By Dan Beaty
Many of us have grown up from different backgrounds. Some are more dogmatic than others. The tradition of my grandparents was very narrow-minded yet passionately sincere. My mother’s view was somewhat different. She wanted to love everyone, and to fellowship with anyone who loved God. I am very grateful for her influence. We were criticized by the family because we attended so many different churches. In the summer we went to vacation bible school at the Church of Christ, and often we went to the Baptist Church with our friends, even though we were saved at a large Pentecostal Church. In spite of the fact that we were raised in the message of Oneness, we attended a wonderful Trinity Pentecostal Church regularly for several years. This did not please the family much either, but Mom simply followed the Lord.
As a young man I became more strongly committed to one particular viewpoint, and to one specific group of people. We always sought for the truth, but we tried to be more tolerant to others than we were expected to be. Over the years our views changed gradually, and we liked to think we had progressed in God together. This group of people became a family to me. I could not imagine life without them.
After a certain period of time, a person develops a sense of responsibility for his or her spiritual family. Often we can become very protective of what we perceive are its interests. These protective walls exist around many groups of believers around the world, and in some cases people are protected from what they need the most.
Jesus Christ established His Church upon a Living, vital relationship with Him, and the only thing we need to guard against is what threatens that relationship. Paul’s greatest fear was that we would lose the simplicity and purity of our devotion to Christ, and the liberty that it brings us. Built upon this Rock, no power of hell can prevail against us. (II Corinthians 11:2,3; Galatians 5:1; Matthew 16:18)
Looking around us, we rarely find the powerful Church that Jesus described, even though many claim to be His true Church. I am here to declare to you that Jesus does have a true Church, and that He lives and walks the earth every day in those who know Him.
God has placed Shepherds to watch over, feed and protect His Sheep, but too often we have been defending the wrong thing. His Church is a living organism, composed of regenerated people who love and know Him. It was never an organization or institution or building. A Church meeting has become to us a regularly scheduled gathering where a planned program is witnessed, but the Church is more than that. Christ’s Body does attend organized meetings that are designed for specific purposes, but these cannot fully define the nature of Christ in His Church. In these days, we might either weep or rejoice — or both, as centuries of tradition are being peeled away from our understanding concerning the Body of Christ.
We are warned to not forsake the assembling of ourselves together, but what does that actually mean? Shouldn’t the building of meaningful relationships with each member in the group be one our priorities? Couldn’t this scripture be applied in the countless ways in which we relate to each other on a day to day basis? Jesus stated that wherever two or three are gathered together in His name and in His purpose, He would be in the midst. This is the true Church. If a hundred or a thousand gather in His Name, He is also there, but His Presence must always be the most important factor. Whether we gather with many or few, we must never, ever lose that central focus. He is the one, solitary purpose that unites us and fuses us together into the one glorious body that is His Church. Where we meet is not the real issue. The more important factor is how we see the Church.
The Church of Jesus Christ assembles in homes, in coffee houses, in restaurants, or wherever they happen to be when the Christ that is in them is embraced. They join hearts by phone, or letters and their prayers for each other if they are separated by physical distance. Their meetings might be planned or spontaneous, but they are characterized by love, friendship, prayer, and worshipping Him. They carry with them an environment of excitement and expectancy that is contagious. He is in their midst. Unbelievers are drawn to Him and the love of His Word, because they see evidence of His Life. They should see no need to compete for numbers, for they are part of the largest and most ever-expanding fellowship on this earth.
Be thankful if you have a building to meet in, and even an organization that serves your needs, but this is not the Church. It has been said that 60% of all Christians are un-churched. How could this be if you ARE THE CHURCH? Many of these people have been cast off by the so-called church. Thousands have been isolated from other believers because of well-meaning efforts to preserve what some thought was God’s order, but Jesus is speaking to them today. He is raising up the weak and cast-down and sending them true shepherds who are laying down their religious fantasies. They are finding others who love Jesus and are sharing Him regularly. They are becoming strong as each joint supplies nourishment to the body, and soon they will love into liberty those who have yet to experience the fullness of true Church life.
Some established groups have seen home meetings as a threat to what they are building, and this may be true if they are building their own kingdom. However, there are a large number of leaders today who see the need for the one-on-one contact that small meetings provide. When I first came into the body of Christ, the people were meeting in homes for prayer and Bible studies several times a week. Most of these meetings were unscheduled but they were filled with His Presence. Some times we were drawn together out of a deep sense of need for change in our lives. Other times we were searching for answers in His Word. Regardless of the reason, we developed a closeness that was evident as we came together on Sunday, when the power of God exploded in every prayer, sermon and song!
Thank God, that as we pray and look to Him for a fresh anointing of His Spirit in us, these days are returning. We have not seen anything yet! There is a tremendous churning going on in the lives of believers around the world, and multitudes are crying out for reality. As our Heavenly Father begins to answer this cry, we all are beginning to see Jesus as we have never seen Him before!
There is no reason that cell groups and organized meetings cannot work together to build up the members of Christ’s Body. Each has a specialized purpose to accomplish if they work together. The problem arises when the need to control is found instead of the need to help. We do not need to fear that one will weaken the other. The true Church belongs to God anyway. His people will be where He places them, and they will be drawn to where ever they are fed and can feed others. Sure there are flaws in home meetings just as in the organized Church. Wherever people are you will find flaws, but as Christ is glorified in all of our gatherings He will be seen more and more.
In the past, when people would leave our group, I would sometimes feel hurt and a sense of separation. When others would miss a few meetings we would be concerned with their walk in God. This type of thinking is often rooted more in religious tradition than in spiritual reality. Sure I miss the physical presence of those I love, but we do not need to add unnecessary grief to the situation. Those who love and serve a Living Christ are never truly separated — unless we actually do forsake our fellowship with Him and His people.
We are talking about God’s people who should be following God. The body of Christ is a living organism that is connected by His Spirit and Love, not by a commitment to an institution. If the institution does not serve the purpose of God for His people, let it fall. God’s Church will stand.
On the other hand, God loves the people who are part of a system too. It has brought them to where they are, and He can reveal Himself more fully to them. The only cry of my heart today is that all people of all races, nationalities and creeds be set free to truly know and worship our wonderful Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. My prayer is that all of our leaders will find the freedom of serving Him and His people, equipping them for service in His glorious Cause. By leaving the constraints of man-made religion, we can truly give our lives more fully to His Will. The care and feeding of an institution has distracted many of us from the gifts and callings He has placed in us. Today we are committed only to following Him, and to leading others into His Heavenly Kingdom.
In this effort we look to see the building up of the truth Church, His Body, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ Himself! (Ephesians 4:14)