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Church, but not as we've known it

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Church... but not as we've known it
by Lynette Woods
All Scripture references are from The Amplified Bible



Although we did not know it when God called us out of the institutional church, many worldwide and in previous generations have heard God call them out of the doing and busyness of "church life" in order to find Him as their Life. Since leaving the institution of the church, I've been becoming increasingly aware of the many parallels between the institution of school and the institution of the church. Most people don't even think about questioning the fact that their children must attend school just as most believers naturally assume without question that they are to attend the institution of the church (as opposed to understanding that we are part of Christ’s Body the Church regardless of where we are).
School is compulsory in most western cultures, so too, the unwritten law of organized religion is that regular attendance is compulsory. You discover this if you don't go for a few weeks! We tend to think that attending school assures us of an education for our children and so we place our security and trust in the school system. Attending an institutional church regularly is also a form of security and trust in a religious system but of course attending a church building is no guarantee of salvation or of a close walk with God just as attending school does not guarantee you a good education.

Our security and trust must never be in any religious or denominational system, man, programme or method but only in God; to rely on anything else is idolatry. Idolatry is not simply the worshiping of idols in primitive cultures but is alive and well in our culture today. Idols are not primarily physical, but spiritual. Idolatry is anything that we depend on, rely on or have our trust and security in: “Little children, keep yourselves from idols (false gods) - from anything and everything that would occupy the place in your heart due to God, from any sort of substitute for Him that would take first place in your life.” 1 John 5:21.

School is predictable and becomes increasingly boring the more we mature. We know when it will begin and end, when the breaks are, we know what subject will happen when and who will teach it. The institution of the church is often no different, it too can be predictable; it meets every Sunday morning, begins at the same time every week with singing, then a sermon is given, then a final song is sung or people are called forward to be prayed for (depending on the particular denomination) and this doesn't differ much from Sunday to Sunday. Outside of school, learning is free to happen any time and as such, is unpredictable and exciting! So too, out of the religious system, we learn from the Holy Spirit any time of the day and night and our walk with Him is exciting, not predictable or boring!

Just as no parent would allow their children to quit school simply to become couch potatoes, so our Father does not call His children out of the institutional church system simply to sit at home to vegetate. What school leavers and church leavers MUST do is to take personal responsibility for their own learning and growth instead of relying on a system or institution! Jesus died and rose again so that we could each have a personal, daily relationship with Him and not so that we would rely on a pastor or "meetings". We are called to liberty and freedom from the man-made laws and traditions which Christ died to free us from! We must each have (and give each other!) the freedom to hear, listen and obey God for ourselves. We are each responsible for our own decisions and actions and if He has not told us to leave the institutional church system; we need not feel condemned for staying. Conversely we must not condemn those who HAVE heard Him call them out and who have obeyed Him, often at great personal cost to them and their families.

Many teachers enter the teaching profession with high ideals of what they will and won't do, but end up disillusioned. They find themselves doing the things they never wanted to, simply because they find they have to, due to the structure and system of the institution. This corresponds with the institutional church. Many pastors enter the ministry with high ideals but find themselves doing and saying things they never intended to simply because of the hierarchical structures and systems that are in place within the institution. They find they "have" to be controlling and authoritative simply because of the hierarchical system; if they are not, they feel they will lose respect and trust.

In school, children often feel intimidated by the system and by the teachers. This often results in children lacking in self confidence. So too in the institutional church, the people often feel intimidated by the "professionals" and little or nothing is done to alleviate this. Unfortunately it is often encouraged because it is not seen for what it is; fear and control. Of course anyone who feels intimidated, is under the control of the person they feel intimidated by. The Intimidator will possibly interpret this as trust and respect instead of recognizing it for what it is: manipulation and control. Instead of being encouraged to think for themselves, the "students" rely on what the pastor/teacher says, even if what they teach is wrong!

Someone who feels intimidated by their teacher or pastor is not going to upset the status quo by questioning the system or by setting things straight because they are influenced by fear. However, should they happen to have the courage to question an Intimidator, they will usually discover that they will be accused of a number of things including being insubordinate, rebellious, argumentative, divisive and unsubmissive, instead of building up a person's confidence and encouraging them to think for themselves and check things out as the Bereans did (Acts 17:11). The intimidated person then has two choices, either to apologize and become further ensconced in a system of control and manipulation, or to come out from the intimidation into freedom, not without some degree of persecution and abuse for being viewed as being the things they are accused of! God's people always have been, and still are, considered rebellious to this world's system of religion and control (see Ezra 4:12-15) because they are of their Father of Light in Whom darkness has no place.

Just as in school the teacher is the one who supposedly knows it all and so can teach the ones who don't, so in the institutional church the pastor is seen as the one who in turn teaches those who don't know much. This not only encourages an "us and them" mentality but also encourages people to rely on the pastor instead of on the Holy Spirit for teaching and feeding – hence it equals idolatry.

In this Family, our Father is our Teacher and is responsible for our learning. With immature or new believers, He will use older brothers and sisters, the Church is like a family and a family is a living, growing, changing thing unlike an institution or organization. Instead of everyone being reliant on the structure or relying on the pastor, we become reliant on the Holy Spirit and Jesus (the Bread of Life and Living Water) for our food. We have often put pastors into positions they are not called to be in. They then try to fulfill the expectations of the people instead of obeying and fulfilling the expectations of God. Jesus' pattern for ministers (which EACH of us are) was for us to be humble servants of one another.

Once a child can do the basics of reading and writing and spelling, there is no limit to what they can teach themselves and learn - they simply have to have the DESIRE to learn! There is a vast world of information for our children to learn from as they grow older. It is the same in organized religion; never has there been such a huge range and amount of Christian resources available; Bibles, study materials, books, magazines, CD's, tapes, videos, conferences, software, websites etc ad infinitum. There is absolutely NO excuse for a Christian today not to be mature were it conditional upon resources; except One Thing may be missing and this One Thing is essential because it is First and Foundational. God builds His Church upon one Foundation only: Christ in our lives. He alone can put DESIRE and PASSION in our heart. In school it doesn't matter how many textbooks, computers, resources and teachers you have access to, if you don't have the desire to learn, you won't learn much. In the institution of church it is not the pastor or resources that are important, but a personal, intimate relationship with the Holy Spirit who teaches us ALL things (1 John 2:27, John 16:13).

When Jesus Christ is the passion and desire of our heart, we naturally want to learn all we can about Him and from Him and to spend as much time with Him as possible! One common criticism of home schoolers is that the children are being protected from the "real world". But is school the real world? Surely the day to day living of supermarket shopping, paying bills, writing letters, work around the house, visiting people etc is far more the real world than being shut away in a classroom with children all your own age. No where else does this happen in our society, especially not when you leave school! In the institutional church we too often think that we are relevant and living in the real world when we are not. We are living in an insulated bubble of meetings and "service" or "ministry" away from where the real world can touch and relate to us. When they see that God is absolutely vital to our lives every day and that meetings are not our focus but Christ is, then they will be drawn to Him through His Life in us. They must be attracted to and joined to Jesus Christ, not to a religious system!

We need to BE Christ to people every day, everywhere we meet, we are His Body, He wants to speak and touch people through us. But how can we do this if we stay in our "classroom" with our peer group of fellow believers? Does this prepare us for reaching the world or does it just encourage us to stay within that comfortable system?

Being relevant does not mean changing your music to have a better beat or inviting unbelievers to a concert or becoming more like the world. Churchianity today can actually be a stumbling block to people coming to know Jesus Christ personally because He is not revealed in the individual's lives. What is REAL life? It is He Who IS Life! Christ was radical and brought about revolution and change! He challenged and made enemies in the religious system of the day.

A common criticism of home schooling is that the children will not have adequate social interaction; so too a concern about being out of the system of churchianity is that we are not "fellowshipping" with other believers. Clearly, because we are part of a Body and a Family we will meet and talk with brothers and sisters whenever possible - sharing what God has been saying and doing in each other's lives (instead of just listening to one or two people share from a stage), and sharing communion (eating meals together and remembering what Christ has done for us). Believers will always find other believers to share Life with (and it’s far better to let the Holy Spirit do the choosing of those friendships than us) just as children will always find other children to play with. The Holy Spirit knows those who will help us and those who will hinder us and we must be sensitive to His leading in relationships.

Our whole understanding of what the Church is needs to change; it is not, and never has been, a building where people meet together or a place to go on Sundays. Jesus said that where two or three are gathered together, He is there! We need to recognize and see Christ in our casual meeting together with each other, not concentrating on and venerating the "official" or formal meetings. We must never fall into the trap of worshiping gatherings or leaders instead of Christ. We need to see a return to real, honest, relevant, Christ centred relationships.

Christ ought to be Everything to us, He should be our Focus, our Ground and Foundation and our Unity regardless of whether we attend a building called a church or not! Too often the uniting factor is not whether we are in Christ but whether we are in a church building or part of a recognised institution/organization which reveals that the building/institution/organization is more important to those ones than Christ. That, again, is idolatry: putting something in place of Christ. May we be given sight to see Christ, and only Christ, as our Unity and our All!

Therefore then, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us strip off and throw aside every encumbrance (unnecessary weight) and that sin which so readily clings to and entangles us, and let us run with patient endurance and active persistence the appointed course of the race that is set before us, looking away from all that will distract to Jesus, Who is the Leader and the Source of our faith and is also its Finisher.
 
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I was on my way to prayer this past Sunday, and as I rambled down the street in my little black Ford Ranger while thinking about my life and my spiritual walk, I had a revelation. It now occurs to me as I writ e this that it seems sort of strange that I would get a revelation on my way to prayer. I thought I was supposed to get revelations while I was in prayer, but hey, He's God and He can do what He wants, right?

I have become increasingly dissatisfied with what I see as a lack of effectiveness in my Christian walk. I want so much to have an impact on this world for the Gospel of Jesus Christ, so when I die, I will leave behind me a trail of people whose lives have been enriched as a result of God working through me. And it was there, in the comfort of my vinyl bench seat, while listening to some quiet worship music that the Lord started to reveal to me the solution to my problems. And just like the Lord, He made it very clear to me. He said, "You know, words don't scare the devil. The devil isn't even afraid of My Word. It's when words translate into action and change a life that he becomes afraid."

At first I was taken aback. "What do You mean, Lord, that the devil isn't afraid of Your Word?" Then He reminded me of one particular instance in the Scriptures where Satan actually quoted the Scripture quite casually. The most famous instance would have to be when Satan was tempting Jesus to throw Himself from the highest point of the temple.

He reminded Jesus that it is written,

He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone (Matthew 4:6).

(Not that Jesus needed any reminding!) There are many other Scriptures that support this as well. Psalm 119, a beautiful piece of literary genius, is chock-full of praise and adoration for the commands, precepts, and statutes of the Lord.

But David doesn't stop short of relating to his readers the effect that Word has on his life. The Word turns our eyes from worthless things (vs. 37); it gives us an answer for those who reproach us (vs. 42); it restrains our feet from every evil path (vs. 101); it causes us to detest falsity (vs. 104); it keeps us straight in the midst of persecution (vs. 157) -- just to name a few.

God's message to Israel through Joshua was this:

This book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all this is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous and successful (Joshua 1:8).

Furthermore, Jesus said,

If you love Me you will obey what I command (John 14:15).

In this hour, God is renewing His call to the church for purity and passion. If we are going to be the pure and spotless bride He desires, we must let the Word take its course in our lives. It is no longer good enough to sit in church, sing the right songs, memorize Scripture, wear the right clothes, and know all the Holy Spirit catch-phrases if we going to turn right around and live our lives as if God doesn't exist.

There is a process to interacting with the Word. First, we must receive it. That is done through our spirits. Secondly, we must reflect on it. That takes place in the mind. Finally, we must respond to it. That takes place in the flesh -- with our bodies. If we never get up and GO (as we've been commanded), we have embraced a form of godliness but have denied its power.

Revelation 12:11 says,

They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.

The blood portion has already been taken care of by Jesus on the Cross. The testimony is up to us. And the testimony isn't just a 15-minute speech someone gives on Sunday morning about how God delivered them from drugs and alcohol. Your testimony is your changed life. It’s the evidence of a life that has allowed the Word to do its work to the point that you and I will not shrink from even death itself.

Remember: the devil isn't scared by all the Scriptures you've memorized. A life of mere words will soon be forgotten. But if today you will embrace a spirit of get-up-and-go, you can impact this world in a way that will continue to reverberate for generations to come. People will be reading books about you when you've turned to dust. But most important of all, you can be sure that your name will be written in the one book that matters most: The Lamb's Book of Life.

By Paul Dailey
 

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