As John Stott said, “Christianity is not a religion. It is not an institution. It is a Person. Christianity is Christ. It is all Christ Christ Christ Christ: knowing Him, loving Him, serving Him, trusting Him, gaining Him – to live is Christ! ”. Similarly, the Church life is all about a corporate Christ, expressed in our life together.
This post consists of words from Wayne Jacobsen and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Their insight below are among the most precious for those who want to dig deeper into the pursuit of church life.
From Wayne Jacobsen,
“Calling something a movement inflates our own sense of importance and separates us from the multi- faceted working of God that transcends any particular way of doing things. Many years ago I was part of a denomination that called itself a movement. We used that term to make people feel that they were part of something more significant than other ‘less enlightened’ believers who didn’t do things the way we did. I think God grieves at such distinctions.”
“Everywhere I go now, people ask me about the ‘house church movement,’ hoping it will provide the answer to their hunger for real body life. While I greatly prefer relational environments to institutional ones, every time I hear the word ‘movement’ my heart sinks. I’m convinced that the day we call what God is doing a movement is the day it has already begun to die. I’ve seen many movements come and go —Charismatic, discipleship, deliverance, healing, intercession, spiritual warfare, prophetic, worship, and apostolic just to name a few. All of them came up hollow in the end, not because God wasn’t in some of it, but because people hijacked his work to serve their own needs and ambitions.”
“Labeling the joy of learning to share Christ’s life in our homes as the ‘House Church Movement’ takes our focus off of Christ and puts it either on the uniqueness of our methods or the voices of self-appointed experts. Either way, we trade our focus on Jesus for our own self-needs and miss the joy of authentic body life.”
“Experiencing the joy of authentic fellowship begins when we realize that all our dependence must be centered on Jesus himself. We don’t share fellowship because we need to. We don’t do it to get our needs met. True fellowship can only be known where our dependence upon Christ spills out in our love for others. Knowing the joy and freedom of his life, we can’t help but share it with others. Scripture is clear. True life is only found in Jesus. There is life in no other—not even a correct arrangement of Christians in houses or buildings. That’s what Paul meant when he called Jesus the Head of the Church, declaring that it was God’s purpose for him to have first place in everything. Our needs are not the focus of body life. His presence living among us is.”“We’ve taught for years the mistaken notion that we need to go to church to fill up on the life of God. Not true! We can only fill up on God’s life through a transforming relationship with the Father through his Son. We were never meant to come to fill ourselves with church, but to live full of him and then share his life together with God’s people.”“But people who are learning to live deeply in a relationship with Jesus will find the sheer joy of sharing life with others who are doing the same. They can cross paths for a moment, or walk together for years, without having to manipulate or control each other. Because those people will realize that Jesus is the only one in control after all. Unfortunately most believers have no idea how to live that way. We seem content to keep them dependent on our programs and services. It explains why so many expressions of church always promise more than they deliver. We can tinker forever with different methods of church life, but if we don’t get this right, all our efforts will fall short. If you need help find some people who are living this way, who are not gathering a ‘band of disciples’, and ask for their help.”“Church life grows out of a group of people who are focused on Jesus. Focus on the church, and you will always be disappointed. Focus on Jesus and you will find him building the church all around you.”
From Dietrich Bonhoeffer (from His book, Life Together),
“Those who love their dream of a Christian community more than they love the Christian community itself become destroyers of that Christian community even though their personal intentions may be ever so honest, earnest and sacrificial. God hates this wishful dreaming because it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious. Those who dream of this idolized community demand that it be fulfilled by God, by others and by themselves. They enter the community of Christians with their demands set up by their own law, and judge one another and God accordingly. It is not we who build. Christ builds the church. Whoever is mindful to build the church is surely well on the way to destroying it, for he will build a temple to idols without wishing or knowing it. We must confess he builds. We must proclaim, he builds. We must pray to him, and he will build. We do not know his plan. We cannot see whether he is building or pulling down. It may be that the times which by human standards are the times of collapse are for him the great times of construction. It may be that the times which from a human point are great times for the church are times when it’s pulled down. It is a great comfort which Jesus gives to his church. You confess, preach, bear witness to me, and I alone will build where it pleases me. Do not meddle in what is not your providence. Do what is given to you, and do it well, and you will have done enough…. Live together in the forgiveness of your sins. Forgive each other every day from the bottom of your hearts.”
“God hates visionary dreaming; it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious. The man who fashions a visionary ideal of community demands that it be realized by God, by others, and by himself. He enters the community of Christians with his demands, sets up his own laws, and judges the brethren and God himself accordingly. He stands adamant, a living reproach to all others in the circle of the brethren. He acts as if he is the creator of the Christian community, as if his dream binds men together.
When things do not go his way, he calls the effort a failure. When his ideal picture is destroyed, he sees the community going to smash. So he becomes, first an accuser of his brethren, then an accuser of God, and finally the despairing accuser of himself.Because God has already laid the only foundation of our fellowship, because God has bound us together in one body with other Christians in Jesus Christ, long before we entered into common life with them, we enter into that common life not as demanders but as thankful recipients. We thank God for giving us brethren who live by his call, by his forgiveness, and his promise. We do not complain of what God does not give us; we rather thank God for what he does give us daily.
And is not what has been given us enough: brothers, who will go on living with us through sin and need under the blessing of his grace? Is the divine gift of Christian fellowship anything less than this, any day, even the most difficult and distressing day?Even when sin and misunderstanding burden the communal life, is not the sinning brother still a brother, with whom I, too, stand under the Word of Christ? Will not his sin be a constant occasion for me to give thanks that both of us may live in the forgiving love of God in Christ Jesus? Thus, the very hour of disillusionment with my brother becomes incomparably salutary, because it so thoroughly teaches me that neither of us can ever live by our own words and deeds, but only by the one Word and Deed which really binds us together–the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ. When the morning mists of dreams vanish, then dawns the bright day of Christian fellowship.
If we do not give thanks daily for the Christian fellowship in which we have been places, even where there is no great experience, no discoverable riches, but much weakness, small faith, and difficulty; if on the contrary, we only keep complaining to God that everything is so paltry and petty, so far from what we expected, then we hinder God from letting our fellowship grow according to the measure and riches which are there for us all in Jesus Christ.This applies in a special way to the complaints often heard from pastors and zealous members about their congregations.
A pastor should not complain about his congregations, certainly never to other people, but also not to God. A congregation has not been entrusted to him in order that he should become its accuser before God and men. When a person becomes alienated from a Christian community in which he has been placed and begins to raise complaints about it, he had better examine himself first to see whether the trouble is not due to his wish dream that should be shattered by God; and if this be the case, let him thank God for leading him into this predicament.But if not, let him nevertheless guard against ever becoming an accuser of the congregation before God. Let him rather accuse himself for his unbelief. Let him pray to God for understanding of his own failure and his particular sin, and pray that he may not wrong his brethren. Let him, in the consciousness of his own guilt, make intercession for his brethren. Let him do what he is committed to do, and thank God.
What may appear weak and trifling to us may be great and glorious to God. Just as the Christian should not be constantly feeling his spiritual pulse, so, too, the Christian community has not been given to us by God for us to be constantly taking its temperature. The more thankfully we daily receive what is given to us, the more surely and steadily will fellowship increase and grow from day to day as God pleases.”