Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Are We (Really) Practicing Christianity?

According to the New Testament, the Christian faith was inaugurated at Pentecost when the Holy Spirit, in fulfillment of Joel 2:28-32, was poured out on all flesh. From that day forward, the followers of Jesus became empowered to preach the Gospel, baptize new believers, plant churches, and share communion with other believers. Everyone was in the ministry of Jesus Christ. There was no distinction between clergy and laity because in their minds, every follower of Jesus was “…being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ." – 1 Peter 2:5

When the Spirit of Almighty God was poured out on all flesh at Pentecost, those first Christians got it. They understood that the same Holy Spirit of God that once rested over the ark of the covenant behind a 300 pound veil in the Temple of Jerusalem was now living within their own hearts. They were excited beyond belief and consumed with a fire and a passion to share this living presence of God with everyone they knew.

The original Christian church was one “not made with human hands”. Rather than following “the pattern of this world” the Biblical Christian church was birthed by the Spirit of God, empowered by words of Christ, and under submission to the Father. Simply put, the Christian church we read about in the New Testament was something that God was doing, not men. In contrast to our Church today, the first Christians were ordained by the Holy Spirit of God Himself and sent out to proclaim the Gospel, the Good News, that the Kingdom of God had come to every man, woman and child.

The artificial, man-made hierarchy we see in the Christian church today is not what the Church practiced under the Apostles in the New Testament. Instead of a Body made up entirely of Spirit-filled ministers of the Gospel, the Christian church eventually surrendered this heavenly model for a more top-down approach.

As one New Testament scholar, Howard Snyder, put it:

"The clergy-laity dichotomy is…a throwback to the Old Testament priesthood. It is one of the principal obstacles to the church effectively being God’s agent of the kingdom today because it creates a false idea that only ‘holy men,’ namely, ordained ministers, are really qualified and responsible for leadership and significant ministry. In the New Testament there are functional distinctions between various kinds of ministries but no hierarchical division between clergy and laity. The New Testament teaches us that the church is a community in which all are gifted and all have ministry.”

I believe this is partly why Jesus strategically chose his disciples from among the most common and ordinary strata of society. He wanted to make sure that when a run-of-the-mill fisherman stood up and proclaimed the Gospel no one would bow down and worship him. Instead, the people saw ordinary men and women just like themselves, uneducated, dirty, and painfully normal, who had been caught up into the eternal purpose of God.

When Peter spoke under the power of the Holy Spirit, or when Paul prayed for people to be healed, or when any of those unnamed disciples ministered to one another in the Body, everyone knew it was God doing the work, not the people themselves.

“When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.” – Acts 4:13

When they gathered together it wasn’t to hear words of “eloquence or superior wisdom” but to experience Jesus in their midst as the Head of the Body and to share Him through a communion that went beyond bread and wine. The original, New Testament Christians were empowered, “not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power” (1 Cor 2:1-5).

The Church is what God is doing, not what we are doing. We are living stones, but only because we are filled with the Life of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. Gathering apart from that is just a gathering. When we come together, to the Living Stone, we also like living stones are built up into a holy priesthood, offering sacrifices of praise to celebrate our Risen Lord who is present with us in the meeting.

Can you imagine being in a room with Jesus and allowing someone other than Him to speak for over an hour? Can you imagine experiencing the awesome presence of the Spirit of the Living God and reading announcements?

The Body of Christ is an expression of the tangible, resurrected Christ. Have we settled for less? Have we become comfortable listening to the wisdom of Men rather than waiting quietly for the whisper of our Eternal Creator?

As I ponder these questions I am left with an awful question: Am I really practicing Christianity or am I practicing Churchianity? Because the more I read the New Testament the more I see a people who were caught up in something beyond themselves. They were the most common, uneducated, normal people you can imagine. Even their leaders were humble, ordinary, everyday men and women who saw themselves as fortunate participants in the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy and the heart’s desire of Almighty God to reveal Himself to the World.

Is that how I see myself? Is that how I practice my faith? If what I am practicing doesn’t resemble Christianity as the New Testament reveals it, then what in the world am I practicing?


Anthony said...

Check out the account in Exodus where two guys keep prophesying and Moses' handlers try to restrain them. Moses wasn't threatened by it and said he wished that all of God's people could be touched by the Spirit in such a way ... in Christ we have the fulfillment.

Joe said...

Good questions.

Anonymous said...

Great article and you have pointed out the great differential between present day and first century Christianity. Most of what we practice today came from the Constantine era where he attempted to maintain control over the empire through the practice of Christianity. Hence the priesthood...

Keep up the good work!