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“Experiencing Church” Now…As It Was In The Beginning
by Rodrigo Abarca
A quick glance at the situation of contemporary Christianity will convince us that something seems to be going very wrong. In spite of all the noise, commotion and activism, in the depth of our hearts lies a frustrating feeling of dissatisfaction. Those of us who have served the Lord for some years know all too well how unfruitful our effort can become throughout the course of time. Meanwhile, the leaders of the organized church seem to run after each novelty that blips on the horizon of evangelical Christianity, only to discover that it is only an empty mirage.
To answer its deep dissatisfaction in some way, evangelical Christianity has fabricated a “revivals” mentality. This concept is so deeply rooted in the mind of contemporary believers that they hardly recognize its noxious effect on the church: it forces us to believe that the normal state of things is decadence and coldness, only very occasionally interrupted by a revival or spiritual awakening.
While such revival tarries, we suffer and agonize. Preachers make hay with this matter. The lack of spiritual life, they tell us, is due to our lack of prayer, holiness, individual consecration and men that are truly great in God. And, although all these things are good and necessary, by themselves they are unable to resolve our problem. By beginning like this we are falling into the error of an old saying; putting the wagon in front of the horse.
(Some of my own similar thoughts on “revival” can be found here.)
The purpose of this book is to show, in light of the New Testament, an entirely new way. Its central thesis is that our problem lies in the kind of church we are trying to build. Divided into innumerable factions, we have developed a tremendously egocentric perspective of the Christian life. Pastors are thinking in terms of the success of their own congregation and ministry; the brethren think in terms of their own personal welfare. Thus, the gospel has mutated into a medium to reach purely individual ends. Certainly, there are many saints who remain faithful in spite of everything. Nevertheless, the general situation is that of decadence and coldness.
A restoration, is therefore required, but not merely an individualistic kind of restoration. God’s purpose was never for the Christian life to be lived by isolated and solitary individuals. For many, the problem is rooted in this very point. Returning to God’s way implies that it will take a long time to undo all they have done and they are simply unwilling to pay such a price. There is so much to undo, demolish and rectify, beginning with the way in which many leaders of present Christianity live. The damage is so profound that it seems almost impossible to fix.
However, God has not abandoned His eternal purpose. He is still seeking men and women who desire to return all the way through the long and dangerous path that leads us back to Jerusalem. As in the old times of the captivity, only a few will hear His call. Most have already gotten deeply rooted in Babylon and will have much to lose. Meanwhile, they will spend their long years dreaming of fleeting revivals that will perhaps never come in their lifetime (please remember that the last real revival occurred in our country almost a hundred years ago). Nevertheless, those that do heed the voice of the Spirit will return to rebuild the old ruins. And their reward will be greater, because they will see God in Zion.
This has always been the way in which God deals with the decadence of His people. Due to the failure of the great majority, He is calling for a representative group to overcome and maintain His testimony on earth, because although His call is for all (He that has an ear, let him hear…), only a few respond. But the few that actually do respond have the blessed responsibility of completing His work in the world.
They, however, are not special or different from the rest of their brethren. They simply fulfill the task that others have abandoned. Like the few that gathered with Nehemiah, they rebuild under conditions of tremendous opposition and adversity. Satan fears them more than anyone else in this world, because he knows that his ruin will come through them. As Watchman Nee tells us, it is not about super endowed brethren, but about normal Christians in times of chronic abnormality. Men and women who simply seek to live according to the Divine norm for the church and do not take anything less than this high goal. Due to our profound decadence, such people might seem to be weird and eccentric. Nevertheless, the first century saints would likewise seem to be strange to our eyes, so accustomed to what is abnormal and decadent. We have grown so used to such sickness that a healthy man seems to us to be an alien phenomenon.
In our days, God is awakening many men and women to live in the original simplicity and depth of His church. His Spirit is summoning us to gather as simple brethren among the brethren, willing to listen to one another, to love one another and to be mutually edified, without denominations, hierarchies and structures that divide us.
Such a calling takes its legitimacy from the Lord Himself who is the Head of the church. He is the exclusive foundation on which she is to be edified. We realize that 200, 300 or 400 years of human traditions cannot annul this fact. Tertullian once said that custom without truth is merely an ancient error. In spite of that, some of these antique errors can trace their origin even to the time of the Reformation.
But the church is even older than that. Its origin, in fact, can be traced all the way back to eternity past. And what God Himself established there in eternity past, cannot be altered by us here in our fleeting present time. God has not given us any rights to do such a thing. We were not the ones who designed the church. We did not love it. We did not pay a price of blood for it. The pure, sinless, uncorrupted blood of the Lord Jesus Christ was shed for us on Calvary’s cross. What makes us think that we can make of the church a matter of personal choice, preference, or initiative?
The church belongs to Him. Consequently, we have to build according to the model shown on the mount, just as Moses was warned to do. And the model is there, registered in the inspired pages of the New Testament. Certainly, what we find there are the principles, not the methods. God knows all too well about our human weakness. Our permanent temptation is to put together a method that would exclude our need of knowing Him in a direct, intimate and constant way.
But no method functions without Him. We can even mechanically reproduce the New Testament up to the last detail, and we will not attain even one ounce of spiritual reality. Because the wineskin was designed to contain the new wine of His Divine life. Without that Divine wine of His, the wineskin is useless. However, without the correct or proper wineskin, the wine is spilled. In the Divine perspective both are necessary for the final attainment of God’s purpose, because both are conserved together.
The Lord wants to be known and acknowledged as the real and absolute center of His church. He must be our starting point. It is useless in this sense to begin with merely exterior changes. People futilely try to adjust the model without making the necessary changes in the heart and life. It cannot be done that way. As we have said before: in the work of God, life has to precede the structure. Before returning to the original model we must return to the original source. Like the twelve original disciples, we are to live around the Lord Jesus, together with Him as simple brethren among brethren in mutual fellowship, until centuries of traditions, customs and merely human methods are fully shed from us.
So remain in Him, dwell in Him, abide in Him, to really know Him, love Him, and experience His love without any other additional objective. For a long time. All the time that is necessary. Maybe then His Spirit will stir within us a renewed and pure vision of His eternal purpose. And from there, a new work, one that will really be His work, may begin on earth. We pray that the Lord, in His mercy, may grant you and us to see the arrival of this new dawn on the church!
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Please see: “Experiencing Church” Now…As It Was In The Beginning – by Rodrigo Abarca for the Resource page for this book.