Archive for the ‘Fyodor Dostoyevsky’ Tag
This is from the blog Disparate Truths:
I write as my heart is broken, as I anticipated it would be. It was broken by reading Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Idiot. During the many hours I have spent not only reading but also meditating on the message and meaning of this work, I have been, as Dostoevsky might say, drawn into a terrible feeling which has been attempting, for the most part unsuccessfully and frustratingly, to become a thought. Two thoughts, specifically, and I would like to share them.
A very short background to the novel: Dostoevsky’s intent for the novel was “to depict a thoroughly good man,” as he wrote in 1868 to a friend. He saw this as an almost impossible task. Ultimately, the obsessions, intrigues and vices of the world in which the epileptic and kindhearted hero, Myshkin, shows up to in St Petersburg leave him out of his mind in an institution, the only place in this world which seems a fitting abode for such a saint. It is an incredibly moving novel with not a little insight into the human heart and mind. Dostoevsky himself, like the character he created, suffered from epileptic fits during the composition of the novel, and lost his newborn daughter not long after that letter.
The First Thought: A Painting…
In the novel, there is a recurring painting in the dimly lit house of Ragozhin, one of the darkest characters in the novel: it is Holbein’s “Christ Entombed.” One of the characters, Ippolet, reads out to a group gathered for the birthday of Myshkin an incredible critique of the painting. Ippolet is dying of tuberculosis as an 18-yr old boy and reads this excerpt from a longer essay delivered shortly before he fails to commit suicide in front of the party (his gun does not go off and nothing happens).
He reads: “I believe I stood before [the painting] for five minutes. There was nothing good about it from an artistic point of view, but it produced a strange uneasiness in me. The picture represented Christ who has only just been taken from the cross. I believe artists usually paint Christ, both on the cross and after He has been taken from the cross, still with extraordinary beauty of face…In Ragozhin’s picture there’s no trace of beauty. It is in every detail the corpse of a man who has endured infinite agony….It’s true it’s the face of a man only just taken from the cross—that is to say, still bearing traces of warmth and life. Nothing is rigid in it yet, so that there’s still a look of suffering in the face of the dead man, as though he were still feeling it….Yet the face has not been spared in the least. It is simply nature, and the corpse of a man, whoever he might be, must really look like that after such suffering….
“But, strange to say, as one looks at this corpse of a tortured man, a peculiar and curious question arises: if just such a corpse (and it must have been just like that) was seen by all His disciples…by all who believed in Him and worshipped Him, how could they believe that that martyr would rise again?
“Looking at such a picture, one conceives of nature …in the form of a huge machine of the most modern construction which, dull and insensible, has aimlessly clutched, crushed and swallowed up a great priceless Being, a Being worth all nature and its laws, worth the whole earth, which was created perhaps solely for the sake of the advent of that Being…” (380-1, from the Wordsworth edition).
We seldom look upon such a Christ, if ever. Even the feeling which arises from viewing Mel Gibson’s movie “The Passion of the Christ” seems small when compared to the painting, in which the body lying there could be any man’s, emaciated, destroyed, hideous. For the same reason, I do not like to think of what I have been through with my depression, the depths to which it has taken me. There is an abyss within the mind where there are no walls, but only what seems to be infinite blackness where one falls and falls but cannot grab hold of anything. For the same reason again, you and I rarely consider the lengths we would go to have what we want, or that the deepest part of our self is that part which considers nothing but itself important, meaningful or worthy, even while whispering to itself that this is most likely untrue.
This was my first thought. It was to meditate upon simply how dead Christ was, and what that death looks like face to face.
The Second Thought: An Abyss of Goodness
This is my second thought: It was that exact emaciated, destroyed and decaying body which lied there after the moment of the most horrible death of the most innocent and loving man, and it was at that exact time, when hope, after being dead for three days, was invisible and hidden behind a total darkness, that God raises up that body at that time as glorified perfection and the embodiment of hope.
My thought is that there are dark valleys which we have not known, but which exist in the human soul and of which only God knows, and that God is already bringing life to these places which are so dark within us that we cannot perceive them.
God has trod the path of absolute darkness, has been in its cave entombed, and has tasted the tasteless lack of all sensation and the terrible, ultimate slipping away.
God not only knows the evil which we also know of and for which we may or may not feel guilty, but the evil which we do without realizing and whose consequences extend innumerably. He sees that death which comes upon us from nature herself and that death which we pursue headlong in the great, wild hunt for that which will assuage our own soul by means of fulfilling its small and petty desires.
God has been there. God has seen it, and understood it more perfectly. God did not shrink from death, even a death as haunting as Holbein’s portrayal. Knowing it, he walked such a path willingly. Knowing us, he follows us persistently. God has reached deeper into my soul than I can ever know to tend to a garden he has planted in a place as barren as West Texas, so that not only can I eat of the fruit which he grows, but also so I may share of the fruit which all but drops into my hands and whose roots I cannot see.
I Didn’t Ask for This…
Overcome by depression a few days ago, I prayed. I wish I had always taken this first step so immediately in my life; it would have saved years of agony. I told God that I didn’t ask for this depression, and that it leads me to a place of spiritual horror where I never wanted to go. I told God that he gave me this, and that he did it on purpose. I said I that this was illogical and from my perspective causeless. But I also told God that he has never done anything but tend to that dark-soul-orchard, whether or not I put up the “no-help-wanted” sign. I concluded that if he wanted me to endure so much pain, he must have a darn good reason for it. And he does.
The greater the death we see, the sweeter will be death’s own death. The more agonizing the portrayal of Christ we can bear by God’s grace, the more the grace of God will be free and beautiful to us. The greater depths of darkness we perceive within ourselves (because they are there), the more joyous and valuable the friendship with this merciful God becomes. If you suffer, I understand, and we can certainly talk about that. But God understands better.
Holbein and Dostoevsky perfectly portrayed the beginning, the first half of the story. But the rest of the story is why the New Testament is obsessed with resurrection: it is the only true starting point for beauty, for hope, and for selfless love, that is, for life. God does not simply wait for his people to do what is good: He is already at work. Praise God.
“Head of a Prophet” by Mikhail Vrubel
This is an excerpt from a post published on the blog Grace and Truth:
The Importance of the Prophetic
The prophet represents God. He goes forth from the presence of God and speaks what God has given him to speak. The prophet speaks the Word of God in the power of the Holy Spirit. It is not just speaking the Word, it is speaking it forth in the power of an anointing borne out of intimacy with Jesus Himself. The prophet is the ambassador of Christ in this world, and so the prophet and his message are inextricably linked. A true prophet cannot be separated from the message he brings.
We see this with Ezekiel. God had a message for Israel and He had His prophet to act out what he was proclaiming to Israel. He had to lie down for a certain number of days as a sign against rebellious Israel. (Ezekiel 4)
One cannot receive the prophet himself, whilst rejecting the message he brings. And vice versa is true.
Neither can the true prophet be separated from God. When God sends someone to speak forth His Word, then he/she is speaking it on God’s behalf. Rejection of the prophet and his message therefore is rejection of God and His Word.
“He who receives you receives me, and He who receives Me receives Him who sent Me.” Matthew 10:40
The Way of the Flesh
The rejection of the Word of God is normal. What I mean by that is that it is the way of human flesh. The flesh always resists the Spirit. It always has and it always will. The flesh has its eyes blinded and its heart hardened.
“But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” 1 Corinthians 2:14
I don’t know about you, but since I was born again I left behind “normal”. I don’t want the way of the flesh anymore, I am desperate for the way of the Spirit. As followers of Christ, we who are now living by the Spirit should be able to receive and hear what the Spirit is saying to the Church regardless of whether it is a message of encouragement/edification or whether it is a message of correction/reproof. You see, the Holy Spirit wants to work in us to conform us to the image of Christ and sometimes the old needs to be torn down first before the new can be built.
Rejection of the Prophetic Word
The consequence of the rejection of the prophetic Word is judgment and death.
This may sound harsh, but there is a spiritual principle at work here.
“For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life” Galations 6:8
Because the Word of God is alive (Hebrews 4:12) when it is received it takes root in order to bring forth life, just like a little seed.
However when the Word of God is rejected, that place where life was meant to dwell becomes a vacuum. Nature abhors a vacuum and something has to take that place. What enters in is corruption. When Christ is actively rejected after the Word has been preached, a new level of corruption enters into that individual/church/city.
Jesus told the disciples what action to take with those who reject them and their words:
“And whoever will not receive you nor hear your words, when you depart from that house or city, shake off the dust from your feet. Assuredly I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorra in the day of judgment than for that city!” Matthew 10:14, 15
The action of the shaking of dust from one’s feet is an act of judgment against that place.
“The Jews thought the land of Israel so peculiarly holy, that when they came home from any heathen country, they stopped at the borders and shook or wiped off the dust of it from their feet, that the holy land might not be polluted with it. Therefore the action here enjoined was a lively intimation, that those Jews who had rejected the Gospel were holy no longer, but were on a level with heathens and idolaters.”
Jesus brings Sodom and Gomorrah into the picture as a picture of God’s judgment. It was an awful judgment of fire and brimstone against awful sin. Yet they were judged apart from the gospel of Jesus Christ—it had not been preached to them. How much more severely will God judge the place to which the gospel has been sent and rejected?
Here is my comment to the above post:
Excellent post. Sometimes it is not merely the words of a prophet that are rejected by certain people, but the prophet’s lifestyle of obedience.
But here is some more on a prophet’s words being rejected: Back in 1989 [or 1990] I was attending an Assembly of God in Ames, Iowa. I stood up and gave a testimony on how I was delivered from many demons (I think it is one of the most beautiful and powerful testimonies that I have ever given—it really glorifies God). After I gave my testimony, the pastor (Gary Pilcher) jumped out of his seat, threw the assistant pastor out of the pulpit and told me in no uncertain terms that he did not like my testimony and that I should leave the teaching to him. (I didn’t think I was doing any teaching, I was just giving a testimony of the Holy Spirit’s powerful working in my life.)
Six months later I gave a similar testimony about how I was delivered from many demons (in the mouth of two or three witnesses let every word be established). In my spirit, half of the congregation received my testimony, but the same pastor replied somewhat negatively—I don’t remember exactly what he said. Immediately, the Lord told me to take the shoes off of my feet, shake the dust off of my shoes and walk out of that church. I didn’t do it because I felt sorry for Pastor Pilcher. After the church service, I walked out the door and Pastor Pilcher followed me outside and spoke to me privately. Basically, what he said is that my testimony glorified Satan. When Gary Pilcher said that, he blasphemed the Holy Ghost; he will never get saved. A few years later, Gary Pilcher’s son died of cancer.
The last I heard, Gary Pilcher was the assistant supervisor of the Assemblies of God in central Iowa: when you reject Christ for a living, you can really be promoted up the ladder in the world system of churchianity. The wages of sin (rejecting a prophet’s testimony) is death—spiritual death and physical death. Touch not my anointed, do my prophets no harm.
“Nothing in this world is harder than speaking the truth, nothing easier than flattery.”
This is Sodom! This is Sodom!
Behold, I Send Unto You Prophets
Jackson, Wyoming Fire, 2012
This quote is from my book The First Time I Rode a Freight Train & other hitchhiking stories, page 51:
“‘The monastic way is very different. Obedience, fasting and prayer are laughed at, yet only through them lies the way to real, true freedom. I cut off my superfluous and unnecessary desires, I subdue my proud and wanton will and chastise it with obedience, and with God’s help I attain freedom of spirit and with it spiritual joy.'”
[excerpt from The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky; Book VI, “The Russian Monk”]
“We tend to use prayer as a last resort, but God wants it to be our first line of defense. We pray when there’s nothing else we can do, but God wants us to pray before we do anything at all.
“Most of us would prefer, however, to spend our time doing something that will get immediate results. We don’t want to wait for God to resolve matters in His good time because His idea of ‘good time’ is seldom in sync with ours.”
― Oswald Chambers
“Be not forgetful of prayer. Every time you pray, if your prayer is sincere, there will be new feeling and new meaning in it, which will give you fresh courage, and you will understand that prayer is an education.”
― Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov
“It is possible to know all about doctrine and still not know Jesus. A person’s soul is in grave danger when the knowledge of doctrine surpasses Jesus, avoiding intimate touch with Him.”
Missionary Quotations: Hudson Taylor
Where Have All the Monks Gone
New Testament Circumcision
Obedience: The Bondage Breaker
This is from The Wilderness Road blog:
MOST OF THE WORLD’S GREAT SOULS have been lonely. Loneliness seems to be one price the saint must pay for his saintliness.
In the morning of the world (or should we say, in that strange darkness that came soon after the dawn of man’s creation) that pious soul, Enoch, walked with God and was not, for God took him; and while it is not stated in so many words, a fair inference is that Enoch walked a path quite apart from his contemporaries.
Another lonely man was Noah who, of all the antediluvians, found grace in the sight of God; and every shred of evidence points to the aloneness of his life even while surrounded by his people.
Again, Abraham had Sarah and Lot, as well as many servants and herdmen, but who can read his story and the apostolic comment upon it without sensing instantly that he was a man “whose soul was alike a star and dwelt apart”? As far as we know not one word did God ever speak to him in the company of men. Face down he communed with his God, and the innate dignity of the man forbade that he assume this posture in the presence of others. How sweet and solemn was the scene that night of the sacrifice when he saw the lamps of fire moving between the pieces of offering. There alone with a horror of great darkness upon him he heard the voice of God and knew that he was a man marked for divine favor.
Moses also was a man apart. While yet attached to the court of Pharaoh he took long walks alone, and during one of these walks while far removed from the crowds he saw an Egyptian and a Hebrew fighting and came to the rescue of his countryman. After the resultant break with Egypt he dwelt in almost complete seclusion in the desert. There while he watched his sheep alone the wonder of the burning bush appeared to him, and later on the peak of Sinai he crouched alone to gaze in fascinated awe at the Presence, partly hidden, partly disclosed, within the cloud and fire.
The prophets of pre-Christian times differed widely from each other, but one mark they bore in common was their enforced loneliness. They loved their people and gloried in the religion of the fathers, but their loyalty to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and their zeal for the welfare of the nation of Israel drove them away from the crowd and into long periods of heaviness. “I am become a stranger unto my brethren, and an alien unto my mother’s children,” cried one and unwittingly spoke for all the rest.
Most revealing of all is the sight of that One of whom Moses and all the prophets did write treading His lonely way to the cross, His deep loneliness unrelieved by the presence of the multitudes.
‘Tis midnight, and on Olive’s brow
The star is dimmed that lately shone;
‘Tis midnight; in the garden now,
The suffering Saviour prays alone.
‘Tis midnight, and from all removed
The Saviour wrestles lone with fears,
E’en the disciple whom He loved
Heeds not his Master’s grief and tears.
-WILLIAM B. TAPPAN
He died alone in the darkness hidden from the sight of mortal man and no one saw Him when He arose triumphant and walked out of the tomb, though many saw Him afterward and bore witness to what they saw.
There are some things too sacred for any eye but God’s to look upon. The curiosity, the clamor, the well-meant but blundering effort to help can only hinder the waiting soul and make unlikely if not impossible the communication of the secret message of God to the worshiping heart.
Sometimes we react by a kind of religious reflex and repeat dutifully the proper words and phrases even though they fail to express our real feelings and lack the authenticity of personal experience. Right now is such a time. A certain conventional loyalty may lead some who hear this unfamiliar truth expressed for the first time to say brightly, “Oh, I am never lonely. Christ said, `I will never leave you nor forsake you,’ and, `Lo, I am with you alway.’ How can I be lonely when Jesus is with me?”
Now I do not want to reflect on the sincerity of any Christian soul, but this stock testimony is too neat to be real. It is obviously what the speaker thinks should be true rather than what he has proved to be true by the test of experience. This cheerful denial of loneliness proves only that the speaker has never walked with God without the support and encouragement afforded him by society. The sense of companionship which he mistakenly attributes to the presence of Christ may and probably does arise from the presence of friendly people. Always remember: you cannot carry a cross in company. Though a man were surrounded by a vast crowd, his cross is his alone and his carrying of it marks him as a man apart. Society has turned against him; otherwise he would have no cross. No one is a friend to the man with a cross. “They all forsook him, and fled.”
The pain of loneliness arises from the constitution of our nature. God made us for each other. The desire for human companionship is completely natural and right. The loneliness of the Christian results from his walk with God in an ungodly world, a walk that must often take him away from the fellowship of good Christians as well as from that of the unregenerate world. His Godgiven instincts cry out for companionship with others of his kind, others who can understand his longings, his aspirations, his absorption in the love of Christ; and because within his circle of friends there are so few who share his inner experiences he is forced to walk alone. The unsatisfied longings of the prophets for human understanding caused them to cry out in their complaint, and even our Lord Himself suffered in the same way.
The man who has passed on into the divine Presence in actual inner experience will not find many who understand him. A certain amount of social fellowship will of course be his as he mingles with religious persons in the regular activities of the church, but true spiritual fellowship will be hard to find. But he should not expect things to be otherwise. After all, he is a stranger and a pilgrim, and the journey he takes is not on his feet but in his heart. He walks with God in the garden of his own soul and who but God can walk there with him? He is of another spirit from the multitudes that tread the courts of the Lord’s house. He has seen that of which they have only heard, and he walks among them somewhat as Zacharias walked after his return from the altar when the people whispered, “He has seen a vision.”
The truly spiritual man is indeed something of an oddity. He lives not for himself but to promote the interests of Another. He seeks to persuade people to give all to his Lord and asks no portion or share for himself. He delights not to be honored but to see his Saviour glorified in the eyes of men. His joy is to see his Lord promoted and himself neglected. He finds few who care to talk about that which is the supreme object of his interest, so he is often silent and preoccupied in the midst of noisy religious shoptalk. For this he earns the reputation of being dull and overserious, so he is avoided and the gulf between him and society widens. He searches for friends upon whose garments he can detect the smell of myrrh and aloes and cassia out of the ivory palaces, and finding few or none he, like Mary of old, keeps these things in his heart.
It is this very loneliness that throws him back upon God. “When my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord will take me up.” His inability to find human companionship drives him to seek in God what he can find nowhere else. He learns in inner solitude what he could not have learned in the crowd that Christ is All in All, that He is made unto us wisdom, righteousness, sanctification and redemption, that in Him we have and possess life’s summum bonum.
Two things remain to be said. One, that the lonely man of whom we speak is not a haughty man, nor is he the holier-than-thou, austere saint so bitterly satirized in popular literature. He is likely to feel that he is the least of all men and is sure to blame himself for his very loneliness. He wants to share his feelings with others and to open his heart to some like-minded soul who will understand him, but the spiritual climate around him does not encourage it, so he remains silent and tells his griefs to God alone.
The second thing is that the lonely saint is not the withdrawn man who hardens himself against human suffering and spends his days contemplating the heavens. Just the opposite is true. His loneliness makes him sympathetic to the approach of the broken-hearted and the fallen and the sin-bruised. Because he is detached from the world he is all the more able to help it. Meister Eckhart taught his followers that if they should find themselves in prayer as it were caught up to the third heavens and happen to remember that a poor widow needed food, they should break off the prayer instantly and go care for the widow. “God will not suffer you to lose anything by it,” he told them. “You can take up again in prayer where you left off and the Lord will make it up to you.” This is typical of the great mystics and masters of the interior life from Paul to the present day.
The weakness of so many modern Christians is that they feel too much at home in the world. In their effort to achieve restful “adjustment” to unregenerate society they have lost their pilgrim character and become an essential part of the very moral order against which they are sent to protest. The world recognizes them and accepts them for what they are. And this is the saddest thing that can be said about them. They are not lonely, but neither are they saints.
Man–The Dwelling Place of God, Chapter 39
“Believe to the end, even if all men went astray and you were left the only one faithful; bring your offering even then and praise God in your loneliness.”
The Spirit of a Prophet
Josephus on John the Baptist
Picture of a Prophet
This is from the blog See, there is this thing called biology . . .:
I write a lot about how perception is not reality, because God has pulled the rug out from under me on more than one occasion. Always gently, often humorously. I’m not sure if God has a sense of humor or if He even needs one, but there is no doubt in my mind that he uses the power of laughter to teach us things and to heal us. In fact, that is often how I recognize His presence, He makes me laugh, a bit like a delighted child witnessing a slight of hand. It’s awkward at funerals.
When we are told to make a joyful noise unto the Lord, I suspect it’s our laughter that he finds most pleasing, not the kind that that is full of ridicule and mockery, but the innocent kind that just catches you unaware. Like His presence sometimes does.
Last year I had a prophetic experience that was somewhat humorous. I was having dreams about the return of Christ, beautiful dreams, so real, but oddly, a bit medieval. There was no rapture, no lake of fire, no destruction or any sort, no plagues, no four horseman, no blood moons, none of that, just the most pleasant and delightful return of a King, like a wedding or a family reunion. There was much feasting, horses, laughter, and gifts.
God is aware of the fact that I love literal translations of music videos. That’s where you remove all the metaphors and take the lyrics literally, often running video in the background that reflects the literal translation. They can be quite funny. “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” is a famous literal translation of a music video.
Anyway, God took me through this literal translation of the Book of Revelations. It got very surreal and I only share a few highlights. I literally whacked my head on metal man, this creature made out of tin cans hanging on a porch. I went inside and stepped on a 7 headed plastic beast which impaled my foot. (If you’ve ever stepped on a plastic toy, there’s this new and improved pain scale doctors now use to measure pain, it goes from zero…to stepping on a lego.)
So, with a lump on my head and bleeding profusely from my foot, I went home to take a nap. A few hours later, my second daughter called from Philadelphia. She had literally left work and flown across the country to go to a BBQ. As soon as I hung up the phone I got another call, from a church in Philadelphia, with a sales pitch that began, ” I have a bone to pick with you…”
At this point I’m starting to recognize the story, metal man, a seven headed beast, and the church in Philadelphia, but I didn’t think much of it. I was just grateful my daughter wasn’t calling to tell me she had eloped. So I got up and went to the store for some milk and sure enough, while walking into the store, our resident schizophrenic guy screamed at me, “hello! it’s the end of the world!” So I screamed back, “I know, isn’t it awesome?” So he smiled and tipped his hat at me.
Inside the store, walking through the wine aisle, a shoe box slid off the shelf and fell on my head. This is the second time I’ve been whacked on the head that day. I kid you not it was full of small plastic angels, 7 of them, each with a little gold trumpet.
That night I went to bed and something shook me awake, saying, “I come like a thief in the night.” I took that literally, not prophetically, since I was hearing noises in the backyard. So, a bit irrationally, I didn’t wake my husband up, I prayed. I asked, “what do you want me to do, Lord?” He said, “call out the window that you are alone and unarmed.” We had a bit of a discussion about the wisdom of doing that, but God just waited patiently for me to obey like He always does. So, I called out the window, “I’m alone and unarmed, are you okay?” “You,” fortunately turned out to be a girl, a very lost and confused girl, who collapsed on my pile of weeds and started to cry. She wasn’t high on a King, that’s for sure. God said, “preach,” so preach I did, out the bedroom window, everything I could think of, about how precious and worthy we are too Him, about how much love He has for us, about how it much it grieves Him when we don’t realize it. I preached about how there is nothing so big and so bad, that He won’t forgive and cover with His mercy and grace. So the girl calmed down, said she felt better, said thank you, and left.
About this time my husband wakes up and asks, “what are you doing?”
“Preaching out the bedroom window,” I told him.
To give you some idea of how graciously my husband has adapted to having a crazy wife, he said, “Oh, well alright then,” rolled over and went back to sleep.
The next morning, stuck in the pile of weeds I call a lawn, was a little wooden cross made out of two sticks tied together with a piece of yarn. I’m not sure if God left it for me or if the girl did, but it was the sweetest gift and it made me laugh.
I suspect that what God really wants us all to know more than anything else in the world, is how much we are loved.
“One can know a man from his laugh, and if you like a man’s laugh before you know anything of him, you may confidently say that he is a good man.”
This is from the blog Called Out: Now What?
The Early Christians Were Intensely Christ-Centered
by Ray Spellbrink
The early Christians were intensely Christ-centered. Jesus Christ was their pulse beat. He was their life, their breath, and their central point of reference. He was the object of their worship, the subject of their songs, and the content of their discussion and vocabulary. The New Testament church made the Lord Jesus Christ central and supreme in all things.
The New Testament church had no fixed order of worship. The early Christians gathered in open-participatory meetings where all believers shared their experience of Christ, exercised their gifts, and sought to edify one another. No one was a spectator. All were given the privilege and the responsibility to participate.
The purpose of these church meetings was twofold. It was for the mutual edification of the body. It was also to make visible the Lord Jesus Christ through the every-member functioning of His body. The early church meetings were not religious “services.” They were informal gatherings that were permeated with an atmosphere of freedom, spontaneity, and joy. The meetings belonged to Jesus Christ and to the church [Ed: the people]; they did not serve as a platform for any particular ministry or gifted person.
The New Testament church lived as a face-to-face community. While the early Christians gathered for corporate worship and mutual edification, the church did not exist to merely meet once or twice a week. The New Testament believers lived a shared life. They cared for one another outside of scheduled meetings. They were, in the very real sense of the word, family.
Christianity was the first and only religion the world has ever known that was void of ritual, clergy, and sacred buildings. For the first 300 years of the church’s existence, Christians gathered in homes.
On special occasions, Christian workers would sometimes make use of larger facilities (like Solomon’s Porch [John 10:23, Acts 3:11] and the Hall of Tyrannus [Acts 19:9]). But they had no concept of a sacred edifice nor of spending large amounts of money on buildings. Nor would they ever call a building a “church” or the “house of God”.
The only sacred building the early Christians knew was the one not made with human hands.
The New Testament church did not have a clergy. The Catholic priest and the Protestant pastor were completely unknown. The church had traveling apostolic workers who planted and nurtured churches. But these workers were not viewed as being part of a special clergy caste. They were part of the body of Christ, and they served the churches (not the other way around). Every Christian possessed different gifts and different functions, but only Jesus Christ had the exclusive right to exercise authority over His people. No man had that right. Eldering and shepherding were just two of those gifts.
Elders and shepherds were ordinary Christians with certain gifts. They were not special offices. And they did not monopolize the ministry of the church meetings.
They were simply seasoned Christians who naturally cared for the members of the church during times of crisis and provided oversight for the whole assembly.
Decision making in the New Testament church fell upon the shoulders of the whole assembly. Traveling church planters would sometimes give input and direction. But ultimately, the whole church made local decisions under the lordship of Jesus Christ. It was the church’s responsibility to find the Lord’s mind together and act accordingly.
The New Testament church was organic, not organizational. It was not welded together by putting people into office, creating programs, constructing rituals, and developing a top-down hierarchy or chain-of-command structure. The church was a living, breathing organism. It was born, it would grow, and it naturally produced all of what was in its DNA. That would include all the gifts, ministries and functions of the body of Christ. In the eyes of God, the church is a beautiful woman. The bride of Christ. She was a colony from heaven, not a man-made organization from earth.
Tithing was not a practice of the New Testament church. The early Christians used their funds to support the poor among them, as well as the poor in the world. They also supported traveling itinerant church planters so that the gospel could be spread and churches could be raised up in other lands. They gave according to their ability, not out of guilt, duty or compulsion. Pastor/clergy salaries were unheard of.
Every Christian in the church was a priest, a minister, and a functioning member of the body.
Baptism was the outward expression of Christian conversion. When the early Christians led people to the Lord, they immediately baptized them in water as to testimony to their new position. The Lord’s Supper was an ongoing expression whereby the early Christians reaffirmed their faith in Jesus Christ and their oneness with His body.
The Supper was a full meal which the church enjoyed together in the spirit and atmosphere of joy and celebration. It was the fellowship of the body of Christ, not a token ritual or a religious rite. And it was never officiated by a clergy or a special priesthood.
The early Christians did not build Bible schools or seminaries to train young workers. Christian workers were educated and trained by older workers in the context of church life. They learned “on the job”. Jesus provided the initial model for this “on-the-job” training when he mentored the Twelve. Paul duplicated it when he trained young Gentile workers in Ephesus.
The early Christians did not divide themselves into various denominations. they understood their oneness in Christ and expressed it visibly in every city. To their minds, there was only one church per city (even though it may have met in many different homes throughout the locale). If you were a Christian in the first century, you belonged to that one church. The unity of the Spirit was well guarded. Denominating themselves (“I am of Paul”, “I am of Peter”, “I am of Appolos”) was regarded as sectarian and divisive (See 1 Corinthians 1:12)”
I do believe these are some of the aspects of God’s vision for His church. Remember, the goal in our lives and in our church should be the absolute centrality of Jesus Christ. Nothing less will suffice.
We need more revolutionaries today who will stand against the religious system of our day. I encourage you to catch the vision God has for His church! The freedom His plan and will brings is beyond words! Let’s “buck the system” and seek a complete upheaval of those church practices that are so engrained in our churches today that are contrary to biblical principles. Let’s build on the right foundation – Jesus Christ. Anything less results in defect.
Let’s return to Bible basics and New Testament Christianity where Jesus is Lord!
BE A REVOLUTIONARY!
Until next time, enjoy the journey!
“If someone proved to me that Christ
is outside the truth, and that in reality the truth were outside of Christ, then I should prefer to remain with Christ rather than with the truth.”
Oswald Chambers, 1874-1817
“We hear it said that Jesus Christ taught nothing contrary to common sense: everything Jesus Christ taught was contrary to common sense. Not one thing in the Sermon on the Mount is common sense. The basis of Christianity is neither common sense nor rationalism; it springs from another centre, viz. a personal relationship to God in Christ Jesus in which everything is ventured on from a basis that is not seen.”
“One must be a great man indeed to be able to hold out even against common sense.”
“Or else a fool.”
“The warrior of God is not the man of muscle and a strong jaw, but the man of un-utterable weakness, the man who knows he has not any power; Jacob is no longer strong in himself, he is strong only in God, his life is no longer marked by striving, but by reliance on God. You cannot imitate reliance on God.”