Sunday, March 26, 2017

When Is a Church No Longer a Church?

Image result for lime green rambler car
My Nash Rambler looked like this (not my photo)

When I was an undergraduate at Northern Illinois University I was part of a social fraternity. One morning I left the fraternity house to go to a class on campus. I got in my lime green Nash Rambler, turned the key, and heard a strange sound come from under the hood. The sound was followed by the smell of burning rubber. I got out of the car, lifted the hood, and saw smoke coming from melted wires. My Rambler was finished.

I walked into classes that day. When I returned to the fraternity house the Rambler was gone. Some of my fraternity brothers had the car towed to the center of campus, and were charging students a dollar to hit it with a sledge hammer. When I saw my beloved car it was no longer recognizable.

When is a car no longer a car? When it loses its radio? No, even without a radio a car is still a car. When it gets repainted? When a headlight goes out? When the bumper falls off? Even with all these losses, it is still a car.

When Henry Ford made his first car, it had some essentials that cars still have, one hundred years later. Shapes, sizes, weight, materials, are different today. But the first Ford had wheels, a steering wheel, seats, and an engine. These are the essentials. The original Ford had them. So do cars today. Don't let anyone try to sell you a car if it doesn't have the essentials of the original.

There was an Original Church. Jesus is building it in the Gospels. We see it birthed in the book of Acts. The Original Church was in many ways different than churches today. The Original Church didn't have permanent buildings to meet in. Today, we do. The original church didn't have Bibles. We do. They wore different clothing than we wear. Today, many things are different than they were in the original church. But some things are not supposed to change.

When Jesus made the first church it had some essentials. Spiritual gifts like speaking in tongues and prophecy happened. People prayed for the sick with great expectancy. They experienced signs and wonders. The original church perceived itself to be in a spiritual battle against Satan and demons. Indeed, this was seen as the reason for our struggles; viz., that we battle against spiritual principalities and powers, rather than flesh and blood.

All this was empowered by the Holy Spirit. In the book of Acts we see constant demonstrations of power (dunamis) and authority (exousia). Surely there was far more of this going on than what has been written down.

But now, sadly, these essentials are missing in many American churches. They are not taught, they are not experienced, they are even spoken against, and they are, to some, an embarrassment. A.W. Tozer saw this, and wrote:

"If the Holy Spirit was withdrawn from the church today, 95 percent of what we do would go on and no one would know the difference. If the Holy Spirit had been withdrawn from the New Testament church, 95 percent of what they did would stop, and everybody would know the difference." (Tozer, in Michael Brown, Authentic Fire, pp. 54-55)

If Peter and Paul and the first-century Jesus-followers saw the American Church today, they would find it unrecognizable. A "church" without miracles, signs, wonders, spiritual gifts, healings, expectation, power, and the Holy Spirit? Don't let anyone try to sell you a church if it doesn't have the essentials of the Original.

My first book is Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.
I'm currently writing book #2 - Leading the Presence-Driven Church (Summer 2017)