What does the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of His will,1 want to reveal of Himself to the church in your city?
A meeting with a friend, sharing what the Lord is saying to him about the city and particularly his leading to establish a new wineskin for discipleship, was a catalyst through which the Spirit revealed a blockage in my mind concerning the church of Jesus Christ. When he shared his direction I asked “shouldn’t that be the work of the local church?” When he replied that the church was one church in the city, although I knew this in an academic way it suddenly hit me as revelation.
A local congregation is not the church in the city but a part of that church. The fullest expression of Christ exists, not in a local church, but in The Church in Perth. Whereas many will agree, the expressions of ‘church’ do not actually reflect this belief. Traditional mindsets are still being expressed regardless of how much we say we believe in one church. And the worldly models of success, power and leadership that control the church keep reinforcing our failure to be The Church.
The gospel reveals that the constructs of our mind, the way we think, what we think, and what we validate as truth, is not the cumulative result of a superior intellect but the result of our sin nature, the world we live in and our inability to resist being conformed to the patterns of this world. Everything we think we know has been implanted into our minds by the god of this age. Paul’s gospel presentation to the Romans points out that we are all sinners and that the world of fallen men has replaced the knowledge of good for evil; truth for lies. Being born into a world of inverted knowledge means that all that we know is inverted and must be considered wrong unless proven right by God’s Spirit.
This is not just true of secular knowledge but also of religious knowledge. I had a construct in my mind concerning church that came from religious power-holders and not from God. I grew up believing in a particular construct of church and that model was reinforced time and time again by the examples of ‘successful churches’. When I finally rejected the validity of these systems and went in search of ‘the real church’ I abandoned what I considered to be systems of men but in doing so I also withdrew from The Church. Even though I rejected these systems as not being a valid expression, I allowed those constructs to obfuscate any valid expression of the Church of Jesus Christ. In so doing, I validated what I had rejected.
Now, through the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, He is directing me to participate in His church. I am not sure yet what that looks like but I want to share what the Spirit has revealed so far.
Constructs of the Mind
The church of Jesus Christ is not denominations, nor is it local gatherings or congregations; it is the family of God on earth. For a long time I had been fixated with the idea of the local church because the ‘church in the city’ seemed to be controlled by religious power-holders rather than led by apostolic men recognised as gifts of Jesus given to the church in our city.
Religious power-holders are basically those who have the appearance of success – large numbers, large incomes, large organisations, impressive speaking resumes etc. They gather together affirming and validating one another2 and hold combined self-congratulatory meetings in the name of unity. Though unity is the expressed purpose for gatherings, they are more often than not vehicles through which worldly constructs are validated. I don’t mean this to sound judgemental or whiney because I am sure they do not understand what they are doing. Still, it needs to be said so that the elect of God, the church in every city, do not get caught up by every passing wind.3
The constructs of religion only exist in the minds of men and are validated or empowered only when we act as though they are true. ((Isn’t this a very worldly practice? Professionals gather together proclaiming their expertise, training others in the ways of knowledge and truth and then the ‘untrained duly accept their self-stated expertise and willingly follow their advice.)) The religious leaders or power-holders in Jesus’ day were no different to any other self-validating group at any time in the history of the church: religious power-holders suppressing a genuine expression of church of Jesus Christ through religious constructs.4
Jesus declared to His disciples “I will build my church and the gates of Hades will not overcome it”. Jesus builds His church among every people group of the world. Throughout history, amongst the ‘Christian’ forms of religion has been hidden the Church of Jesus Christ.5
Men, some downright evil using the gospel for profit6 and others simply naive, finding security in the patterns of this world, obscure the actual church through established religious constructs – whether Catholic or Protestant, denominational or non-denominational, conservative or contemporary, evangelical or charismatic, seeker-sensitive, post-modern, revivalist, transformational, emergent, missional; while the church of Jesus may be found amongst people within these constructs, they are constructs of the mind that cause the church to be obscured. The more we validate these constructs, as legitimate as the ideas may be in some of them, the more we obfuscate the church in our cities.
To the Angel of the Church in [insert your city]
I was in a meeting some years ago where a person asked everyone they spoke to the same question, “What has God shown you His strategy for the city is?” At a leaders’ breakfast the speaker was going to share “his heart for the city”.
As the Spirit of revelation has been unlocking my mind – revealing the constructs that I have held for too long as being truth, and renewing my mind – the Spirit has been showing me God’s will in this matter.7 Not a finite strategy for a city, but rather the renewed mind necessary to test and approve what God’s will is.
In Revelation, John is told by Jesus to write a specific message to seven churches. These seven messages have a specific framework8 that can help us in discerning God’s will in regard to our cities. (For my purpose here I will only look at a part of the framework)
- 1. To the angel of the church in…
- 2. These are the words of Him…
- 3. I know your [witness]…
The first point is that these letters are not concerning a city, they have no revelation on winning a city; no strategies for a city; nor do they speak of ‘god’s heart for a city’, rather they are addressed to The Church in each city.9 According to Ephesians 1:11-12, God works everything out in conformity with the purpose of His will, so that we might be to the praise of His glory. Later in 3:9-10 the intent of God is revealed:
Eph 3:10-11 His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, 11 according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. NIV
In Ephesians the purpose of God is for the church to reflect His wisdom and glory. The church was always in God’s mind as an expression of His glory on earth – a people belonging to God who will declare His glory.10 In each of the letters in Revelation 2 and 3 Jesus reveals an aspect of Himself to the church, speaks about their witness as His church and calls for an action in relation to His self-revelation.
A Word for your City
The conclusion that I have come to through all of this is simple, there is one church in the city of Perth and one church in your city. The constructs of our mind may obscure that church but that construct exists in our minds not in God. Jesus is continually present in His church11 and the purpose of the church is to reveal His abiding presence by being to the praise of God’s glory. This, after all, was Jesus’ mission, to do His will and in so doing bring glory to the Father.12
God’s purpose is to reveal Himself to the church and the church in this city is to exhibit that revelation.13 And so, in prayer, I believe, we need to be asking for the revelation of God in the church of our city.
What does the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of His will,14 want to reveal of Himself to the church in your city?
- Eph 1:11 ↩
- 2 Cor 10:12 We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise. 2 Cor 10:18 For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends. 2 Cor 3:1 Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, like some people, letters of recommendation to you or from you? NIV ↩
- Eph 4:14-15 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. NIV ↩
- Matt 23:13-24 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to. “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are. “Woe to you, blind guides! You say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred? You also say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gift on it, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind men! Which is greater: the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred? Therefore, he who swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. And he who swears by the temple swears by it and by the one who dwells in it. And he who swears by heaven swears by God’s throne and by the one who sits on it. “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices – mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel. NIV ↩
- In John Calvin’s institutes of the Christian religion he distinguishes between the visible manifestation of church and the invisible. Henry Beveridge’s footnote says; “section 2 in this section (7), Calvin specifically distinguishes between the invisible and the visible Church (note first line for term “visible”). The invisible Church is the Church as it really is before God; the visible Church is the Church as it appears to man.” ↩
- 2 Cor 2:17 Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, like men sent from God. NIV ↩
- Rom 12:2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will. NIV ↩
- cf Beale, G.K. NIGTC The book of Revelation, Eerdmans:Grand Rapids. 1999:225 ↩
- For a fuller discussion on the purpose of God in the church see chapter five in my book will the real church stand up Xulon Press:USA 2006 ↩
- It is interesting that the letters of Revelation are written to ‘the angel of the churches’ and in Ephesians it is to ‘rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms’ that God is revealing His manifold wisdom through the church. ↩
- Rev 1:12-13 when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone “like a son of man,” Rev 1:20 the seven lampstands are the seven churches. NIV ↩
- John 4:34 “My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. John 13:31-32 When he was gone, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified and God is glorified in him. 32 If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once. NIV ↩
- 1 Peter 2:9-10 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. NIV ↩
- Eph 1:11 ↩