The Early Church: A Compassionate Community

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[This is a repost by Jason Whitehurst here: http://jasonwhitehurst.org/2013/11/12/early-church-compassionate-community/%5D

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The early church got it right.

Sociologists marvel at how a despised movement that started in a corner of Palestine, could become the dominant faith of the mighty Roman Empire.

The Apology of Tertullian in 197 AD sums it up.  The most amazing pagan observation of the early church was, “See how they love one another.”

This wasn’t a coincidence.  Jesus gave His followers a new commandin John 13:34.

The early church did not set out to build great buildings or “mega-churches”.  They just set out to do what Jesus taught them to do.

They kept things simple.  They did four main things, according to Acts 2:42-47.

1.  They taught what Jesus taught.  
2.  They fellowshipped.  
3.  They ate.  
4.  They prayed.

Through these four things, they were led to sell what they had and give to each other as each one had a need.

They gained favor with the people in an urban part of the Roman Empire, known as being a harsh and brutal society.

Through this love they had for another based on the command that Jesus gave them, they lived together in community, gained favor with people, and the Lord added daily to their number those who were being saved.

To those who were homeless and impoverishedthe early church offered food and shelter.

To the widows and orphans, the early church offered a family.

To the outcasts of societythey offered a place of acceptance.

To those who were sickthe early Christians offered nursing and medical services.

Through their radical acts of love and kindness, the early church gained a foothold in a brutal and barbaric culture.

Rodney Stark, a modern sociologist who wrote “The Rise of Christianity”, said about the early church,

For what they brought was not simply an urban movement, but a new culture capable of making life in Greco-Roman cities more tolerable.” 

They did not just start a movement, which they did do, but more than that they changed the culture.

Justin Martyr wrote that it was the consistency of their lives that caused non-Christians, to become Christians.

Over the course of history, once Christianity moved from being a movement to the dominant faith of the Roman Empire, it began to become a “baptized-form” of Judaism.

Buildings started being built.  Rules and regulations started being added.  Structure was put into place.

None of these things in and of themselves are bad.  But these things began to change what had given Christianity a foothold and traction in society.

Fast-forward 2,000 years and look at the churches in our culture today.  They do not enjoy the same leverage and favor that the early church did.

Which begs the question, where did the church go wrong?

At what point did the church move from being a compassionate community to becoming what it is today?

The church has lost it’s voice.  The church has lost it’s authority in society.

The church, at some point, took for granted the God-given favor it enjoyed with culture and society.

The church for a long time was able to speak from a place of majority and authority.

Today, the church has lost the majority and cannot speak from a position of authority.

The early church got it right.

GOD IS CHANGING THE CHURCH

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The following article can be found at the following website: http://www.housechurch.org/basics/simson_15.html.  This is one of the most concise and accurate expressions of my hearts longing for Father’s ekklesia.  This is definitely worth a read.

15 Theses. Wolfgang Simson

God is changing the Church, and that, in turn, will change the world. Millions of Christians around the world are aware of an imminent reformation of global proportions. They say, in effect: “Church as we know it is preventing Church as God wants it.” A growing number of them are surprisingly hearing God say the very same things. There is a collective new awareness of age-old revelations, a corporate spiritual echo. In the following “15 Theses” I will summarize a part of this, and I am convinced that it reflects a part of what the Spirit of God is saying to the Church today. For some, it might be the proverbial fist-sized cloud on Elijah’s sky. Others already feel the pouring rain.

1. Church is a Way of Life, not a series of religious meetings

Before they where called Christians, followers of Christ have been called “The Way”. One of the reasons was, that they have literally found “the way to live.” The nature of Church is not reflected in a constant series of religious meetings lead by professional clergy in holy rooms specially reserved to experience Jesus, but in the prophetic way followers of Christ live their everyday life in spiritually extended families as a vivid answer to the questions society faces, at the place where it counts most: in their homes.

2. Time to change the system

In aligning itself to the religious patterns of the day, the historic Orthodox Church after Constantine in the 4th century AD adopted a religious system which was in essence Old Testament, complete with priests, altar, a Christian temple (cathedral), frankincense and a Jewish, synagogue-style worship pattern. The Roman Catholic Church went on to canonize the system. Luther did reform the content of the gospel, but left the outer forms of “church” remarkably untouched; the Free-Churches freed the system from the State, the Baptists then baptized it, the Quakers dry-cleaned it, the Salvation Army put it into a uniform, the Pentecostals anointed it and the Charismatics renewed it, but until today nobody has really changed the superstructure. It is about time to do just that.

3. The Third Reformation.

In rediscovering the gospel of salvation by faith and grace alone, Luther started to reform the Church through a reformation of theology. In the 18th century through movements like the Moravians there was a recovery of a new intimacy with God, which led to a reformation of spirituality, the Second Reformation. Now God is touching the wineskins themselves, initiating a Third Reformation, a reformation of structure.

4. From Church-Houses to house-churches

Since New Testament times, there is no such thing as “a house of God”. At the cost of his life, Stephen reminded unequivocally: God does not live in temples made by human hands. The Church is the people of God. The Church, therefore, was and is at home where people are at home: in ordinary houses. There, the people of God: -Share their lives in the power of the Holy Spirit, -Have “meatings,” that is, they eat when they meet, -They often do not even hesitate to sell private property and share material and spiritual blessings, -Teach each other in real-life situations how to obey God’s word, dialogue – and not professor-style, -Pray and prophesy with each other, baptize, `lose their face’ and their ego by confessing their sins, -Regaining a new corporate identity by experiencing love, acceptance and forgiveness.

5. The church has to become small in order to grow big

Most churches of today are simply too big to provide real fellowship. They have too often become “fellowships without fellowship.” The New Testament Church was a mass of small groups, typically between 10 and 15 people. It grew not upward into big congregations between 20 and 300 people filling a cathedral and making real, mutual communication improbable. Instead, it multiplied “sidewards”, like organic cells, once these groups reached around 15-20 people. Then, if possible, it drew all the Christians together into citywide celebrations, as with Solomon’s Temple court in Jerusalem. The traditional congregational church as we know it is, statistically speaking, neither big nor beautiful, but rather a sad compromise, an overgrown house-church and an under-grown celebration, often missing the dynamics of both.

6. No church is led by a Pastor alone

The local church is not led by a Pastor, but fathered by an Elder, a local person of wisdom and reality. The local house-churches are then networked into a movement by the combination of elders and members of the so-called five-fold ministries (Apostles, Prophets, Pastors, Evangelists and Teachers) circulating “from house to house,” whereby there is a special foundational role to play for the apostolic and prophetic ministries (Eph. 2:20, and 4:11.12). A Pastor (shepherd) is a very necessary part of the whole team, but he cannot fulfill more than a part of the whole task of “equipping the saints for the ministry,” and has to be complemented synergistically by the other four ministries in order to function properly.

7. The right pieces – fitted together in the wrong way

In doing a puzzle, we need to have the right original for the pieces, otherwise the final product, the whole picture, turns out wrong, and the individual pieces do not make much sense. This has happened to large parts of the Christian world: we have all the right pieces, but have fitted them together wrong, because of fear, tradition, religious jealousy and a power-and-control mentality. As water is found in three forms, ice, water and steam, the five ministries mentioned in Eph. 4:11-12, the Apostles, Prophets, Pastors, Teachers and Evangelists are also found today, but not always in the right forms and in the right places: they are often frozen to ice in the rigid system of institutionalized Christianity; they sometimes exist as clear water; or they have vanished like steam into the thin air of free-flying ministries and “independent” churches, accountable to no-one. As it is best to water flowers with the fluid version of water, these five equipping ministries will have to be transformed back into new, and at the same time age-old, forms, so that the whole spiritual organism can flourish and the individual “ministers” can find their proper role and place in the whole. That is one more reason why we need to return back to the Maker’s original and blueprint for the Church.

8. God does not leave the Church in the hands of bureaucratic clergy

No expression of a New Testament church is ever led by just one professional “holy man” doing the business of communicating with God and then feeding some relatively passive religious consumers Moses-style. Christianity has adopted this method from pagan religions, or at best from the Old Testament. The heavy piritualizationon of the church since Constantine has now been a pervasive influence long enough, dividing the people of God artificially into laity and clergy. According to the New Testament (1 Tim. 2:5), “there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” God simply does not bless religious professionals to force themselves in-between people and God forever. The veil is torn, and God is allowing people to access Himself directly through Jesus Christ, the only Way. To enable the priesthood of all believers, the present system will have to change completely. Bureaucracy is the most dubious of all administrative systems, because it basically asks only two questions: yes or no. There is no room for spontaneity and humanity, no room for real life. This may be OK for politics and companies, but not the Church. God seems to be in the business of delivering His Church from a Babylonian captivity of religious bureaucrats and controlling spirits into the public domain, the hands of ordinary people made extraordinary by God, who, like in the old days, may still smell of fish, perfume and revolution.

9. Return from organized to organic forms of Christianity

The “Body of Christ” is a vivid description of an organic, not an organized, being. Church consists on its local level of a multitude of spiritual families, which are organically related to each other as a network, where the way the pieces are functioning together is an integral part of the message of the whole. What has become a maximum of organization with a minimum of organism, has to be changed into a minimum of organization to allow a maximum of organism. Too much organization has, like a straightjacket, often choked the organism for fear that something might go wrong. Fear is the opposite of faith, and not exactly a Christian virtue. Fear wants to control, faith can trust. Control, therefore, may be good, but trust is better. The Body of Christ is entrusted by God into the hands of steward-minded people with a supernatural charismatic gift to believe God that He is still in control, even if they are not. A development of trust-related regional and national networks, not a new arrangement of political ecumenism is necessary for organic forms of Christianity to reemerge.

10. From worshipping our worship to worshipping God

The image of much of contemporary Christianity can be summarized, a bit euphemistically, as holy people coming regularly to a holy place at a holy day at a holy hour to participate in a holy ritual lead by a holy man dressed in holy clothes against a holy fee. Since this regular performance-oriented enterprise called “worship service” requires a lot of organizational talent and administrative bureaucracy to keep going, formalized and institutionalized patterns developed quickly into rigid traditions. Statistically, a traditional 1-2 hour “worship service” is very resource-hungry but actually produces very little fruit in terms of discipling people, that is, in changed lives. Economically speaking, it might be a “high input and low output” structure. Traditionally, the desire to “worship in the right way” has led to much denominationalism, confessionalism and nominalism. This not only ignores that Christians are called to “worship in truth and in spirit,” not in cathedrals holding songbooks, but also ignores that most of life is informal, and so is Christianity as “the Way of Life.” Do we need to change from being powerful actors to start “acting powerfully?”

11. Stop bringing people to church, and start bringing the church to the people

The church is changing back from being a Come-structure to being again a Go-structure. As one result, the Church needs to stop trying to bring people “into the church,” and start bringing the Church to the people. The mission of the Church will never be accomplished just by adding to the existing structure; it will take nothing less than a mushrooming of the church through spontaneous multiplication of itself into areas of the population of the world, where Christ is not yet known.

12. Rediscovering the “Lord’s Supper” to be a real supper with real food

Church tradition has managed to “celebrate the Lord’s Supper” in a homeopathic and deeply religious form, characteristically with a few drops of wine, a tasteless cookie and a sad face. However, the “Lord’s Supper” was actually more a substantial supper with a symbolic meaning, than a symbolic supper with a substantial meaning. God is restoring eating back into our meeting.

13. From Denominations to city-wide celebrations

Jesus called a universal movement, and what came was a series of religious companies with global chains marketing their special brands of Christianity and competing with each other. Through this branding of Christianity most of Protestantism has, therefore, become politically insignificant and often more concerned with traditional specialties and religious infighting than with developing a collective testimony before the world. Jesus simply never asked people to organize themselves into denominations. In the early days of the Church, Christians had a dual identity: they were truly His church and vertically converted to God, and then organized themselves according to geography, that is, converting also horizontally to each other on earth. This means not only Christian neighbors organizing themselves into neighborhood- or house-churches, where they share their lives locally, but Christians coming together as a collective identity as much as they can for citywide or regional celebrations expressing the corporateness of the Church of the city or region. Authenticity in the neighborhoods connected with a regional or citywide corporate identity will make the Church not only politically significant and spiritually convincing, but will allow a return to the biblical model of the City-Church.

14. Developing a persecution-proof spirit

They crucified Jesus, the Boss of all the Christians. Today, his followers are often more into titles, medals and social respectability, or, worst of all, they remain silent and are not worth being noticed at all. “Blessed are you when you are persecuted”, says Jesus. Biblical Christianity is a healthy threat to pagan godlessness and sinfulness, a world overcome by greed, materialism, jealousy and any amount of demonic standards of ethics, sex, money and power. Contemporary Christianity in many countries is simply too harmless and polite to be worth persecuting. But as Christians again live out New Testament standards of life and, for example, call sin as sin, conversion or persecution has been, is and will be the natural reaction of the world. Instead of nesting comfortably in temporary zones of religious liberty, Christians will have to prepare to be again discovered as the main culprits against global humanism, the modern slavery of having to have fun and the outright worship of Self, the wrong centre of the universe. That is why Christians will and must feel the “repressive tolerance” of a world which has lost any absolutes and therefore refuses to recognize and obey its creator God with his absolute standards. Coupled with the growing ideologisation, privatization and piritualization of politics and economics, Christians will, sooner than most think, have their chance to stand happily accused in the company of Jesus. They need to prepare now for the future by developing a persecution-proof spirit and an even more persecution-proof structure.

15. The Church comes home

Where is the easiest place, say, for a man to be spiritual? Maybe again, is it hiding behind a big pulpit, dressed up in holy robes, preaching holy words to a faceless crowd and then disappearing into an office? And what is the most difficult, and therefore most meaningful, place for a man to be spiritual? At home, in the presence of his wife and children, where everything he does and says is automatically put through a spiritual litmus test against reality, where hypocrisy can be effectively weeded out and authenticity can grow. Much of Christianity has fled the family, often as a place of its own spiritual defeat, and then has organized artificial performances in sacred buildings far from the atmosphere of real life. As God is in the business of recapturing the homes, the church turns back to its roots, back to where it came from. It literally comes home, completing the circle of Church history at the end of world history.

As Christians of all walks of life, from all denominations and backgrounds, feel a clear echo in their spirit to what God’s Spirit is saying to the Church, and start to hear globally in order to act locally, they begin to function again as one body. They organize themselves into neighborhood house-churches and meet in regional or city-celebrations. You are invited to become part of this movement and make your own contribution. Maybe your home, too, will become a house that changes the world.

You are welcome and encouraged to redistribute this article.

By Wolfgang Simson

http://www.housechurch.org/basics/simson_15.html

For further reading regarding the revolution of the church, please read the following: PAGAN CHRISTIANITY & then REIMAGINING THE CHURCHAlso, check out Wolfgang’s book entitled Houses That Change The World

We Are A Perfect Fit

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I was talking with my friend Kathy the other day about the beauty of the body of Christ; the ekklesia.  We marveled at how wonderfully Father puts us together.  I then said, “Yeah, it’s like we are individual perfect puzzle pieces and Jesus, as the Head, puts us together like puzzle pieces to form an image of HIM.” She then said this,

“He made us complete in order that we might ‘complete’ HIM here on earth.”

Did you get it?  Do you sense the enormity of that statement?  Reread it!  It is profound yet oh so simple!

THIS is simple church…..simply put!

We as individual Christ followers we together form the magnificent puzzle picture of our Lord Jesus.  THAT my dear brother and sister is the ekklesia!  As “living stones” or living puzzle pieces if you will, we allow the world to find Jesus; to see Him; to experience Him.


The koinonia of these individual, complete and perfect pieces form THE house for God to dwell…here and now.  Again, this is truly God’s heart for His family; His people.

My dear family of God is this your experience of “church”?  Do your gatherings reflect this precious imagery of His house?  I don’t care if it’s a house church, traditional church or whatever.  It is the heart of our Father to connect passionate hearts for Jesus and to form these into His house and an image of His dear Son and our savior Jesus.

Let us ALL be consumed with Jesus alone, and ask Father to unite our hearts with others with a similar passion for His Son.

GOD’S ETERNAL PURPOSE…THAT’S IT!!!

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THIS MESSAGE (BELOW) SO RESONATED WITH MY SPIRIT.  I HAVE BEEN REALIZING LATELY MORE AND MORE THIS TRUTH OF GOD’S ETERNAL PURPOSE!

In his last entry to his blog dated 5/26/09, Frank Viola said the following:

“Many of you have been asking me for the recording of my talk at George Fox Seminary back in February.

Also appearing at the event were Leonard Sweet, Alan Hirsch, Dan Kimball, and MaryKate Morse. Lance Ford moderated (and tried to incite a riot a few times).

In the talk, I had some weighty things to say to those who minister. Things related to God’s Eternal Purpose.

Here’s the recording of the talk: http://www.FromEternitytoHere.org/ViolaGeorgeFox.mp3 (or search for it on iTunes under my name). It’s only about 30 minutes long.”

The Holy Spirit & Church…

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My Friend John sent me this quote a few minutes ago and it really moved me. I pray it blesses you as well. My response is below.

“I think there can be no doubt that the need above all other needs in the Church of God at this moment is the power of the Holy Spirit. More education, better organization, finer equipment, more advanced methods—all are unavailing. It is like bringing a better respirator after the patient is dead. Good as these are they can never give life. “It is the spirit that quickeneth” (John 6:63). Good as they are they can never bring power. “Power belongeth unto God” (Psalm 62:11). Protestantism is on the wrong road when it tries to win merely by means of a “united front.” It is not organizational unity we need most; the great need is power. The headstones in the cemetery present a united front, but they stand mute and helpless while the world passes by.

I suppose my suggestion will not receive much serious attention, but I should like to suggest that we Bible-believing Christians announce a moratorium on religious activity and set our house in order preparatory to the coming of an afflatus from above. So carnal is the body of Christians which composes the conservative wing of the Church, so shockingly irreverent are our public services in some quarters, so degraded are our religious tastes in still others that the need for power could scarcely have been greater at any time in history. I believe we should profit immensely were we to declare a period of silence and self-examination during which each one of us searched his own heart and sought to meet every condition for a real baptism of power from on high.

We may be sure of one thing, that for our deep trouble there is no cure apart from a visitation, yes, an invasion of power from above. Only the Spirit Himself can show us what is wrong with us and only the Spirit can prescribe the cure. Only the Spirit can save us from the numbing unreality of Spiritless Christianity. Only the Spirit can show us the Father and the Son. Only the in working of the Spirit’s power can discover to us the solemn majesty and the heart ravishing mystery of the Triune God.” –  Tozer, A. W. (2007).     God’s pursuit of man (93). Camp Hill, PA: Wing Spread.

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Thanks brother! This is so desperately true for us today.  I’ll take what he said a step further.  We truly need the outpouring of His Spirit indeed, but in the context of the Body….the Church and not merely upon institutions.  The lost in America aren’t coming to Christ because they simply don’t see Jesus.  They see fine buildings, fine programs, great teaching, great people, etc. but not Jesus.

I believe we need to start BEING the Body once again instead of DOING church or GOING to church and function in our giftedness. Then and only then will the world see Jesus! How? Because He will be living and being manifested through each of us.

“…it is not I who live but Christ who lives in Me.” (and YOU!)

This is not happening in the institutionalized churches of today, and I don’t see it happening any time soon. We need a revival of our spirits and a revival of the simple church of the first century; the organic church….alive and free!

THE BODY ALIVE ON THE INTERNET!

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I just spent one glorious hour on the internet listening to a show entitled The Living Truth Counseling Hour.  What excited me was not because there was a lot of hype or because it was flashy.  No!  It was nothing but truth!!!  It so excites me to see creative avenues of getting the truth out about this wonderful life we have in Christ.

My mind started spinning wildly at the thought of what is possible with all of this technology we have at our fingertips.  God is calling His body to freedom that can only come through an understanding of the finality of the cross and the reality of the resurrection, and this show accomplished this in an “interview” format.

The show is sponsored by Steve McVey’s ministry called Grace Walk Ministries.  This ministry is doing a yeoman’s job of getting this liberating message out to the body of Christ.  As a matter of fact they have a link on their website entitled Live Radio Shows.  On this page they list the following shows: The Eagles Nest, In You Ministries with Scott Wolfe, The Living Truth Counseling Hour, New Wine New Wineskins, Women of Grace & Freedom!, Man Alive!!!,  Dialog with Bishop Malcolm Smith.  Each show is espousing this wonderful message of God’s grace. Is that awesome or what?

I get so excited every time I find a ministry that is clearly and effectively proclaiming the truth of our identity in Jesus.  My dear friend we must get the word out about ministries such as these.  Why?  Because the “Church”…the Body of Christ is in desperate need of liberation.  Check out these shows and then pass the word.

The Body of Christ in Action

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small-butterfly-flapping3I’ve been preaching at the 1st Southern Baptist Church in the little “town” of Black Canyon City about 14.5 miles north of where I live.  They have asked me to be their interim Pastor.  So, I will be going up there for the next six months, and I am so thrilled.

This small fellowship is so sweet.  The folks there have such a genuine love for the Lord and for each other.  I truly believe God has wonderful plans for us…and tonight was another confirmation.

I wanted to briefly share a fabulous praise.  We had such a wonderful time of worship and praise.  The message was one of the best ever preached (ok….so I embellished a bitJ).  Seriously, as I preached I had such a sense of God’s presence.  We then had a pot-luck (I forgot what a Southern Baptist pot-luck was like) with sweet fellowship.

Well, tonight we met back at the church and there were about 20 of us sitting in a circle. There was a gentleman there who had visited the week before as well as this morning.  Again, we had such a wonderful time around God’s word.  As we prayed to close our meeting, I could hear the visitor saying something. 

The woman sitting next to him has a very sensitive spirit toward others and told us he had a question.  He actually had an observation.  He went on to say that since last week and today he realized that he has to give everything over to the Lord; that he can’t do it.  We eventually led him to the Lord right there.

THIS is the Normal Christian Life!  This is the Body of Christ in Action!  I share this because it is a beautiful picture of how the Body “works”.  I was able to go on and teach them and show them how the different gifts in the group were in action and how it was a great picture of how we are to function.

I love the Body of Christ!  What is really beautiful is that we were actually talking tonight about this very thing, and then the Lord gave us a living illustration…PTL!!!