The early Christians were known for their radical departure from dependence on a worship place, authoritarian priests, and any religious performance through ceremony, holy days or sacrifical 'offerings.'
Upside Down Church Through Inside Out Christianity (link)
Guest Post by Wade Burleson
It's difficult for some believers to grasp that they are the church. Anytime I hear of Christians who are "upset with the direction of a church," or "angry with the church," or "tired of the church," I wonder if they truly understand what they're saying. They are the church, but it's rare to hear a Christian say "I'm angry with myself," or "I'm tired of myself," or "I'm upset with the direction in my life," etc…. Why is it that so many see "the church" as something other than themselves in union with Jesus Christ?
I think the fault lies with Christian leaders — particularly us pastors — who for many centuries have attempted to place churches and church ministries on par with ancient Temple and Old Covenant worship. From massive church buildings erected to inspire, to stained glass windows or elaborate decor intended to tell stories, to a "priesthood" of authoritative pastors/leaders who separate themselves from 'laity,' to injunctions to tithe into the storehouse of the church or risk being devoured by the devil, and to programs that are set in stone (unalterable and unchangeable) like Israel's Ten Commandments, the modern church looks more like Old Testament Israel than the early followers of Christ who were radically different from the "religious."
The early Christians were known for their radical departure from dependence on a worship place, authoritarian priests, and any religious performance through ceremony, holy days or sacrifical 'offerings.' As Adolph Safir reminds us in his brilliant work on Hebrews:
“The Greeks and the Romans were not merely astonished at, but felt irritated by the worship of the early Christians, who without image and altar, without priests and vestments, appeared to them as atheists, men and women ‘without gods’ and at times felt threated by the mysterious power Christians possessed as they rejoiced in suffering and met with calm courage the tortures of death itself” Adolph Saphir.
The crystallization of the institutional church using Jewish modes of worship is not limited to Roman Catholicism beginning in the 4th century AD. Eventually, Baptist churches and other conservative evangelical churches, though historically shouting loudly 'no creed but the Bible,' have come to ignore the New Testament teaching on the nature of the true church and have now:
(1). Replicated Israel's hierarchy of priestly authority (calling them pastors);
(2). Imitated Israel's emphasis on a particular type of worship at a specific place (calling it sanctuary worship); and
(3). Perpetuated Israel's obligation to the old 'if-then' covenant with God ('if we will obey God, then God will bless us').
The freedom of a sinner to personally trust Christ and experience the power of God at work within–transforming that sinner from the inside out – is substituted for a form of behavioral control imposed by a spiritual authoritarian from without (usually a pastor) who uses Old Covenant passages of Scripture to bind believers.
The simplicity of New Covenant worship 'in spirit and in truth' has been overwhelmed by the desires and the demands of leaders within the institutional churches. We pastors, often in an attempt to protect our jobs and salaries (or future jobs and current reputations), spiritualize everything we do, acting as if our ministries and programs are God's ministries and programs. The greatest danger I face at Emmanuel is the temptation to forget that what is done at the building on Sundays and Wednesdays is just a part–a small part–of who we are as a people. Whether it is giving, serving, or attending other places of worship, our people should have the liberty and freedom to give, serve, and attend wherever the Spirit leads.
Christ's church always leaves the building on Sundays, therefore the church should never be called the building. Whatever is done on Sundays or Wednesdays in the building should be designed to empower and encourage "the church" (you) to worship in spirit and truth every day of the week. My job is to lead people in such a manner that they cheerfully give to the Lord, joyfully serve the Lord, and willingly worship the Lord. A good pastor will always remind God's people that Christ's church extends far beyond the membership rolls of any one corporate church. If the Spirit leads someone at Emmanuel to join another corporate church, an institution that uses different methodologies and ministries to encourage "the church" to give, serve and worship – then great! We are all on the same team. We are the church.
When did God’s covenant with Israel become obsolete? In AD 30 Jesus the Anointed One died on a hill called Golgatha. The night before He was crucified He took a cup of wine and declared, "This cup is New Covenant of my blood shed for the remission of your sins." The next day, on the cross, Jesus cried “It is finished!” Everything about the Old Covenant– all the laws, the rituals, the sacrifices and the types–were all fulfilled in Christ. The Old Covenant had served its purpose (as a schoolmaster that points the sinner to Christ) and is now fulfilled. God made it obsolete in the death/burial/resurrection of Christ.
When was God’s covenant with Israel abolished? In AD 70 God used the Roman army to utterly destroy the Temple. Just as Jesus prophesied forty years earlier (Matthew 24), the Romans did not leave one stone standing upon another. This destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple and the Old Covenant way of worship was prophesied by the prophets and Jesus for centuries. Israel had been unfaithful to the covenant they had with God, and God therefore abolished it and instituted a new covenant. Again, it is not as if there was no good purpose for the Old Covenant. If it were not for the Law (the biblical way of describing the Old Covenant), Paul would not have known sin. The Law acted as a mirror, reflecting back to the Hebrews their sinfulness and God's holiness. In addition, the Law, particularly through its festivals, rituals and symbols, portrayed a coming Anointed One (Messiah) who Himself would take away the sins of the world. When the Messiah came and fulfilled the Law, the Old Covenant was made obsolete by God, grew old in time, and was eventually abolished (disappeared) in AD 70. The Temple was gone.
The dwelling place of God in the new agreement that He has made with sinners, called the New Covenant, is the life of the individual believer. It is the life of God in the soul of man that is the true miracle of the New Covenant. The power of the Spirit of God changes the sinner from the inside/out. We are the Temple of the Living God. For this reason, any institutional church that tries to substitute itself as the old Temple, its pastors/priests as the Old priesthood, and operate by Old Testament "if/then" principles and promises, is denying the truth of the New Testament.
The New Covenant changes the way we worship God every day of our lives. The Old Covenant agreement between God and Israel was a come see religion. Come see the Temple. Come see the rituals. Come see the festivals. The New Covenant is a go tell religion. Go tell sinners of the Savior who has guaranteed the Creator’s goodness to those who trust Him. Christianity is radically spiritual, internal, personal, and trans-cultural (all people). Some of the best worship you can have is with family or a small group of believers around a camp fire at a lake, or at home around the dinner table, or at a backyard barb-e-que. Believers are the church. God dwells in us. Where we are, there He is. We don't behave one way 'at church' and another way everywhere else. We can't do this because we ARE the church. Further, since the life of God is in the invidual sinner who trusts Christ, there is no hierarchical authority in the church. Every believer is a priest unto God.
(Example 1): If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land” (II Chronicles 7:14).
That is a great Old Covenant promise. Israel often failed this condition of humble repentance, and as a result, they were often taken captive by foreigners and there land was destroyed. This verse, often quoted by Christians, is not a New Covenant promise.
In the New Covenant God says that He "is able to do far more abundantly beyond all we even ask or think, according to the power that works within us" (Eph. 3:20). This is the New Covenant promise. When you come to God by faith in Christ, God resides within you and has begun a work in you that He will carry to completion. Do you find yourself pulled toward addictive sins as a believer? He will eventually break you of them for your good and for His glory. The alcoholic who comes to God by faith in Christ need not worry that a relapse into drunkenness will cause the favor and goodness of God to withdraw from Him. In the old agreement he would have worried, because in the old agreement it was his obedience that ensured God's goodness, but in the New Covenant it is God's goodness to Him in Christ that ensures the sinners' eventual obedience. God is conforming, and He will continue to conform, every sinner who trusts Christ into the image of His Son. It is a guarantee dependent upon His fidelity and strength not your own.
(Example 2)“If you bring the tithe … then I will rebuke the devourer for you” (Malachi 3:10).
This is an often quoted Old Covenant promise by pastors, used as an enticement (and/or threat) for the New Testament believer to give to his or her local church. This promise, given to Old Covenant Israel, is another if/then promise. The rebuke of the devourer is given IF Israel brings their tithes to the Temple. If the people of Israel do not bring their tithe to the Temple, then the devourer is free to reign and destroy their possessions.
(Example 3): “If you call upon me in the day of trouble; then I will deliver you” (Psalm 50:15).
Again, that is a great Old Covenant promise, but it is nowhere close to the incredible truth of the New Covenant Scriptures.In the New Covenant, God delivers His people even when they find themselves emotionally, spiritually and personally “dead in our trespasses and sins" (Ephesians 2:1). His amazing and agressive love for His people through Christ ensures that He will "never, no never, no never" (five negatives in the original) leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). It is interesting that in the first portion of Hebrews 13:5 says that we should have "the kind of character that is free from the love of money BECAUSE God will never leave us or forsake." We do not live this way IN ORDER for God to never leave us or forsake us. Words are important.
In the New Covenant our lives are a response to God's goodness to us in Christ. In the Old Covenant, people lived their lives in order to obtain God's goodness. If you ever find yourself being motivated to do something in order to get God to do something in return, you are living under the principles of the Old Covenant. Unfortunately, the Old Covenant, and Old Covenant churches, and Old Covenant promises will always let you down. However, the new agreement that God has with sinners will never let you down. "He is able to save to the uttermost (i.e. a guarantee that you will never be cut off from God's goodness) those who draw near to God through Him” (Hebrews 7:25).
This post might have turned upside down your understanding of "the church." If so, I hope you might land on the realization that you are the church and the Spirit of Christ is changing you from the inside out.