to enjoy the fire a little longer before going back to the house for breakfast. 

 

As I sat there, looking into the fire, the Lord spoke to me, "That's how the church is. It is like watching over this fire. The church is a spiritual fire and when it dies down, you can help rekindle the flames as you see the need. You cannot bring the fire of my Spirit, but you can help set the stage for his coming. I want you to enjoy overseeing the church. All you have to do is just be ready to stir the coals and put on more fuel. The fire burns of its own accord. This is the nature of the church and this is the work of an elder."  

 

Many years ago Roland Alan wrote a book entitled, THE SPONTANEOUS EXPANSION OF THE CHURCH. In his day he did not see much fruit from what he wrote in that book, but in our day, his book has re-emerged as a major confirmation to what is happening in the house church movement in China, India, Africa, Latin America and, to a lesser degree, in almost every other country in the world. 

 

TREND No. THIRTY-SEVEN

From "We will build" to "I will build" . . . rethinking Jesus' words, "I will build my church."

 

At times we are guilty of changing the words of Jesus to mean what we think they ought to mean. When Jesus said, "I will build my church." We think he really meant to say, "My followers will build my church with my help, of course!" So we set out to do the work that only Jesus can do. It is true that we are laborers together with God, and we sincerely want Him to help us build His church, but we seem to have forgotten that it is Jesus who is doing the work and we are coming along side to help Him. He must take the initiative and when we see what He is doing, it is our part to co-labor with Him.

 

Jesus said, "Lift up your eyes and look on the fields that are ready for harvest." The only field that most churches can see is the immediate field that will build their own congregation. There must be a lifting up of our vision to include the nations of the world! Jesus said, "Go into all the world." If we intend to be like Jesus and obey the commands of Jesus, we must embrace a world vision; a vision to evangelize the nations of the world and it is beginning to happen in more and more churches. The following reports are exciting and will provoke high praise to the Lord for all He is doing worldwide these days.

 

"CHURCH OUTSIDE THE WALLS"

BY JOHN ARNOTT

 

The following information first appeared in Spread the Fire Magazine and was sent out over the Internet. 

 

More and more we hear the term, “church without walls” but what does this mean? While it can mean sending teams from a local church outside the church’s walls to minister in homes and in the marketplace, I believe it is much more than that. 

 

If we are going to reach this world for Jesus, we need a completely new model of doing church. I don’t know why we can’t have 'church' in homes, offices, schools, coffee shops, or even outside for that matter. Why can’t we have church meetings that are facilitated by an army of non-professional yet anointed Christians and have them meet whenever and wherever it works for them?  

 

Maybe we need to take a hard look at what has happened to the Church in the last 2,000 years and see how we can return to Jesus’ model of “doing church?” Jesus said, 'Where two or three meet together, there am I in the midst.' The word “church” in Greek is the word “ecclesia” meaning “called out ones.” 

 

In spite of man’s attempts to organize and institutionalize the Church, it has thrived through the centuries because Jesus’ eternal life is in its people. But I believe that the Church fulfilled the mission of Jesus better when it was unorganized and decentralized and even persecuted. Back then it depended more upon the foundation of Jesus as the Anointed One, rather than on structure, and it was a supernatural church! 

 

Today around the world, our evangelical faith is experiencing a massive revival. According to information obtained on the web site, World Christian Encyclopedia, China, Africa, and Latin America are exponentially growing with new converts. 

 

What is happening? It is His Church, without walls, without central government, moving in His authority and power to see supernatural miracles and conversions happening at an unprecedented rate. Isn’t it interesting that the weaker we are in terms of finances, political power, central government or ability to move forward through self effort, the more we rely on Him, the true source of Kingdom power and advancement? 

 

It is no secret that the Church in developing nations is advancing rapidly. The Lord is filling the earth with the knowledge of His glory. (See Habakkuk 2:14) But in North America and Europe, the historical strongholds of the faith, many people have been inoculated against the Church because they have seen the sins and the failures that arise when the Church turns into an institutionalized political system, and they have rejected that.  

 

Many people have criticized the fact that there are so many hundreds of different denominations in the US and Canada alone. But I often wonder if God has allowed it to happen in order to weaken our political, organizational and financial power so that we will return to prayerfully depending upon Him.  Thankfully there is hope. Things are changing. I believe that God is decentralizing the Church. 

 

So how does this work then? Seemingly, the Holy Spirit has no problem coordinating hundreds and thousands of different individuals and congregations for His eternal purposes. Things really do work much better when Jesus Himself is the head. Once we understand that there is not to be only one or two who represent Christ as His vicars (deputy, ambassador, representative) on earth, but in fact, every believer is to be His representative, we will each more clearly demonstrate Jesus to a needy world. 

 

Look once again at China, Africa and Latin America. In China every day, it is estimated that thirty thousand new believers are added to the Church. How is this possible? Because the Church is underground and decentralized, the few cannot tell the many what to do. I recently heard a report of a young Chinese girl, seventeen years of age, who pastors a church of 20,000 people. How is this possible? There is no central system to tell her ‘no’ because she is female or too young, or not trained well enough, so she simply obeys the direction of Holy Spirit who brings her instructions from Christ the Head. 

 

It is time for those of us who live in the West to take a reality check. Church as we know it is not really working here. Many of the so-called “success stories” of church growth are merely transfer growth, people who are already Christians moving to a new church. We need some new models for having church which allow ordinary “lay people” to easily and quickly get involved in ministry. 

 

Somehow the point of entry into ministry has become too difficult throughout the centuries. It is so different from the way Jesus equipped His followers. He first took twelve, and then 70 willing men and women, trained them enough in one year to start sending them out into the surrounding territory to spread the news of the Kingdom of Heaven. They ministered very effectively and came back rejoicing that many healings were taking place, and even demons were subject unto them. (Luke 10) After one to two years of equipping, those fishermen and tax collectors who were considered uneducated and untrained began changing their world.

 

JOHN WHITE'S COMMENTARY

 

John White is a house church coach who lives in Denver and connects with many house church people worldwide. He has this to say about John Arnott's article above:

 

"About 10 years ago I had the opportunity to spend several days at what was then the Toronto Airport Vineyard.  The revival that was going on there was quite amazing.  Some of what I saw was way beyond my normal experience but there were at least two things that impressed me.  

 

"First, there were lots of people who were falling deeply in love with Jesus (over 4 million people have been touched since the revival broke out).

 

"Second, the Sr. Pastor, John Arnott, was giving mature and thoughtful leadership to a situation that often seemed wild and crazy. A recent email from Felicity Dale pointed me to an article by John Arnott, entitled "Let's Get Back to Supernatural Church", clearly articulating many of the basic concepts of simple church. By "supernatural church", Arnott means "one that depends on "the foundation of Jesus as the Anointed One, rather than on structure".  

 

"What a concept!  House church! Simple church! Organic church! Supernatural church! This may be the best name of all for what God is doing in the house church movement.  This article is especially significant because Arnott is the Sr. Pastor of a mega church and also gives leadership to an informal network of traditional churches.  These are the kinds of churches that have traditionally been built on structure and they are beginning to call all of this into question.  Amazing!  This certainly is God!

 

"The article is also significant because it reminds us in the house church movement that meeting in a home (or Starbucks) is no guarantee of supernatural church.  We also must be alert to the danger of becoming structure dependent instead of Jesus dependent.  At the recent House Church Conference, John Eldredge warned us that if Satan cannot stop the house church movement, he will attempt to "co-opt" it by tempting it with Church-ianity.  This is what Arnott describes as man's attempts to organize and institutionalize the Church".  

 

"My predictions:  (John White)

1.  In the next year, (2005) we will see a growing number of traditional church and parachurch leaders embrace simple church concepts.  

2.  At the same time, as these concepts become more and more accepted, we will see a growing number of attempts to organize and institutionalize the house church movement.

 

"The house church movement meets the requirements that John Arnott proposes above. In fact, it is a house church movement in China that is  facilitating the massive spiritual awakening that is presently taking place there. Read the book, THE HEAVENLY MAN, published by Monarch Books, the remarkable true story of a Chinese Christian, Brother Yun, who is one of the leaders of the Chinese house church movement. You will be amazed!"

 

BILL BRIGHT'S BILLION SOUL INITIATIVE

 

Dr. Bill Bright, the founder of Campus Crusade for Christ who died in 2004, prompted the Billion-Soul Initiative founded at the end of last year. Close colleagues and participants in consultations with Bright report that he explained his personal missionary vision for the future shortly before his death. He called on Christians to cooperate to call 1 billion people to follow Christ in the next 10 years by planting 5 million house churches. James O., Davis, John C. Maxwell and Steve Douglass subsequently formed the Global Pastors' Network. A global church planting congress is planned for September 2005, in which over 350 Christian leaders will gather to plan this "largest evangelistic initiative in human history." 

 

20,000 'NEO-APOSTOLICS'

 

While researching his soon to be published book 'Apostolic Genius', Alan Hirsch, author of The Shaping of Things to Come stumbled upon some extremely notable, even astonishing, discoveries by important observers of the global Christian scene." Already in 2001, Professor David B. Barrett and Todd M. Johnson mentioned that there were already 111 million Christians without a traditional local church. 

 

Barrett highlights particularly the development of the so-called 'Neo-Apostolic' networks and movements, of which there are already over 20,000 around the world, numbering around 394 million Christians. According to Barrett, these Christians reject historical denominationalism and all restrictive central authority, and attempt to lead a life of following Jesus, seeking a more effective missionary lifestyle. They are the fastest-growing Christian movements in the world. 

 

Barrett estimates that by the year 2025, these movements will have around 581 million members, 120 million more than all Protestant movements together. Hirsh, who has invited all of Australia's missionary movements to a conference in Victoria, confirms the trend from his own experience, and believes that these new Christian movements "are simply under the radar of traditional Christianity", at least as long as it holds on to the classical Constantine church structure (pastor + building + programme = church). 

Source: Alan Hirsch, www.forge.org.au 

 

TREND No. THIRTY-EIGHT

From dependence on programs to dependence on prayer . . . adopting the strategy of the early church

 

Some time ago, I was studying how central prayer was to the church in the book of Acts.  As I was going through this study I noticed a pattern began to emerge. I saw three things come together that I had never noticed before. 

 

First prayer, Second miracles, Third explosive growth!

 

As you read the following passages from Acts, you will see these three steps:

 

First, the church took time to pray in concentrated, corporate prayer. 

Second, God worked with them, confirming their word with signs following. 

Third, there was a notable extension of the Kingdom of God as people saw the miracles, heard the word of God and came to the Lord. 

 

The strategy of the early church was simply to pray, preach the gospel, baptize the new converts and expect miracles. Then they welcomed them into the fellowship of the Body of Christ, both in the smaller house groups and in the larger gatherings throughout the city. Consider the following accounts in the book of Acts:

 

FIRST ACCOUNT

 

PRAYER:  "Then they returned to Jerusalem . . . and went to the upper room, where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot and Judas the son of James.  All these with one accord devoted themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers. (Acts 1:13-14)

    

MIRACLE: "When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.  And suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled the house where they were sitting.  And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them.  And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance." (Acts 2:1-4)

 

(Peter preaches the gospel to them in verses 14-36)

 

GROWTH: "Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, 'Brethren, what shall we do?'  And Peter said to them, 'Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children and to all that are far off, every one whom the Lord our God calls to him.' And he testified with many other words and exhorted them saying, 'Save Yourselves from this crooked generation.' So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls." (Acts 2:37-41)

 

SECOND ACCOUNT

 

PRAYER: "And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers." (Acts 2:42)

 

MIRACLES: ”And fear came upon every soul; and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles." (Acts 2:42)

 

GROWTH: "And all who believed were together and had all things in common; and they sold their possessions and goods and distributed them to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they partook of food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved." (Acts 2:44-47)

 

THIRD ACCOUNT

 

PRAYER: "Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour. And a man lame from birth was being carried, whom they laid daily at that gate of the temple which is called Beautiful to ask alms of those who entered the temple. Seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked for alms. And Peter directed his gaze at him, with John, and said, "Look at us." And he fixed his attention upon them, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, "I have no silver and gold, but I give you what I have; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk." 

 

MIRACLE: And he took him by the right hand and raised him up; and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. And leaping up he stood and walked and entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. And all the people saw him walking and praising God, and recognized him as the one who sat for alms at the Beautiful Gate of the temple; and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him. While he clung to Peter and John, all the people ran together to them in the portico called Solomon's, astounded. (Acts 3:1-10)

 

Peter preaches to the people who have gathered (Acts 3:11-26)

 

GROWTH: "Many of those who heard the word believed; and the number of the men came to about five thousand." 

 

FOURTH ACCOUNT

 

PRAYER: "And when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding no way to punish them, because of the people; for all men praised God for what had happened. For the man on whom this sign of healing was performed was more than forty years old. When they were released they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them. And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, 'Sovereign Lord, who did make the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them . . .  look upon their threats, and grant to your servants to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus." (Acts 4:16-30)

 

MIRACLES: "And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness . . . the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people." (Acts 4:31 and 5:12)

 

GROWTH: "more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number." (Acts 5:14) 

 

On and on the evidence grows stronger that the early church moved forward with a very simple strategy . . . the prayer strategy. 

 

In Acts 10 Cornelius prayed and the angel instructed him to send for Peter who would give him the words of life. In the same chapter, Peter goes up to the housetop to pray and God prepares him to go and preach the good news to Cornelius' family and friends. 

 

In Acts 12 Peter is delivered from prison and certain death by a super natural visitation of an angel as the church prayed. 

 

In Acts 13 as the church was praying, God spoke and sent out Saul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey which resulted in miracle after miracle and a multitude of new converts among the gentiles. 

 

In Acts 14 new churches were formed and leaders appointed within the context of fasting and prayer.

 

From the above accounts it would be difficult not to conclude that the primitive church had a very simple strategy . . . taken from observing their Master. It was the strategy of prayer. As the disciples walked for almost four years with Jesus, they observed him operating in this mode continually: 

 

He fasted and prayed 40 days to begin his ministry. (Matt.4:2)

 

He would get up very early to pray. (Mark. 1:35) 

 

At times he went up into the mountains to pray. (Luke.9:28-29)

 

He often went out to solitary places to pray. (Luke. 5:16)

 

Sometimes he would pray all night. (Luke. 6:12)

 

He taught his disciples to pray. (Luke. 11:1-4)

 

The church of Jesus Christ worldwide has been involved in a powerful prayer movement for the past 25 or more years and we are beginning to get wonderful reports of revivals, releases, breakthroughs, and multitudes coming out of darkness into the light. In a recent report from George Otis Jr. producer of the Transformations Videos, we are told that 157 Cities and Nations on 5 continents are experiencing Transforming Revival, restoring community life, reducing crime and addiction, restoring hope, with multitudes coming to faith.

 

Otis said he receives reports every day of more cities around the world where transformation is happening as God responds to the PASSIONATE PRAYERS of His people. In studying all the stories of real revival, he finds a number of conditions that are always present before the powerful intervention of God. These include holiness, humility, repentance, people who are passionate for His presence, and, most of all united prayer by persevering servant leaders.

 

God is leading us in this ministry of church planting and church multiplication to emphasize prayer. All the rest will come to birth as we pray and seek God with all our hearts.  In all of the various ministries we teach the people to pray daily the following prayer. This is a prayer that will make every believer a missionary wherever they are 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Pray this prayer sincerely at the beginning of each day and teach it to your church and you will see miracles begin to happen on a daily basis: "Father, give me a divine appointment with someone today who is hungry for God or sick or in need and grace to minister the love of Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit."    

 

TREND No. THIRTY-NINE

From sinners to saints . . . confessing who we are in Christ

It is when I see that I am holy that I become holy. Wow! That is a powerful statement! As a new believer I was taught to say, "I am just a sinner, saved by grace." We all felt that was the only humble and truthful position to take. 

 

We were warned never to say anything that would make us to appear, "Holier than thou." That little phrase is taken from Isaiah 65:5 where God is rebuking Israel in their sinful condition and yet they are saying to others, "come not near me, for I am holier than thou." In the church that I was in, this little phrase became a strong deterrent to anyone who would ever presume to consider himself to be holy, clean, pure, and washed from all his sins.

 

The fear that I would appear, "holier than thou," made me run from anything that would make me look like a Pharisee. As time went on I began to see that there is not one instance in the New Testament where believers are called sinners. In every case they are called "saints" meaning "holy ones." 

 

There are many statements about those who are in Christ that make it clear that we are to confess our righteousness and our holiness in Christ, never in ourselves, but always considering our position in Christ. 

 

"It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God - that is, our righteousness, holiness, and redemption. Therefore, as it is written; 'let him who boasts boast in the Lord.'" (I Corinthians. 1:30-31)

 

To be righteous is to be declared "not guilty" even though we are guilty. The innocent one has suffered for the guilty one and the broken law has been satisfied. To be holy, is to have clean hands and a pure heart. This is what we have as our heritage in Christ. Jesus said, "Now you are clean." and that means NOW we are clean, by the blood of the lamb. It is for me to begin to confess that NOW I am clean. I am committed to never again declare that I am a sinner, for by Jesus blood I have been declared justified and sanctified through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. There is not one place in the entire New Testament where a born-again believer is called a sinner. They are always called saints, and that is what we are after we are justified and sanctified by the blood of Jesus!

 

"Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" (II Cor. 5:17) 

 

The old man is no longer who I am. I am a new man created in Christ Jesus, and that new man is clean, pure, and holy, by the blood of Jesus. Paul admonishes us to "put on the new man which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness." (Eph. 4:24)

 

"God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." (II Cor. 5:21) In my position in Christ, I have already become the righteousness of God! It is for me and for you to make a bold confession that this is true of us NOW! The enemy will constantly try to convince me that I am just an old dirty, rotten, filthy sinner . . . saved by grace. It is for me to remind him that I am all that God’s word says I am, and that is exactly what I am called . . . THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD IN CHRIST JESUS! 

 

When did I become the righteousness of God? I became the righteousness of God in Christ when Christ came into my life. He is my righteousness, my holiness, and my redemption. Holiness is not an attainment. I cannot attain to it by my effort, but I can obtain it by faith in the finished work of Jesus. When Jesus cried out from the cross, "It is finished!" It was all finished, not only my justification, but also my sanctification. It is not an attainment; it is an obtainment, and that means I cannot work for it, I just reach out and take it by faith as a gift from God.

 

Many are being taught that we are to strive to be holy for God commands us to be holy, but God knows that we can never be holy. Nevertheless we are to strive for it. But the truth is I cannot be made holy by my works any more than I can be saved by my works. Justification and sanctified are both received by faith in the finished work of Christ. My hands are clean and my heart is pure by the blood of Jesus, not by any works of righteousness that I have done. I am justified by faith and at the same time, in the same instant of time, I was also sanctified by faith, made holy by the blood of Jesus.

 

The only thing that gives me confidence to say with all assurance, "I know that I am saved, that all my sins are forgiven, and that when I die I will go to be with Jesus" is because of my faith in the finished work of Christ. And the only thing that makes it possible for me to say with confidence and assurance that my hands are clean and my heart is pure is also because of the finished work of Jesus. It is just as erroneous to say, “I am striving to be holy” as it would be to say, “I am striving to be saved.” They both come by grace through faith and are received instantaneously. 

 

This truth concerning our righteousness and our holiness in Christ is gaining recognition and acceptance within the Body of Christ all over the world. May the light of this glorious truth continue to dawn upon God's people everywhere!

In the Foreword of this book we looked at the words of Watchman Nee in the light of what the Church, the Body of Christ is, in the mind of God, corporately. We need to look again at the words of our Chinese Christian Brother, who would remind us of who we are in Christ, individually: 

 

"I am His masterpiece." (Ephesians 2:10) I am the very best God can produce.  I can never be improved upon.  I look around and see breakdown everywhere and I wonder, "What am I coming to?"  I tell you I am not coming to anything; I have arrived!  I do not look forward to discover my goal; I look back.  God reached His end in Christ before the foundation of the world and I move forward with Him on the basis of what already is.  As I move in the light of that eternal fact, I witness its progressive manifestation - I advance spiritually by finding out who I already am, not by trying to become what I hope to be.  It is when I see I am dead that I die (i.e. manifest my death in Christ); It is when I see I am risen that I arise; It is when I see I am holy that I become holy. Seeing the accomplished fact determines the pathway to the realizing of that fact. The end is reached by seeing, not desiring or working. The only possibility of spiritual progress lies in my discovering the truth as God sees it; the truth concerning Christ, the truth concerning myself in Christ, and the truth concerning the Church, the Body of Christ." 

 

TREND No. FORTY

From Religion to Relationship . . . following Jesus back to Simplicity

 

Dick Eastman, in his book BEYONE IMAGINATION - A Simple Plan to Save the World, says, "Early in my ministry, a wise colleague and mentor told me, 'Dick, God's plans are always incredibly simple and unusually inexpensive. So if things start getting terribly complex and amazingly expensive, you might rethink whether it's God's plan after all.'"

 

When we look today at the institution we call "Christianity," the amazing pomp and ceremony, the huge sanctuaries and expensive cathedrals, the stilted language, priestly garb, intricate liturgy, mysterious rituals, and complicated theologies, it is hard to find Jesus in the midst of it all. But his life, his teachings, and his ministry to people still stand as our model. We cannot do better than to follow his example in how to evangelize the world.

 

The fastest growing segment of the Body of Christ worldwide is the Pentecostal movement that started on the day of Pentecost, was strong for about three hundred years, then went into an eclipse during the dark ages. Then there was a sudden resurgence back in 1900 A. D. at the Azusa Street meetings under the leadership of James Seymore. If there was one thing that was outstanding in that movement, it is the stark similarity to the ministry of Jesus and the apostles. Pentecostals spend much time in prayer crying out to God for miracles, signs and wonders just like the early church did in Acts 4:29-30 and they receive the same anointing. "Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus. After they had prayed the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly." (Acts 4:29-30) NIV

 

In the Pentecostal and Charismatic Movement there is a dependence on the awesome presence of God. The primary equipment for taking the gospel to the nations is the baptism in the Holy Spirit and the tools of the ministry are the gifts of the Holy Spirit that come with that fiery baptism. 

 

The Pentecostal Movement got its name from that awesome experience of the early church in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon them all in the upper room on the day of Pentecost. And the Charismatic Movement of the latter part of the last century got its name from the word "Charisma," which means anointed gifts, or supernatural spiritual gifts. "Pentecostal" and "Charismatic" are just two words that leads us back to the same experience, the Baptism in the Holy Spirit, which Jesus himself received the day he was baptized in water at the Jordan River at the beginning of His public ministry. He did no miracles till after he received that anointing. Afterwards he came forth in the power of the Holy Spirit to boldly preach the Kingdom of God, heal the sick, cast out demons, and raise the dead. He is our example. He is our model, not only for living, but also for how to minister salvation and healing to the sick and to extend the Kingdom of God in the earth.

   

The clarity of the word of the Lord is so powerful to His Church today as to be overwhelming! What is the Spirit saying to the churches? Certainly, God is speaking specific direction to His people in various places, but there are two strong words to the church that calls for our response:

 

First, God is calling upon us to declare our unity in the Body of Christ and receive one another according to Romans 14:1 and 15:6-7. 

  

"Accept Christians who are weak in faith and don't argue with them about what they think is right or wrong. Accept each other just as Christ has accepted you, then God will be glorified." (NLT)  Let us speak out the following word often and teach others to do the same:

 

"I belong to everything that belongs to Jesus and everything that belongs to Jesus belongs to me. It's not us and them. It's just us! There is only one Body of Christ.  And the problems of the Church, the whole Church, are our problems! For we are the Church! And we can do more together than we can do alone!"

 

Second, the Spirit is urging us to pray the prayer of the early church in Acts 4:29-30, asking for strong manifestations of God's power such as those that attended the ministry of Jesus, the apostles, and the early church. 

 

"And now, O Lord, hear their threats, and give your servants great boldness in their preaching. Send your healing power; may miraculous signs and wonders by done through the name of your holy servant Jesus."  (NLT) 

 

From the time they prayed that prayer, on throughout the book of Acts we follow the explosive events that took place. They were actually the works of Jesus continuing on through His Body, the Church. The increase and the spread of the gospel in that time through supernatural manifestations, primarily through divine healing, was so astonishing to the general public that even the enemies of the gospel cried out, "They that have turned the world upside down have come here  also!" (Acts 17:6)

 

Nicodemus, a Pharisee, came to Jesus one night and said, "Teacher, we all know that God has sent you to teach us. Your miraculous signs are proof enough that God is with you." (John 3:1) NLT  

 

The main reason the primitive church grew by leaps and bounds, was the same reason that Nicodemus was totally convinced that Jesus was of God, because of the miracles he performed. The same applied to the apostles and the church. God was working with them, confirming their words with signs following.  

 

Consider the following glimpses into the ministry of Jesus and the early church and the ensuing flood of new converts as a result of witnessing a display of God's power to heal and to deliver:

 

"Jesus . . . surrounded by crowds of people from all over Judea, Jerusalem and as far north as the seacoasts of Tyre and Sidon who had come to hear him and to be healed . . . and healing power came out from him and they were all cured."  (Luke. 6:17-19) NLT

  

"Philip went to the city of Samaria and told the people about the Messiah. Crowds listened intently to what he had to say because of the miracles he did. Many evil spirits were cast out, screaming as they left their victims. And many who had been paralyzed or lame were healed. So there was great joy in that city." (Acts 8:4-8) NLT

 

"As a result of the apostles work, sick people were brought out into the streets on beds and mats so that Peter's shadow might fall across some of them as he went by. Crowds came in from the villages around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those possessed by evil spirits, and they were all healed." (Acts 5:15-16) NLT

 

Peter and John healed a lame man at the Beautiful Gate of the temple, which drew a huge crowd of people. They preached Jesus to them and "Many of the people who heard their message believed it, so that the number of believers totaled about five thousand men, not counting women and children." (Acts 3)  

 

Isn’t it strange that in that day, women and children didn’t count? It has changed some in our day. They do count women now. But in most places, the kids still don’t count. I always count the kids! I am reminded of the story told about D. L. Moody when in his youth he used to be an ardent children’s worker. He came back to his apartment one night after speaking in a church in Chicago and his room mate asked, 

 

“How did the meeting go tonight?” 

 

“Really well!” said Moody. “Two and half people got saved tonight.” 

 

“What? You mean you had two adults and one child received Jesus?”

 

“Oh, no” said Moody. “Two children and one adult got saved. The adult’s life is already half gone!”

 

Concerning the supernatural ministry of Paul in the city of Ephesus we read, "God gave Paul the power to do unusual miracles, so that even when handkerchiefs or cloths that had touched his skin were placed on sick people, they were healed of their diseases, and any evil spirits within them came out . . . This went on for the next two years, so that people throughout the province of Asia - both Jews and Greeks - heard the Lord's message." (Acts 19: 8-12) NLT

 

CONCLUSION

 

In all of the above, we have sought to awaken the Body of Christ to the tremendous opportunities that await us in this day of visitation, both in the USA and around the world.  Will we stand up and step out to do the will of the Father to fulfill our part of reaping this end time Harvest? May God help us to take that first step and trust him to use us in bringing in this Harvest!

 

I will never forget the words of the four lepers outside the gates of the city of Samaria as the city was under siege by the armies of Syria. (II Kings 7:3) I heard those words for the first time when I was seventeen years old: They have had a deep impact upon my life since that time.

 

The four lepers reasoned together as they sat there in their hunger, their sickness, their weariness and weakness.  They said, "WHY SIT WE HERE UNTIL WE DIE. If we go into the city, the famine is there and we will die.  If we sit here we will die either of starvation or of leprosy.  Let’s go out to the camp of the enemy.  They may give us something to eat or they may kill us, but we’re going to die anyway.  What have we got to lose?"

So, in the twilight of the day, four dying men stepped out to take a risk and began to walk toward the camp of the Syrians, laying their lives on the line.  Unknown to them, God honored that act of desperation and caused the sound of a mighty army to go before them, and when they arrived at the camp, no one was there.  The Syrians had heard the thundering noise of an army bearing down upon them and fled, leaving everything behind, including enough food to save the city of Samaria.  

 

God help us to be willing, in all our weakness, to stand up and take a step of faith when the Spirit calls to go.  God loves to use weak things, broken things, base things and things which are despised to work His marvelous deliverances for those who are hungry for the Bread of Life. 

 

When Paul prayed and pleaded with God to take away his infirmity God said, "My grace is sufficient for you for my strength is made perfect in weakness." That caused Paul to say, "Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then am I strong."

 

APPENDIX A

MY STORY

BY: ROBERT FITTS

 

Psychologists tell us that the four most dramatic and life-changing events in anyone's life are: first, spiritual conversion; second, marriage; third, the birth of a baby in the family; and fourth, the death of a family member. I have lived long enough to see all four of these events take place in my life: conversion, marriage, birth, and death.

 

My earliest awakening toward God was when I was a very small boy.  My parents attended a revival meeting in Roscoe, Texas. I was just a baby. My mother was carrying me in her arms. I must have been two or three years old? The preacher was shouting and screaming and it scared me half to death and I began to cry.

 

As I listened to my mother and father talk about God in our home after those meetings, all I understood at that age was that God is good and the devil is bad.  Good people go to heaven when they die and bad people go to hell.  I didn’t know much about heaven or hell but I knew enough to know I didn’t want to go to hell and I did want to go to heaven.

 

So, as a very small boy I started trying to be good.  It wasn’t long before I stopped trying.  No matter how hard I tried, I just could not be good.  So I gave it up, thinking it would be easier later on "when I got big."

 

As I listened to adults talk about the Bible and the things of God, the understanding that began to form within my very impressionable mind was that if my good weighed more than my bad when I died, God would let me into heaven.  I did not know why Jesus died on the cross.

 

It may seem unusual for someone so young to have such thoughts, but looking back now, after spending several years in a ministry called Child Evangelism Fellowship, I have no doubt that very small children can as truly believe on Christ and be as soundly converted as an adult if properly instructed.

 

When I was eleven years of age I attended a tent revival when we were living in Chester, Arkansas. My big brother and some more of our gang were with me.  Night after night when the invitation was given to receive Christ, I wanted to, but I didn’t want to be laughed at by my "tough" friends, so I would not go forward when the invitation was given to receive Jesus. 

 

One night the preacher said, "If you are ashamed of Jesus before men he will be ashamed of you before the Father and the holy angels." The fear of the Lord struck me deeply when I heard that.  

 

While I was struggling with this decision, suddenly my brother stepped out and walked down the isle to where the preacher stood.  I was right behind him.

 

When we walked home that night, I felt such a wonderful peace in my heart!  I had an assurance for the very first time that my sins were forgiven and that when I died I would go to heaven.

 

I was raised in a home where there were no Bibles and no one ever went to church anymore. The time that Mother and Dad attended the revival meeting in Roscoe turned out to be a very rare event.  Drunkenness, foul language, partying, fighting, quarreling, immorality surrounded me much of the time.  Over the years I had developed habits of lying, cheating, stealing, smoking, cursing and several other character traits of a budding criminal.  Now that I was saved, things were different . . . or were they?  

 

One day I was alone in the house when I saw a woman’s purse laying on the kitchen cabinet.  My first thought was, "There’s money in that purse and I am going to get it. But wait, I can’t do that now ‘cause I’m a Christian."  Then I remembered what I had heard my folks say about "the age of accountability." They said we are not responsible for our sins till we are twelve years old.  Well, I was still eleven years old and it would be several months before I would turn twelve.  

 

So I prayed a short prayer, "Lord, I will come back to you when I am twelve, but I am going to take that purse." So I grabbed the purse, ran out the back door, ran down into the woods, scrambled behind a huge bolder and opened up the purse.  My heart sank!  It was empty! I had sold out for NOTHING!

 

I was numb with guilt and regret.  If I had known about forgiveness and restoration as a believer, I would not have wandered in sin for the next six years.  I did not know that the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin. Confession and repentance would have put me back on track again.  

 

But that was the beginning of six stormy years of living the life of a Prodigal Son. I did not return to God on my twelfth birthday.  I went all the way down to the pigpen in my waywardness.  Then tragedy struck. My mother was killed in an auto accident on Mothers Day 1952.

 

After Mother died, I knew I had to turn my back on my life of sin and get right with God. There was a little Baptist church on the corner one block from my house and I made up my mind to start attending. After two or three services I made a public confession of my faith and was baptized in the Concho River near San Angelo, Texas in July of 1952.  I have never turned back since that day over 56 years ago.  

 

Jesus became my Lord, my life, my joy, and my strength.  I began to read the little Gideon New Testament I found in one of the dresser drawers in my bedroom.  Through that I began to grow in the grace and knowledge of God.  

 

My pastor, Thomas H. Harding, asked me one day what I was planning to do with my life and I said, "Well, I don’t really know.  I like to play the guitar and sing and write songs."  He took me to a Baptist College about a hundred miles away, and helped me get enrolled.  I had dropped out of school in the 10th grade, but they allowed me to take an entrance exam and suddenly I was a college student!  

 

Ten years later I graduated.  In the meantime, Joni and I got married and moved to Southern California.  A year after the wedding we had our first baby, and over the next 25 years we had six other babies, five daughters and one other son.  

 

While still a teenager I committed my life to be a missionary.  I have been in that work now for over fifty years in several foreign countries, but mainly in the USA. 

 

All our children are following Jesus.  Some are more involved than others, but all are believers. Jesus has made all the difference in our lives.  He provides our every need.  He picks us up when we fall down.  He comforts us in times of sorrow.  He awakens in us a desire to live a pure and holy life.  He helps us to resolve our marital problems.  He forgives and heals our faults, our failures, and our sins when we get off the track.  He keeps us from the snares of the devil.  He helps us forgive one another and love one another, even when we are not very lovable.  He gives us wisdom and direction in all the decisions of life.  He reveals to us the meaning of His word when we read the Bible.  He gives us strength to reach out to help others who are in need.  I am so thankful I heard the simple message of God’s love and forgiveness at an early age and gave my heart to Jesus.  He has been a faithful Shepherd to bring me back to him and keep me through all these years.  

 

If you have read my story this far, you are more than mildly interested in the things of God.  I want to share with you how very simple it is to receive Jesus into your life and know the joy and peace of sins forgiven.  If you know that you have sinned, and if you believe that God sent Jesus to die on the cross to pay for your sins, you can pray a very simple prayer from your heart and invite Him to come into your life and be your Savior.  Here is a suggested prayer:  

 

"Dear God, I know I have sinned, but I believe you love me and sent your son, Jesus Christ, to suffer and die in my place to pay for all my sins.  I ask you, Lord Jesus, to come into my heart and cleanse me from all my sins.  Make me the kind of person you created me to be.  Thank you for hearing my prayer and for coming into my heart."

 

If this prayer is the desire of your heart, pray it right now and Jesus will come into your life and make you a new person.  Your life will take on meaning and purpose. 

 

APPENDIX B

THE HOUSE CHURCH IN THE NEW TESTAMENT

 

The scripture passages below show that common, ordinary dwellings were used for spreading the gospel and for discipling new converts both during Jesus' lifetime as well as during the expansion of the New Testament church in the book of Acts.

A HOUSE WHERE JESUS IS WORSHIPPED

 

"On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped him.  Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and myrrh."  (Matt.  2:11)  

 

The very first time a group gathered to worship Jesus and offer him gifts was in a house, the house of Mary and Joseph.

 

PETER'S HOUSE IS USED FOR A HEALING MEETING

 

"When Jesus came into Peter's house, he saw Peter's mother-in-law lying in a bed with a fever.  He touched her hand and the fever left her, and she got up and began to wait on him.  When evening came, many who were demon possessed were brought to him and he drove out the spirits and healed all their sick."  (Matt.  8:14-16)  

 

In the early days of his ministry, Jesus used the house of Peter to conduct preaching, healing and deliverance meetings.

 

THE FIRST COMMUNION SERVICE IS HELD IN A HOUSE

 

In the last week of Jesus' ministry he said to his disciples, "Go into the city to a certain man and tell him, the teacher says: My appointed time is near.  I am going to celebrate the Passover with my disciples at your house," (Matt.  26:18) Jesus could have chosen to celebrate the first communion with his disciples in a synagogue, in the temple, or in some other place of religious significance, but he chose to celebrate it in a common ordinary house.  Thus he set his seal on the common dwelling place as a holy and sanctified place, worthy of the most solemn worship services.

 

JESUS PREACHED TO CROWDS ASSEMBLED IN HOUSES

 

"Several days later he returned to Capernaum, and the news of his arrival spread quickly through the city.  Soon the house where he was staying was so packed with visitors that there wasn't room for a single person more, not even outside the door.  And he preached the word to them."  (Mark 2:l Living Bible)   

 

The things we do in our church buildings today, Jesus did in houses, in the open air, and in the temple courtyard during his years of public ministry.  

 

PENTECOST CAME TO A HOUSE CHURCH

 

"When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.  Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting."  (Acts 2: l-2)  

 

Many of us have never considered the number of foundational events that took place in someone's house. 

 

  The first worship service happened in a house. 

  The first communion service was in a house. 

  Jesus preached and healed the sick in a house. 

The gospel was first preached to the Gentiles in the house of Cornelius.  

The outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost was in a house.  

And the first churches that the Apostle Paul started were all in houses.  

Over the centuries we have lost the dynamic of simplicity and have added many things that have slowed the spread of the gospel into all nations.

 

IN THE STREETS AND IN THE HOUSES

 

"They worshipped together regularly at the Temple each day, met in small groups in homes for communion and shared their meals with great joy and thankfulness."  (Acts 2:46)  

 

The early church not only met in small groups in homes but also in larger gatherings in public places.  The most rapid growth of the church, both in the past and in the present day, has been when the church was not using formal meeting places, but remained flexible and mobile.

 

SAUL, THE PERSECUTOR, ATTACKS THE HOUSE CHURCHES

 

"But Saul began ravaging the church, entering house after house: and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison."  (Acts 8:3)  

 

Where did Saul of Tarsus go to find "the people to the way" to drag them to prison and to death?  He found them meeting in houses.  He himself would later plant churches in houses on his missionary journeys.

 

HOUSE MEETINGS AND OPEN AIR MEETINGS

 

"Day after day in the temple courts and from house to house they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the news that Jesus is the Christ."  (Acts 5:42)  

 

They did not meet in the temple proper, but rather on the temple grounds, or in the vicinity of the temple where the people were gathered.  This was an open air meeting. The concept of house church opens up the idea that church can take place anywhere two or three Believers gather, even when two disciples are walking along the road to Emmaus with Jesus "in the midst."

 

A PRAYING HOUSE CHURCH DELIVERS PETER FROM PRISON

 

"Peter, therefore was kept in prison, but prayer was made without ceasing  by the church unto God for him." (Acts 12:5)

 

It is clear that "the church" in this verse was meeting in the home of Mary the mother of John Mark for after Peter's miraculous release from prison through the visit of an angel he went directly to where the people were praying for his release and in Acts 12:12 we read, ". . . and when Peter came to the house of Mary, the mother of John, whose surname was Mark, where many were gathered together praying . . ." 

 

Consider the powerful influence one house church can have in the events of history. They, no doubt, saved Peter's life through their persistent prayer that night!

 

THE HISTORY OF CHRISTIANITY by Lions states that, "Christians had no special buildings but met in private houses.  Justin Martyr (100-165 A.D.) was asked by Rusticus the Perfect: `Where do you assemble?' Justin said, where each one chooses and can, or do you fancy that we all meet in the very same place?  Not so, because the God of the Christians is not circumscribed by place.'"  

 

In his book, CELLS FOR LIFE, Ron Trudinger says, "They initiated the practice of meeting daily in the temple and of breaking of bread from house to house: this term can also be rendered: `In the various private homes.'  Synagogues were used for awhile, but as we see in Acts 19, it was not long before many of these were closed to Christians.  But we continue to find significant references in Acts and the Epistles to churches in homes."

 

THE HOUSE CHURCH THAT OPENED THE GOSPEL TO THE NATIONS  

 

"The Following Day, Peter arrived in Caesarea.  Cornelius was expecting them and called together his relatives and close friends.  As Peter entered the house, Cornelius met him and fell at his feet in reverence.  Peter went inside and found a large gathering of people."  (Acts 10:24-27)  

 

This is a good example of how to start a house church.  Someone who is hungry for God and for the things of God calls together a number of his family and friends and then calls for a man of God to come and share the Word of God.  So simple!  This meeting in the house of Cornelius was historic.  It was the breakthrough that convinced the Jewish believers that the Good News was for all the nations of the world and not just for the Jews.

 

LYDIA'S HOUSE WAS EUROPE'S FIRST CHURCH.

 

"After Paul and Silas came out of the prison, they went to Lydia's house where they met with the brothers and encouraged them." (Acts 16:40)  

 

The church of Philippi was formed in the house of Lydia. We are not told how the church grew, but when the group could no longer fit in Lydia's house, they probably formed another group somewhere in the city and continued to divide and multiply.   

 

PAUL'S RENTED HOUSE

 

"For two whole years Paul stayed in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him.  Boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ."  (Acts 28:30-31)  

 

These final words in the book of Acts reveal that Paul not only made use of the homes of others for the proclamation of the gospel, but that he also used his own rented house for spreading the good news of God's love.  The fastest growing movement in the world today, the Christian movement, began in houses.   It had its greatest growth while it remained a fluid, simple, mobile, relationship-oriented people.

 

FROM TYPES AND SHADOWS TO SUBSTANCE . . . JESUS CHRIST!

 

All the types and shadows of the Old Testament were totally fulfilled in Christ.  We no longer need the tabernacle, or the vestments, or the temple, or the furniture, or any such thing.  "Christ is all and in all.  We are complete in Him" We no longer need a "holy place", or an altar of incense' or a laver, or shewbread, or urim, or thummim.  We don't need the shadows for we have the substance.  His name is JESUS!

 

 

A woman of Samaria said to Jesus "Sir, our fathers worshipped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem."   Jesus declared, "Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father, neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem.  You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews.  Yet a time is coming and is now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.  God is Spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth."  (John 4:20-24)

 

Jesus made it clear that the time had come and that Jerusalem was no more a holy place than Samaria was for HE HAD COME. In his coming he forever brought an end to the idea of holy places, for he himself had fulfilled all the types and shadows of the Old Testament.

 

Let us rejoice and praise the Lord that we have been released from all bondage and legalism as to a place where we are supposed to worship God!  We are free to worship him alone or together, anytime day or night, in any place we choose!  

 

APPENDIX C

THE BAPTISM IN THE HOLY SPIRIT

 

More and more people are hearing about the baptism in the Holy Spirit.  Many would like to receive it, but have never been instructed as to what it is and how to receive it.

 

The baptism in the Holy Spirit is a definite experience in which the Holy Spirit, who is already dwelling within the Believer, is released to overflow and empower him.  This baptism is administered by Jesus and is received by faith.  

Jesus himself is our pattern and our example in this matter.  He was born of the Spirit at birth but was not baptized in the Spirit until he received water baptism in the Jordan River at the age of thirty when the Holy Spirit "came upon him." (John 1:29-34) The Holy Spirit "within" and the Holy Spirit "upon" are two different experiences. The Holy Spirit "upon" is the same transforming event the disciples experienced on the day of Pentecost.  It is followed by evidences of the gifts of the Spirit such as supernatural praise, prophecy, and speaking in unknown tongues.  (I Corinthians 12 and 14) 

 

The baptism in the Holy Spirit is given for the purpose of exalting Jesus Christ in the life and service of the believer.  In order to receive the baptism in the Holy Spirit it is important to understand the following:

 

IT IS PROMISED TO EVERY BELIEVER.

 

"For the promise is unto you and to your children and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call."  (Acts 2:38)

 

"The promise" refers to the outpouring of the Spirit.  This experience is not just for missionaries, evangelists and pastors, but for every believer.

 

IT IS A GIFT

 

We do not have to beg for it.  We cannot work for it.  We cannot make ourselves good enough to receive it.  We must receive it like we would receive any gift.  We just take it by simple faith and then express our thanks to God for hearing and answering our prayer.  After we receive it by faith we will begin to experience it.

IT IS ADMINISTERED BY JESUS

 

"John answered, saying to them all, I indeed baptize you with water; but one mightier than I is coming, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose; he shall baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire."  (Luke 3:16)

 

There is a baptism in water administered by men; (Mt. 28:19) 

There is a baptism into the body of Christ by the Spirit; (I Cor. 12:13)  

There is a baptism in the Holy Spirit administered by Jesus.  (John 1:33) 

 

BAPTISM IN WATER

 

Throughout the New Testament water baptism always happened on the same day (or night) that someone received Jesus.  It is a physical baptism in literal water of which every believer is responsible to receive in obedience to the command of Jesus. 

 

BAPTISM INTO CHRIST'S BODY

Baptism into the body of Christ happens instantly when we take Jesus as our Lord and Savior.  It is done in the Spirit and by the Spirit and we have no physical experience of it.  It simply means that God has joined us to the spiritual body of the saints worldwide and there is no feeling necessary or expected.  It is to be received by faith as a revelation from God.  All believers are baptized into the body of Christ the moment they receive Christ.  There are no exceptions.

 

BAPTISM IN THE HOLY SPIRIT

 

The baptism in the Holy Spirit is administered by Jesus and there may or may not be a physical experience of it the moment it is received.  There will be an empowering which sooner or later will become evident in the life of the one who receives it.  Jesus said, "You shall receive power after the Holy Spirit comes on you and you shall be witnesses unto me  . . ." (Acts 1:8) 

 

In Acts 1:4 Jesus emphasized the importance of being baptized in the Holy Spirit:

 

"And being assembled together with them, Jesus commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem but wait for the promise of the Father which, he said, you have heard of me.  For John truly baptized with water; but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now."

Ten days later they all received the baptism in the Holy Spirit.

 

"When the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.  And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting . . . And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance."  (Acts 2:1-4)

 

Receiving the Holy Spirit when we are born again and being baptized in the Holy Spirit are two separate events.  The disciples had received the Holy Spirit on the day of Jesus' Resurrection. "And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said, 'Receive the Holy Spirit.'"  (John 20:22)   

 

I am fully confident that they did receive the Holy Spirit when Jesus breathed on them that day and that is the "new birth," being born of the Spirit.  Fifty days later they received the baptism in the Holy Spirit.

 

We read in Acts eight that the Samaritans had been baptized in water after having believed in Jesus and yet they did not receive the infilling of the Holy Spirit until Peter and John laid their hands on them and prayed for them to receive it.

 

Saul of Tarsus received Jesus on the road to Damascus.  He always referred to his Damascus Road experience as the day he received Jesus into his life.  However, he did not receive the filling of the Holy Spirit until three days later when Ananias laid his hands on him and said, "Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus . . . has sent me that you might receive your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit."  (Acts 9:17)  

 

We know that if any man does not have the Spirit of Christ in him he does not belong to Christ.  He is not saved.  He is not a Christian.  But Paul was a Christian for at least three days before he received the baptism in the Holy Spirit.  But he received the indwelling of the Spirit on the road to Damascus the moment he believed in Jesus. 

 

Also in Acts 19:1-7 the disciples in Ephesus had not received the baptism in the Holy Spirit although they were "believers" and were called "disciples."  It would have been pointless for Paul to ask "Have you received the Holy Spirit since you believed?"  If we automatically receive the baptism in the Holy Spirit the moment we believe.  When Paul found that they were ignorant of the Holy Spirit and his ministry, "He laid hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they all spoke with tongues and prophesied."

 

The baptism in the Holy Spirit is not the same as the born-again experience.  It is another experience altogether.

  

IT IS THE WILL OF GOD THAT YOU RECEIVE THE BAPTISM IN THE HOLY SPIRIT.

 

God commands all believers to be filled with the Spirit: "Be not drunk with wine  . . . but be filled with the Spirit."  (Ephesians 5:18)

 

When you pray for the baptism in the Holy Spirit you are asking according to the will of God.  Therefore you can know that God will answer your prayer because of the following promise:

 

"And this is the confidence we have in Him that, if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us; and if we know that he hears us, whatsoever we ask, we know we have the petitions that we desired of him.  (I John 5:14-15)

 

It is not enough to pray for the baptism in the Holy Spirit.  Many pray for years for this blessing and yet they do not receive it.  Why not?   Because they do not lay claim to it and thank God for it by simple, child-like faith.  They ask for it.  They beg for it, but they do not claim it by faith and thank God for it before they experience it.  Put your faith out in front of your feelings and you will receive it. Pray the following prayer and you will receive the baptism in the Holy Spirit immediately:

"Jesus, I do acknowledge you as my Lord and Savior.  I thank you for dying on the cross for my sins.  You said that if I ask anything within your will you will hear and grant my request.  Lord you command me to be filled with the Holy Spirit, so I know it is your will to fill me and therefore I ask you to baptize me in the Holy Spirit right now. Thank you for hearing my prayer and for granting my request! I declare by faith in your holy word that I now receive the baptism in the Holy Spirit. Thank you, Jesus!  Amen!"

 

The Bible says "The just shall live by faith" so do not seek to have an emotional experience.  Claim the baptism in the Holy Spirit by faith and walk in the reality of it by faith. Feelings will come and feelings will go, but leave that in the hands of God.  Your part is to believe, embrace, confess, and act like the work is done.  The results will follow.  You will begin to experience supernatural gifts and manifestations of the power and presence of God that you never had before. Feelings are beautiful and good, but we do wrong when we seek to create an emotion ourselves.  God will give you overwhelming spiritual experiences, but let him do it.  Your part is to TRUST HIS WORD OF PROMISE.

 

Now that you have prayed and by faith received the baptism in the Holy Spirit, as an expression of your faith that God has heard and answered your prayer, just begin to praise God, but not in your own language.  The experience of the apostles on the day of Pentecost can be your experience, too.  Simply open your mouth and begin to praise God and trust him to give you words in a language unknown to you, a language of the Spirit . . . a prayer language.

 

You are offering perfect praise to God in the Spirit. You are doing what the apostle Paul did when he said "I will pray with my spirit and I will pray with my understanding also.  I will sing with my spirit and I will sing with my understanding also."  It is not a matter of emotion.  It is a matter of the will.  You can will to pray in your own language and you can will to pray in your heavenly language.  Paul went on to say to the Christians in Corinth: “The spirit of the prophet is subject to the prophet, therefore let all things be done decently and in order."  You can start and you can stop. You can pray loud or you can pray softly.  You are in control.

 

The baptism in the Holy Spirit will bring wonderful changes into your life:  Jesus will become more real and personal to you than ever before. As you read the Bible, God will speak to you more clearly.  You will find its truths  more meaningful.  You will have a greater desire to read it. You will feel love for others such as you have never experienced before. You will begin to experience miracles day by day as you walk in the Spirit. 

 

You will have a desire to minister to others in the power of the Spirit. It will be easier to share your faith in Jesus with those who do not know him.  You will have a new power in witnessing for him. 

 

 As you open up your life more fully to the ministry of the Holy Spirit you will be used in spiritual gifts such as healing, miracles, prophecy, tongues, interpretation of tongues, word of knowledge, word of wisdom, etc.  (I Cor. 12, 14, and Rom. 12)

 

Now that you have received the baptism in the Holy Spirit, it is important to walk in the Spirit by faith moment by moment.  Ephesians 5:18 in the original Greek says, "Keep on being filled with the Spirit."  We are not to rely on a one-time experience but we are to daily experience fresh fillings of the Spirit.

 

To live a consistent Spirit-filled life, observe the following: Walk by faith! Do not depend on your feelings. "We walk by faith and not by sight." (II Cor. 5:7)  Claim the filling of the Holy Spirit by faith whether you feel spiritual or not.  Put your faith out in front.  Your feelings will line up with your faith. Repent of sin instantly! The blood of Jesus Christ keeps on cleansing us from sin, but sin persisted in will bring you into a controversy with God. The Lord knows how to discipline his children.  It is a fearful thing to come under the rod of his chastisement.  (Read the 12th chapter of Hebrews) Be a doer of the Word!

 

Act on your faith.  Step out and attempt the impossible if you know God is leading you.  Be bold!  We will never know the resources of God until we reach beyond our natural abilities.  Lay hands on the sick and believe for miracles of healing.  Say "yes" to opportunities to serve others.  Remember that faith without works is dead.  (James 1:22)

 

Confess God's Word, not your doubts. Satan is the author of doubt and fear.  Fill your heart with the word of God.  Jesus defeated Satan by quoting God's word.  You can do the same.  Resist the devil and he will run from you.

 

Make it a habit to praise God for all things and in all things.  (I Thess. 5:18 and Eph. 5:20) Thank God for your problems as well as for your blessings. He will use your praise to turn bad thing into good things.

 

Have a daily quiet time. "Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed." (Luke 5:16) Jesus left us an example to follow. Time alone with him is not wasted time.  It is the most important and fruitful time of your day.  The most powerful people on earth are those who pray.

 

From time to time, spend a day in fasting and prayer. There is a spiritual synergism that takes place when we mix these three things:  Praying, fasting, and reading the Bible.  If you come to a "down time" set aside a day for the Word, fasting, and prayer. It will bring you back out into the dynamite of God.

 

MY EXPERIENCE OF THE BAPTISM IN THE HOLY SPIRIT

 

I first received the baptism in the Holy Spirit in 1959 at the age of 25.  I had sought it for over five years before I finally received it.   I was waiting for God to come on the scene and give me an overwhelming experience, including speaking in tongues, so that I would know that I had received it.  Then one day I understood that I could take it by faith just like I had received Jesus by faith.  I went aside and prayed and received it by stark, naked faith.  And it worked!  Two days after I took it by faith a wonderful spiritual explosion occurred. That was the first time I ever spoke in tongues. I began to speak and the Spirit gave me utterance!

 

I began to see supernatural things happen and I was excited!  However I was a Baptist at the time and had no desire to become a Pentecostal.  So I only sought the power of the Holy Spirit to make me a better preacher, teacher, speaker and pastor.  I wanted the power without the problems inherent by moving into charismatic things.  As I look back now I am certain I was quenching and grieving the Spirit by my hesitation to enter into a ministry like that of Jesus, Paul and the early church. Why should I be ashamed to do the very things Jesus, the apostles and the early church did? Much of my hesitance was due to the strong aversion my denomination had toward such things as healing the sick, speaking in tongues, prophecy, and casting out demons.

 

This went on for several years and I experienced a measure of God's power and anointing, but I was not satisfied.  As I prayed for more of God's presence and power in my life and ministry God brought into my life certain people and influences that began to take me into a deeper experience of the baptism in the Spirit.

 

The years have passed since the baptism in the Holy Spirit invaded our family.  I am more persuaded than ever that this is just the touch from the Lord that the church needs in our day.

 

We are hearing about revival in many places and it is simply and only the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.  For those who have already been filled there is a new anointing and for those who have not yet received it, there is a mighty river flowing all over the earth.

 

I encourage you to seek this blessing and do not give up till you have a satisfying portion.  It is a gift and it is for you!  Just as Jesus told the disciples not to leave Jerusalem before they had been clothed upon with power from on high, so his word is to you today,  "Do not go on any longer without this mantle of power upon you."  It is for you and it is for those whose lives you will touch in the days ahead.  People need deliverance.  They need to be delivered from demons of lust, of disease, of fear and confusion, and from inner turmoil and darkness.  

 

They need to hear the good news of the love of God in Christ Jesus given in the power of the Holy Spirit.  They need the touch of love and power and the word of wisdom and knowledge that you could give them if you were anointed with the Holy Spirit and power.

 

Will you receive it?  Will you receive it NOW?    May God bless you as you reach out by faith and take this gift from the hand of God!

 

APPENDIX D

MINISTRY TRAINING SCHOOL

 

The goal of the Ministry Training School is to equip and release the saints to do the work of the ministry according to Ephesians 4:11-13.

 

Rick Joyner, International speaker and writer, said, "I have asked in many conferences and large churches how many people know their ministry, or the gifts of the Spirit that have been given to them. Usually the result is that less than 5 percent know the answer to this question. How would you be doing if only 5 percent of your body was working? Yet, this is the present state of the body of Christ. Obviously this is because there are very few true New Testament ministries now in the church or they would be equipping the saints to do the work of the ministry as we are told in Ephesians 4:12.   

 

For this reason the modern church probably has more in common with a spectator sport than the biblical model we have of the church - you basically have a few people playing the game and everyone else watches and cheers them on. However, this will begin to change and change quickly. We have come to the time of the restoration of all things, and it will begin with the church being restored to her purpose, and maturing in it as a light to all people of what they were created to be. 

 

As the church is restored to her purpose of truly restoring all who are joined to her to their purpose, Christians will become the most fulfilled, confident, bold, peaceful, graceful, loving, people on the earth. This will be in striking contrast to what is happening with everyone else."  

 

In Acts chapter nineteen we witness an amazing thing in the life of the apostle Paul. In the opening verses Paul travels to the city of Ephesus. He finds twelve disciples and discovers that they have not yet been baptized in the name of Jesus. So he baptizes them in Jesus' name, then lays hands on them and ministers to them the baptism in the Holy Spirit. Then, for about three months, he and this little group of disciples reason with the Jews in the synagogue persuading them about the things that pertain to the Kingdom of God. But some  became resistant and would not receive their teaching, so Paul takes the disciples and moves to the school of Tyrannus. For two years, he and his little band of disciples had daily discussions with both Jews and Greeks about the Kingdom of God and the Lord Jesus Christ. 

 

The amazing thing is what resulted from Paul’s little school in the city of Ephesus. The NIV version puts it like this: "He took the disciples with him and had discussions daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. This went on for two years, so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord. God did extraordinary miracles through Paul. Handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them." (Acts 19:9-10)

 

The province of Asia in Paul’s day was about the size of the state of California in our day. Can you imagine the influence of one school reaching the entire state of California? Even his adversaries acknowledged the effectiveness of Paul’s school when they said, "And you see and hear how this fellow Paul has convinced and led astray large numbers of people here in Ephesus and in practically the whole province of Asia." (Acts 19:26) 

 

It must not be overlooked that it was more than just teaching the word of the Lord that gave Paul’s school such a dynamic impact on the people of Asia. It was miracles of healing and deliverance added to the teaching of the word. The ministry of healing and deliverance was the major drawing power in the ministry of Jesus. They not only came to hear Jesus' words but to be healed of their diseases and delivered from demonic oppression.

 

The discipline of the Ministry Training School (MTS) is to learn the word through discussion Bible study and to become proficient in ministering healing and deliverance in the name of Jesus, following the example of Jesus, and of Paul, and the primitive church. Here are some of the questions we seek to answer for those who are interested in getting involved in this school:             

 

What is a Ministry Training School?  An MTS is an alternative to traditional Bible College. The goal is to equip and release the saints to do the work of the ministry. All believers are called to do the work of the ministry. The MTS will cover the basics of ministry which will include helping people into salvation, baptism, healing, deliverance, baptism in the Holy Spirit and how to start a house church. We will teach on each subject and then have a time of practical "hands on" participation, putting into practice what has been taught. 

 

What is the purpose of the MTS?  Simply and only to equip God's people to do the works of Jesus such as sharing the good news, getting people saved, baptized, filled with the Holy Spirit, healed and delivered from demonic oppression.

 

Where will we meet?  Normally we meet in the home of one of the participants, but if the group is too large to meet in a home, we find a larger meeting room.

 

What is the Cost?  $10 to pay for the book 

 

How Long Does the School Last?  Six months

 

If you are interested in starting an MTS in your city, contact us at robertjoni@gmail.com  

 

APPENDIX E

STARTING A HOUSE CHURCH

 

Thoughts from the heart of my dear friend, Bruce Gordon   

 

In talking and corresponding with folks who are interested in starting house churches, I felt moved to write up a summary of some of what I would say if we were face to face.  These thoughts and suggestions have come from my own reading, interaction with people around the country, and the experiences of my family and myself as we have gathered with others over the years. While these are personal observations and opinions, it is my prayer that there may be something from our family’s experience that may be helpful to others. 

 

Starting a house church is not difficult.  It need not be at all complicated.  It requires no special training.  It requires no money.  It requires no clergy.  It doesn’t even require a house!  Many house churches meet in places of business, coffee shops, parks, pubs and athletic clubs.  It’s not really about whether you’re meeting in a house. It’s really about meeting with the Lord Jesus and His people.  All that’s required is two or three who know Jesus and who are mutually determined to follow him together.  Jesus can show these people everything they need to know.  

 

Think of your times together more as a family get-together rather than as a formal ‘meeting time.’ There’s no need to think of it as ”Starting A Church”  with big expectations, a certain formality, or even an informal order of service.  Read the descriptions of the gathered community in Acts, along with 1 Corinthians chapters 11-14 and enter into the spirit of what God was doing there.  Paul reminds us that “the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”  Start meeting with your family and/or a few friends, and see what God does.

 

As you come together, be intent on discerning what the Lord wants to do among you.  Be prepared to change direction if the Spirit seems to be leading in another way.  Some gatherings will have lots of prayer, but may have little of the Word.  Others may consist of mostly different ones sharing what they have been seeing in the Word that week.  Other times you might sing for hours.  Be sensitive.  Let the Holy Spirit nudge you towards His mind for the gathering.  Be willing to take risks.  Without an order of service, you’ll have some tremendous meetings, and some terribly boring ones when you‘ll wonder why God seemed not to show up.  Keep listening to the Lord, be encouraged, and you’ll see great things happen. 

 

One of the first questions often asked is, “What do we do with the kids?”  The answer is found in the house church being more like a family than an organization.  Every family handles their children differently when they gather with others.  Robert Fitts comments: “Some house churches will have children's meetings separate from youth and adults.  Some will all meet together.  It is surprising how much little children learn just being with youth and adults.  Each church will seek the Lord as to how to meet the needs of those who attend.”

 

In general, it’s good to experiment with how to incorporate the young ones into whatever goes on as fully as possible.  You’ll probably be surprised at how the Lord will work through them when they have encouragement and opportunity. 

 

Eat together whenever you meet.  Try including a simple form of the Lord’s Supper as part of the meal, it’ll be a blessing.  The New Testament says nothing about needing elders or ministers to be present before you can have Communion. Make every attempt to be in each other’s homes during the week, apart from the main meeting of the week.   It’s very easy to get focused on having a good meeting while overlooking the building of a living community.  Take others with you on errands, or drop in to have a word of prayer together about something that’s come up in your life.  Eat meals together during the week.  Those further away can call one another on the phone during the week.  You’ll notice the difference.  

 

Be real.  Many of us aren’t used to really sharing what’s going on in our lives when we come together.  Be specific about your joys and challenges.  While there are some subjects not appropriate for the youngest ones among you, be as honest as you can without cultivating an unhealthy ‘therapy session’ atmosphere.  You’ll find that sharing what’s really going on in your lives will give the Holy Spirit lots of room to stir up ministry in surprising, powerful ways.

 

Look for ways to be a blessing to the poor, the needy and the hurting.  These are the ones especially close to the heart of Jesus.  Helping others in practical ways will bring rich blessings.

 

Don’t worry about whether you have good music or indeed any music at all.  The modern church in the U.S. seems to feel like we gather together primarily for worship (mostly singing) and/or teaching (mostly in lecture format).  The New Testament church gathered for mutual encouragement, ministry, and the Lord’s Supper.  (See Acts 20:7, 1 Cor. 11-14, esp. 11:17-34 and 14:26b)

 

Don’t feel like you have to have a special teaching.  You’ll probably derive the most benefit from reading together through a book of the Bible, or discussing the Scriptures that have been having a practical effect on your life in the past week, along with how you are applying their message.  Many groups have an in-depth Bible study on a different day of the week than the main meeting.  In this way, the main meeting has plenty of room for the Spirit to move and for all to be involved in ministry.

 

Pray for each other’s needs, as well as lost people who are in relationship with you.  Pray for the Lord to draw & attract those people who should be with you.  Believe & expect God to answer.

 

Don’t be too concerned about whether you seem to have the right kind of leaders or leadership structure, especially early on. There is One Leader, and He is well able to speak to you and your group regarding any recognition of leaders, and how they should function in your group.  It’s best to seek a consensus on decisions among yourselves, and seek “the unity of the Spirit.”

 

Try not to worry about whether you are ‘under authority’ or ‘have a covering.’  In his book, Who Is Your Covering? Frank Viola clearly shows that many of today’s ideas on authority structures and related practices are derived from human reasoning rather than flowing from Scripture.  While it’s very helpful to cultivate authentic relationships, informal networking and accountability with mature and godly leaders, a formal relationship with a larger group or authority figure is not required before you can consider yourself a valid N.T. church.

 

The church functions best when it’s not seen as a certain kind of meeting, a special kind of experience, or the outworking of a special set of teachings, however Biblical.  Church is the ongoing life of the people of God as they love each other and follow Jesus.  Keep it simple.  Keep it genuine.  Keep it focused on the Lord Jesus, and you’ll be blessed. - Bruce Gordon,   June 20, 2005

 

APPENDIX F

SCHOOL OF HEALING & DELIVERANCE

MINISTERING HEALING IN TEAMS OF TWO

 

Jesus said to his disciples as he sent them out two by two to preach the Kingdom of God, “In whatever city you enter, heal the sick that are therein.” (Luke 10: 8-9) Our prayer is that the Body of Christ in every city will be faithful to equip the saints to heal the sick in Jesus’ name. 

 

The School of Healing & Deliverance (SOH) is a ministry of training healing teams of two to pray together by phone daily. They are encouraged to pray a divine appointment prayer asking the Lord to give them someone to minister to that day as they go about their daily routine. A close study of how Jesus and the apostles and the early church ministered leads us to believe that the best way to have a healing ministry is to pray for God to set up appointments for us as we go about our daily lives, always ready to be used of God to bring healing to the sick, to share the gospel and help anyone in need.

 

My healing team partner is David Croom of Arizona and I live in Kona, Hawaii. Here is my divine appointment prayer: "Father, give David and I a divine appointment today with someone who is hungry for God or sick or in need and give us grace to minister the love of Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit." Each day you will connect with your partner by phone to pray for a divine appointment and to share what happened the previous day.

 

The fastest growing movement in the world today is the Christian Movement. The leading edge of this movement is supernatural ministry that includes miracles, signs, and wonders; specifically that of healing the sick in Jesus name! Until recently, the most rapid growth of Christianity took place in the first three centuries of church history. The prayer of the early church was, “Father, grant to your servants that with all boldness we may speak your word, by extending your hand to heal and that signs and wonders be done in the name of Jesus!” (Acts 4:29-30) God answered that prayer and the Christian movement went forward like a consuming fire that spread in every direction for the next 300 years. 

 

Then slowly that supernatural fire began to die down and almost went out during the dark ages! However, in our day there is a powerful resurgence of the healing ministry all over the world, in large crusades, in small groups, and one on one. 

 

The School of Healing and Deliverance will help fuel the fires of this powerful movement. Normally the SOH starts on Friday evening and ends at noon on Sunday. In some instances we do it all on one day when it is not possible to do the longer seminar.  The one day seminar is held on Saturday or Sunday from 8 AM to 5 PM with a shared meal at noon. This could be potluck or sack lunch or a catered meal. After the training seminar the trainees choose a partner and we have the laying on of hands to commission them and send them out two by two to function as a healing team.

 

Jesus’ primary ministry as he went about preaching the kingdom of God was healing the sick. His fame spread abroad primarily because of the miracles of healing which he performed. People flocked to hear what he was saying because of what he was doing. Even Nicodemus, a well known teacher in Israel, said to Jesus, "Teacher, we know that you are sent from God! No man can do what you are doing unless God be with him." 

 

The early church "turned the world upside down" because everywhere they went they healed the sick and cast out demons. They simply did it like Jesus did it. They preached Jesus as King of the Kingdom, healed the sick, raised the dead, and cast out evil spirits. 

  

The main reason that more Muslims have received Christ in the past 25 years than in the previous one thousand years combined is that there has been a growing awakening in the Body of Christ worldwide since 1900 AD; a greater openness to receive the baptism in the Holy Spirit which enables us to minister in spiritual gifts, including divine healing.

 

The School of Healing and Deliverance trainees will come back together on a monthly basis to pray together and encourage one another in this evangelistic ministry. My book, Healing the Sick in Jesus Name will be given to each trainee. You are encouraged to read interactively through one chapter at each monthly meeting until it is completed. A leader of the larger team will be appointed at the end of the school.    

 

Let us know if we can be of help to you in launching this ministry in your area.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BREAKING the STAINED GLASS BARRIER [Robert Fitts] ~ BOOK         69

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