Read an Excerpt
By Neil Cole
John Wiley & SonsISBN: 0-7879-8129-X
Chapter OneRIDE OUT WITH ME!
Can the church stop its puny, hack dreams of trying to "make a difference in the world" and start dreaming God-sized dreams of making the world different? Can the church invent and prevent, redeem and redream, this postmodern future? -Leonard Sweet (Soul Tsunami)
Nothing is impossible for the man who will not listen to reason. -John Belushi (in the film Animal House)
In the film The Lord of the Rings, Peter Jackson creates a beautiful depiction of J.R.R. Tolkien's world of Middle Earth. This is a fictional place full of wizards, elves, dwarves, dragons, ogres, and goblins. There is also a race of simple, rural people who are very small; they are known as Hobbits. Sauron, the dark lord of evil in this world, centuries earlier created a ring of power that holds much of his evil influence. The ring was lost and somehow found its way into the possession of a hobbit named Frodo Baggins. The Lord of the Rings is an epic story of a small band of characters from the free peoples of Middle Earth who face enemies in staggering numbers and overwhelming odds. They set out on a quest to destroy this ring of power and thus defeat the growing influence of Sauron.
In the second movie, The Two Towers, we find that the good guys join up with the nation of Rohan, who are world-renowned as horsemen with agile and brave horses. They face the advances of an evil army of Goblins, bent on the total destruction of all the people.
They find themselves in the throne room of Theoden, king of Rohan. When the king comes to the realization that the enemy is on the move and bent on destroying his kingdom, he is faced with tough choices. The counsel is to "ride out and meet them." But the king is concerned for the welfare of his people. War is ugly and always accompanied by great loss. In the past, they found safety behind the walls of a fortified castle known as Helm's Deep. With his shepherd's heart and desire to protect those for whom he is responsible, Theoden announces, "I'll not risk open war with my people." Aragorn, a warrior with the true heart of a king, responds, "Open war is upon you whether you would risk it or not."
These are true words today. We face an encroaching evil that would destroy the world of men. Our enemy, Satan, is on the move and taking ground daily. Christian leaders, like Theoden, face a similar crisis and must make choices for the good of their people.
Theoden chose the mirage of safety in the fortress called Helm's Deep. From that decision on, the film portrays men losing ground to the advance of evil. Once in the fortress, the men feel a sense of security, but the walls are breached, so they retreat further to the keep. Eventually the throngs of the enemy seize the entire fortress except for a small room with a barricaded door.
With the pounding of a battering ram against this last door separating the men from their annihilation, in helplessness King Theoden cries out, "What can men do against such reckless hate?" Aragorn once again gives Theoden the answer he had brushed aside in earlier counsel: "Ride out with me."
With backs against the wall, no way out, and no hope of victory against an army of ten thousand, this suggestion now comes across as only a way to die in a blaze of glory. Theoden says, "Yes, for death and glory!" Aragorn corrects him: "For your people." Theoden responds with passion, "Let this be the hour when we draw swords together!" They mount up and charge the enemy on horseback, becoming the warriors they were always meant to be. They meet the enemy head on. As they plunge forward in reckless abandon, the enemy surprisingly falters at their boldness and stumbles back. At that moment, reinforcements return to assist, and in the end the battle is won. Evil is sent running, and victory belongs with the brave heroes who, against all odds, rode out to meet the enemy head on.
This is a parable for our churches today. Under the good intentions of well-meaning leaders, the church has fallen back on its heels in a defensive posture, seeking refuge in its own fortresses of buildings, programs, and "Christian" businesses, schools, and ministries. Trying to avoid the threat we were always meant to thwart, we have lost ground over and over again until at last we have nowhere left to go, surrounded by wickedness. We are now seen as an impotent and frightened group that hides from the world and the reality that faces us. We have allowed the enemy to take over the culture and society, and we complain from the safety of our fortified so-called Christian strongholds.
Who Is Jesus to You?
But this is not how Jesus intended His church to be. There are two times in which our Lord spoke of "church" directly. The first time Jesus mentioned the church was when He and His disciples went to Caesarea Philippi on a retreat together, as recorded in Matthew 16:13-20. Jesus gave the disciples a "pop quiz." There is a good reason teachers like to give pop quizzes: they truly reveal what you know.
The first question of the quiz was easy: "Who do people say that I am?" This one was fun for the disciples to answer. Every one jumped into the discussion, each with his own theory. It is always easy to talk about the mistakes of others. What the disciples didn't realize was that this was only a warm-up question.
The second question was the real test-the most important question anyone will ever answer. Jesus asked, "But who do you say that I am?" (emphasis mine) The scriptures don't tell us this, but I imagine it suddenly got real quiet. I can also picture all the glances that were so on fire with enthusiasm a moment earlier now falling slowly to the ground. This question is much harder to answer because it is personal; if you get it wrong, it is you who are at fault. This is one question you don't want to get wrong, because all of eternity hangs in the balance.
The weight of this question made the air thick with tension. I can imagine all the disciples slowly turning their heads in Peter's direction, just hoping he would speak up as he often did and get them all off the hook. Peter, probably uncomfortable with silence, was ready to oblige. In one special instant he lifted his voice with boldness and a sense of power and said, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God."
Jesus must have smiled at that moment, and the tension instantly lifted. Peter must have felt a surge of pride (he would later need to be humbled). Jesus was then to give Peter a blessing that would touch his life, and ours, forever: "Blessed are you, Simon, Son of Jonah, because you cheated on the test!" (my paraphrase) "You got the answer from someone else. Flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven." In essence, we all cheat death and judgment by getting our answer from God and His Son. There is no other way. All of us need help from heaven if we are to know Jesus. We don't get there by having a high IQ or studying the right books. It isn't intelligence, family heritage, or nationality that gets us to heaven; it is the grace of God. Only if we accept His help can we truly know Jesus.
What I really want to focus on in discovering Jesus' understanding of His church is verse 18. I begin with setting the context because this is where Jesus began. It is the right place to begin when we talk of what the church truly is. Everything about church begins and ends with a single question: Who is Jesus to you? Jesus' statement about the church has a context that begins with God's grace revealing the identity of Jesus and ends with the work of Christ on the cross and His awesome resurrection three days later (Matt. 16:21). Even if we get everything else right but skip this important question, we are not truly the church. Church begins with Jesus: who He is and what He has done. It is all about Jesus, and if it begins to be about something else, then it stops being the church as Jesus meant it to be.
Before one speaks about starting or growing churches, one simply must wrestle with this question: "Who is Jesus to you?" You must also find the answer from your Father in heaven rather than a how-to-book or a seminar workshop. Church is spiritual. There is a sense of mystery and revelation about it.
If in your answer to this question Jesus is the King of kings, then church will reflect that. If Jesus has all authority of heaven and earth and is always present, then church will be different. But if Jesus is docile, passive, and indifferent, your church will be as well.
I think one of our problems is that we forget to ask ourselves this question when we set out to start churches. The consequence is weak churches. We speak more about our church "style" and "model" than about the Lord of lords who reigns within it. We tell people why our church is different from or better than other churches in town, thinking they will be attracted to it, but instead they are uninterested. If only we return to our first love and let Jesus be our focus, then many will be drawn in. They will be compelled to gain Christ rather than attend a religious service.
Church According to Jesus
Jesus went on: "And I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades shall not overpower it." In only one sentence, Jesus says more about how church should be than countless theologians say in a library full of volumes. There are five things I want you to see about the church according to Jesus.
Jesus Builds the Church
There are many books, tapes, seminars, and CDs made to help people build the church, but if you are building the church, it isn't the church. Jesus did not say, "And upon this rock you will build my church." Jesus, and only Jesus, builds the church. If we build a church that is based on a charismatic personality, an innovative methodology, or anything else, we have a church that is inferior to that which Jesus would build.
Jesus Owns the Church
Jesus bought the church with His own blood (Acts 20:28). He didn't promise that He "will build your church." The church belongs to Jesus. He is building His church. I once heard a story about a contractor who built homes in a small town somewhere in Europe. He built most of the homes for the people who lived in the village and was a gifted carpenter. Unfortunately, he was never able to afford a home of his own. One day, the wealthiest man in town came to the contractor and asked him to build a house. He said, "I want you to build the finest house you are capable of, and I want you to spare no expense. I am going on a journey and when I return I hope that the house will be completed."
The contractor agreed to the job and was about to begin when a thought struck him: "This wealthy man already has a few houses. I do not have my own. I will use inferior material, do a quick and sloppy job on the house, make it look real nice, and charge him the full amount. That way I can pocket the leftover money and finally afford to buy my own house. It won't be much of a house, but at least it will be mine." This is what he did.
When the rich man returned he went to view the house and was very impressed. It looked beautiful from a distance. The wealthy man turned to the crooked contractor and said, "The house looks wonderful! I am so glad that you spared no expense, for I intend to give this home to a dear friend who deserves a house like this one." With that, he handed the keys over to the contractor and said, "Here is your new home, my friend." The contractor graciously received the keys to his new home, but his heart sank as he realized what he had done.
What kind of effort and quality of workmanship and materials would the man have put into the home if he had known it would be the place where he and his family would be living? The church is Jesus' building project, and He fully intends to live in it. If Jesus is at work building His church, it will be beautiful and solid. He doesn't do sloppy work. If our churches are falling apart and are not healthy, it is not because Jesus has done a poor job but because we have taken the task upon ourselves.
The Church Is Meant to Be Growing
You have surely passed by a building that is being constructed. If you went by the construction site a second time you surely did not find it to be smaller. When something is being built, it grows bigger, not smaller. Jesus is building His church, and it should be growing. The church is meant to grow. It should experience spiritual growth, and seeing new souls brought into the Kingdom of God is part of that.
This doesn't mean that every local church should keep getting bigger and bigger. Most warm-blooded living things grow to a point and then reproduce. This is how the body of Christ is to grow. The huge megachurches of this past century will be looked upon as an anomaly, not the norm, of our time in history.
The Church That Is Growing Will Face Opposition
Jesus said that we would face resistance as the church starts to grow. He identified the antagonism as what comes from Hades. Wherever the church is alive and growing, hell is opposing it.
One sign of a healthy church is that she faces hostility from hell. A preacher once said, "If you wake up in the morning and don't run into the enemy head on, then maybe you're going in the wrong direction." Ed Silvoso rightly points out that "the Bible doesn't say to ignore the devil and he will flee from you." We must stand firm and resist the enemy.
In Releasing Your Church's Potential, Robert Logan and Tom Clegg said, "I believe that the enemy divides all people into two categories: those he can ignore and those he has to fight. I want to be one of those that he has to fight." He went on to quote a World War II bomber pilot: "If you're taking flak, you're over the target."
The Church That Jesus Builds Is Unstoppable
The enemy we face is powerful. He has been around from the beginning of time and has been studying our strengths and weaknesses. His first attempt to destroy human life was against a perfect man and a perfect woman who were not hindered by a sinful nature and were part of a perfect environment-yet he succeeded. He has been perfecting his craft ever since. He knows each of our weaknesses and vulnerabilities. He has an army of soldiers at his command. He and all of his forces are invisible and supernatural, and they surround us. They have been watching us our whole lives.
When I picture our situation in this light, I begin to see church as a refuge or shelter. I see her as a fortress where we are defending the saints from the vicious wolf pack surrounding us and wanting to devour each of us. But this description of church does not fit the one given by Jesus in this verse (Matt. 16:18).
Jesus said that the gates of hell shall not prevail against His church. Most people have a gate at home. It dawned on me one day that a gate is not an offensive weapon. Notice that there is no two-week cooling-off period before one can purchase a gate. Police don't pack loaded gates. Terrorists don't hold victims "at gate point." We don't send weapons inspectors overseas to discover "gates of mass destruction." Dogs don't run loose with a little sign around their neck that reads "Beware of gate."
Gates are not a threat; they are defensive, and the gates Jesus was talking about aren't pearly ones-they're the gates of hell! The church is to be on offense, not defense. The church has been held hostage at gate point for far too long. It is time we stop being intimidated by a gate. It is time for the devil to be back on his heels rather than the church.
The church in the West, unfortunately, is usually in a defensive posture. Christians are notorious for being against other institutions. If this is not enough, we are often threatened by one another. Some of us don't feel comfortable unless we are on defense, as if being on offense is a sin. We are so defensive that it has become offensive.
Can you imagine what would happen if the Denver Broncos decided to bring only their defensive unit to play against the Green Bay Packers in the Super Bowl? No matter how well their defense plays, they can never win without scoring some points.
Excerpted from Organic Church by Neil Cole Excerpted by permission.
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