How Do You Spell “Chruch?” Part 4
We closed Part 3 of this series with what I consider Jesus’ definition of “church.”
For where two or three are gathered together in my name, I am there in the midst of them (Matt 18:20 NKJV).
This is a fascinating passage because it challenges so much of what we have held sacred with regard to what defines the church. Having worked with the house church movement for years I can personally attest to the many false understandings of what constitutes a legitimate expression of the church of Jesus Christ. This is tragic from the standpoint that many persons open to the Good News have already been corrupted with a false impression of what true church is. They have difficulty recognizing the church if it doesn’t have the classical markings—a distinct name, a church building, a denominational relationship, an ordained seminary-graduated pastor, the holding of formal choreographed services and the displaying of the typical ecclesial iconography. Add to this the fact that most people today have been conditioned to believe that “more of and bigger than” is always better. I remain in awe of those little pockets of authentic believers who met in homes throughout various cities during the first century who faithfully lived out the transformational life in Christ and ultimately conquered the Roman Empire.
In defining the church by Matthew 18:20, we can minimally focus on three keys. The first and most obvious is the fact that all it took was two persons to constitute church according to Jesus. I recall from my ministry long ago in working with an independent body of believers seeking the covering of a particular denomination. In this case the superintending body would not recognize the church until it achieved a regular attendance of at least 50 persons. I also recall from my early experience as a “student pastor” being denied the privilege of serving communion to my congregation until I fulfilled the denominational requirement of completing—among other conditions—my second year of seminary training. Where do these kinds of requirements come from? Certainly not the Scriptures. I eventually came to realize that one could perfectly fulfill the denominational requirements for ordination while literally failing in a personal relationship with Christ.
Given the constant impetus and urgency within most churches today to grow bigger in numbers, it isn’t hard to realize the difficulty for most Christians to accept the authenticity of two believers meeting together as an expression of the church. We are so predisposed today to grow the church that it is hard to recognize and grasp how careful the early church was to accept new persons into their fellowship. For them, only those whose lives demonstrably reflected an obedient following of Christ were welcomed into the fold. Today the church isn’t so much the fellowship of the committed as it is the repository of persons who are ostensibly potential converts to Christianity. The evidence of a church’s health isn’t in its numbers but rather in the transformational life of the believers. Jesus’ promise to grace with his presence even two persons gathered in his name is phenomenal and makes a major statement regarding the essence of the church.
As we continue searching out our understanding of what constitutes church, we need to look into the Greek word that is translated “gathered together” in our text. It is the Greek word soonago and generally means a gathering, collection or assembly. However, it also carries the important connotation that those being assembled are called or summoned together. This is an important distinction since the gathering isn’t by the initiative or under the auspices of man but rather the Holy Spirit. The church is the assembly of Jesus’ followers who are literally called into community by the Holy Spirit. Everything about the body of Christ is completely at the behest of God himself. He originates and initiates, he incarnates and empowers, he gives gifts and instills with his purpose. Only those churches that are entirely under the auspices and sway of the Holy Spirit can conceivably be authentic in nature. The reality of the church is found where the Holy Spirit has preeminence.
This may appear to be a subtle distinction to many but it is a principal part of the church’s authentication. Recall with me Jesus’ admonition to confessed followers as recorded in Matthew.
Not everyone that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity (Matt 7:21-24 KJV).
This is a most sobering passage. Herein Jesus is saying there will come a time when he will literally deny knowing persons who have ostensibly carried out supernatural ministry in his name. Additionally he will put them out of his presence and expose them as being completely lawless. This Scripture should be a wakeup call for much of the church who tend to validate, honor and follow persons on the basis of their manifesting supernatural ministry. When will we learn that there are two sources of the supernatural? Satan is very capable of and willing to sponsor miraculous manifestations if it allows him to beguile believers and lead them into serious error.
The critical issue in this passage has to do with persons who conduct ministry outside the express will of the Father. The “will” has everything to do with volition. This passage is talking about functioning in ministry at one’s own volition rather than that of the Father. Too many Christians— who have been graced with ministry skills and anointing—treat that ability as something resident in themselves rather than the Holy Spirit. This attitude can then lead to a ministry of license rather than strict surrender to the unction of the Holy Spirit.
An example of this kind of thinking was evidenced in Jesus’ brothers when they urged him to go openly into Judea during the feast of Tabernacles.
Therefore Jesus told them, “My time is not yet here; for you any time will do (Jn 7:6 NIV).
There are two words in the Koine Greek for “time.” The one, chronos, refers to the lateral or sequential passage of time. The other, kairos, specifically refers to a set time, or the ordained fulfillment or appointment of an event. Jesus was saying to his brothers—who were yet to believe in him—that he functioned within the preordained purpose and timetable of the Father while for them kairos and chronos were indistinguishable. Just because I can offer certain ministry doesn’t mean that I should. We need to focus more carefully on the conditions of God’s promises than on the results we want to effect.
How do you spell chruch? Authentic church is what God literally calls into existence and graces with his manifest presence.