The Early Church -- Easter Sunday, 2006
All my Christian life I've heard people say, and I would often be in agreement, that we should do our best to do things like the "early" or "primitive" church. One of the first things I heard from someone close to me was that at his church, "We do things like the Bible."
And interestingly, just like every car dealer who advertises on TV has the "LOWEST PRICES -- GUARANTEED" (something which can't be true for every one of them), most churches will make that claim or at least admit to that as their goal.
I've become convinced that is a completely wrong focus. We cannot reproduce the early church, and though some may claim it, I do not believe the New Testament lays out "how to do church" in the same way Moses was given the pattern for the tabernacle on the mount. That temporary tent gave way to Solomon's Temple, which was destroyed, and then subsequently rebuilt here and there until the time of Jesus of Nazareth when it was updated by King Herod, and then completely destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD.
As the book of Hebrews states, that institution, which always was meant to be symbolic and representative of the true temple which is Christ, has been abolished in the once for all sacrifice of Jesus our great High Priest, who interecedes eternally for us in the heavens, thus abolishing any need for the earthly temple and its rites for all time.
The new temple of God is we ourselves, humanity brought back through the Cross into the paradise of God, where the new testament is fulfilled in us by the Spirit of God who dwells in us, where Ezekiel's word is fulfilled:
A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.
And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them.
And ye shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; and ye shall be my people, and I will be your God. (Ezek 36:26-28)
He has given us a new heart because the heart of man, previously given only to wickedness because of our old master, has been cleansed and made new since Christ has come into our hearts and now dwells there. And further He has given us His Spirit, the same Spirit that raised Christ Jesus from the dead which now enlivens our bodies and souls. He has taken away our hearts of stone, hearts which had no regard nor compassion for anyone else and sought only to lift ourselves up and feed ourselves at the expense of everyone around us, and replaced them with his own heart of flesh, which suffers with those who suffer, weeps with those who weep, mourns with those who mourn, and also rejoices with tears at the overwhelming boundlessness of the love and grace of God, which manifests out of our lives not in judgment and criticism of others, but in all things having only one desire and goal: to lift others into the love of God.
And even further, in filling us with his Spirit, he has promised something much more than we can think or imagine or scarcely believe ( because it is so WONDERFUL), because He (GOD) has said He will CAUSE us to walk in His statutes and to keep his judgments and do them. This flies into the face of everything we've ever learned or been taught our whole lives, and shatters into pieces the hundred-foot thick wall of self-pride that guards us all which says, "I will be like the Most High" (Isaiah 14:14), which is self-idolatry at its core, and throws our precious imaginary self-responsibility (which is also known as "our righteousness") into the stinking cesspool where it belongs, so that God may be All in all IN US!
In so doing, He has brought us back into the land of our fathers, the land of Promise, and gives us rest from our labors even while we take up His yoke and live in His burden. Again, we find ourselves incredulous because this stirring in our bellies we have felt for so long but have been afraid to let go, has finally erupted into an outflowing river which we know we were promised in the beginning but we had no way to believe -- for how could we have known? It is exceedingly above all we dared to ask or think!
And here we have come home again, because the Lover of our Souls has taken us into His bosom. We have been made one with the Father even as Jesus is one with the Father. (Jn 17:20-21). THE GOD has become OUR GOD, which means our whole spirit soul and body vibrates and resonates at every level, from the subatomic particles that vibrate in all the atoms of our physical beings to the intangible thoughts that shoot through our consciousness like the wind -- we don't know where they come from nor do we know where they go. Since He is now OUR GOD, meaning our All in all, our hope, our life, our faith, our desire, our heart, our goings out and our comings in, the government has now been eternally established on HIS shoulders, and we need no more temple, no more sun, no more moon (light from outside us to guide us -- Rev 21:22-23) because now the true Inner Light has come, the Daystar from on High, and has permeated every fiber of every part of us, whether we have realized it or believe it -- or not.
And that is the new covenant.
Not some refurbished old covenant, where we are always trying to recreate something which went on in the past. New wine has to be put into NEW WINESKINS -- i.e. new forms. That is why it is impossible to take this move of the Spirit of our time, Christ living in us AS US, and put it into the old forms and traditions of the past. It will only burst and destroy them.
This is a new time and this is the wave of God's spirit for our time. God's people are being raised up to know who they are in a living and conscious way. Not in rigid dogma and complicated theology. Not in more seminars and programs. Not in bigger and more modern buildings. Not in further and further separating ourselves from the hurting people of the world by having a sickening proliferation of more and more "Christian" things, things by which we testify to the world not that we love it as the Father loved it and sent His only Son into it that He might reconcile all things to Himself, but things which testify to the people of the world that we have only disdain for them and we are better and more moral and more righteous than they are and we reject them and all that they do.
This is the time that we throw away the old forms if they have no life in them. This is the time when we dare to believe that we are HE living in the world, and that in all that we do there is a living river of living water flowing out of our midst. We dare to believe that that river waters all the world around us with blessing and with grace and joy. We dare to believe that we are those who lift others up. We dare to believe we are sent not to condemn and put down, but to bring life and to save. We dare to believe we make plants grow in a dry desert -- where it has been impossible for them to grow. We dare to believe that we have no more need for the religious traditions of the past and break out into new ways and new forms which have never been heard or seen before.
What made the "early church" vital and electric and spread like wildfire weren't sets of techniques we can figure out and emulate. It wasn't because they in their time were so close to the original Apostles and Paul. It was because it was a new thing. It was God, living and vital in the PRESENT MOMENT. They had no traditions from the past to draw from, so they dared to believe that like Abraham, everywhere they put their foot God was doing that new thing, that it was their land to possess, and they were free to develop it as the Spirit moved in them.
We don't recreate the early church by trying to figure out how they did what they did and then trying to copy that. We have no need to do that, because God is in us NOW -- TODAY -- to will and to do of His Good Pleasure.
The NEW covenant has no form except that which we give it in the living out of our lives, and now that He has come to make US His dwelling place forever, and to walk in us and be our God, He TRUSTS US -- YES US -- to put on any skin we please, any dress, any suit will do, and we thus possess the land, and it even now is flowing with the milk and honey of the Lord.
We are walking in the living fulfillment before our eyes of God's promises, that we have been made absolutely, completely, totally NEW CREATIONS, and that now ALL THINGS ARE OF GOD, and that He has given us a ministry of reconciliation, where we declare to the world that which God has sent us to say, that because of Christ Jesus he imputes no more sins unto men, we say again -- HE IS NOT IMPUTING TO MEN THEIR TRESPASSES (and we dare not hold them in their sins if God does not), and this word of reconciliation he has sent us to say and to live. (2 Cor 5:17-20) We are the living forgiveness and reconcliation of God in the world. However we are, in whatever state we find ourselves in. We only open our eyes and our hearts and believe.
This is the Lord's doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes. Holy Holy Holy, Lord God Almighty. Heaven and earth are full of THEE!