Steps Out of Darkness
By Gary Amirault
I use the words "steps out of" because this little ol' article is just that-a beginning. Let's begin with "coming together." Usually when people come together they have a purpose in mind; business meeting, funeral, weddings, political rally, baseball game, or, perhaps, to go to "church." Now the Greek word in the Bible which has been translated "church" is the word "ecclesia," which, according to Strong's Concordance means "a calling out, that is, a popular meeting especially a religious congregation (Jewish synagogue, or Christian community of members on earth or saints in heaven or both):--assembly, church." One of the major problems with Strong's Concordance is his inability to stay with the original meaning of the original languages. He had a propensity to add his church traditions to his definitions which means one has to do a lot of weeding in Mr. Strong's garden. Robert Young in his Young's Analytical Concordance has "that which is called out," a much simpler definition without added interpretation.
In Biblical times, the modern methods to advertise a gathering were unknown. We just had a typical Evangelical Evangelist come into our community to "save" it. The churches in our small community of 2700 people raised more than $25,000 dollars to "promote" this spectacular event. Huge billboards, lawn posters, radio ads, newspaper ads, telephone canvassing, posters in business places, announcements for months ahead at church meetings, and only God knows what else was used to let the community know this evangelist was coming to our little town (If you think you are detecting a little sarcasm, your discernment is working).
In Jesus' day, when the government or organization wanted to announce a gathering, they would send a herald, a chronicler, an announcer, who would call out the purpose of the meeting, who should attend, place, time etc. Those who attended that particular "calling out" were called the "ecclesia" to that calling.
In the 19th Chapter of Acts, starting at verse 23, we have a very interesting "ecclesia" or "church" gathering:
"And about that time there arose a great commotion about the Way. For a certain man named Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver Shrines of Diana, brought no small profit to the craftsmen. He called them together with the workers of similar occupation, and said: 'Men, you know that we have our prosperity by this trade. Moreover you see and hear that not only at Ephesus, but throughout almost all Asia, this Paul has persuaded and turned away many people, saying that they are not gods which are made with hands. So not only is this trade of ours in danger of falling into disrepute, but also the temple of the great goddess Diana may be despised and her magnificence destroyed, whom all Asia and the world worship.
Now when they heard this, they were full of wrath and cried out, saying, "Great is Diana of the Ephesians! So the whole city was filled with confusion, and rushed into the theater with one accord having seized Gaius and Aristarchus, Macedonians, Paul's travel companions. And when Paul wanted to go in to the people, the disciples would not allow him. Then some of the officials of Asia, who were his friends, sent to him pleading that he would not venture into the theatre. Some therefore cried one thing and some another, for the assembly was confused, and most of them did not know why they had come together. And they drew Alexander out of the multitude, the Jews putting him forward. And Alexander motioned with his hand, and wanted to make his defense to the people. But when they found out that he was a Jew, all with one voice cried out for about two hours, 'Great is Diana of the Ephesians!'
And when the city clerk had quieted the crowd, he said: 'Men of Ephesus, what man is there who does not know that the city of the Ephesians is temple guardian of the great goddess Diana, and of the image which fell down from Zeus? Therefore, since these things cannot be denied, you ought to be quiet and do nothing rashly. For you have brought these men here who are neither robbers of temples nor blasphemers of your goddess. Therefore, if Demetrius and his fellow craftsmen have a case against anyone, the courts are open and there are proconsuls. Let them bring charges against one another. But if you have any other inquiry to make, it shall be determined in the lawful assembly. For we are in danger of being called in for today's uproar, there being no reason which we may give to account for this disorderly gathering.' And when he had said these things, he dismissed the assembly."
Here we have an illegal "assembly" made by an illegal "calling out." The Romans were very fearful of assemblies of any kind and had very stringent laws of assembling in any kind of manner whatsoever. One town had difficulty raising up a fire department because they would have to have meetings to organize. The Roman government forbid the assembly.
There is much more in this passage of Scripture than we can comment on. The main thing I want to point out is that the gathering, assembly, church had a purpose for gathering, it had to be lawful, and there was a person who called them together. People could have "church" and not worship the true Creator. People could follow a "calling out" which was not only unlawful, but basically served no real purpose. For two full hours, the Ephesians screamed 6 words! This was, according to the true Greek meaning of the word ekklesia, a "church service."
What I am trying to get at is this: just because we gather together on Sunday at a place we call "church" does not mean we do what God calls us to do at such a gathering. There is nothing sacred about going to "church." But in our Western society, going to church has become something sacred, as sacred as Diana was to the Ephesians.
When I was an atheist, not caring in the least about God, I still had a strong pull on me to "go to church." The forces of our society had shaped my mind to desire to attend something which claimed to do something on Sunday which I didn't even believe in! How many times have I been behind a truck with a church building painted on the back with these words: "This Sunday worship at the church of your choice." In our society patriotic, law-abiding, moral people go to church. The President of the United States, when he wants to portray his morality, will use television footages and pictures of himself attending church even though he has no interest in the things of God. There is a strong cultural pull to attend church, not because the Holy Spirit is calling, but because our cultural and/or religious conditioning is calling.
Most of us are familiar with the term "go to church." It is ingrained in us. It may come as a surprise to you, but there is not a single Scriptural reference to support the idea of "going to church." When a Christian hears the true "calling out" it is the Holy Spirit calling us to Himself, not to some church building where we do all sorts of things which may or may not have anything to do with what God may want us to do. We often hear "where do you go to church?" Now when we tell the person where we go to church, that usually gives the person a great deal of information about ourselves. Different denominations do the same old things almost every time they meet. It is also not too difficult to tell what kind of denomination one is in just by sitting in one or two services. So either the Holy Spirit has chosen to make the people in each of these different denominations do the same thing all the time, or people have chosen to go to a church which always offers a style which suits them. Which one is it? My bet is on the second choice, which means most of what goes on in the name of God though we call it "coming to the house of the Lord to worship Him" is just nothing more than going to a building and performing rituals with which we are comfortable . In other words, it's just a big joke! Only I am not laughing.
The high day of a Christians activity is the Sunday routine. Let us analyze this event for a moment. (We cannot go into great length in this article. There will be more tapes and articles on that subject in the future, but for now let us look at the basic components of the typical Sunday morning service.)
The central focus on this Sunday morning activity is the building and the pastor or priest. A quick look into a concordance tells us this person called a "pastor" is almost completely missing from the part of the Bible commonly, but incorrectly, called the New Testament. The Greek word translated pastor is the word "poimen." Clearly, in most Protestant churches, the church centers around the pastor. Question: How many times do you think the word occurs in the books which tell us about church life and how it should be conducted? Would you believe it if I told you the word pastor occurs only one time in the King James Bible? That's right. One single time. We find this occurrence in its plural form connected with the word "teacher" in Ephesians 4:11 where we read, "and He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers." This Greek word is also translated "shepherd" in 17 places. In none of those cases does it refer to anything like what a modern-day pastor is. Most of the references are to Jesus the true shepherd, to false shepherds, and to real shepherds of animals, not people. What I am saying here is that the role of the pastor in the assembling of the people of God is way out of proportion to what he or she was supposed to be according to New Testament teaching! He doesn't necessarily belong in front of the congregation every Sunday morning preaching a sermon. And he doesn't belong on a stage hiding behind a box of wood called a "pulpit." These kinds of things did not exist in early Christian gatherings.
Gene Edwards, after a extensive study of the early church, made a list of items found in most modern churches. These items were conspicuously absent from gatherings of believers after Christianity was severed from Judaism and established as a separate entity. He put them in a little book entitled Beyond Radical published by The Seedsowers, P.O. Box 285, Sargent, Georgia 30275. As previously mentioned, he could not find a modern-day pastor. This term, according to Edwards did not come into vogue until the sixth century. The term was first popularized by the Roman Catholic Pope Gregory the Great.
We also don't find church buildings other than homes used for assembling until the fourth century when Constantine and his mother began a "building program." They built the first real "church buildings." Of course they looked very much like pagan temples. Perhaps this was because Constantine was still a sun worshipper even after his so-called conversion.
Well then, we're not off to a very good start trying to find the modern concept of church in the early period of Christianity. The two key components of the "assembling together" concept, that is, pastor and church building, are quite different from early Christian history and what the Bible has to say on the subject.
When entering a typical church, one cannot help but see that the arrangement of the furniture is very similar to going to a secular place used for entertainment. There are the performers and there is the audience. Everything about the building is centered around making certain the audience has the best view and hearing ability of what happens upon the stage, or "altar." The acting community has a term called "center stage." It is the most prominent place in the stage. This is where the important parts of the production go on. In a typical church, this place is usually occupied with a piece of furniture called a pulpit. Gene Edwards gives a little history of this piece of furniture in his book Beyond Radical. (By the way, this is not an endorsement of Gene Edward's beliefs about church. I don't understand or believe everything he says. But he has studied the early church far more than most of us and I believe we can learn from his studies.) Here is his brief account of the history of the pulpit:
"In most European languages the pulpit is still referred to by its original heathen name, "ambo." (Latin: ambon) The pulpit pre-dates Christianity and is wholly pagan in origin. The heathen priest, standing in a heathen temple, moved out onto a walkway which had a banister around it and made his announcements to the pagan onlookers. This was called the ambo. (The Pope still does this.) Those first Christian church buildings followed this heathen practice, putting an ambo inside the building, high upon one of the columns. Centuries later when the Protestants took over northern Europe (by the sword, not by evangelizing), those Protestants inherited thousands upon thousands of Catholic church buildings. The Protestants tore out that unapproachable area up front where the priests had conducted their magical mass. Not stopping there, they literally ripped the ambo off the church column and placed it up front in the center. Then they placed a Bible on the ambo (the pulpit) to symbolize the centrality of the preaching of the Bible as over against the Catholic central emphasis on the mass.
The word pulpit came to us from the Latin "pulpium." It originally meant a scaffold or platform. Even today the harpoonist, who stands way out on the front end of a whaling ship, stands on a pulpit.
Like most of what we do, the use of the pulpit has its origins in heathenism. Keep that in mind the next time someone says in a grave and sanctimonious voice, 'We stand here behind the sacred desk preaching obedience to the Word of God!'"
Well, as we can see, there is literally a world of difference between "assembling together in Christ" and today's typical "church service." One of the key components of a typical church building which greatly inhibits true "assembling together," is the seating arrangement. The focal point of a good theater is to create an environment in which the audience can best view the entertainment on stage. The participation of the audience is limited to watching the show, perhaps eating a few very expensive snacks, and of course, paying for the production. The layout of the building is not designed for audience participation apart from reacting to the show through ones applause, tears, Amens, Hallelujah's or laughter and paying the bill. The audience cannot usually participate in the performance itself. Of course, there are the occasional sing-a-longs and once in a while a person is called out of the audience for something, but generally, the audience and the performers each have their separate functions.
In most churches, we have a series of benches lined up in rows aimed at giving the audience the best view of what ...each other? The body of Christ? No! The seating arrangement is just like what we would find in ancient pagan temples, theaters, and circuses which is where the church borrowed its architecture from in the first place. Sometimes chairs are lined up in the same arrangement as pews, but they perform the same function, that is , to face the audience toward the pulpit and stage, oops, I mean altar. (How sacrilegious of me!)
Have you ever stood up to say something while standing in a pew? Have you ever noticed how difficult it was to speak so the whole audience (oops, I mean congregation) could hear you? Have you ever noticed that it was impossible for you to speak to all of them easily? Or have you ever noticed when a person does speak that a part of the church usually has to turn around? Have you ever noticed that through most of the church service the audience (congregation) is quiet? They don't talk to one another, share, etc. (Except of course unless its directed like: "Everyone go hug someone and tell them 'Jesus loves you.'") The sanctuary is designed to minimize communication between members which is actually the opposite of what "assembling together" should be all about!!!
I won't get into the history of the pew or some of the many others items and practices in typical church services which actually prevent the Holy Spirit from bringing about what "assembly together" is all about. I will just briefly mention them. (We will have audio tapes which will go into much greater detail on those subjects at a later date.)
The modern day "sermon" in which the minister takes a Scripture from the Bible, while wearing an orators gown (most older Protestant denominations still use them), and sermonizes on it for 30 or 40 minutes comes directly from the rhetorical schools of Greece and Rome. The Sunday morning sermon nor the gown comes from the Bible.
A good part of many churches are used for Sunday school. These rooms are primarily empty 98 per cent of a week's time. What a horrible waste of resources! There were no Sunday school classrooms in early Christianity. They used their resources much more wisely.
Of course there were no steeples. Any Christian would recognized them as left-overs of phallic-worship from Egypt. As a matter of fact, the two obelisks which stand at the Vatican (headquarters of Roman Catholicism), and the one at Constantinople (headquarters of the Orthodox Church), were both transported from Egypt. The Masons brought a huge one over from Egypt which stands today in New York City. The George Washington Monument and the George Washington Masonic Memorial are both fashioned after the Egyptian obelisks, which were ancient phallic symbols. In Egyptian mythology, when Osirus, Creator God of Ancient Egypt, was chopped up into pieces, all the pieces of him were scattered around the world. In the search to find him again, all the parts were found except his penis. The Egyptians put up these obelisks as reminders to keep looking for his penis. (Still want to worship under a steeple?)
Although there were examples of professional musicians, in the worship services in the Mosaic tabernacle, Davidic tabernacle, and Solomon's temple, there are no instructions in the New Testament regarding creating Choirs. So, when they met on "the Lord's Day" there were no choirs, organists, orchestra, music directors, etc. Yes, there was praise. Yes, there was worship. But not a weekly routine orchestrated by the same people every week! While we do not find instances recorded of Christian worship services using musical instruments, we do not find a commandment forbidding it, like we find in some sects of Christianity today.
To prevent this article from getting too long, let me just list a few of the other things we will not find in an early Christian assembly. I think you are already getting the point that what we do called "going to church" has very little to do with the body of Christ coming together.
- No offering plates, bags, buckets being passed around!!
- No pictures of Jesus or Saints in any form.
- No church buildings with "Christian architecture."
- No stained glass windows.
- No tax breaks from the government.
- No baptisteries.
- No professional financial counselors making sure to get you to tithe or make pledges.
- No tithing.
- No justification for denominations. As a matter of fact, strong rebukes against it. See Paul's writings to the Corinthians.
- No general secretaries, presidents, superintendents, etc.
- No holy water, relics, anointed prayers clothes, holy sand from Jerusalem, crosses made from trees in Israel, etc.
- No nuns or monks.
- No crosses or medals!!!
- No Sunday bulletins or charts counting last week's attendance and their giving.
- No gimmicks to bring people in to "our" church.
- No stealing people from different congregations.
- No paid professional musicians or music directors.
- No candles.
- No Mary or Saint worship.
- No rosary beads.
- No icons (Orthodox).
- No statues (Roman Catholic).
- No church graveyard.
- No prizes for bringing in the most visitors for Sunday school or evangelistic events.
And I have not exhausted the list. It goes on and on.
Few of us think through why we do the things we do. Most of us have not been taught a chronological history of the early Christian period. Few of us know when these various above-mentioned practices began to appear in church services. But more importantly, few of us have been taught the historical process of how Christianity became a separate institution from Judaism. Few of us have studied to see how modern Judaism differs from ancient Judaism. And few of us have been shown how different modern Christianity is from early Christianity. A thorough historical study of the first four centuries would be extremely helpful for a modern Christian. We cannot go into this subject in this article because it would require a book, but there is one key element I would like to highlight which will focus on the God-ordained split between Judaism and Christianity. More information of this subject can be gotten from our four tape series The Rapture of 70AD and from the tape Two Gospels.
Jesus gave physical Israel, those Jews who Jesus and the apostles preached to, forty years to repent and turn to the New Covenant of Grace. During those forty years the so-called "Great Commission" was fulfilled. The commission was to reach every Jew in the world with the "Good News." Jews didn't live in America, or Australia, or China. They lived in the Roman Empire which was considered "the world." From God's point of view, the world was where there was an Israelite and the Levitical Priesthood. This Priesthood was coming to an end. God sent His messengers to tell all those who trusted in that Priesthood that He was ordaining a new Priesthood. From the beginning of John the Baptist's preaching to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., the message was sent to all Jews to turn from the Mosaic Law to the Law of Life in Christ Jesus received by grace through faith, not through the Law of Moses.
In 70 A.D., the Priestly genealogical records were destroyed, the Temple was destroyed, Israel was destroyed and it lost its "favored nation" status with Rome. Jews were no longer allowed to offer sacrifices in Jerusalem, the only city in the world where God would accept animal sacrifices. During these 40 years, two gospels went out: Peter's gospel to the circumcision, and Paul's gospel to the uncircumcision. Peter's gospel, (also James') was what I call a "transition" gospel. The transition from Mosaic Law of works to grace through faith, a gift, not of works, was an extremely difficult message for Jews to grasp hold of. After all, they had been under the Mosaic Law for 1500 years. This transition was much harder for a Jew than for a heathen. Therefore, God allowed the Temple to remain for one generation after Christ ushered in the New Covenant, New Priesthood, new temple, etc. During this time, God allowed animal sacrifices to continue, but through Paul and others like the writer of the Book of Hebrews, God was preparing the Jews for the end of the Temple system which would come about in 70AD. If we look to this period of time to discover true Christianity, unless we can see the difference between the two gospels and God's mercy and wisdom for allowing them to stand side by side for a season, we will come away with great confusion. Many denominations and sects have sprung up through mixing these two gospels. Not completely understanding this transitory time has results in bringing forth many sects of Christianity which have mixed Mosaic law with the New Covenant of Grace. Most Holy name, Sabbath-keeping, Law-keeping, Mosaic dietary groups, Messianic Judaism, and various other denominations and movements have sprung from this error.
In order to see pure Christianity, we must focus on Paul's gospel. His gospel was not completely accepted by most Jewish believers until the Temple and all it stood for was completely destroyed. While the Temple was still in operation, Paul had great difficulty preaching salvation by grace through faith. There were always those from the Jerusalem church which would come into Paul's work and mix Mosaic law into Paul's labors. It was like planting weeds in his garden. Paul made some very strong comments regarding those who were upsetting his work. He pointed to the end of the Mosaic system in many of his writings. At the end of his life, he knew the end of the Old Covenant was fading away. He died just a few years before Jerusalem was destroyed. When it was finally destroyed, Jews that believed in Jesus as the Messiah, then knew that Paul was right. They had to go on to full grace through faith, there was no longer any hope in the Temple and all it had stood for.
To truly understand pure Christianity, one must thoroughly understand Paul's writings. One must also understand that Paul did not have a complete grasp of this transition himself until later in his life. His later writings were markedly different from some of his earlier ones.
Even though Paul's gospel was vindicated in 70AD, it wasn't too long before the simplicity of the gospel was again mixed up with all sorts of other systems. The list of early heresies is rather lengthy. But by the third century, the church had become a Christianized paganism. In the fourth century, it became the official religion of the Roman Empire under Constantine, a sun worshipper. By this time, the message of the leadership of the church bore little resemblance to Paul's gospel.
From the destruction of Jerusalem until near the end of the second century, we find very little evidence of the existence of the church if we look for archaeological or literary evidence. It seems almost as if it didn't exist. And in a way, it didn't exist, that is, if we are looking for something like modern Christendom. It certainly wasn't divided into thousands of different sects, each with their own hierarchy, articles of faith, and unique ordinances and rituals.
The early church didn't leave a bunch of administrative records behind. It is usually these kind of items and buildings which are dug up to recreate what went on in a certain period of history.
Much of the literature from this period of time (and there is very little from this period), comes to us through copies written many years after the original was written and often in another language. For example, the small portion of text below, was originally written at the beginning of the first century. The copy from which we translate into English what Aristides of Athens wrote, is a seventh century Syriac copy. We do not know the condition of the copy of the text the seventh century translator used in making his translation. Since all these writings were hand written, the more times it is copied, the more errors can occur in its transmission. Many of the originals were altered by those who rewrote them many centuries later. Sometimes monks would make changes dramatically altering the true meaning of the original writer. This whole field of analyzing manuscript transmission to determine the original writing is called "paleolography." This field is detective work requiring the highest of skills. When studying this area of "what the early church said," one should never take one person's opinions or quotations as a fact. Look at it from different writer's points of view before jumping to any conclusions. One will find that scholars differ greatly with one another when it comes to this area of study.
The text of Aristides come to us in three different forms which improves the chance that we can make a good translation of the origin writing. He tells us he studied all the different forms of religion which he divided into four groups: Barbarians, Greeks, Jews, and Christians. He has this to say about the Christians of his time:
"They have the commandments of the Lord Jesus Christ himself graven upon their hearts and these they observe, looking for the resurrection of the dead and for life in the world to come. They do not commit adultery nor fornication, no do they bear false witness, nor covet the things of others; they honor father and mother, and love their neighbors; they give right judgment and they never do to others what they would not wish to happen to themselves. They comfort such as wrong them and make friends of them. They are eager to do good to their enemies. They are meek and gentle. They refrain themselves from all unlawful intercourse and all impurity. They despise not the widow and oppress not the orphan. He that has gives ungrudgingly to him that has not. If they see a stranger they take him under their roof and rejoice over him, as it were their own brother. For they call themselves brethren not after the flesh but after the spirit. They are ready to lay down their own lives for the sake of Christ. They keep his commandments without swerving, living righteous and holy lives as the Lord their God commanded them. And they give thanks unto him every hour for all meat and drink and other blessings. Verily then this is the way of truth which leads those who travel therein to the eternal kingdom promised by Christ in the life to come."
Now obviously, not all Christians of this time behaved in the above manner. The book of Acts, the epistles of Paul, and John tell us that there were divisions, strife, those seeking power, etc. We find this throughout church history. But in the early church, these power seeking people had not yet formed their heresies into "Orthodox" doctrines which would ultimately be used to lock out or kill anyone who held any beliefs contrary to "Orthodoxy." This power would not be given to the church until the fourth century when the Roman government and the church married to become the Roman Catholic church. There were small incidents of church violence prior to that time, but the main thrust of using physical force to control the church began in the fourth century A.D.
I do not want to dwell long on this subject, but I feel I have to put a brief explanation about the writings which we have that came from the first couple hundred years of church history.
The average Christian did not know how to write. Therefore, we do not have records from them. The records we do have came from those who were educated. Now if we do not take that into consideration, that may significantly alter our view of this period of time. A couple of centuries later, the church leaders would destroy many earlier writings which disagreed with their "orthodoxy" or which put the present administration in an unfavorable light. Since printing presses were not invented yet, there were not many copies of writings in those days. Therefore, it was not too difficult to erase from history a man's writings or the opinion's of a particular sect or locality. Kill a few people, burn the few handwritten copies in existence, threaten with death anyone who might consider rewriting the manuscripts, and that usually wiped out the opposition..
I read a book which talked a little about the publishing industry in this period of history. For a scriptorium to make a hundred copies of even a major work was a large printing. Today, a book publisher wouldn't even think about publishing a hundred copies of a book. They usually start in the tens of thousands. The more copies of a writing in existence, the harder it is to remove its continued influence.
Furthermore, the "orthodox" church leaders became unscrupulous enough to alter writings or to outright forge letters which expressed their own view and attribute them to someone from the early church. This was done to show that the early church was in agreement with them on certain doctrines when. in fact, it was not. Another point to consider when looking at early church writings is the fact that writings which agreed with the later "orthodox" doctrines stood a much better chance of surviving to our day due to the fact that it was in the interest of the "orthodox" church leadership to continue to reproduce those writings. I bring some of this information out because I have found it extremely difficult trying to get a handle on this period of church history due to some of the above facts. I came across many problems.
In studying this time period, I came across many different theories and opinions of scholars who often disagreed with one another in a matter. Which one was right? Were any of them right? Looking at several different viewpoints is certainly a wise thing to do when looking at early Christianity.
I have to get off this topic because this article is getting much too long. In light of some of the above information and other material, let me make some general observations about the early church.
I see the early churches, which clearly did not have ornate church buildings which were unused most of the time, as living cities of refuge. In the Old Testament, 48 cities of refuge were set up. I cannot get into a detailed explanation of all the symbolism relating to these cities and their fulfillment in Christ and His body. I just want to give you something to think about. Perhaps you will do your own study.
This world is full of great stress, fear, anxiety, hopelessness, etc. There are thousands of voices promising relief. Psychologists, entertainment, religion, drugs and alcohol, counseling, government agencies, think tanks, educational institutions, gadgets of every kind, etc. There are thousands of promises to dull the pain of life. And mankind spends its time and money chasing these voices only to find very little relief.
The hope most of today's churches offer is a quick fly away escape any day now teaching known as the "rapture." This drug has been sold by many churches of all kinds for about 200 years. Funny how no one has yet flown away, yet the drug is still sold. This message is a lie, a placebo which does not deal with the pain. Jesus came that we might have life and more abundantly. He brings direction, clarity of purpose, healing, and more love than we can contain. When the body of Christ comes together gently controlled by humble leaders who know what they are supposed to do, a gathering of the body of Christ in a community should become a city of refuge. The gathering should produce the fruit of the kingdom of God here on earth. There should be refuge from the forces of the world in every gathering of Christ's body.
But there are many forces within Christendom which prohibit the flow of the Holy Spirit among the body. I have listed some of them earlier in this article. Believers must begin to come together realizing their importance to the world, not as some evangelistic organization with a fly-away gospel, but with healing power in their midst for the peoples of the world for today! But in order for us to manifest this power, we have to get our eyes off ourselves. Our passion has to be set on those around us in need of the fruit of the kingdom of God. The real power of this kingdom is in the midst of the people of God.
Leadership must see this as their primary function-to bring a people together which can manifest the power of the kingdom of God here on earth for the benefit of the peoples of the world. This is difficult. A leader who can lead without becoming a law unto himself/herself, yet being able to bring about the right environment where certain members of the body of Christ do not turn the meeting into a show and then hog it, is not an easy thing to do. There are many "open" pulpit churches which just become platforms for anyone to say anything about nothing. There are many seducing spirits in churches who bring allegiance of God's people to themselves, or dead men's beliefs rather than to Jesus Christ. Of course, they do all this using the name of Jesus. But the sheep do not end up being conformed to Christ. They end up being used to further the influence of the man or woman or the cause of sect or denomination they form, not the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ. I have no idea when this cycle will be broken, but I long to see the day.
I am sure there are some assemblies which allow people to grow in Christ. As each member of the fellowship begins to be stripped of their baggage, especially their religious baggage, and begins to shine forth with true light, this corporate honesty will begin to produce some wonderful things. But all the pretense has to go. This is also difficult. To create an environment where people can be honest with themselves, each other, and with our Maker, to bear themselves without being condemned or to be taken advantage of is a hard thing to do. In the typical American church service, everyone is acting, pretending to be something that God didn't make them to be. We put on shows. Just like putting on our best clothes on Sunday, we put on our best behavior, but it's an act. The leadership puts on its act also. And so church service becomes an act. (By the way, the word "church" and the word "circus" come from the same Greek word "kirke." I have been to services where I felt I was in a circus. Perhaps you know what I'm talking about.)
I entitled this article "Steps Out of Darkness." I think we have taken enough steps for one reading. Contemplate on some of the things we discussed. Ask the Holy Spirit to bring forth more light on some of these things. Remember, it is He Who gives the light. But we should always be in a frame of mind and attitude of heart to allow Him to move us ever closer to conformity with Him in whom dwells no darkness. A corporate expression of a body of believers in Christ which has been free to grow to maturity is something rarely seen. Pray that the Holy Spirit brings forth more opportunities for these expressions to manifest right here on earth.