Wednesday, 10 February 2010

An open letter to my brothers and sisters in Christ

3 a.m. 10 February 2010

To my brothers and sisters in Christ:

I have heard all your hearts separately as you have spoken to me alone over the past days – and I heard your hearts last night as you met together. And I can tell you, at root every one of you loves the Lord and wants to serve Him and to have love and unity in the body.

But each of you are also at different places in the journey, each of you have different gifts and strengths (and weaknesses), different areas of understanding, different experiences.

Each one needs to listen to the others, learn from the others, seriously consider the input of the others, and always take their input in prayer to Father, and search the scriptures as the Bereans did, to “see if these things [that Paul was preaching] were so.” (Acts 17:11)

A small hint – before speaking your opinion, try to always think, “How did I come up with my opinion? Where does it really come from?” Be honest with yourself. Seek your memories. Did you develop your opinion from your personal searching of scripture and prayer, asking the Spirit’s leading? Was it perhaps influenced by what you read it in a book by a writer you admire and trust, or heard in a sermon or conversation or Bible study from someone you trust, or perhaps from Sunday School when you were young, or on a “Christian program” on TV or radio? Or maybe from your church statement of faith?

(Do you really know and understand the statement of faith that your part of the body claims to adhere to? It is foundational, much more important than the rest of your bylaws and constitution – but are you absolutely sure it agrees with scripture? Maybe it would be a great mid-week study topic for those who gather in your part of Christ’s church!)

Be honest – is it possible your opinions are based on “traditions” you have picked up on your journey, in your home as a child, in church groups you’ve previously been a part of, even in your education, job positions, and your many varied life experiences?

(For example, along the line in my life, I really bought into the idea that “God helps those who help themselves,” and that I should try to “be responsible” and work things out myself, only really needing to turn to God when all else fails. Father had to put me through some really “hopeless for me” experiences to wake me up enough that I was forced to pray and pray, and to seek answers in scripture for hours, days, months, years, begging Him to teach me with His Spirit, and to open my heart to really listen to Him and understand, and act on His words. And I still have to turn to Him every day. I’ve certainly discovered my pride and arrogance in the process. Constantly I’m being shown new unpleasant things about me that I need to ask and allow God to change in me.

Anyway, I have realized some places where that attitude came from – including church teaching, family “values” in my childhood, the “values” I learned as a child in school, books I’ve read (especially those “self-help” type books), things I’ve seen on TV and in the media, “values” in different kinds of work places, and of course the “values” of the society I grew up in.)

So all that to say that our understanding of what God wants is always colored by many sources and experiences, many of which we have come to accept as “good” and “biblical” and “Godly.” Even many of our “church traditions” are like that.

A great many Christians would be amazed to learn that the record of Jesus’ teaching and of the New Testament church, tell us almost nothing about the “order of service” or “forms of worship” for church gatherings, other than a couple verses here and there (for example, 1 Corinthians 14:26), a fair amount of advice on what to avoid, and general principles like being thankful, praising God, and staying true to the pure gospel.

We read nothing of church buildings (other than references to meeting in homes, marketplaces, by river bands, in rented secular halls, and such). We read nothing of worship teams and worship leaders (just small statements, like “speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” and so on) (Ephesians 5:19, which doesn’t even refer to “church services” per se). We read nothing at all about sermons by a senior pastor, though we do hear about teaching the believers (by those who are so gifted – not as a “position”), and preaching to unbelievers (a command to all, with some especially gifted as evangelists). We do not even hear about “pastors” as positions in the church. Even the word “pastor” is only used once; the other places translated as pastor are really the word for “shepherd;” “bishops” doesn’t even appear, but is actually “overseers,” which are more like elder elders/shepherds spiritual leaders, and those too are roles, not positions.

We do not read of “membership” other than acceptance as part of the body of Christ because of profession of belief in Him, followed by baptism; evidence of growing in relationship with Jesus (the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control: Galatians 5:22-23); real, active love for God and the brethren as the special sign of Christians; and ongoing, active participation in the body with the differing gifts (such as word of wisdom, word of knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, distinguishing of spirits, tongues and interpretation, helps, administrations, etc – 1 Corinthians 12 and other scriptures), gifted roles (apostles, prophets, teachers, evangelists etc) and various practical talents and abilities God has granted each one, working together to become a whole.

This is just to say that much of what we “believe” or have a strong “opinion” about is not necessarily even scriptural, though it may have been “accepted” for so long by so many people that we’ve come to “believe” it.

Maybe God is calling us all out of “tradition,” out of “form,” out of “accepted structure.” Maybe he is actually calling us to a more biblical Christianity, to be the church like the New Testament church was, where non-believers still recognized that “they had been with Jesus,”(Acts 4:13) and earned the admiration – and wrath – of the world as the world was “turned upside down” (Acts 17:6) by these people who truly loved one another, cared for the poor (now that is New Testament church!) , and all spread the gospel wherever they went.

God has given us all: 1. His Son Jesus as the source of our salvation and restored relationship with Father, 2. the scriptures, His word, as our guidebook, 3. the Spirit of Christ living within us to teach us and guide us in all things Jesus taught – all of which He learned from Father God, and 4. each other, each with the varying gifts of grace which God has bestowed on each one, for the encouragement and edification (building-up) of the body in love.

Stop for a moment. Grab a pen and paper and make a list of the people who are a part of the church body that you happen to be most connected to. For each one, try to list the spiritual gifts, the spiritual fruits, and the practical skills and abilities God has placed in them. Now put those listed gifts, fruits, skills, and abilities together. You’ll no doubt be amazed at the completeness you discover! (And you’ll no longer feel the need to be so “dependent” on your “pastor” – which will free him to truly shepherd instead of having to do all kinds of other things that he really hasn’t been called to by Father!)

God may be opening the door for you to truly be a New Testament church, a “koinonea” gathering of the children of God, and to reach out to the world – going into the highways and hedges and bringing into the kingdom banquet hall the lame, the blind, the poor, the crippled (Luke 14:12-14, 21-24)…

It’s HIS work, He is the vineyard owner, we are simply His workers, servants – slaves! Willing slaves! Honored to be His slaves! And we are also all servants – slaves – to one another, preferring one another above ourselves.

And our ultimate goal is to know Christ and make Him known, by our practical real life and love, to point others to Jesus – all to the praise and worship and glory of God alone!

How exciting!

There have been many struggles, many mistakes made in the past – but today is a new day. Stand firm against the devil, against the principalities and powers, putting on the whole armor of God (Ephesians 6).

Trust in God, and love each other, support, encourage, build up each other with God’s love. Be children of the King, and joy in the building of His Kingdom.

(Father, is this Your word – or just me? Please bury all that is me – every day, every moment. You alone! Your honor and glory! Teach me to worship and glorify and honor You alone, the Almighty God, the Creator of the Universe, who loved us so much that You sacrificed Your only begotten Son so that “whosoever believes” may be brought into relationship, abiding in unity with You – eternally!)

(Okay, and I almost hate to say it, but not only am I proud to be a child of the King and a member of His body, the church universal, and of the church here in our community and region, but I am also proud to be a pretty integral part (though I have run from it, tried to distance myself, be “neutral”) of this particular small part of God’s body, who I see now are truly determined to work through differences and past difficulties, and even despite scorn and/or anger from some others, to come into unity and build God’s kingdom and spread His love).

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