Kingdom Living Here and Now
Going to Church?
If you were to mention to a first or second century Christian that you were going to Church, he or she would look at you oddly. The concept of “church” as something separate from you, was alien for these early Christians. The concept of attending a meeting as a church was not even really a concept. Christians were the followers of Christ. They happened to be located in certain locations and became known as “the Jerusalem Church” or the Church at Rome, but these “churches” were not multiple churches. They were merely part of the Body of Christ located in certain areas. They didn’t appear to have a physical building, just met in a home.
They didn’t sit in pews, they didn’t listen to a pastor or even one of their number appointed to speak to them, they didn’t attend a church or hall or gathering place (though it appears that at some point, some Christians “met” on the portico of the temple at Jerusalem). They participated in worship as often as they could in people’s homes. They are very unlikely to have sat in rows facing someone and frankly, it is unlikely that one person officiated in the meeting, despite the example given of Paul and Eutychus. There is some doubt whether there was in fact even a “sermon” or “exhortation” as such at each meeting.
Most of what we have today has come down to us through tradition, most of it pagan or political in origin instituted in the period of Constantine. Some of it makes its way to us from late Judaism mixed with Zoroastrian elements from Babylon.
Priests of the Most High
We have by and large forgotten that we are individually, called to be priests of the Most High God, to individually bear His name to minister in His name to a dying and broken world and to cry from the rooftops the beautiful, life giving spirit that inhabits us.
Among those of us who struggle with what we have become, we have recognised that church has become a club with traditions, rules and patterns that do little to serve God. For example, in the nearly 170 years since John Thomas, Christadelphians need to recognise that they have created an institution that does not worship, fails its simple mandate for its missionary work and is losing people to God rather than gathering them to Him. Many other Christian churches find themselves in the same predicament.
This must change.
I love my brothers and sisters and I have no desire to upend their lives, but to save their lives, we all must revisit our faith and determine if we really, truly serve the One True God and His Son, determine if we are truly on the path and ultimately, whether this thing we do every Sunday, these classes we attend midweek, the “doing” that we are engaged in is truly serving God. If we come to the conclusion that it is not, then we have an enormous obligation to get it right ourselves, and to rescue our brothers and sisters whom we love.
Do or Are?
Is Christianity something we DO or is this Salvation dwelling in our hearts and is it what we ARE?
I have been grappling with this for months now, and the more I look at my life, the more I consider my path, the more I look at what we, as Christadelphians do and indeed what the broader Christian body do, the more I am chilled at how far most Christian denominations are from true service.
As a Christian who was a Christadelphian but now not really any denomination, I have been wrestling with my own poor performance of service.
Over these last articles, we have explored kingdom living in both the calling we have and how we respond to the call. In this article, I want to look practically at what the Kingdom Heart requires of You and Me.
God willing, I hope to inspire us all to embrace radical, wonderful service now. I don’t want anyone to finish this series of articles unchanged. I frankly don’t know what will come of this, because we are in this together and I don’t want to lose you or anyone, but we have to do better.
Let me tell you a story that I read in David Platt’s book “Radical”. He talks about receiving a church newsletter which had a little problem with its layout. The problem was that on the left side of the page, there was an article about a new church having been built for the staggering sum of $23million and lauding the establishment of a new “house of God” in America. The bigger problem was the little article on the right side of the page celebrating the contribution of a group of Christians to victims of a natural disaster. The sum of the contribution to our fellow human beings in dire straits? $5,000.
Many years ago, I was part of a youth group where we were encouraged to put anonymous questions in a box and an older brother would attempt to answer the question. The question put to the older person was a hot topic at the time. You see, you could buy a computer for around $5,000 back in the early 1990s and that was a lot of money.
The question was, should I buy a computer which would be an aid in doing bible study? Many at the time thought that computers were not a good thing to have in the home.
The response was an important one. “$5,000 is a lot of money. God gave you that money. You are steward of this resource. Is that the best use of that resource? If it is, in your estimation, then buy the computer. If you can use that money somewhere else to better effect, then use it somewhere else.”
As the Servants of God, bought at enormous cost, you have a finite period of years. You have a finite amount of opportunity in the service of the Master.
Stewards of our Lives
This is the battle I have faced for some time now, and I am approaching it prayerfully, tearfully and with a great deal of concern. As at the date of this article I am just a few weeks off turning 50. I have worked enormously hard to reach a position of some respect in the world. I have a career that is well on track. Financially, things are improving and I feel blessed in many respects.
And, I have discovered that this world is broken, that God and Jesus dwell within me, I have salvation dwelling in my heart and I am in God’s hand, and I have the power in God, if I just commit my way to Him, to work to heal the world.
Every day, we each face this question: “What are we to do with the time we have?”
We live in a world culture that values security both physical and financial. We live in a “church” culture that also values the security of a group of like-minded people, following a path that we have followed for centuries, with clearly defined rules and expectations and at least in some degree, some assurance that we can achieve salvation by following these rules, more or less.
Remember, most of what we do, finds its roots in imperial Rome, the early Greek Sophists and paganism. Dig deep and that’s what you will find. It is foreign to our first and second century brothers and sisters.
One question I suppose is, is there anything wrong with particularly the “church tradition and culture” we have all grown up in?
Well, for one, it doesn’t seem to me to mirror our calling. It appears to reflect much of our culture and little of what we are called to. If the things we do, the structure we have created does not actually attract people to the body of Christ, to some degree does not help them to stay in the Body and appears to be foreign to the first and second century ecclesias, then why do we engage in it?
Fulfilling our Obligations
For another thing, it is really easy to surrender all of our obligations to this structure we are in.
Let me explain. For many years, we really just surrendered our personal obligation to preach the gospel to a Sunday night lecture, some form of “Gospel Extension Service” or to some leaflets. For many of us, we surrender the obligation personally to teach our children the fundamentals of the gospel and the bible to a Sunday School. For some of us, we surrender personal, powerful engagement with God in prayer to the prayers uttered in the Sunday Service, and for most of us, we surrender the very act of surrendering ourselves in heart felt loving voices to our God to the songs we sing at Church.
Not all of us, and not all the time.
But I will tell you one almost universal thing that we seem to willingly surrender our personal obligation in.
On a Sunday, we rarely are personally engaged in the worship and remembrance of our Lord except in the most passive of ways. Sitting in our rows, facing someone who speaks at us for some minutes, accepting a morsel of bread and a sip of wine passively.
Is that what we were meant to do? Truly?
Is our Service Precious?
Here in Australia, we can engage in this process passively and with no risk. We can engage in our ritual and travel home with no fear, no questions and no one even commenting. We are not in fear as our brothers and sisters in say, Vietnam are. We have no risk of imprisonment, we have no risk of beating or even death as others do in other places.
The problem is that when something is easy and has no personal cost, it is easy for it to become devalued in our eyes. Therefore, it becomes easy for us to attend Sunday passively, without true engagement. To look at Sunday (secretly of course) as a bit of a chore, something to endure for an hour or so. Or to look at it as a lovely social event, a nice place to catch up with the people we like for awhile.
Consider how you would value even a discussion like this, if you faced death or imprisonment for even being here.
Christians or Disciples???
I was reading recently about how some people in America and perhaps here, consider that there is an option between being an everyday Christian or a full disciple of Christ. Consider the option as it appears here.
In essence, from what I can gather: an everyday Christian makes a “decision” to get baptised and to attend church on a Sunday whereas a Disciple is someone who surrenders all to actively and powerfully live their faith everyday in their community.
I would think anyone hearing this would be shocked.
Having a Kingdom Heart means to surrender everything to cultivate the salvation that dwells in their hearts, proclaiming it everywhere.
But which of us doesn’t have a little chill when we hear these words in Matthew:
Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.Mat 7:21-23
Lord, Lord, didn’t we attend every Sunday and take bread and wine with others who believed your name?
Do we hunger and thirst for the Gospel? Do we long to commune with our God and His Son? Do we forsake all and follow Him?
A radical commitment to discipleship requires devotion of all we have, all we are, our hearts, our hands, our lives to our Lord.
Do we have a dream of a home with two garages and a nice yard for the kids to play in? Do we have a dream of having nice cars to put in the garages? Are we building a nest egg for retirement?
An example in John Wesley
David Platt, in “Radical” quotes John Wesley:
As followers of Christ, we must work hard to make money. We must live simply and give as much as we can away.
This story is instructive:
[Wesley] had just finished buying some pictures for his room when one of the chambermaids came to his door. It was a winter day and he noticed that she had only a thin linen gown to wear for protection against the cold. He reached into his pocket to give her some money for a coat, and found he had little left. It struck him that the Lord was not pleased with how he had spent his money. He asked himself: “Will Thy Master say, ‘Well done, good and faithful steward?’ Thou has adorned thy walls with the money that might have screened this poor creature from the cold! O justice! O mercy! Are not these pictures the blood of this poor maid?”Charles Edward White, “Four Lessons on Money from One of the World’s Richest Preachers” Christian History 19 (summer 1988): 24
Perhaps as a result of this incident, in 1731 Wesley began to limit his expenses so he would have more money to give to the poor. He records that one year his income was £30, and his living expenses £28, so he had £2 to give away. The next year, his income doubled, but he still lived on £28 and gave £32 away. In the third year, his income jumped to £90; again he lived on £28, giving £62 away. The fourth year, he made £120, lived again on £28, and gave £92 to the poor.
Wesley preached that Christians should not merely tithe, but give away all extra income once the family and creditors were taken care of. He believed that with increasing income, the Christian’s standard of giving should increase, not his standard of living. He began this practice at Oxford and he continued it throughout his life. Even when his income rose into the thousands of pounds, he lived simply and quickly gave his surplus money away. One year his income was slightly over £1,400; he gave away all save £30. He was afraid of laying up treasures on earth, so the money went out in charity as quickly as it came in. He reports that he never had as much as £100 at one time.
When he died in 1791, the only money mentioned in his will was the miscellaneous coins to be found in his pockets and dresser drawers. Most of the £30,000 he had earned in his lifetime he had given away. As Wesley said, “I cannot help leaving my books behind me whenever God calls me hence; but, in every other respect, my own hands will be my executors.
The Australian dream and the dream of most western cultures is that with hard work and determination you achieve all you want and more.
God’s Promise to You
God’s promise is that He will give you everything that you can’t achieve with the strength of your right arm. Remember John 6?
Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you.Joh 6:27
Remember Philippians 1? “He which began a Good Work in you will complete it?”
God is not made strong in the strong and powerful. He is made strong in the surrendered, weak one.
The most powerful, majestic portrayal of God was visible in the crucified Jesus.John Piper “Desiring God”
We are called not to be strong in the things of this world, but to magnify the living God in all we do.
A Surrendered Life
So, what does a surrendered life look like to you? How is God magnified in our lives?
First it must be in our mission to proclaim God to this world:
For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward, but if not of my own will, I am still entrusted with a stewardship. What then is my reward? That in my preaching I may present the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel. For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings. Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.1 Cor 9:16-27
Our First Calling
Truly, if the proclamation of the Good News is not our first calling, then we are not serving God. Personally, as well as collectively, we must proclaim Him. We must be willing to spend and be spent in advancing the Gospel.
Who do you think Jesus was talking to in Matt 28?
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”Matt 28:16-20
He was not talking to Joe, down the street. He was talking to us. You have salvation dwelling in your hearts, proclaim it in the world.
Is God your priority? What does this look like?
I can’t tell you for you, but think about this.
A spiritual life seeks an authentic relationship with God. Before I was married, I lived with a mate who loved to study God’s word. I knew people who considered study of the bible a necessary chore. With my friend, at any moment, he would drop everything to talk of the things of God, not in a critical or lecturing way, but with a delighted smile and a genuine care.
I know a young lady who I was talking with one day on spiritual things. We were becoming spiritually engaged in the beauty of our God when she stopped and said, Scott, can we just take a moment to pray? And putting her arm around me, she started praying and I was immediately captured and connected to God in that moment. One of my sons does this with me from time to time, prayer out of an abundance of love and connection in Christ.
The Yearning of our Hearts
Spiritual, authentic maturity is recognisable in instant connection with God and a life surrendered to Him in complete dependence. For me, a step in the process of maturity is disengagement with the Church as a dependence and arbiter of connection and instead engaging fully, from the heart with God. For me, one element has simply been to stop trying to structure prayer and connection to God, but to try and take a moment to simply let God occupy my thoughts. To empty myself of words and instead let my heart speak to Him. He knows what I am saying and mean to say. Don’t articulate it, just seek connection and let Him see the earnest yearning of your heart.
Gandhi didn’t appear to know the true God, but he still said it very well.
Prayer is not asking. It is a longing of the soul. It is daily admission of one’s weakness. It is better in prayer to have a heart without words than words without a heart.Mahatma Gandhi
What specifically are you about from today onwards? I hope you embrace wonderful, radical service and find a new life in Jesus.
We are part of the body of Christ. We are surrounded by a broken world, what are you going to do about it?