g2k - now the generation


The Tension - Institution versus Spirit

There is a vast difference between the Spiritual Church and the Institutional Church. Perhaps some explanation would be helpful: On the day that Peter rightly recognized Jesus’ true identity, that “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God,” Jesus declared, “....I will build My church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Mt. 16:18).

From this statement, taken by itself, one would assume a history would follow that would parallel the construction of a building; a foundation would be laid upon which a superstructure would be created, resulting in some sort of beautiful and/or functional edifice.

Sadly, church history records a different story. Church wars, Religious wars: The Crusades, the Huguenot Wars in France, the Spanish Inquisition, the Salem Witch Trials, and more recently “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland that pitted Catholics against Protestants to name only a few such conflicts – dot the landscape of our history.

Scripture speaks of Jesus as being the “Prince of Peace.” He told His followers, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (Jn 14:27).

And yet in the wake of His earthly ministry follows a dark and troubling history of warfare, brutal killings, destruction of cities and of nations and the deaths of millions of otherwise innocent people. A far cry from the message of peace and love and mercy and grace that Jesus preached and that He intended for those who would follow Him.

Some wrongly blame God for these tragedies. Anti-Christian people point to these catastrophes as failures of the Christian faith when in reality these horrors were not committed by spiritually alive, born-again, God-seeking people. The history of religious conflict and war is in fact the fruit of religion, not of the Christian faith.

Religion is the cradle of the Institutional Church, and the children of the Institutional Church are Intolerance, Spiritual Manipulation and Death. Religion kills. but Christ brings life. The tension of the "church" today is one between "Institution" and "Spirit." "The letter kills, but the Spirit makes alive" are the words not of a contemporary revolutionary, but of a Revolutionary named Jesus in Israel 2,000 years ago.

When we discuss existing discontent and rejection of “the church” we are not referring to the Spiritual Church. In fact, it is a misstatement for any truly born-again follower of Jesus Christ to say that he or she has rejected “the church” or that “the church” has failed or that “the church” has injured them. It is the misrepresentation of "the church that is not the church" that causes deep injury and pain to human hearts, and the doubly painful effect of this misrepresentation is that injured people tend to believe it was the church; the life-giving community of heaven on earth that caused their wounds when in fact it was an imposter that hurt them.

The truth is that injury and failure cannot derive from the true, spiritual church. The spiritual church is the heart of God’s nature and activity, His revelation in the earth. The spiritual church is God’s chosen vehicle to manifest His nature to mankind, even as Jesus of Nazareth was God’s chosen Vehicle to manifest Himself to men. The true church is wound-healing, life-giving, hope-restoring and future-promising. The true expression of the church will always bring life and never death.

Let us all who have recognized that God is bringing forth a “new wineskin” or an “emerging church” or a “reformation of structure” be clear: God loves the church! He created the church through the blood of His own Son and He will never abandon the entity He has chosen to become the Bride of Jesus; “...even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish (Eph. 5:25-27).

There is no place for a follower of Jesus to throw stones at the “apple” of God’s eye – the true church.

However we are not speaking of this entity when we talk about “change” or reformation in the church. We're talking about the Religious System of man that masquerades, that is a Pretender, that dominates the spiritual landscape of religious life today:

The Institutionalization of the true church - the "form of godliness" that "denies the power thereof" is the target of our objections. The danger of this Pharisaical cadaver is that it produces spiritual death. Jesus said to the Pharisees of His day (let me be clear; there are Pharisees today), "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves" (Mt.23:15).

The spiritual must be lived, walked out in a practical manner. Therefore we (the church) must have a “body,” a “form,” a “skeleton” to live and walk with and through. Just as man is spirit, soul and body, so the church must have a body. This body may be cared for, exercised, fed, rested, and strengthened by the manner in which we treat it; or it may be neglected, abused and weakened by our behavior toward it.
There are rules of the physical body that may not be successfully violated. If we feed our bodies junk food, we pay the price in reduced health. If we exercise our bodies and give them pure and proper food, they rise to the challenge of increased stress and demand and grow stronger.
The same is true in the spiritual realm.

If we examine the effect of the Institution of the Church, what has become the “Business of Organized Religion” in America especially, but also among other nations as well (I’ve seen this blight in Great Britain and Ireland, in Germany and in Central and South America, and in Israel for example), we can find a steady stream of disillusioned, disheartened, wounded, broken hearts. George Barna, one of the most respected pollsters of our generation, has discovered millions of Americans who claim to be born-again (not the folks who like to claim to be believers but who obviously don’t understand even the question let alone what it is to be born-again), but who have left “the church” (not the spiritual church, but the Institution).

We (the collective Institution, the “Professional Religionists”) have created an abusive, exclusive system out of the Company that Jesus engendered to be a receptive, grace-filled, mercy-giving, society of “Love, Acceptance and Forgiveness.”

Our governmental structure – not the structure that Christ gave us, but our imitations of secular governmental and our reproduction and “baptism” of secular business systems is the thing that we reject. I don’t care a whit if a man chooses to affiliate or associate with the Roman Catholic Church or the Assemblies of God, or the Southern Baptists or the Presbyterians as a means of finding his “comfort zone” within the church. None of these things matters to us; if a man or woman is born again of the Spirit by the blood of Jesus Christ, he or she is a member of “the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven” (Heb.12:23). Our denominational and theological differences all will be washed away in the atmosphere of the supremacy of heaven. The common denominator among us all will be “by grace (were) we saved through faith, and that not of (our)selves...” (Eph. 2:8).

It’s the structure, the form that man creates to accommodate the spiritual Body that is of concern to us. Dr. C.M. Ward, a true lover of the true church, was fond of saying, “The tendency of religion is to muddy.” Jesus said, “you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition (Mt.15:6).

If any of us looks with a clear eye at the church that Jesus birthed and compares it with the religious morass of today, we must conclude that we are miles from the original template. That’s the thing; that’s the only thing we want to see recovered. It’s the thing that must happen. For years some of us watched wounded, broken, hurting people enter our sanctuaries, hoping that somehow, the church could provide healing and restoration to their souls. Some found help, but the majority exited our services more disillusioned than when they came; their final hopes dashed.

On a personal level, my public ministry began in 1971 on the Plaza of the Alamo in San Antonio, Texas. I played my guitar; sang the only Christian song I knew, “This little light of mine, I’m ‘gonna let it shine...” and prostitutes, junkies, alcoholics, drifters, pimps and the occasional business executive would respond. I prayed for them. They were set free; every one of them without exception. I picked up hitch-hikers and by the time I dropped them off, they were followers of Jesus. When my pastor saw what was obviously a call of God on my life, he told me, “You have to go to Bible School.” I obeyed and attended. I was slowly but surely “domesticated,” taught to conform. I learned about “the way we do it” as opposed to the somewhat “wild” and unusual life I had known in San Antonio. Some of the learning was good. I’m thankful that I understand the rules of biblical interpretation – called “hermeneutics.” I will ever be thankful that I understand why the original languages, Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic are important to us today. I obtained a Master’s degree and a Doctorate in Theology. I became “respectable.” I joined the “in-crowd” and was made a denominational official. I I became “civilized” and expert in the “practice of religion,” but sensed also that I was slowly losing my soul. And one day I remembered the life I had known when a bunch of young followers of Jesus met day after day and night after night in a tiny apartment in a suburb of San Antonio. I recalled a spiritual confrontation between a practicing witch and a sweet, simple, middle-aged lady who lived in the apartment. I remember the witch calling on the powers of hell and making incantations to destroy this precious “mother in the Lord.” I remember this sister finally saying, when the witch had exhausted her lexicon of curses, “are you finished, honey?” And then I heard her whisper, “Jesus....” And I watched the witch fall to the floor. I heard her repent. I saw her receive Jesus as Savior and Lord. She rose and cried out “I want to be baptized!” And there, in the bathtub in that tiny apartment, a former slave of hell told the “world,” “I serve a risen Savior.” That night, Carol became a member of the church of Jesus Christ. No membership class; no “prove yourself for six months,” just the raw, living, breathing reality of the promise of Jesus, that “whosoever should believe on His name should not perish, but should have everlasting life.”

I had been a pastor for twenty-one years; longer than a full career in the military. I had seen so many things in those twenty-one years. And there were so many things I hadn’t seen; like the days in San Antonio when a Living Christ touched dead souls and they lived again.

And I reflected that God hadn’t changed, but I had – we had. We had become a part of an Institution, an Organization more than an Organism. We had Association but little sense of “family.” We had our Rules and Regulations, but so little Relationship.

It’s the wineskin, and not the wine that is the problem. It’s the skeleton and not the spirit that must change. It’s the “after-market add-ons” that we must rid ourselves of. It’s the Church of the New Testament that we must recover. He is building His church, against which the gates of hell will not prevail.

From year twenty-one through year twenty-five I sought to recover the things I had lost. And when “spirit” became more important than “structure” we saw God accomplish amazing things among us. In a six week period we saw more than 2,100 adults accept Jesus Christ for the first time. We moved to where people were; we created “branch offices” – homes and conference rooms where people could meet, relate, learn, grow. We didn’t bend people to our structure, we bent our structure to accommodate people.

Jesus was obviously NOT wrong when He promised He would build His church. Yet man can and man has damaged the concept of “church” just as the Pharisees and the Sadducees hijacked the Law to fit their concepts and their desires. Just as (I don’t want to judge or criticize, but...) some “religionists” today have hijacked Grace to line their pockets at the expense of the folks who hang on every word uttered by televangelist tricksters and send their Social Security funds and their retirement checks to buy the latest Intercontinental Jet Aircraft so that some “man of God” can preach the gospel to the WHOLE world (that’s a direct and recent example).

The gates of hell have not and cannot prevail against the church – the spiritual church. But the gates of hell have played havoc with our Institutions and because so many people have (mistakenly) connected the Institution with the true, spiritual church, their anticipations have been met with disappointment.
The church – the true church IS existent today. But she is not the imposter that masquerades herself in gowns of self-importance and human wisdom and self-promotion and spiritual superiority. She is the humble, plain-spoken imitator of Jesus, destined to be purified and prepared, adorned in His righteousness, ready of her wedding day and her Groom, Jesus.
 

In His Grace,

Greg




 

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