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The Authentic Congregation COVER

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Richard E. Bieber

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Where is it?


Then I heard what seemed to be a voice of a great multitude, like the sound of many waters and like the sound of mighty thunderpeals, crying,


"Hallelujah!  For the Lord God, the Almighty reigns.

Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory,

for the marriage of the Lamb has come,

and his Bride has made herself ready;

it was granted her to be clothed with fine linen, bright and pure"


for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.


At the final hour, when the Lord Jesus receives his church into

 glory, it will be a church "in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing….holy and without blemish."  But where on earth at this hour do we see anything that faintly resembles such a church?


Doubtless the authentic Body of Christ is alive on earth at this moment, sustained and empowered by the Spirit of the Lord.  But where is it?  Where is a congregation of disciples that, in its life and behavior, manifests the nature of the Lord Jesus?


Congregations of every size and shape claim to be the Church of Jesus, the Messiah, the place where his word is alive, where his Spirit rules.  And yet, more often than not, thirsty souls walk away from these gatherings shaking their heads in disappointment.  


Where is the Body of Christ?  Where is an assembly of believers that looks like it's on its way to the Marriage Feast of the Lamb?  Does the Supermarket Church look like the Bride of Christ?  Folks come to be fed, to be uplifted in heartwarming worship.  Yet somehow, each individual and family is strangely isolated in its own spiritual cubical.  Polite greetings are shared as the people disperse.  Each takes their basket of blessings, drops an offering at the checkout, and heads for home and another week of struggle, pleasure and bewilderment.


The Mega Church is hardly different.  Bigger crowds. Bigger parking lots.  Better facilities.  Better Power Point and sound systems.  The "success" of the enterprise is measured in how effectively the operation meets the "needs" of the clients, who are largely lost in a sea of bigness, as the music blares on and the preacher projects intimacy and deep concern for every soul in his mammoth flock.  The folks must be getting what they're looking for, or they wouldn't keep coming.  But is this a gathering of disciples?  Do these people know each other?  Are they binding themselves to one another as members of the living Body of Christ?


Here and there across the land we have a slightly different version of the same thing: the Celebrity Church, built around the forceful personality of a well-known Bible teacher.  His teachings are broadcast over the continent through Christian media.  They are available on tapes and CDs.  What a privilege to be living near enough to this remarkable man to be able to hear him in the flesh!  What a worship experience!


Yet one could hardly describe the "worship experience" as fellowship with sisters and brothers in the Lord.  We hardly know each other.  How can we "submit to one another out of reverence for Christ" or "bear one another's burdens"?


Meanwhile our Mainline Protestant Churches are struggling to stem the hemorrhaging of wealth and numbers which has been accelerating at an alarming rate in recent years.  In the process, a concept of church has been emerging which is much closer to that of Rome than anything traditional Protestantism has known in the past.  In many denominations the seat of the church's life is no longer thought to be the congregation, but in the structure above.  


The congregation may be essential financially to the life of the "larger church."  But the congregation has little significance in this system.  As long as the congregation keeps feeding money to the higher levels, the "larger church" seems to be satisfied to live its own life while the congregation stumbles along doing its own thing.


The congregation may be a fortress of narrow-mindedness, a veritable seedbed of prejudice, while the larger church stands for unity, justice, and brotherhood. But if the support continues, the higher church shakes its head, takes the money, and proceeds with its own business. The larger church hardly expects the congregation to engage in genuine worship of God, to make any relevant proclamation of the gospel to the world around it, to be involved in the relief of human misery, or even to practice simple brotherhood. Let the congregation be a club. The larger church will be the Church.


While men and women at the "higher levels" are becoming resigned to the belief that, in this age it is virtually impossible for the congregation to be the Church, the congregation itself is experiencing growing apathy, a loss of vision, and a lack of purpose. Like many other clubs that thrived in the middle class a generation ago, the congregation has begun to lose its will to live.


The world speeds by a hundred feet away. But the flock that assembles each bright Sunday morning behind those sanctuary walls does not have the zest for life or the agility of mind or the imagination, or the freedom that throbs through that river of humanity rushing by in their shiny cars toward a million happy diversions.


Clergy are escaping by the hundreds from the depress­ing prospect of spending the rest of their lives catering to the whims of vapid, petty spirits that so frequently dom­inate congregational life. These women and men are finding a place in the larger church or in social work or on some university faculty. Nor is this growing despair confined to the clergy. The laity too are beginning to bolt in numbers. Men and women of insight wake up one day while they are sitting in church and decide that there is just nothing there. They simply cannot function as believers in this setup. Wondering why they have put themselves through the misery for so long, they walk out never to come back.


The concept of the "larger church" as a manifestation of the Body of Christ is a delusion.  The "larger church" is simply the structure that ties congregations together.  It functions as a governing body of a religious institution --- never as the Body of Christ.


The only manifestation of the Body of Christ


The congregation is in fact the only concrete mani­festation of the Church on earth. It is the only place on earth where the corporate life of the Body of Christ becomes actual. When the Apostle Paul wrote to the Church at Corinth, he was writing to a congregation. The seven churches of John's vision were congregations. The Church at Antioch that proved to be such a powerful base for the spread of the gospel throughout the empire was a congre­gation.


A congregation may be sick or weak. It may sink away completely from the source of its life and cease to be a church. It may often be a stumbling block for those who are seeking the Kingdom of God, as was the synagogue before it. But if the Church of Jesus Christ is to continue at all – and it surely will – how else can we expect it to exist in a given place but as a congregation of disciples?


It is in the congregation that the believer first begins to experience the redemptive presence of God in a sustained way. The Samaritan brought his Jewish patient to an inn. The Shepherd restored his lost sheep to the flock. A baby is born into a family. So a man may come to faith on a lonely road by meeting a total stranger. But his encounter with the stranger marks the end of his loneliness and the beginning of corporate life. Two people committed to the Kingdom of God become a congregation. They travel together, and as they do, they meet others seeking the same City. A corporate pilgrimage develops. Others who seek the City are able to recognize the light of the City of God which hovers above and washes down upon this body of travelers, and are drawn to it.


What a surprise to be ushered into a company of flesh-and-blood human beings who, in spite of their weaknesses, walk amid the powers of another realm. How awesome to find people who make no pretense at being other-worldly, who are as natural and ordinary and matter­-of-fact as people can be, but in whose midst the breath of God imparts peace!


The stranger lost in a blizzard knocks on the door. It opens and every face looks familiar, every eye is glad to see him. His wanderings have ended. This is the Home he has been seeking since the


day of his birth. The congregation is the place where the redeemed taste genuine commun­ity.


Here are ordinary people who have not been forced together by circumstances like the crew of a submarine. They have been drawn together by their common need of divine grace and have chosen to accept each other as their first grateful response to the fact that the Holy God has accepted them. They are diverse: old and young, wise and foolish, refined and crude, rich and poor. Their racial and cultural roots shoot back into the shadowy past in every direction. They have nothing in common save one thing: their admitted need of grace, which they have found at last in the person of Jesus, the Risen Lord. And this grace that makes them one with God makes them one with each other. They disagree. They argue. They misunderstand each other and often mistreat each other. Yet they know that they are one as surely as brothers know themselves to be of the same flesh. And as they learn to live out the fact of their oneness, a community emerges unlike anything this earth has ever seen.


There are communities that function during times of oppression that "out-saint" the saints. But when the oppres­sion lifts, the community disintegrates. War, famine, plague, have always created congregations of compassionate souls that reflect the grace of God in the midnight hour. But the congregation of disciples of Jesus is for all seasons. It can survive the whole cycle of circumstances and continue being itself and doing its work.


All attempts by the "larger church" to go out into the world and share in its misery have a synthetic odor. But it takes no effort for the congregation to disperse into the troubled world with the compassion of Christ. Here are real, everyday people going out to real, everyday jobs. They are not ecclesiastical tourists carrying their ecclesiastical protec­tion with them. They are in the mess. They know firsthand the pain and the temptation to despair. And if these people are the Body of Christ, they are in the position to manifest the Kingdom of God and impart hope by prac­ticing His divine compassion right where they are. They are exactly what the Lord Jesus declares them to be: the light of the world.

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No thoughtful person can deny that the Christian congre­gation is in trouble. Something is wrong. It can be felt in the spirit of unreality that stifles the Sunday worship. It can be heard in the complaints of people who give every evidence of a genuine love for God and concern for the Church and the world. The disaffection of a new generation of young adults, the dwindling numbers, even the shrinking incomes noticeable in so many congregations, all point to a crisis. As the congregation strains to regain lost ground, its descent seems to accelerate. Some congregations resemble a man sliding down a mountainside grasping at shrubs that are already uprooted. They reach out, but never seem to find the solid thing that can hold them. Others bring to mind a sailor on a sinking ship who has become absorbed in a fascinating knot in the rope that holds the lifeboat. One longs to see him wake up and cut the rope before it's too late!


When we see congregations trying to appeal to loyalties people no longer have, or deluding themselves that their elaborate baby-sitting efforts are of value, or when we observe how they still look to money as the answer to their problems, we begin to understand why all the efforts to bring about a renewal of congregational life have failed. Here are some areas where the congregation continues to gasp for uprooted bushes or loses itself in a Gordian knot, when it desperately needs to face facts.


The Old Loyalties No Longer Hold


For generations there was a cohesiveness in the congre­gation which had nothing to do with the gospel of the Lord Jesus. People who had no conception of the meaning of the Cross and often no awareness of God at all, were still loyal to their church, faithful in supporting it with their money, generous with their time, as they helped campaign for the new organ or coach a Little League baseball team. It was a "good thing" to belong and to help out. Motives were varied, but loyalty was solid.


In the wake of sweeping social changes and the bewilderment and cynicism that accompany these changes, old loyalties that held the congregation together are breaking down.


Family loyalty, that once caused many young adults to assume their place in the congregation without questioning, has lost its vitality. Few young adults today feel any more loyalty to their father's church than they do to his political party. Often the intense church loyalty of a parent breeds a negative response in a son or daughter who can see that the loyalty of their elder had no worthy base.


Denominational loyalty that once led people to seek out the nearest congregation of their own brand whenever they moved to a new community has weakened. A Lutheran church is much less likely to pick up all the Lutherans in the surrounding community than it once was. People are beginning to question the validity of the denominational claims, as they discern the strong similarity between the major brands, and as they discover that differences within denominations are often greater than differences between them.


Seniority was once a cohesive factor in congregational life. A man who put in ten years as chairman of the finance committee could be counted on to abide with the flock for life. This is no longer the case. The average congregation pays little attention to seniority either in awarding status or selecting leadership. And there is less inclination for a dissatisfied woman in the guild to stay with the guild to the bitter end merely because she already has twenty years of service behind her.


Large, stable congregations have been built, in the past, around loyalty to a beloved pastor. The pastor worked hard. He was available day and night. He preached inspiring sermons. He provided a father figure for the young and old alike. In return people came to church even when it rained, and bought him a Cadillac on his 25th anniversary. Things went well until Pastor Schmidt moved (no one ever thought he would!) to another parish. The man who replaced him just didn't have the feel of things. In two years the congregation dwindled to less than half its size. There was a financial crisis and the Board of Home Missions had to come to the rescue with a bailout plan.

There are still many pastors who inspire loyalty. But there are fewer people who are inclined to go to church in the rain to cheer the pastor. The new "loyalty" is tempered by a detachment that frees the members to live their lives as they wish, pastor or no



In some branches of Christendom fierce commitment to doctrine was a strong cord binding the believers together. Eternal Security, Predestination, Free Will, Grace, Adventism, etc., held people together who had nothing else in common. A man would drive for miles, passing dozens of churches, to find a congregation which he considered "doctrinally sound." This tie is also passing away, as can be observed by visiting any church that depends on its doctrinal stand to retain members. The loyal remnant is usually an aging group of people who are still clinging not only to their doctrines, but to their past.


Preoccupation with The Immature


St. Paul reminded the Corinthians that they weren't exactly a choice bag of apples when one considered their background. Few of them were polished or educated. They often behaved like unruly children. But Paul addressed them as mature men and women never­theless. The apostolic church was an adult affair. Whatever changes it underwent in the centuries that followed, the Church remained an adult affair until quite recently. But the modern main-line congregation, measured by almost any standard from floor space to weekly schedule, appears to be preoccupied with children. Even its approach to adults is often juvenile.


Sunday School, Bible School, Junior Young Peoples, Senior Young Peoples, outings, mission trips, parties, athletic programs, talent shows, dramatic presentations, youth rallies – in all these enterprises the approach is geared to mesh with minds that are not quite mature. And instead of calling people to serious mature discipleship, the usual procedure is to cater to their whims. Young people with any integrity are sickened by these little Christian games and seek elsewhere for the Truth that is worth staking one's life on. To meet this thirst for life-claiming Truth, the call of Jesus

to discipleship is more likely to be heard through street believers and various informal fellowships which are springing up outside the structured churches.


Our youth-oriented churches are like spiritual junior high schools. They produce a "Christian culture" that young people mature out of rather than into. The parade of youth continues. One looks at the number of young lives being reached by the church and feels satisfied. But increasing multitudes of these youths lose their interest in all church has to offer the day they become mature men and women. They may appear a few years later with toddlers at their side. But their interest in the church will be chiefly to expose their children to good "moral teaching."


This preoccupation with the immature can be discerned as well in the tone of the congregation's adult activity. What mature man could feel drawn to the typical program of the average church men's club? What mature outgoing woman could find anything challenging in the monthly meeting of the Dorcas Circle? Even the sermons are often an insult to the intelligence and emotional development of the average worshiper.


The church should indeed be a place where emotional cripples, the mentally challenged, and abnormal people of every kind can feel welcome, safe and respected. But if the congregation becomes largely a collection of people who haven't quite left their childhood behind, who find their mother image in the institutional church and their father image in the male clergy, it can more aptly be described as a clinic than as a church.


Attention ought to be paid to the disturbed and the weak of every age, but certainly not to the exclusion of mature men and women. How can a congregation assume a strong posture in the world unless it has a solid nucleus of mature men and women? Such people are harder to manipulate. They are more inclined to assert themselves against the will of the clergy and to press for changes in the congregation's life. They won't respond as readily to gimmicks designed to increase giving or church attendance. But when we have mature men and women who are not patients in our clinic, but are themselves indeed the Church – members of a living,

breathing, thinking, acting Body – then less-mature members of the body are far more likely to grow up into the church than out of it.


The Perennial Anxiety


It is often said that a congregation that doesn't have a few mortgages to worry about is dead, that pressure of a good, healthy debt will keep the workers on their toes. Many a shrewd pastor guides his flock from debt to debt, constantly "raising the sights" for his people and rewarding them with the satisfaction of being part of a church that's "going places." The evidence is before them every Sunday morning when they drive into the parking lot and feast their eyes on the gleaming edifice.


But inside the building, before the service progresses very far, one begins to sense that this magnificent building is exacting more than mortgage payments from the congre­gation. It is sucking its lifeblood. The congregation is indentured to the building. It is driven by the same financial anxiety that afflicts the private lives of its members. The carefree gladness of the people of God is not to be found in this deceptively cheerful nave. During the announcements there is at least one pitch for money. In the sermon repeated mention is made of the meaning of stewardship and the importance of dedicating our time, talents, and treasure to the Lord. Written on the faces of the men in the center aisle as they pass the plates is the question, "How big will it be today?"


And while the bank and the building claim their share, the denomination waits for its "apportioned benevolence" payment to come in each month.


"The program of the Church had to be cut back last year because many congregations failed to meet their com­mitments. The Church cannot accomplish its mission in the world unless the congregations meet their fair share."


So reads the copy of letter after letter from denominational headquarters to the local churches.


The annual "every-member visitation" for pledges is given a new twist every year. The visitors are equipped with everything from turnover charts to laptops with slide shows as they make their plea on behalf of the beleaguered church for renewed support. The pledges come in and the people give. There seem to be in each congregation a few people of heartwarming generosity. Somehow the financial obligations are met. But not without constant anxiety on the part of the people who feel responsible for this aspect of the congre­gation's life.


"Look at the birds of the air .... Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow .... Do not be anxious." Yet to finance the "ongoing life of the church" – the church we still call His church – we give the lie to His words. It is toil and sweat and worry all the way. Mammon, the taskmaster, riding the back of the congregation, often through financial bondage, to its very house of worship.


Occasionally voices are raised within the flock pointing to ways in which this anxiety might be relieved. They plead with the church to start practicing its own gospel, to eliminate the every-member visits, the weekly appeals for money, the giving-oriented mailings, and allow the members freedom to give or withhold their gifts as they see fit. "Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well." But churches which heed these voices are rare indeed. Mammon remains the master.


The Pastor's Precarious Identity


In spite of endless praises heaped on "the ministry of the laity," in Protestantism as well as Catholicism, the real burden of responsibility for the life of the church is assumed by the clergy. The authority structure in any main-line congregation resembles a wheel with the pastor as the hub and clusters of people functioning as spokes which radiate from him or her. Authority vested in a group similar to the ancient elders has rarely appeared in congregations of our main-line churches.


Hence, if the hub is lacking a few bearings, the wheel wobbles, and the whole congregation begins to vibrate unpleasantly. And the hub of the average congregation, more likely than not, has a few bear­ings missing. The clergy seem to be having a frightful time finding their identity. They hardly know who they are, and cannot decide whom to believe among those who reassure them with kind words.


Pastors who seek to find their identity in the congre­gation itself will often assume the stance of a "well-rounded person." They can handle themselves socially. They may be an athlete, a fair musician. They have a Time magazine acquaintance with what's going on. But in seeking to find a warm place in the hearts of their people, they are tempted to be overly compliant in their dealings with them. They become the recreation director and all-round trouble­shooter rather than the authentic minister of the Word. The prophet and priest give way to the jolly old club manager.


The younger clergy, who through both taste and training, have learned to abhor almost all the values cherished by the middle-aged members find it almost impossible to seek their identity in the congregation itself. "If they like me, there must be something wrong with me." They remain detached from their people like lawyers maintaining a professional distance from their clients, and seek their identity among their fellow clergy. They alternate between two worlds: the stifling world of pastoral duties among people who seem to have neither vision nor com­passion and whose hearts remain as stone under the best preaching they can offer; and the "stimulating" world beyond the congregation among other clergy who understand what is happening in the land and what needs to be done. Pastoral duties are often as meaningless and wearying to them as the assembly-line work of the blue-collar workers in their parishes. Work within the congregation is regarded as the price one pays for one's bread, while the "real work" is found beyond the parish on the frontiers of social change where, in concert with their fellow clergy, they can raise a "prophetic voice" against the ingrained hypocrisy of the power structures of the city.


Beneath the restlessness and dissatisfaction with things as they are is a quest for identity in men and women who, by profession, are servants of God, but for whom the absurd has become far more real than the holy.


Nor are the middle-aged clergy without their identity crisis. The upheavals in the church structures, which during their younger years were stable and predict­able, have thrown many of them into a state of numb shock. They speak less and less at church conventions. They are less sure of their ground when mixing with younger colleagues. The old techniques, that once set their congregations humming with activity, now draw only a tired, half-hearted response. "I'll be faithful in the only way I know, and plod along a few more years until I can retire."


The uncertainty and thinly veiled despair that charac­terize the average clergy person may be an authentic reflec­tion of Twenty-First Century angst. But this precarious sense of identity hardly enables the pastor to bring wholeness to the flock. And if, in the pastor, there is no Balm in Gilead for the congregation, how can the church hope to bring healing to the world beyond it?




The classical approach to the problem of an inner-city church that is losing ground is an example of the illusion, still held by many church officials, that the best way to get a staggering congregation on the move is to multiply its staff. St. Mark's in downtown Baltimore has dropped from a thousand members to three hundred in seven years. The pastor resigns and officials from the larger church are called in to see what can be done to cure this ailing church. A crash program is recommended. In spite of its own tight finances, the larger church decides to bring in a team of spe­cialists who know the inner city, are trained in the dynamics of community organization, and who can reach the youth. Two pastors, a parish worker, a part-time youth director, and two secretaries are sent in by the larger church to bring St. Mark's back to life. It is hoped that within three years, with this kind of help, St. Mark's will once more be able to carry its own weight.


The pastors divide their time three ways: between the present membership, the immediate neighborhood, and the larger community. The parish worker concentrates on Chris­tian Education, with particular emphasis on resurrecting the defunct Sunday School. The youth worker devotes three days a week to a program that will attract the teens.


For the first six months, as the staff makes its plans and lays the groundwork, everyone's hopes are high. "This is just what we needed," says a middle-aged woman who loves St. Mark's and has supported it generously all her adult life. "These young folks are an inspiration to watch." The recreation program begins to click. Soon there are more young people crowding into the teen club than the church can cope with. The parish worker has recruited teachers and is beginning to fill the Sunday School with more and more new little pupils each week. Church attendance holds about the same, but the staff has hope that, now that initial contact has been made with so many new families, some of these will want to become part of the church in time.


A visit to St. Mark's a year later reveals a dimin­ishing of morale. Nevertheless, conversation among members of the staff is still filled with hope. The problem is how to involve adults. The new neighborhood adults just don't seem to take responsibility as the old members do. A man accepts a job in the youth program, helping with basketball every Thursday night. He lasts two months and then begins to miss. A woman with real promise takes charge of the ten-year-olds in Sunday School. One weekend she takes a trip south without notifying the parish worker. The parish worker complains to the woman that she should have told someone before she left. Angered by the rebuke, the teacher misses with increasing frequency until she has to be replaced.


Two years later the staff at St. Mark's is quite discour­aged. The programs are burned out. Attendance is lower than ever. One of the pastors resigns to take another call. From this point on the disintegration of the congregation is rapid.


And why? Because the staff of highly motivated workers which was intended to involve more people was simply too much for St. Mark's. It stifled the initiative not only of those who were already working, but also of the new recruits, To the older members the staff began to represent a "takeover" of the congregation by the larger church. To the neighborhood people the staff represented another "agency" to be used. Another YMCA had come into the neighborhood for a while.


"Fine young workers; we'll send our children." To both the insiders and the outsiders the ministry of St. Mark's be­longed to the staff, not to them.


It requires extreme skill and sensitivity, both in the urban and the suburban church, to utilize a staff in such a way that it will encourage initiative in the people rather than stifle it. Many congregations, like the church superstructures above them, are simply overstaffed. The presence of trained, paid professionals handling all the vital work of the congre­gation reinforces the idea held by the laity that there is really nothing for them to do but sit in their comfortable pews and wait for the plate to come by.

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The symptoms of the congregation's malady have been receiving far more attention than the disease itself. When attendance begins to drop, pastoral calls are increased, special mailings are prepared, elaborate programs designed by the Evangelism Committee are thrown at the sickly attendance without ever probing to find the real cause of this symptom. For a month or two attendance rises and hopes are high. But if the real cause is not found, atten­dance will drop again, a sign of a basic disease that needs healing.


The Stewardship Committee is assigned the task of bringing the lagging offerings back to normal. Another task force is assigned to Christian Education, another group studies the need for "lay participation," another concerns itself with the church's lack of involvement in the world. Each group of physicians attacks the symptom as if it were a separate disease.


Rarely does it occur to anyone that the congregation is so superficially involved with the tortured world, so lacking in "lay participation," that it is losing ground on numerous other fronts because of a basic illness beneath all these symptoms. When there is health in the heart and mind of the congregation, the symptoms found on its appendages will soon leave.


The heart of the authentic congregation is its gospel. If its grasp and practice of the gospel of the Lord Jesus is weak, its "life" is bound to be synthetic. Nor will a congregation be effective in its ministry until it knows what it is to be the Church, the authentic Body of Christ.  Neither will a congregation radiate much light to the world around it until every member of the body knows himself/herself to be a "called and ordained minister," a bond-slave of the Lord Jesus.  


Any congregation that possesses these three basic elements of an authentic congregation can forget about stewardship committees, evangelism committees, and all the other committees that have cluttered its life and start moving forward in the life and power of the Spirit of God.

A Clear Gospel, Believed and Practiced


When Jesus Christ departed this earth, He left His disciples but two things: an orally given message; and the memory of His ministry, His death, and His resurrection. Christian tradition holds that the flame of the Holy Spirit fused these two treasures into a single gospel which gripped their minds and dominated their hearts. With this gospel alone the disciples changed the course of history.


Their gospel was the only essential. Though there was some form of organization and some system of authority in the churches, and though a method had to be devised in matters of handling money, and decisions had to be reached con­cerning the Jewish law and Gentile believers, the one essential concern of the church was its gospel. For what other reason did it exist? What else did it have to offer the world?


It was the gospel that drove them farther and farther from Jerusalem, and it was the gospel alone that drew new believers into their company. Their message was different from the mystery religions and syncretistic cults that abounded in the bustling Roman world. It was a testimony to a Messiah who had transformed them and would do the same for anyone, a Messiah who was already Lord and who would soon manifest His lordship before all the powers and principalities of earth: "Now is the accepted time! Now is the day of salvation! The God of the universe has prepared His banquet. All things are now ready. The door is open! Come!"


It was not a speculative philosophy or another dreamy Eastern religion drifting like perfume on the lazy Mediterranean air. It was a message straight from the Headquarters of the Universe calling men and women, quickening them to shake themselves out of their slumber, emerge from their desolate prisons, and step into the New World of God's Kingdom.


There was an authority in the message that electrified people as they listened and as they saw awesome changes take place under its power in lives that had been discarded by the world as hopeless.


Not only did the Apostolic Church trust the gospel alone to arrest the world's attention and bring people new life, it also relied upon the gospel alone to hold men and women to their commitment and to build the Church. The apostles were daring enough to believe that once they had adequately imparted the gospel to a congregation, they could move on, allowing the gospel under the Holy Spirit to create minis­tries and to call forth leadership in each congregation.


Since the beginning of the Church, the brightest periods in its history have been those where the gospel emerged from beneath the heap of irrelevancies to become again the supreme treasure. The health of the Church rises and falls in direct ratio with the state of the gospel in its hands. All its reforms and cleansings have followed rediscoveries of its gospel. Its periods of decline have invariably been preceded by a departure from the message it was created to proclaim.


One needs only to observe the state of the gospel in the congregation – the ways in which it is distorted, neglected, violated in pulpit and pew – to understand why congregations are in their present shape.


One of the most obvious clues is the degeneration of the sermon. In fundamentalist and conservative pulpits the words of the preacher adhere to the acceptable theology. The Bible is quoted at great length. But one has the impression that the speaker is not nearly as "steamed up" as he is attempting to sound. This is not the gospel. This is a synthetic "Bible talk" that is neither grounded in the Holy God nor driven by compassion for lost men. The preacher sounds as though he had been bowling the night before and threw a few notes together while having his morning coffee.


In the more liberal main-line churches, preachers have long since given up on preaching as something that could ever make a lasting difference in anyone's life. The sermon opens with "Grace, mercy and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ," and that's the last reference to the power of God until next week. The sermon is devoted to the "issues of the day" and the ethical responses the preacher is convinced are required. The State Department, the White House, and City Hall come in for their share of chiding. But the moral condition of the people sitting in those pews

is never dealt with. It never occurs to the man in his lofty pulpit that these people here before him may be caught in a trap that makes it impossible to do the fine things they know they ought to do. He pounds on their guilt feelings for twenty minutes, and they may feel a bit cleaner and/or angrier, but they are still entrapped.


Evidence that the gospel has been largely missing from the pulpit is the fact that most members of our congregations have no clue as to what the gospel is. To one the gospel is "the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man." To another, it's the "Christian Religion." It has something to do with Jesus Christ and "being saved" and "ready for heaven."  A burning message about the Event that changed the life of this planet, about the One who emerged from death and is now Lord, is beyond their knowledge or experience.


A plea is heard for new terms to replace what are considered to be meaningless, burned-out words like "grace," "sin," "judgment," "salvation."  While these words have been abused and strewn around the barnyard by men and women who never understood them, trampled under foot by those who have had no mind to appreciate them, their truth has not diminished.  What other words in the language convey their meaning? If we salvage the thoughts and return to the neglected truth, the words will return to life quite spontaneously.


The need is for a clear gospel. Not new words or better techniques in communication. The thing we are trying to communicate must first be real and distinct. When the gospel is clear and alive and fresh, it will produce its own authentic ring, create its own God-imparted joy. Such a gospel will arouse in its hearers an awareness of its charis­matic power and will draw them to the Cross which it lifts before their eyes.


The need is to take out the treasure which is still buried in the heart of the Church. Hold it up to the light and love it once more. Love the gospel! Love this life-restoring Word which flows from the heart of the living God in the person of the Lord Jesus. This long ­neglected message, which has been despised and rejected like the One who embodies it, alone has the power to create faith. This gospel alone has the power to break down the barriers among men that the Church decries, and to recon­cile men to God and to each other. When the Church – specifically the congregation – learns once more to love and trust and live and proclaim its own gospel, it will once again find the power of God that transforms lives.


Theologies may change, words may weaken, but the gospel itself – the core message that comes to this present age from the mouth of the living Lord Jesus, is as relevant now as ever.


The core message of this gospel is like a tripod with three legs:


The Cross of Jesus,

The Resurrection of Jesus, and

The Present Lordship of Jesus.


It might be argued that the Incarnation or the working of the Holy Spirit or a catalog of final events should be added. But these and every other aspect of the gospel are gathered up in the three awesome realities mentioned above. If the legs of the tripod are solid, it will bear the weight of the whole troubled earth and yet be sensitive to the pain of the most forgotten soul in the race.


The Cross of Jesus


The Cross of Jesus is the first essential of the gospel. No event since the morning stars first sang together has brought more hope to the human race or joy to the celestial regions. Never has this planet witnessed a transaction so awesome as the clash and struggle of unseen powers and the writhing death in the realm of flesh and spirit that took place at Golgatha.


A death. The message of the cross is basically a message about the last thing men want to look at: death. Here is death in the raw, with all the velvet ripped away. It is a many-sided death. While on the surface it appears to be the death of a single person, it soon reveals itself to involve the death of many   in fact, the death of all who have ever died or will ever die.


Jesus died on the cross as the Son of Man, a human being bearing in His flesh the weight of guilt for the whole race. He tasted ultimate death, Godforsaken death, for every man and woman. He died the death Adam had coming to him when he defied the warn-

ing. "In the day that you eat of it you shall die." He died the death Cain deserved, even while He absorbed into Himself the death of Abel. Human death would be a million times more sorrowful had He not died.


But Jesus died on the cross not only as the Son of Man. He died as God the Son. When God the Son dies, the heavens tremble and the earth quakes because somebody is going to be hurt. Someone is going to be dragged out of existence in this dimension into the dimension of divine wrath. When God the Son dies, the enemies of God come under the sentence of death. The moment of His death is the beginning of theirs.


Hence the Cross begins the death of Death. As men and women are brought under the shadow of the Cross, the Death that hangs over them, and makes a mockery of their lives, begins to die. When their union with the Crucified is complete, Death in them is dead. "He who has the Son has life . . . ." "If any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever."


Followers of Jesus differ in their views as to the nature and extent of the satanic kingdom. But few who make any attempt to live as disciples of Jesus will question its reality. The footprints of the Enemy are found on every street in the city of this world. Men who have no strength to believe in God can still discern the demonic shadows which envelop them. The death of this enemy, too, begins at the Cross. "Now shall the ruler of this world be cast out."


Paralleling the struggle between darkness and light in the interior regions of this world is the struggle in the human heart. "For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do." The struggle continues until one of the opponents dies. And this is precisely what happens when the heart moves within the magnetic field of the Cross. Faith in the Crucified One brings about a death in the heart of the believer that ends the conflict. "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me."


The earth is full of symbolic revelations, signs that manifest the nature of the unseen God. Enlightened eyes can see these signs of God in wind and rain, rocks and trees. But the revelation of God at Calvary is not a sign. It is a window, an opening into the glory of heaven itself. At the Cross God reveals Himself as holy. We do not approach Him casually, for here we see Him dealing with sin in the most awesome and final way. He withdraws His presence, dark­ness closes in, and the victim in the center of the darkness dies of sheer God-abandonment.


This holiness becomes still more awesome when the victim spinning in the center of that yawning night of divine wrath is revealed as His own Son, the most precious treasure He has, sent into the nether gloom to bear away the guilt of a world that God loves. As surely as "God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself," God was in Christ dying the death of the abandoned.


The place to take a person who is uncertain of God's love is not to the mountaintop to see the sunset or to the rocky shore to hear the waves thundering His praise, but to the Cross. This Doubting One may not understand it, but he or she will begin to know, as they watch the God-Man die, that behind this mystery which cannot be fathomed, unspeakable Love. Love that goes all the way to death for this person, as if he or she were the only one on earth.


The Resurrection of Jesus


The resurrection of Jesus Christ marks the birth of a new race. He is the "first-born from the dead" – the "first-born among many brethren." From this birth out of the grave comes a new humanity, as different from the old humanity as life differs from death. Members of this new race are called the sons and daughters of God, for they carry within them the divine nature. Although the consummation of this new race is a future thing, men and women can be born into it now, even on this side of their graves.


The resurrection of Christ ushers in a new age, an age in which God's redemptive will can now be done on earth as it is in heaven by men and women who before were powerless to do anything but the will of their own flesh. From the moment of the resurrection until the final hour, the new age remains a hidden thing, experienced consciously only by those who are clustered around the

Risen One. Then it will break forth in splendor with the light of a million suns. Yet even as we wait for this dawn, we already live in the new day.


For the resurrection of Jesus Christ has released to us and continuously renews within us a power utterly new to this planet. ("Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road ... ?") By this power men are enabled to believe. No woman or man can have faith until they have met the Christ in the power of His resurrection. It was the resurrected Lord who gathered the defeated disciples and formed them into His Church. The resurrected Christ imparted a faith such as the flesh-and-blood Christ was unable to give.


It is the resurrected Christ who comes to us as we read the gospel to reveal the meaning of the Cross, the miracles, the parables, and everything which the crucified Christ ever did or said. And it is the resurrected Christ who makes the gospel on our lips leap to flame in our brother's heart.


The Present Lordship of Jesus


But we are able to know Jesus Christ today in the power of His resurrection only because He is already Lord. His Spirit comes to us in power and does mighty things because He is seated, as Scripture says, "at the right hand of Power." It was this knowledge – that Jesus is Lord, now – that clothed the apostolic witness with its burning authority. It was not a "once-upon-a-time" Jesus or a "coming-back some-day" Jesus that was central to their message, but a Jesus who is now Lord. All authority has been given to Him in heaven and on earth. The apostolic church knew no creed but the victorious confession, "Jesus is Lord!"


The lordship of Christ means that the One who is now closer to His followers than their own breath shares, at the same moment, the transcendent power of the Holy God. He is seen by His followers not as the founder of a "new religion," but as One who stands divinely above the created universe with authority to open or to close any door in the infinitely vast expanse of circumstances that comprise the milieu in which we dwell.


He is Lord over nature. His love is the energy in which all things consist. He is Lord over history. The nations that were once offered to Him by the Tempter are marching through time on their way to a day of accounting with Him. He is Lord over the unseen realms. Powers and principalities operate within limits He has fixed. The exercise of His lordship passes comprehension. There is no way that His disciples can anticipate how far He will permit evil to extend itself or how low He will allow one of His own to sink under the blows of godless oppression before He stretches forth His arm. Like His Father above Him, His judgments are unsearchable and His ways past finding out. But never underestimate His power. He is Lord!


He is Lord in heaven. But He is also Lord in our midst. His transcendent power is balanced by an immanent glory. The blind receive their sight and the lame walk. Chains are broken. Prison doors fall to the ground as the Lord Christ brings earthly men from darkness to light.


The power of the Cross and Resurrection are conveyed to men, not through some impersonal channel of grace, but by the Lord in their midst. Those whose eyes are opened find themselves looking into the face of Christ Himself.

To: Table of CONTENTS




There are moments when we see a light glowing among people who call Jesus Lord   a light that is unmistakable. He is standing there amid the seven lamp-stands with the seven stars in His hand. In spite of the fact that there is sin and hypocrisy and all the frailty of human flesh among these people, we have no hesitation in saying, "This is the Church! God is in this place! This is none other than the house of God. This is the gate of heaven."


One encounter with such people quickly convinces us that the Church of Jesus Christ cannot be defined in terms of structure or apostolic succession or orthodoxy or even ethics. It has to be defined in terms of the Lord Jesus Himself. The Church is really the extension of Christ into His flock. It is the continuation of His incarnation, His suffering, His victory, and His work of authority in this earthen-vessel body of followers. The Church is a people who corporately incarnate Christ, corporately bear His Cross and shame through history, and corporately conquer through the power of His mighty word and resurrection Spirit.


Those who are trying to blur the line between the Church and the world are missing the whole point of the presence of the Church in the world. The Church is immersed in the world. It has been sent into the world even as its Lord was sent into the world. But it is distinct from the world.


The Church is a people to whom the Kingdom of God has already come. The world does not yet live in the dimension of the Kingdom. God has not yet been acknowledged as sovereign. Knees have not yet bowed and tongues have not yet confessed the lordship of Jesus Christ. But in the Church – where it is the Church – all this has already begun. Even while they pray, "Thy Kingdom come," the Kingdom is in their midst. Otherwise such a prayer would be impossible.


The Church is a people over whom the Spirit of God is already sovereign. In the world the Holy Spirit, like the wind, moves where He wills and no one knows where these redemptive currents


are coming from or where they are going. The Spirit is a Stranger, a Mystery. But in the Church the Spirit is the acknowledged Ruler. Men and women go where the Spirit wills and order their lives after His commands. They are aware of the Spirit and subject to His leadings, for they have been born of the Spirit – they are children of the Spirit, led by the Spirit.


And the Spirit said to them, "Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them."


Followers of Jesus may differ in their understanding of how the Spirit exercises His sovereignty over the Body. Some boldly acknowledge the Spirit's specific guidance, with the support of considerable tradition in the history of the Church. Others are cautiously vague about what they believe to be the Spirit's mode of operation. But in corporate worship and private prayer, they look expectantly toward God the Spirit to direct them in His will.


The Church is a people among whom the Lordship of Christ is already acknowledged. That Jesus Christ is Lord is its basic faith. One day the lordship of Christ will be concealed from no one. All will know, from the least to the greatest. But now this mystery is unveiled only among the children of faith.


He is Lord over the earth in spite of earth's chaos. He is the Lord of life in spite of life's absurdity. He is Lord over death in spite of death's continuing grip on the race. He is Lord over the Devil though the Devil rages on.


The Church looks at the Cross and knows that the decisive battle has already been won. Though the war is not over, though it seems to be getting bloodier, victory has already been secured. It is only a matter of time.


The Church is a people among whom there are no "religious professionals."  There may be a paid staff, a pastor may receive support from the congregation.  But the concept of a man or woman playing a professional religious role does not exist in an authentic congregation.  We are all disciples of Jesus, we are all called by him to fit into his program.  We are all anointed by the Holy Spirit.  We are all crucified with Christ to our old nature and raised with him into a life of joyful martyrdom --- chosen witnesses by our lives and by our words, to the crucified and risen Lord.


The Unity of the Church


"There is one body and one Spirit . . . ."


The unity of the Church is not a goal toward which we work. It is a fact. There has never been more than one Church. Nor has that Church ever been divided.


The fragmentation that has taken place in the corporate enterprises of Christians through the centuries is not evidence of a divided Church but simply the inevitable tearing and cracking that occurs among Christians when they seek to establish the Church outside the realm of faith or apart from the lordship of the Crucified One.


Men cannot resist building towers to reach up to heaven, extending their empires to cover the universe. Thousands have sought to do this in the name of Christ and have left behind marvelous structures. But these structures, ­mighty as they may be as political, social entities have the power neither to enhance nor to destroy the unity of the Church. In terms of the Body of Christ they have little significance. The genuine Church, as seen perfectly by the eyes of God alone, exists within and beyond these human structures. Sometimes the lightning of God flows along a man-made channel. Sometimes it strikes out in a surprising new direction. But it always manages to find men and women, within and without the human structures, who are one: members of one Christ, led by one Spirit, and engaged in one work ... ­to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ by word and deed.


We do not create unity in the Church. God has already done this. Our task is to penetrate the cracked crust of human structures to the burning reality beneath the surface which is indeed the Body of Christ on earth.


And the only place where this reality can be apprehended is in the congregation. Conventions and vast assemblies of churchmen may at times rise to a level of genuine worship and impart to the people a sense of the presence of God. But the place where the Body of Christ becomes apparent is where believers renew their commitment to their Lord, to each other, and to the wounds of the world, week by week, as they have done unbrokenly in the congregation for twenty centuries, even while the structures above them have risen and fallen.


Where else can Paul's analogy of the human body apply, but in the congregation? Where else does one person need another as the foot needs the eye? Or serve another as the hand serves the mouth?


And where else is the seat of the Church's life on earth? Administrative offices have their function. But they are not, as they so often believe themselves to be, the heart and center of the Church on earth. Heaven help the congre­gation that looks to "headquarters" for its life and gui­dance, instead of to the One who promises to be in its midst when it gathers in His name! The administrative office is utterly incapable of imparting life to a congregation that has lost touch with the Spirit of Christ. It may give advice, money, and encouragement to a floundering congregation. But life must descend upon the congregation from above. For the congregation, not the administrative office, is the seat of the Church's life.


But When Is It Really The Church?


Certainly there is ample evidence that a congregation's denominational affiliation (or lack of it) is no safeguard against its becoming something less than a church. Whether it is a church or just another club with religious trappings depends entirely on the nature of its daily life. If it is a church, it revolves around the Word of Christ. Every human group comes into existence around some central purpose. If it has no purpose to hold it together it disintegrates. There are congregations for whom the Word of Christ is a secondary thing. The real cohesive factor may be the personality of the pastor, or an ethnic bond, or the sheer gregariousness of the members. If it is a church, the source of its life is the Word of Christ. It gath-

ers in obedience to that Word. It listens with gratitude. It responds

in worship. It goes forth as a people who have been sent by that Word.


"It is the Spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail; the words that I have spoken to you are Spirit and life."


An Authentic Congregation Functions

As Part of a Larger Body.


To the extent that a congregation functions as if it were the only church in the world it has removed itself from the Church. Whether a congregation is affiliated with a larger church body or whether it is "independent" is not the question. Does it care about the Church in other places? Does it share its abundance with churches in need? Does it cooperate with other churches in accomplishing tasks that it cannot do alone?


While the congregation is the basic unit of the Body of Christ on earth, it is lost if it lives as though it were the only unit. Surely if it is directed by the same Lord who rules the church down the avenue, it will function as a sister to that church.


Its obedience to Christ is evident in its ministry in the world. Does it serve people or use them? Does it give or endlessly take? There is justification for the present epidemic of "church phobia."  When people see someone approaching them in the name of the Church they often withdraw, convinced that if these dear church people catch them they are going to be put under obligation. There will be an appeal for money, a request for a favor.


If it is really a church these fears are groundless. There will be no attempt to get or use anybody. The skeptics will discover a fellowship that relentlessly gives to the world around it. Food to the hungry. Comfort to the discouraged. Help to the sick and imprisoned. Compassion to those who have been discarded and forgotten by the rest of the world. And all this without strings. Come to church if you like. Stay home if you prefer. But here is bread for your table and a blanket for each bed. Here is money to help with the rent.


It is inclusive. National church bodies in the United States and Canada have finally discovered minority groups. They have gone to great lengths to identify themselves with the plight of minorities. The minorities remain wary.  "Where were the churches for the last hundred years?"  But even more searching is the challenge inevitably raised by minority groups when a church body publishes  another bold statement on justice and brotherhood: "Show us one congregation where you practice in congregational life this marvelous inclusiveness you proclaim as a denomination!"


The congregation that is inclusive of all people is conforming to His gospel and is part of His Church. A congregation which practices an exclusiveness of any kind is denying its own gospel and is excluding not only certain people which it considers undesirable, but also the Spirit without whose presence it ceases to be a church.

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There is something in the nature of man that makes him want to have a medicine man who will be responsible for that dark mysterious spirit side of his life. He will gladly hire someone and pay him well, if only his hired priest will stand between him and God. He will pay his priest even more generously if he will produce an idol that can be seen and handled in place of the Holy One of Israel.


As soon as Moses, who was driving the Israelites to be a nation of priests, disappeared in the heights of Sinai, the children of Israel turned to Aaron and demanded the services of a professional priest.


"Up, make us gods! Make us a god we can see and understand." And with ease, Aaron responded in his new role with the typical demand of a professional  priest: "Give me your gold."


The church --- like its ancient predecessor, the nation of Israel – is at any given moment only a hair's breadth from idolatry. The instant the people succeed in delegating to a paid figurehead the walk of faith to which they have been called, they are sliding into idolatry. To call a pastor and support him is not out of keeping with the Christian gospel or tradition, so long as the pastor does not become their "priest" and relieve them of their corporate priesthood.


The ministry of the pastor is inseparably likened to the ministries of his people. If they are not ministers of God, neither is he. He is not the pastor of a flock of passive club members; he is the pastor of a body of believers who have corporate ministry and who individually assume their share of it. The money they put on the offering plate does not fulfill their responsibility to proclaim the gospel of the Kingdom and call men to repentance. Every believer does this. If she/he doesn't, they have either been poorly taught, or are "copping out." "Believers" who are ashamed to say that Jesus is



Lord are doubtful believers. If they have no clear apostolic mes-

sage for the world around them, they are at best immature members of the Body.


But it is one thing to adhere to the Reformation doctrine of the priesthood of all believers --- as a doctrine; it is another to apply it. The priesthood of all believers should never have had to be a "doctrine." It should have evolved afresh as a fact in each new generation in the Church of Jesus Christ, even as it appeared as a fact when the Church was born.


And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them



The priesthood of all believers became a doctrine in an age when the only priests of God were clergymen. And the Reformation, in spite of this salutary doctrine, never succeeded in changing this. As the 16th Century gave way to the 17th, the clergy were still the only priests.


Now in the 21st Century, as the clergy wonder about their own priesthood, a generation of believers is appearing that will by-pass the clergy completely, if necessary, and exercise a corporate priesthood outside the structured church. This generation of believers has already begun to make an impact. They preach the Word, talk to people on the streets, baptize in any available river, share their earthly goods without reservations. They pray with the troubled, lay hands on the sick, rebuke demons. They are taking the Word of God into the world, and their corporate ministry is being confirmed with beautiful and abundant fruit.


Any congregation that has sufficient humility to learn from these new (often young) believers, and sufficient earnestness to exercise its own corporate priesthood, will experience life such as it has never known.


It is possible for an entire congregation to be a "kingdom of priests." There is no reason why an assembly of seriously committed believers cannot actually bear the grace of God into their everyday


world in such a way that redemptive events occur in the lives, organizations, and structures that they touch. If the Christian gospel is valid, its normal fruit should be the emergence of an army of people who are spiritually adept – "wise as serpents and innocent as doves" – who know what they're dealing with, and who have the authority to cope with the evil which has already been defeated at the Cross.


Certainly the logical "next step" for a congregation that has been in the presence of the living God is to carry its treasure of light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. The light will not live long if it is not shared.


The priesthood of all believers means that the believers are involved with those on the outside. Thousands of concerned people who are not motivated by any faith, but by a simple longing for justice or perhaps by sheer exasperation, are far more genuinely involved with human needs as they see them than many believers. These concerned, involved, often very daring people have captured the hearts of the young who look at the Christian Church as one of the phony frills of a dying western culture.


Often when believers try to become involved with human needs, they do so in ways that are either naive or simply dishonest. A clergy person who drives from his safe settled parish on the rim of the city to join others from similar situations in a demonstration at an urban redevelopment project is either naive or dishonest if he thinks that now he is "involved."


There can be no valid involvement with other men in their need unless there is a real presence among them. A symbolic "presence" may soothe a person's conscience but it will bring no comfort to his abused brother. And rarely will it bring his brother any lasting help. The cost of involvement is the risk of genuine nearness. If a man or woman is unwilling to take that risk they are really unwilling to be involved.  Advocacy without proximity is hypocrisy.


A white congregation that claims to have a concern about race is genuine in its concern only if it is first prepared to get near to the


blacks who live in the shadow of their building. If it is not "near" enough to hear what black people have to say, if it is not willing

that blacks should come near enough to them to say what they have to say, its involvement is purely symbolic.


To be present with other men and women in their need does not mean to dominate their lives. Nor does it mean to violate their privacy by intruding. It means to be there. Simply to be near and share the burden when the opportunity comes. When a man wants to share the burden of his friend's grief, as he mourns the death of his wife, he simply comes and sits without a word. So the Lord Jesus is present with those who suffer. So His people draw near and quietly share the burden.


We can bring no help to our brother unless we take a realistic measure of the magnitude of the evil which enmeshes him.


When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are in peace.


And when well-meaning saints armed with nothing more than positive thoughts and pat answers try to storm that palace, they are torn to shreds before they know what hit them.


Jesus who conquered evil as the Son of Man never underestimated evil. He never treated it lightly. His victory over evil was at the price of his lifeblood. Hence He never wasted His time trying to deliver Israel from Roman oppression, never dissipated His strength tangling with Herod. He knew the real Enemy, realized the Enemy's strength and concentrated everything on his defeat. The saints of God would be wise to do likewise.  


We can bring no help to our brother unless our corporate and private lives as believers is saturated with the living Light of The Holy.


Stay in the city, until you are clothed with power from on high.


Jesus was present among the poor, the maimed, the halt, and the blind as the Holy One of God. Demons trembled at His approach. And the Spirit of His Father, which caused Him so to shine before


the eyes of those creatures of darkness and drove them to their knees, has now been given to His Body on earth.


As the Father has sent me, even so I send you… Receive the Holy Spirit.


Those whose hearts are bent toward Heaven and whose wills have been nailed to the Cross of the Lamb do indeed receive the Spirit, and not merely as an "experience." Not merely as occasional ecstatic prayer. God the Spirit is living in their temples of flesh, and shining through! This is their authority. This is what makes them priests of God. The demons tremble before the same Light that filled them with terror of old. Chains break. Men come free. Eyes open. Lives are healed. Because followers of Jesus came among them, saw their need, and met it in the name and power of their Master.


A Corporate Priesthood: The Only Hope of Any Congregation


It was an old church building nestled between two huge tenements. Everywhere one looked on this warm evening there were people. Men sitting on doorsteps, youths standing in clusters on every corner, children darting between cars, tired-faced women leaning out windows, five and six stories up, for a breath of air. An elderly man stood out in front of the church he had attended since his boyhood passing out leaflets which read, "Come to the Mission tonight at 8:00."


At a few minutes before 8:00 a handful of members arrived and went into the church which was dark, except for the brightly lighted chancel, and almost empty. Perhaps there were three dozen people in this building that would seat three hundred. During the service they sang "Amazing Grace" and "Jesus Calls Us." The sermon was about the Cross which is the power and wisdom of God. People prayed a bit and then went downstairs for coffee.

As they talked, one could feel the discouragement. "Once we had a

thousand members here at St. Luke's. Now we're down to fifty, and half of them are shut-ins." "Only a handful of the members do all

the work." "Things aren't like they used to be ." "I guess we won't

be able to keep this thing going much longer." They spoke like members of a club – and the club was dying. Nobody seemed to feel the need of it any more.


It was a religious club. The people sang hymns and said prayers. They had a new pastor who taught them things out of the Word. But it never occurred to them that there was a connection between the cross on their altar and the throbbing, tangled, troubled, restless sea of humanity that surrounded them. It never occurred to them that the Jesus they just sang about could give them power to bring healing into those streets, joy into those shadowy smelly buildings, life into those vacant souls.


Jesus calls us o'er the tumult of our life's wild restless sea. Day by day his clear voice soundeth saying, "Christian, follow me."


A few more funerals and St. Luke's Church will go the way

of thousands of others across the land. It will disband. Any expert could have predicted this twenty years ago. Times change. Neighborhoods change. And when these clubs outlive their usefulness, they die.


But suppose that little handful of people gathered in that almost empty church building suddenly really heard the voice of Jesus and answered it. Suppose they yielded to the moving of the Spirit of God some Sunday morning, stopped worrying whether their club would live or die, forgot about the way things used to be, and presented their wrinkled old bodies to God as a living sacrifice. Even if they were all past 70, that handful of believers would then become the link between the Cross of Calvary and that turbulent sea of humanity around them. They would speak as the Spirit gave them utterance – and the Spirit would give them utterance. And people would be drawn through them to the Cross of Jesus and would be changed. Even if they didn't know a word of Spanish, even if they hadn't a clue about Black Awareness, those old folks

would become a center from which Life would start gushing out into those arid streets.


It is not a matter of giving up their building, changing their form of worship, or changing a single one of these outward things. The people of St. Luke's need only to become disciples of Jesus, and as their old club dies, a church will be born in its place.


And passing along by the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net in the sea; for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, "Follow me and I will make you become fishers of men." And immediately they left their nets and followed him.


And they became fishers of men, as will any person who truly follows Jesus. The object is not to fish them into some club and make them members, but to fish them into the Kingdom of the living God, to draw them into the realm of divine grace. To be a fisher of men becomes the object of a man or woman's life, the meaning of their existence in this world, when they become disciples of Jesus Christ.


All believers begin to function as priests when they understand that the call of Jesus is not to club membership, but to discipleship. Believers need to know that they are disciples of Jesus, and that to be a disciple of Jesus means four things:


A disciple is a follower.

Start going where Jesus leads, and Jesus will lead. The problem is not that Jesus does not lead. The problem is that people do not follow.


He leadeth me beside the still waters.

He restoreth my soul:

He leadeth me in the paths

of righteousness for his name's sake.


He leads His sheep, goes before them, opens the road for them. When believers follow the simple leading they presently have, they can be sure that they will receive more. When they walk in the light they have, the light increases and invariably draws them out into the deep and guides them to let down their nets for a catch.


A disciple is a pupil.


Start learning what Jesus has to teach, and Jesus will teach. There are countless believers who have not learned a new thing from the Lord in ten years. When it comes to the things of God, their minds are hardened. And yet, when they understand that they are disciples of Jesus, this changes. They start learning. Suddenly Peter and the others were going to school again. Their teacher was Jesus, and they soaked up everything He had to teach them.


One of the clearest indications that believers have caught on to the meaning of discipleship is that they joyfully and unashamedly become pupils. They give up their little theological word games and pull out their Bibles and begin to seek truth. The PhD's and day laborers become equals around the table of the Master as He begins to teach them mysteries of the Kingdom that have been hidden from the wise and prudent of all ages and revealed to babes. They begin to recognize the hand of God even in hard circum­stances, and inspired by the same Spirit, read their meaning as did the prophets of old.


A disciple is a servant.


Submit to Jesus as a servant submits to his lord, and Jesus will be Lord in your actual experience. Overemphasis on the immanence of Jesus at the expense of His transcendence has created in many minds the illusion that Jesus is their buddy. There is no thought of submission to Him. Nor does Jesus beg anyone to submit. He makes no attempt to frustrate those who insist on strutting through life as if they were their own lords. But such people never know Jesus' lordly presence or His mighty power. Peter started out his discipleship on his knees before Jesus and spent a lifetime learning servanthood. This is the way of every disciple.


A disciple is an ambassador of God the Son.


Go where Jesus sends you and Jesus goes with you. "As the Father has sent me, even so I send you." The humanist who approaches the world on his own authority, armed with his own compassion, skill, and good intentions is soon, consciously or unconsciously, overwhelmed by the world. But those who go out as sent by the Living Christ, though they may be bewildered and deeply aware of their weakness, will find that they are not alone.

They will experience an anointing. They will have power.


And passing along by the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net in the sea; for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, "Follow me and I will make you become fishers of men." And immediately they left their nets and followed him.


The sea is immediately beyond the door of any congre­gation. In it are people who are destined to become, not members of some religious club, but sons and daughters of the King. They will be brought into the Kingdom not by club members but by disciples who have been transformed by the Master Himself into fishers of men.


In the near future, we can expect to see a rebirth of the congregation --- the Authentic Congregation --- in a million places.  The zeal of the Lord of Hosts will perform it. No man will prevent it. If the main-line denominations try to stifle this rebirth, it will appear elsewhere. If the clergy drag their feet, it will happen without them. But it will happen. It has already begun.


The rebirth of the congregation can no more be engineered than the rebirth of a man. The purpose of this booklet is to encourage those who have laid the wood in order and prepared the sacrifice and are now waiting for the fire to fall on their weary little flock – to encourage them to believe that they are waiting in the right place. The fire will fall. There is also the desire to urge those who have given up on the congregation and are trying to renew the Church through the larger structures to get their eyes off Church Headquarters and return to the little flock that gathers around Jesus and seeks to do His will. "Church craft" will never bring life. The Spirit of God brings life.


And He brings this life to the simple believers who gather around the Master and obey. They alone are the Church. As they walk in the light of their Master, a clear gospel is preserved to them. As they pour themselves out as a living sacrifice to God they prove to be His true ministers on this earth.

To: Table of CONTENTS

The End