For the proclamation of the Gospel and the edification of the Body of Christ
"Experiencing Church" Now...
As It Was In The Beginning
By Rodrigo Abarca
"I will build my church and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it." These words of the Lord Jesus Christ given to Peter in answer to his well known confession: "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God," represent perhaps the only occasion in which He explicitly declared the most ample meaning of His coming to the world. In them we find the highest purpose of God for His children, including beyond salvation, holiness, the abundant life, prosperity, revivals, and all those topics that usually are emphasized as the center of the Christian experience. No doubt, these things are important for the life of the children of God; however, they are not the most important. Because what claims all God's attention from eternity past is the church, the bride of the Lamb.
Perhaps such an affirmation may sound strange if one considers the concepts that on the average are used about this by the majority of Christians. Certainly, a cold brick building where a group of people gather once a week to sing a little, hear a sermon, make one or two prayers and then leave each one to their home to continue with their "real" life the remaining six days, clearly does not seem to be the very work of God in the history of the world. And truly this is not the case. But the church, conceived so as to be the full and elevated expression of the divine life on the earth, is a very different matter to the concepts, ideas, projects, organizations and buildings that have been developed throughout history which have used its name.
Nevertheless, it was not always so, for at least the first 100 or perhaps 200 years of Christian history a certain "something" existed which was worthy of using that name. Our need to call it "something", whose true character and nature are almost inaccessible to us today, is the most concrete evidence of how far our current concepts have strayed. Is it really inaccessible? Well, almost: it is for mere human capacities and abilities at least.
But do we not have the New Testament and with it, all that we need to know about the primitive church? Can we not study its principles and methodologies in depth and apply them today? This in principle appears to be a good way to go, but it is not, because it omits a fundamental issue. Mere bible study does not give us knowledge of God and His purposes. It requires something more: a deep, transforming revelation of the Spirit in our hearts, which is capable of revolutionizing all of our Christian experience.
However, this revelation has a price that many may not be willing to pay. Because, before building his holy temple, God destroys the vain building that has been raised up by our own efforts. If we draw near to Him to know the truth, we must be prepared to be exposed and naked under the divine light. This will mean much suffering and loss for us, because it is extremely tough to be faced with our true condition. In secret, each one of us carries a high esteem of ourselves, our qualities and abilities, which we depend on for our service and Christian life. Nevertheless, such abilities and all they can do have no value in the work of God.
To accept this fact is not easy. And it might be that this last statement seems to us hard and excessive and would require clarification. Precisely that is why this book will try to demonstrate why we make such a radical statement, because the last thing we would desire is to establish some sort of methodology or manual for the life of the church that would exclude our primordial need, which is to know our God in an experiential and profound way. Such knowledge and the church of Jesus Christ are not two facts that are estranged from one another, but in fact constitute, from the divine perspective, an indivisible unity. In eternity God already established that His life would be known, experienced and expressed through a living organism, the church, and nothing less than that could ever satisfy His heart.
But, as it was said before, to accede to it requires a lot from us; rather, it demands everything. To experience the Divine life we first have to lose our own; to be undressed before being dressed up; to be demolished before being built up. Is that too hard? Impossible is perhaps a better definition. But precisely that is what the church is, a work that only the supernatural power of God is able to raise, since anything that is less than that, good as it might be to us, is not the Bride of Jesus Christ. Men can only do what is merely possible, only God can do the impossible. This is the seal of any true work born of His holy hands.
Nevertheless, it is sad to verify how little, at present, the children of God know about the Church that Christ came to build. Certainly a variety of concepts exist about her. All of these, however, have this in common: none of them seem to reach the elevated norm of experience that the Lord revealed and established in the New Testament. That does not mean that these experiences of church are totally void of some spiritual reality. Nevertheless, such reality is found, generally, hindered by an immense quantity of concepts, structures and practices that are basically human. But a full expression of the purpose of God is a matter that seems to rise completely far above any of our previous experiences of church, such as it is known in our days. However, the Lord Jesus Christ said "I will build my church" and those words express God's supreme call to all those that want to know Him more profoundly and only do His will.
Finally, it is necessary to make an important clarification regarding the purpose of this book. Our original intention is to show that the church is essentially the result of the Divine life acting from within the sons of God. Such life has love as a characteristic modus operandi, or way of doing things, and love is also it's most evident fruit. The functional aspects of church life dealt with in this book have as their end to show how such life grows and is expanded to reach its most intimate purpose. It's objective is not, in any sense, to establish an absolute model on the functioning practice of the church and its ministries. What has been sought is to discover in the inspired words of the New Testament how the Divine life grew and expanded in the experience of the first church.
We do not wish that this book be used as a practical manual defining the steps to become "the true church". In fact, it is possible that some readers would honestly dissent with some of the practices and experiences of "the model" of church presented here. And that is all right, because it will not be until we return to the profound and overwhelming experience of the first disciples with Jesus Christ, that we shall again have the church as she should be. Until that day "our models" necessarily have to be temporary.
This book is limited by the light that the Lord has given us up to the present moment regarding how His church is born and developed. The matter, consequently, is not closed, and certainly not exhausted. We do not want to be absolute in this regard. Rather we hope that the Lord in His mercy will continue leading us, together with many others, on the path of returning to His original and eternal intention.
1 An Eternal Purpose
2 Divine Life Before Time
3 The Work of the Holy Spirit
4. Who is Sufficient?
5 The Foundation of the Apostles
6 The Meaning of Ekklesia
7 The Community of the Kingdom
8 A Chapter on What is Most Essential
Translated from Spanish into English by Fred Malir