Church, Only Faster
This month we have been taking a look at what exactly church is all about. We are at a place in the life of our church that we have to ask some hard questions. The problem I keep running into is that the Bible doesn’t give us lots of guidance. Some people would tell us that when the Bible doesn’t tell us which way to go, we should look at church history for answers. Some people say that when the Bible doesn’t speak directly, we have freedom. I would agree that we have freedom. (How many times does the New Testament tell us we are free in Christ?) But, also think we have a lot to learn from our history.
Tonight our church is beginning a class called Perspectives on the World Christian Movement. (Click here for more info on the class we will be attending. You’re welcome to come with us if you live in our area.) This is a class about how God has worked and is currently working around the world. After Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension the Holy Spirit showed up, and the church begins in earnest in Jerusalem. At the end of Acts 2 Luke tells us that the believers were getting together as often as daily. They were meeting in their homes and the Temple sharing everything and devoting themselves to the Apostles’ teaching, the fellowship, the breaking of bread and the prayers. Then, the church began to face persecution that drove many believers out of Jerusalem. As believers spread across Palestine, Turkey, Greece and into Europe, many people trusted in Christ who did not have a Jewish background. Paul’s letters to believers in Europe seem to indicate that he was OK with a lot of freedom in how they worshipped. Following the close of Acts church began to develop traditions that helped explain faith to worshipers. These traditions always centered on communion and traditions handed down from the generations before them.
Over the centuries the church has continued to grow move across the world. When the church came to North America, many believers fled church traditions that had become oppressive and expressed their faith in new ways. They still involved weekly meetings built around communion, the Bible and often extra-biblical prayers and hymns. Because the communities were born out of a desire to worship, the church depended on people coming through its doors to spread the gospel. As the church grew and strengthened in North America, churches began to send missionaries to the other side of the world. In strange places most missionaries needed a safe place to learn the culture and meet needs to share Christ’s love. Unfortunately, this strategy created a cultural barrier between the mainstream culture and the missionaries.
Over the past couple decades missionaries have worked to develop new strategies that give them closer relationships with the people among whom they are working to make disciples. Instead of building a compound, believers have learned to become part of the broader culture, pray and listen for spiritual questions from the people around them. Out of this strategy the gospel has begun to move quickly in cultures where it had not previously been heard. Instead of asking people to come to a building to hear the gospel, missionaries began going into homes of people who expressed interest in knowing Christ. As they entered homes, whole households began to trust in Jesus. Because they removed the compound walls and went to the people, not just churches were born but movements have begun to take place among new people groups around the world.
Over the past decade here in the States we have watched a cultural barrier built between the American church and people who are not believers. While many churches try to overcome this barrier by becoming more culturally sensitive, we have begun a new strategy to touch the lives of the people around us. Instead of asking people to come, we are learning lessons from Christ’s workers on the other side of the world. As we pray, we are training people from our church to be missionaries taking the gospel to the homes of people around us God is causing to ask spiritual questions. As we sit down with them, read the Bible and talk about following Jesus, we have found that people averse to “going to church” are excited to find real answers to their spiritual questions. And, they are often pleasantly surprised to find them in the Bible.
Are you praying for the people around you? Are people in your life asking spiritual questions? Are you listening? Our prayer is that in this new year God would continue to bring new families to follow Christ starting in their living rooms simply answering spiritual questions and teaching them what it means to follow Jesus. We are looking forward to a movement of God that brings church to households faster than we could ever dream of bringing them to church. Are you ready to be part of the movement?