Grow old along with me!
The best is yet to be,
The last of life, for which the first was made:
Our times are in His hand
Who saith “A whole I planned,
Youth shows but half; trust God: see all, nor be afraid!”
From Rabbi ben Ezra by Robert Browning
Taken from my grandfather’s poetry book. I like the sentiment of this first stanza.
Authentic is all the rage at the moment. We want honest people, transparent ideals, reality, authenticity. This need for authenticity has seeped into the Church too. Of course, it is a genuine need and one that becomes more necessary with every generation of Church. As we become involved in our local fellowship, as one generation passes on to another we gradually accumulate that which is not biblical and include it in our traditions – and that is what they are: extrabiblical traditions. That’s what the Pharisees became and promoted – human tradition over biblical truth. The thing is, we can as easily make a tradition out of modern praise as we can out of singing 300 year old hymns. It’s not the what but the why that matters.
As I look around me I can see churches and denominations failing. I can see new startups beginning to address these traditions, but very often lacking a sound basis for that change. To be honest, give them 20 years of existence and they will have their own traditions to pass on.
So, how do we get it right? How do we get to authentic Church?
The first thing to realise is that we are already authentic Church if we are born again of the Spirit of God! Throughout the Bible God promises: “They will be my people, I will be their God!” This is our true position, we belong to Him, wholly, as a people, our identity is bound up in His ownership of and inhabiting of us as a people.
The second thing to realise is that we must live as that people and in order to do that we must understand fully just who we are in Christ. Note that I said ‘who we are’, not ‘who I am’ or ‘who you (singular) are’. God called us as a people, sent His Son to be our Groom and we His bride. There’s no place for individualism in the Church. You can’t just sit it out until Christ returns and listen to the God channel on TV.
I’ve attached a PDF that gives a fuller summary, a study that I prepared over 10 years ago, but which I am still convinced would help if we applied it to our understanding of how we ‘do Church’. But I’d like to summarise three things that to me are the hallmarks of Church. These are in order for a reason. We first of all look Godward, secondly we look to one another as God’s people and thirdly, on the basis of the first two things, we look outwardly in witness and evangelism.
Everything is for God, this universe that He created, the people in it, everything has a solitary purpose for existence: the glory of God. Without this the world has no meaning, the universe has no meaning, our lives have no meaning. We must always look to God first. In our personal lives, and in our corporate lives as the chosen people of the Creator of the universe and sustainer of all things. If we do not do everything to God, for God, in God, then nothing else will matter. All the good deeds in the world done outside of a Godward heart are in vain.
Our doing Church authentically can only be done so wholeheartedly seeking to know God, to touch God, to relate with Him as His people, as He intended. We must rigorously, vigorously channel all that we do as a local church through this attitude. If we do not look to God first and foremost we can do nothing of eternal import.
This is the true nature of worship: we sing in Him and to Him, we serve in Him and to Him, we weep in Him and to Him, we live only and ever in Him and to Him. To do so as a gathered people is to glorify Him as He intended.
Edification literally means to build up. As we look to God we worship, as we look to one another, understanding who we are in God we should have a heart to help, to build, to encourage, to make one another more able to serve God, because to do so glorifies God and builds up that of which we are also a part – in helping others we please God and help ourselves.
I know that seeker sensitive has been a watchword for a generation of believers, but I honestly believe that edification comes before evangelism. How can we witness when we don’t know how? How can we bring in new believers when the Church is not working as it should?
Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.
The imperative of the Great Commission is to make disciples – that’s evangelism and edification rolled into one. We have the most incredible message of hope for a hopeless world. Even if it was not a command, we must feel the obligation to share the Good News. As the Godward living people of God, understanding just what that means, as mutually encouraging and edifying believers that faith must overflow the local fellowship into the community.
The story is told of a child who asked his dad: “How big was Jesus?”, the dad thought for a moment and then gave an educated guess. The child, who obviously had been thinking things through responded: “If he’s that big, and I ask Him to live in me, then he’s going to stick out somewhere.” Jesus should stick out in our lives: He’s too big to be contained. That’s our evangelism as a natural outworking of our worship and edification.
So, with each generation of Church and local church we need to strip back to the essentials. Identify tradition for what it is. If it helps, keep it, but only as it helps, never as a rule, and never on a par with Scripture truth. Get your priorities right and see the church, God’s people as God’s, and not ours. Seek him and His Kingdom and all the rest will fall into place.
“so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory.” Ephesians 1:12