Saturday, December 26, 2009

Living our Christian Faith Together.

In my first essay I spoke about returning to unity-based fellowship as a stepping stone to rediscovering the power of Jesus.
Today I have another issue for us to consider, the neglect of community in our modern Christian lives.

In the last five decades I have seen the erosion of community in society in general. The corner store was squeezed out by the supermarket; the local urban cop is no more. We know few others in our streets these days. Spontaneous local support has been largely replaced by professional ‘care-givers’ A church elder once regularly visited every family in the parish. Nowadays the churches are often closed during the week and the needy soul no longer has access to a caring father heart, rather a professional counsellor at a cost.

As if God had an answer to this trend, back in the 70’s many mainline churches experienced very significant growth, assisted initially by the evangelism crusades of Billy Graham, and later Luis Palau and others, but more significantly, a re-discovery of signs and wonders Christianity akin to that recorded in the book of Acts.
There was a great deal of bible study going on then, as leaders and lay alike tried to understand how this new mode of Christian life with phenomena like healing and prophecy, and a strong sense of community among believers should be lived.
Families were beginning to break bread together with friends – unheard of before.
At that time various attempts were made to establish some form of Christian community with varying success. There was a tension between the house meetings that spontaneously sprung up and the official church-based activities. Would they try to grow into churches, would control be lost? Would the church lose out on the tithes?
During this period of New Zealand church history there were many outstanding miracles as Jesus was for a time able to move with a fluid body of believers but this was not to last.
Strong ‘cover’ teaching began to reign in many of the believers who were enjoying a vibrant but threatening walk with Jesus. Little theological room was given to the notion of a corporate cooperating body of believers in a district having daily fellowship outside the organised programmes of the church.

Now the mandate for corporate living goes back a long way in fact scripturally precedes the birth of the church. Further the first churches functioned with a vibrant community in support, in which there was sharing of possessions, elimination of material hardship and a resulting material equality (Acts2 2:42-47 and 2 Cor 8: 13-15)
We are light years away from this today and are missing out on being the visible testimony of Gods love in the process.
Jesus indicated in John 17:23 that the visible unity of the believers was a key aspect of evangelism. The modern church has lacked significant conversion growth for decades for this reason.
Not only do we lack this vibrant community today but many of the modern churches are without shame adopting a business or an army model, alienating those who naturally seek a family experience.

What then is the answer?
We need to let the Church attend to matters like the call to corporate worship, apostolic teaching, and prayer while the believers in community are devoted to neighbourhood fellowship, lay ministry, market place evangelism, as a separate yet co-operating spiritual entity, visible to the world. Then the gathering of the saints for church worship would be an occasion to share testimony of what the Lord has done, with the associated spontaneous response of praise and thanks upon which true worship naturally builds.
The challenge is to implement a structural change to the way we do our Christianity.
No longer should all our Christian activity proceed from the ‘vision’ of the local church. Families with a like call to Christian living should combine and become an effective expression of Jesus in their neighbourhood. This movement would cut across the denominational divide and feed back new life into all the churches. Many believers who have given up attending church would relate to such a vibrant non-church life and return to fellowship.
This model tends to operate in parts of the world where Christianity is under persecution. While it is true that true faith under pressure produces resurrection life, why wait for things to get worse when we can combine now?
There is little opportunity for Church leaders to step outside traditional thinking and grapple with the issues being raised here let alone implement such change.
That change can however happen from initiatives that you and I make. I invite you to pray about who you can meet with on a regular basis to pray together and with God’s direction begin to combine together as we read in the early chapters of Acts.

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