Saturday, June 2, 2012

The Called Out Ones- Pt. 1

I believe that within modern Christianity we have a serious problem. Because of the emphasis being placed on "the church” rather than on Christ, there are many people who have been converted to the church or institution, to a worship style, a set of precepts or doctrines, to a theological system, a denomination or to a movement or a Sunday worship experience rather than to Jesus Christ.

I was one of these for many years. Born and raised in 'the church' I was institutionalized, but not regenerate. I was safe from the “world” but not saved. I was the product of a Christian religious system but not of the new birth by the Holy Spirit.

As Tom Skinner used to say:
The gospel is not about the church. It’s not about going to church or joining the church. The gospel is about Jesus Christ. The root of the word Christian is CHRIST. C H R I S T - i a n - “Christ in you, living His life through you - without any help or assistance from you!”

To quote the late Keith Green:

“Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than going to Mc Donald’s makes you a hamburger.”
History reveals that the early followers of Jesus did not call themselves Christians. In actuality they often referred to themselves as "the Way". They wore no denominational labels and were primarily called by their given names like, Bill, Sue, Corneleus, Nicodemas or of course, George.
The term Christian was a label placed upon the early believers by the surrounding pagan culture of the first century. It was because of their radical identification with Jesus Christ, which bordered on obsession, that “they were called Christians first in Antioch”.
It is true that the prevailing culture always seeks to identify or vilify any new sociological phenomenon by giving it a label - so, they labeled these Christ followers as "Christians". When you read how these early followers of Jesus were persecuted and even martyred, it is obvious that the term “Christian” was a derogatory label - much as we might identify followers of Sun Yung Moon as Moonies! I think “those Christians” was said more with a sneer than with a smile or with adoration.
Much of our Western obsession with the primacy of “the church" finds its roots in a single encounter with our Lord and Peter. The Lord asks Peter:
"Who do you say that I am?"
Peter's reply:
“You are the Christ the Son of the Living God!"
Our Lord’s response to Peter's statement of faith was;
Blessed are you Simeon Bar Jonah for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you but my Father who is in heaven. And I say that you are Peter and upon this rock I will build my church (ekklesia in Greek or 'called out ones') and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.”
The mistake we have made when we have read of our Lord's reference to the Greek ekklesia or "church", is that we have placed the emphasis on the wrong thing! We have put the emphasis on the word “church” rather than where it belongs! It properly belongs on the revelation (or epi gnosis) of the diety of Jesus Christ.
Jesus says to Simeon, “What you have just said, Simeon; that I am the Messiah the son of the living god is not something you have figured out for yourself. It's not just some new 'truth" . It is more than some memorized creed or knowledge (gnosis). You didn’t figure this out for yourself but what you have professed is a revelation which came directly from my father in heaven. And so I tell you, that upon this revelation I will build my ekklesia - my church - my called out ones - my congregation.”
But we Christians have a problem. We immediately recognize the words “build” and “church”. It does not require much of a stretch of the imagination to construe that our Lord is going to “build” something called a church. Since Jesus was a carpenter’s son it is natural to assume that He (Jesus) is talking about constructing some natural edifice. If only Jesus had Home Depot...!
But there is more to our Lord's reply than meets the eye. Let’s look at this statement again. I will use bold and CAPS to signify where I believe we place emphasis and where it should be!
And upon this rock I will BUILD my CHURCH”...
As opposed to “And upon this rock (this revelation) I will build MY church!"
I believe our Lord’s emphasis is on I & MY.
My church, My called out ones, My ekklesia, My congregation as opposed to someone else's
My My My!
Because of our cultural christian conditioning, it is true that for almost all of us the English word “church” is a loaded word. It is pregnant with meaning and imagery. It is a word that immediately paints a religious word picture. Be honest.
When I say the word “Church” what do you see?
Most people see a building – a sacred space – a place set aside for the purpose of gathering to worship. If it was our Lords intention to refer to a religious gathering, why did He not use the term synagogue? Peter, as a Jew, would have immediately understood the Lord’s reference as meaning a sacred space where Jewish believers gathered to worship and read the Torah or words of God given to Moses . Peter would have instantly gotten the picture. But, for some strange reason our Lord chose a secular governmental GREEK word - ekklesia - instead of synagogue or even "temple". Interesting! Is this perhaps significant?! (we will explore the implications of this further in a subsequent article).
Given my early childhood christian cultural conditioning, when I hear of the word church I immediately remember this little rhyme I learned in Sunday school.
This is the church and this is the steeple
Open the doors and see all the people!
Hmmmmm, Church, steeple, doors, people.
The truth is that the ekklesia or church of Jesus Christ, is NOT a gathering to worship or even a place of worship. The ekklesia of God is a people, His family, the called out community of the redeemed to whom He "adds daily those who are being saved" (i.e. born again of the Spirit). Jesus’ church, as scripture attests, is built with living stones! It is a living, breathing spiritual entity which only HE builds - not an edifice or organization which WE build!
Though the church, the redeemed of the Lord, will gather or congregate, it is not the act of gathering that makes it a church - no more than gathering or congregating around the dinner table in a home makes you a family. "Church" an organic term that describes an organic or blood relationship - a people - a family - offspring of God - the called out of the Lord.

It is a fact that within western Christendom there are millions of believers who are leaving or have left the institutional church or organized religion. Despite the phenomenon of the mega-church, statistically, church attendance and membership in America and in the Western world is in serious decline! As George Barna points out, the current exodus from the institutional church cannot be attributed solely to rugged American individualism, or the "just me and Jesus" or 'Lone Ranger' mentality! This 'going out' is not just because people are disgruntled, desiring a less restrictive environment or because they are apostate. It is not necessarily because they are rebellious against authority or not willing to "be accountable".
For many it is not because they are no longer desirous of "fellowship" or closeness with our Lord and each other - IT IS BECAUSE THEY ARE!!
I believe that for many, not all, this exodus from traditional 'church' structures is the result of a deep desire for something more! It is an expression of a desire to experientially know Christ - not only individually but also within the context of corporate community life.

Although the perception of many is that these “marginal Christians” are “dropping out”, quitting God or “backsliding”, this is not necessarily the case. Leaving the institutional church for many is not running away FROM something but running TO something. For many "defectors" it is a breaking free from legalism and the religious performance trap. It represents a reaching out for a deeper and more intimate relationship with God and brothers and sisters in Christ.
The one word which I think sums it all up is a desire for
It is about the pursuit of a personal intimate loving relationship for which there is no satisfying substitute.
Though some are simply leaving for whatever reason, still many others are being “called out” which is the essence of the word church. Many are leaving their nets, their religious preoccupations because they hear hearing a clear clarion call to “Come follow Me!”
To me this "being called out" is indeed a sign that our Lord is still building HIS church.
My own personal call to come follow me and subsequent exodus from organized religion has made it possible for me to "grow up" and to learn to function as something more than just a Sunday spectator. It has challenged and empowered me to grow in intimate fellowship with the Lord and with His people. I have grown into a discovery of my unique person-hood and position in Christ. I have begun to mature and have learned to be an instrument of His love to others.
Instead of being a 'Christian consumer' I am becoming a giver, a builder and a channel of God’s grace and love to others. Instead of doing for Jesus, I am learning to focus on becoming like Jesus! Instead of being on the sidelines, sitting on the bench or pew as a passive observer or paying consumer, I have become an active participant! Instead of being a perpetual spiritual infant crying to be fed, I am growing up in the Lord, maturing and learning to feed not only myself but others. Instead of remaining in a state of perpetual infancy, I am growing and moving towards spiritual maturity. Instead of being a child I am becoming a son!
I must admit this has not been an easy road to travel. Since being called out of my Christian comfort zone, much of my journey has been spent wandering in the wilderness. It has often been a lonely, difficult and painful experience but growing pains are a part of growing up and, as my athletic daughter loves to say, "No pain no gain."
Modern Christianity or “Churchianity” often refers to the need to reach 'the unchurched', as though integrating everyone into 'the institutional church' or 'building the church' organization is God’s ultimate purpose. I do not find the concept of the churched or unchurched anywhere in the New Testament. The two groups I see are the saved or redeemed and the unsaved or lost. We, as believers desperately need to acknowledge that "the church" or building the church is not the reason d'etre or end all and be all of the plans and purposes of God. Our Lord is not building an institution, a denomination, organization, or a new religious system.
Jesus IS building His church, His ekklesia, Hiscalled out” ones, His body!
The scriptures attest that what our Lord is building, He is building out of living stones! It is His Church (ekklesia), a spiritual house which He 'edifies' (builds up) to the praise of His glory. It is His and not OURS and personally, I don’t think He needs our help half as much as we think He does.
It is imperative we understand that Jesus did NOT come to create a new religious system to replace Judaism or Paganism!
God’s ultimate purpose has always been to have a people for Himself - children, offspring, sons and daughters – a family! God’s new creation is His body which is a living breathing expression of Himself - an extension of the life and order of heaven.
The church is not an organization but a living organism!
Our calling is not about "building" a house for the Lord as did Solomon for we are told: "Our God does not dwell in temples made with hands."
He dwells in US!
"Know you not that YOU are the temple of the Holy Spirit!"
It is neither a divine institution nor a new religion but Christ in you (and I ) that is the hope of glory!

1 comment:

  1. "The one word which I think sums it all up is a desire for
    It is about the pursuit of a personal intimate loving relationship for which there is no satisfying substitute."

    Thank you for all that you said in this post. It really resonates in me. This desire for intimacy is key, I believe. Not only with Him, but with those that He gives us in Him. Learning to live in this intimacy, in His love together, is, to me, what we're here to do. Knowing who are ours by His Spirit takes revelation, part of Him building His Church. I pray that we all have revelation of what He is doing, and submit ourselves to living it.


Please consider your comments carefully as this is a public site. All comments will be moderated and if found to be argumentative, inflammatory or offensive they will be deleted. We are thankful for your input! Please add us to your favorites! Blessings!