Have you ever wondered why the apostle Paul was so scathing in his attack upon the churches of Galatia? Have you ever considered that the reason why, out of all the letters he wrote, this particular epistle survived and was canonised into what we call the New Testament?
God is very, very exact in everything He does. Nothing is ever left to chance. Ever. His plan is so comprehensive that He formed it before the very creation of the world. We accept this readily (at least I hope you do too), and yet we consider much of what Paul wrote to the churches in Galatia as being only pertinent to back then, whilst other parts of it we enshrine in law.
In my quest…Mmmm. Quest is wrong; it makes me sound like a Hobbit. In my search for why we aren’t seeing today what the church is described as being from the pages of the New Testament, I have learned many new things. Much of what I have learned you will find entombed here, on this blog, in the Articles section. During the search I have gained a much deeper understanding of how God works; of just how exact He is. I have also come to a place where I understand that much of what I write here is firstly for the situation which myself and Caz are in. Then, as I start to ponder what God says to us in those situations, I am sometimes shown a wider application. It is this wider application which I share with you. Not everything God speaks to us about is for you as well. That is a deception to think so. The fact that God says something to me, doesn’t mean the same message is also for you. However, it happens a great deal. You will have experienced it, I’m sure. Someone from your church will have had a revelation from God. They then share it as if it was for everyone. It is usually little more than them wanting attention for being super-spiritual. Real revelation brings real fruit. If there is no fruit, then there is no revelation. At least, not from God.
For some time, I have been engaged in pursuing God over why there is such a discrepancy from the church we see in the New Testament to the state we’re in now. The answer has always seemed to allude me. I might get a part of the problem, but not the answer. When I was describing what I am about to share with you to a dear friend yesterday, I used two analogies to attempt to explain what I am talking about.
The first analogy is used commonly enough to be fairly straightforward to most people: It is like I am doing a large jigsaw puzzle. I have the edges done and a few features are starting to reveal themselves. I don’t have the lid of the jigsaw box to work to, so I don’t know what the finished picture is meant to look like, so it becomes a pain-staking process of trying pieces together until you find some that fit. There are pieces on the table which look fascinating but there appears no logical home for them. Every now and again, I find a piece that I have been looking for and know exactly where it should go, but mostly I just have odd pieces with no logical home – it is as if they don’t even belong to the same jigsaw that I am attempting to finish. Then, like this week, I find a great many pieces all at once, and suddenly I find a match for other pieces on the table and a whole new section is completed.
The second analogy is mathematical. I see the problem like a quadratic equation: I know the answer, but must solve the other side of the equation to get the whole picture. For example, the letter to the Galatians, in isolation, isn’t enough. I simply had to know what was on the other side of the equation. I had to know what caused Paul to write it in the first place. His epistle was the answer. I needed to know why.
In order to understand both the now and the future, we must first understand the past. I needed a theory on the left-hand side of the equation that would explain the answer on the right hand side. Now, I appreciate many of you aren’t into algebra. I’m not either. But, I am also fed up with clutching at straws as to why there is such a dichotomy between the 1st century church and the 21st century one. You will be pleased to hear, I know the answer now. Of course, I’m going to encourage you to read my ‘rough workings’ on how I got to the answer first. But, lest there be any confusion, I need to declare that I didn’t work these things out for myself. I simply pursued God until He showed me. This particular puzzle started almost exactly three years ago. Along the way, God was gracious enough to leave me ‘breadcrumbs’ to guide me. Some of these breadcrumbs I have had for well over two years and whose meaning was hidden from me until last Friday afternoon. I encourage you now that if you keep on asking; keeping on seeking; and keep on knocking; He will answer. He always does. The only caveat that I offer to that last remark is that He rarely will reveal the answer until we are ready, spiritually, to understand it. And by ready, I mean surrendered.
Ordinarily I would start at the beginning but, in this case, that won’t help and will involve a great deal of back story which will consume great reams of internet paper. Instead, I will take you back to April 2014.
We had just had our offer accepted on the building now known as Cornerstone and were waiting on God for what we were to do next. At this point, we were genuinely like that – we would seek God about everything. I am sure that many of you reading this will, like us, have started a project in this way. I wonder how many of you continue in the same fashion? But, we were there – one step at a time. God had been clear about buying the building. The money was there to do it without borrowing. We knew that there wasn’t enough, however, to finish the project, but you have to step out in faith, don’t you? And we did.
As the solicitors and other parties worked away in the background, negotiating all the needless clauses involved in buying a commercial property, we were given a series of scriptures by people whom we trust. But there was one day in particular, in which four were given, that shaped everything that was to come. When we received them, everything changed. When you read them you will probably understand why we took them to mean Go! Go! Go! Which we did. And, I can tell you know that it is very easy to move from waiting on God for directions to thinking that God has given you the go-ahead for everything you’ve been thinking He wants. I will let you make up your minds about the scriptures:
1. “These things says He who is holy, He who is true, “He who has the key of David, He who opens and no one shuts, and shuts and no one opens. ” I know your works. See, I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it.” [Revelation 3:7b-8a NKJV]
2. “For a great and effective door has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.” [1st Corinthians 16:9]
3. “Furthermore, when I came to Troas to preach Christ’s gospel, and a door was opened to me by the Lord.” [2nd Corinthians 2:12]
The forth scripture I will come onto later, but for now, just imagine being in our position; we had just started to purchase the Cornerstone building; we had money left over to cover some of the building costs; and a hatful of ideas for what we would be doing there. I challenge anyone not to see Go! Go! Go!
Of course, history has proved us to be wrong in our assumption that God had given us an unconditional go ahead on the project. And it took over two years to really understand what the problem was. The scriptures above weren’t, as we believed and wanted to believe, God’s sign of favour. They were in fact breadcrumbs for after we had got things so wrong. He was going ahead of us and saying “Here, you’re going to need these later. You’re going to need to understand what went wrong and why”. And, as I said earlier, it was only Friday last in which I understood the purpose of those three scriptures. That I will come onto in a while. For now, I will give you the forth scripture from that day, plus three others that followed from the same source a few days later. As you will see, there appears to be no real correlation between them. To me, they were jigsaw pieces to be thrown on to the pile of other pieces I already had on the table:
4. 2nd Corinthians 3:1-6 – this is all about the letter of the Law versus the Spirit of the Law.
5. “On that day I will raise up the tabernacle of David, which has fallen down, and repair its damages; I will raise up its ruins, and rebuild it as in the days of old.” [Amos 9:11]
6. The entire seventh chapter of 2nd Samuel which details David’s desire to build a permanent house for God and the subsequent message from God about the future of David’s household.
7. “Unless the Lord builds the house, they labour in vain who build it.” [Psalm 127:1a]
When you see them like that, there is some obvious connection, but nothing specific. No specific instruction. Like I said, I tossed them onto the table with the other pieces of the jigsaw. We were already preoccupied with building what we thought God wanted, and He had given us the green light (three times!) after all.
Let’s flash forward exactly a year. Much work has been done at Cornerstone, including an almost total rewire of the ground floor; the outside has been rendered and painted; the entire ground floor has been re-plastered and painted; there is a new staircase to upstairs and much more. But, the money had run out. And, to make matters worse, there didn’t seem to be any real sign of any coming in. We did what most people would do – we tried to do things which we thought would ‘kick-start’ the process (this doesn’t work – it is a deception. God works when He is ready, never before). Most of these things, such as food bank and clothing bank, came to nothing. Prayer meetings were the same. The only thing which was well attended was a Bible study which we ran on a Saturday evening. We would all sit round and eat together and then encourage one another. It felt organic (for want of a better adjective). Despite the apparent success of the Bible study, we both knew that something was dreadfully wrong. But whenever we sought God about what the issue was, there was silence. So, we continued, and expected God to act any day. He didn’t.
I should say something here about when God is silent on a particular subject. For my own experience, I can identify two situations in which God remains silent. Firstly (and most commonly), He remains silent when He has already spoken. Go back to what He last said on the subject and take another look. Secondly, I have found that He also remains silent when something is wrong. My advice is if God is silent and the first situation doesn’t apply, then stop everything you are doing and seek Him until He tells you what the problem is. This can take time. Be prepared to wait. And try to do it patiently.
We had asked a pastor from a church a few miles away to come and help us ‘dedicate’ the building to God, thinking that perhaps this would kick-start things. We had never met him before and he had clearly spent some considerable time in advance praying about the matter. We knew him to be a solid man of God and were grateful for any outside help because, by this time, we had no organised church around us to help us. Like many others, God had called us out of the organised church.
After he had led us around the building praying in each room, he spoke to us (and everyone else who was there) about what God had said to him. You can imagine our suprise when he started with the following scripture:
“Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?” [Galatians 3:3]
Do you know what we did? We ignored him. He had a lot more to speak to us, which was all good, so we chose not to dwell upon the verse from Galatians. After all, God had told us to Go! Go! Go! What did this guy, whom we had never met before, know about it anyway? As it turns out, a lot more than we believed.
By the end of last summer we had to accept that what we was doing wasn’t being blessed by any sign of God’s favour. Most would press on regardless, putting it down to ‘opposition’. It wasn’t that. We gradually wound things down until, in early January we shut the Cornerstone down. And that is where it is still now. In the interim period, however, I have taken it upon myself to seek God like I have never sought Him before. I simply had to know what went wrong. In His great mercy and grace He has gradually showed us the problems, all of which are detailed elsewhere on this blog. I gradually went through the scriptures we were given and asked Him for meanings and directions. Eventually, we understood what the problems were and repented. Then we waited.
And it is that waiting that has led to this place of the greatest understanding I have ever had over what God really expects from us when it comes to ‘doing’ church. Perhaps Paul’s greatest revelation about the purpose of the church in God’s plan, came when he was facing his hardest trial – in prison in Rome. Our experience is similar in that God speaks clearest when we are forced to rely upon Him more. Before I tell you what we have learned, please pray for an open mind. Cast aside all concepts and formulas you have been taught about how church should be. As you will shortly understand, none of them match at all what God has in mind; what He has planned from the very beginning. It’s funny because you will see that throughout history God has had a fixed plan all along. The lessons for us about now are to be found firstly in the pages of Isra’el’s history, and then in the letters of the New Testament. God has always had the same plan. He never changes.
In The Beginning…
From the very beginning, it is clear that God taught His people that innocent blood had the power to atone from sin. Although the text doesn’t say this in so many words, we understand that in order for God to clothe Adam and Eve with animal skins to cover their nakedness, He must have first sacrificed the animals. We see throughout the early history of the Hebrews that there were priests, often the heads of households, such as Job and Abraham, to whom God spoke and helped them to maintain a relationship with Him by means of the shedding of innocent blood. However, God’s ultimate plan for the redemption of all mankind, and not just the Hebrews, was much bigger than even the patriarchs could have grasped.
We see from the account of Abraham and Lot that not all people saw things the way God would have liked. God wanted to teach the Hebrews to rely upon Him, so that they, in turn, could teach the rest of the world. In order for the Hebrews to first understand how to rely upon God, He had to get them into a position whereupon they would call out to Him. It always requires our will. God never, ever imposes His will upon people. But sometimes, He helps us to see how much we need Him by putting us into difficult situations.
And so, all Isra’el found themselves in Egypt, under the slavery of Pharaoh. They called out to God. He sent Moses to bring them back and remind them of the promise He made to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, that He would make them a great nation and give them a land of their own. But their hearts had became hard after years in slavery. They couldn’t accept what God said, because when He spoke through Moses, they rejected His words. The soil of their hearts was too hard.
So God gave them Torah, which means instruction. Because of the hardness of their hearts, God was forced to give them, through Moses, clear rules and regulations for every single aspect of daily life. The purpose of Torah was to help soften their hearts towards God and learn to trust wholeheartedly upon His every word. Had that have happened in the way it should have done, the Hebrews would have entered the Promised Land and been able to return to having a family or household priest, just as they had before the captivity in Egypt. However, their will was not lined up with God’s will, and more importance was placed upon the Torah than God had intended. The Torah was designed to be the means to the end. Instead it became the end itself.
Over the next 1,470 years (eagle-eyed readers will spot that as 3 lots of 490 years), the Hebrews got themselves into a series of cycles. They would start off walking as God had intended – using Torah in the spirit in which it was given to them; then they would observe not the spirit in which the law was given, but instead start following the letter of the law and make the whole thing about ritual and religion; then they would look around them at the other religions and start to incorporate the worship of false gods into their own man-made religion; then, as a result of them wandering of the reservation, God would send another nation to attack them or carry them off into exile where they would be forced to worship false gods or send famines or pestilence against them, until they cried out to Him once more. When they did, He would rescue them and the covenant would be renewed, and the cycle would start over.
God always knew this was going to happen. All the way through He promised them that there would come a time when He would send them a prophet greater than Moses who would set up His everlasting kingdom and save them forever. He promised them a new, future covenent where written laws wouldn’t be needed, where the law would be written upon their hearts and not on tablets of stone. He promised them this because He knew that whilst it was written down anywhere, humankind always ended up adding to that law, and making it a thing of worship in itself.
And so, when Y’shua (this is Jesus’ Hebrew name) arrived towards the end of another 490 year cycle, the Hebrews were in a right state. They had taken Torah, which was designed mainly to get them through the desert and into the promised land, and made it into what we would call Judaism today. They had removed all trace of God’s Spirit from it and had made it into man-made laws. They built upon the Torah with what they still call the Oral Traditions – the interpretations of what they thought God really meant by each commandment. They placed burdens upon the people and weighed them down with regulations, making the people believe that God’s favour and love was only available to those who kept their version of the law. They taught that righteousness could only be achieved by strict observance of the rules they had added to the law. In other words, they removed the Spirit in which God gave the law – for their own good, and subscribed to the letter of the law, which could never achieve even half of what God had intended by it.
This is where you need to start re-reading the gospels to see what I am talking about. When Y’shua came to Judah, He came on the heels of John (Yochanan) the Baptist. Yochanan had been preaching revolution to the Hebrews. He had been offering them cleansing from sin if they returned to God. This is where we really need to take a Hebrew perspective on all these events. Understand this: Y’shua was born into a Hebrew family. Yochanan the Baptist was also a Hebrew. Their message was only to Hebrews. It wasn’t until much later that the message was preached to the Gentiles. In fact the message to the Gentiles was actually a different message to the one preached to the Hebrews, but we will come onto that later.
Yochanan said to the Hebrews to repent. He would have spoken this in Hebrew to other Hebrews. But the common written language was Greek, so by the time the gospels were written down, we were left with the Greek version of repent. In Greek, you will know from endless teaching in churches, repent means to turn and walk in a different or new direction. However, what John said to the Hebrews wasn’t that. He told them to return to God; to come back to Him as they had once known Him, before the scribes and teachers of the Law had turned it into a legalistic, godless, religion.
John’s role was to prepare the way for Y’shua; to ready the soil for His message. He preached that the Hebrews (and only the Hebrews) should return to God, for God was calling them back; back to a true relationship as they had once had. He told them that if they did, and were baptised, their sins would be forgiven. Put yourself there. Who wouldn’t jump at the chance to have your sins forgiven? Who wouldn’t jump at the chance to avoid paying the corrupt priesthood to sacrifice on your behalf? John’s message softened the people’s hearts towards God so that when Y’shua arrived His message would fall on good soil. John’s message removed the burden of the religious and legalistic system and showed the people God’s true heart towards them – He wanted all to be saved, and none to be lost – He still does today. If all this is starting to sound somewhat familiar to today, then hold on, there’s more.
Of course, the scribes and teachers of the Law were never going to be convinced by Yochanan’s or Y’shua’s messages. They had too much to lose. Their entire lifestyle and livelihood was entwined in their religious practices. To do away with all their traditions and customs would remove the power and control they had over the people, not to mention the money they had coming in each week. To return to God in the way He had always intended for them to walk with Him meant the end of their monopoly on how to achieve righteousness. And so, you see, starting with Yochanan, and then afterwards with Y’shua, the Pharisees and the Sadducees began to protect their positions by trying to undermine what God was teaching. Just look at the exchanges between the teachers of the Law and Yochanan. And the real evidence of everything I am telling you is to be found in what Y’shua said about their teaching. Each and every time Y’shua began a sentence with “You have heard it said”, He was attacking their Oral Traditions – the things that they had added to the Law. He accused them of ignoring God’s commandments in order to keep traditions and customs of their own invention. They had taken the Spirit of the Law and squeezed it dry until all that was left was the letter of the Law. When Y’shua said all those who were burdened and needed rest should come to Him, He was appealing to those who felt burdened by the Oral Traditions. He was being very specific. We read it differently now, and that is because all of God’s words have multiple applications. But then, He was talking to the Hebrews about the traditions and customs which their teachers had burdened them with. None of these traditions and customs were of God. They were all of man.
When Y’shua arrived, He taught Torah how God truly intended. He showed the people and the teachers what God actually meant by Torah. It wasn’t to restrict and burden people, it was to enable community, and peaceful, family living. He basically said that if you loved God and your neighbour, then everything else would fall into place. But the people like rules and regulation. It makes it easy when we have a list of Do’s and Don’t’s. We know where we stand. But that is the letter of the Law, not the Spirit in which God gave it.
Now God’s plan was such that He had already chosen those from amongst the Hebrews of the day to whom He would reveal Himself. Without the Holy Spirit opening their spiritual ears and eyes, not even any of the disciples would have grasped the message. God reveals Himself through the Holy Spirit. He always has done. There is a belief in today’s modern church that the Holy Spirit only speaks to people who fit their criteria – that is; go to church every week, tithe, attend prayer meetings and all that other man-made law. But, that can’t be the case. If that was the case, none of us would ever be saved. The evidence is that the Holy Spirit speaks to everyone, all of the time, but most don’t realise that the idea that has just entered their head is the Holy Spirit. Let me give you an example from the gospels to show how the Holy Spirit works and see if you agree with me. There are many, many examples just like this but we fail to see the Holy Spirit at work because we are so obsessed with the words on the page, and not with the power of the Spirit of God.
Let us take a look Matthew 9:18-26. Here we see Y’shua is approached by a ‘ruler’ (probably a local dignitary or synagogue leader) who asks Him to bring his daughter, who has just died, back to life. Y’shua immediately responds and follows the ruler home. On the journey something happens:
“And suddenly, a woman who had a flow of blood for twelve years came from behind and touched the hem of His garment. For she had said to herself, “If only I may touch His garment, I shall be made well.” [Matthew 9:20-21]
My question to you is this: Where did the idea which she said to herself first come from? I think it was the Holy Spirit who put it there in her heart. I say this because under Hebrew Law this woman would have been considered to be unclean whilst she was menstruating. She had been unclean for twelve years. She wouldn’t have been allowed to sleep in the same house as her family because if she did, they would be unclean. She would have had to pay the priests each and every week to make a sacrifice on her behalf so that she could be considered clean. And here she was, knowing that she would make everyone she came into contact with unclean, coming up with the idea that even touching Y’shua’s garment would make her well. To me, that has the Holy Spirit’s fingerprints all over it. It was He who sowed the seed into her heart, and because her heart was open to God’s suggestion, the seed grew quickly and became strong; strong enough to give her the courage to reach out and touch Y’shua. It is easy to only see the breaking of the Law in the story. God’s response is to forget about the Law, it’s not important.
And when Y’shua turned around to see who had touched Him, she was probably expecting a reprimand from making Him unclean. Instead, in the fullest sense of God’s heart towards her, Y’shua told her to be of good cheer. Be happy, your faith has made you well. That is how the Holy Spirit is prompting people all of the time, they just don’t know it. The seed falls on our hearts. If our hearts are open to God’s suggestion then that seed takes hold and grows. Very, very simple. Beautiful too.
Forgive that slight diversion. I simply had to tell you it because it shows us what God truly thinks of man-made rules and traditions.
God’s plan, as I was saying earlier, meant that only some of the Hebrews would understand. Hence Y’shua making, what must have seemed like odd statements, to the crowds as He spoke to them. “To him who has ears to hear, let Him hear.” You could reword that to say “Listen up. Those who can understand what I am talking about, you’re the ones God has chosen.” This sentiment also applies to what you are reading now – if there is a resonance in you, then it is because the Holy Spirit has made it so. We need to be more like the woman who heard the Holy Spirit and responded. Otherwise the seed is snatched away quickly.
So, Y’shua’s message was really all about helping people to see what God had wanted them to see all along, which had been obscured by the traditions and customs and the man-made rules. The Hebrews all knew a new covenant was coming because their own prophet, Yirmeyahu (Jeremiah), had told them in advance that a new covenant, a new agreement between them and God would come, and there wouldn’t be any need for rules written on stone, because the Law would be written on their hearts (see Jeremiah 31 & Hebrews 8). Of course, very few of the Hebrews had been chosen for the first part of this new heart-based covenant. Only those whom God had given to Y’shua understood it. And it took them at least three years to be discipled in this new way. The Way. The transition from old to new always requires a level of determination and practice before it becomes natural to us.
By the time Y’shua had completed the first part of His work here on earth by becoming the sacrifice, once and for all, His disciples were already in full grasp of how to live walking by the Spirit of the Law, as opposed to the letter. It would take some time before they learned to shake off all of the customs and traditions which had been engrained into their Hebrew culture. But they had been taught by the Master how to live as God intended – not by religious rule observance, but by the Holy Spirit, as Y’shua did. Those disciples were to become the foundation of what we now call church. This invisible building that all true believers are a part of, is the household of God, and upon those founding stones, the rest of the building sits.
And, if you look carefully through the early chapters of the books of Acts, you see life as God meant it to be – community, where all had everything in common; no clearly defined leaders; of one mind. You don’t need much imagination to see it. You just need to read. You might wonder why, as I have been doing so for some time, it all changed. How did we get from that to what we have now? Simple really. We got to this in exactly the same way that the Hebrews always did: We started off great, but gradually, bit by bit, we lost the Spirit of the Law and started following the letter of the Law. Of course, the modern church will think I am talking about the Catholics or the Anglican Communion. I’m not. They never moved on at the times when God challenged them to do so. Just research church history and you will see. Those missed opportunities most likely line up with the 490 year cycles of God too.
To be honest, the modern church is probably more guilty (if that were even possible) for they claim to know better. They preach against legalism and religion but fail to see that they have done exactly the same as the Pharisees. Sure, there have been movements over the years that move out of organised churches and start afresh. And, for a while, they manage to get it right – sharing everything, meeting in parks and on beaches, having no buildings. But the moment the crowd gets too big, they all move into buildings and start having overheads and then paying pastors and worship leaders and, well, you know the rest. Don’t pretend you don’t.
We are grafted onto the olive tree that is Isra’el. We haven’t replaced Isra’el. They are still the people through whom God has chosen to reveal Himself to the rest of the world. The part they have to play in the future will be revealed soon enough. But, because we are grafted onto them and share in the promises given to Abraham, we also share in their weaknesses. Our ability to legalise and ritualise everything is astonishing. We do it still today and call it freedom. But I can tell you that the modern church isn’t free. In fact, it is very far from it. This isn’t a new thing. We are part of the cycle I mentioned earlier. Only now, we are back to the point in the cycle that the Hebrews were in before the coming of the Messiah for His first visit. The leaders of the modern church are just as legalistic and religious as the Pharisees and the scribes of the first century. They simply don’t see it, just like their first century counterparts.
It started happening early on. At the beginning, the church, which were almost exclusively all Hebrews, was going along great. But as you go through Acts and the letters of Paul and Peter, it becomes clear that they were fighting off false teaching from all directions. Paul’s letter to the churches in the region of Galatia is believed to have been written earlier than his other letters. Here’s my challenge to you: Read it again now but from the perspective of what I have just been talking about. They had started off walking in the Spirit, but Paul accuses them of falling back into legalism. And when you finish Galatians, take a fresh look at the rest of his letters. He knew that was the biggest problem for the church. He knew the history of Isra’el. He knew the cycle. He knew the pitfalls and tried desperately hard to help stop them falling back into the legalistic approach. Of course, the churches of Galatia weren’t able to see it for themselves. They couldn’t see the wood for the trees. They genuinely thought what traditions and customs and rituals they were taking on were all part of God’s plan. Just as the Hebrews have done every time God has renewed the covenant. They start off well, but then fall into man-made rules. The man-made rules always, without fail, lead to self-importance and pride. The pride makes you believe that only your way is correct (that is why we have so many different denominations). The pride, if left unchecked and un-repented, will grieve the Holy Spirit. And then, well then, you are on your own, just as myself and Caz have discovered. Out there on your own with no guidance, no blessing, but as long as the people keep coming you take it as a sign that God is blessing the work. Wrong.
Two questions which I imagine you are keen to ask:
A. What does church as God intended really look like?
B. How do we stop falling into the same traps as the Hebrews and the early church did?
To answer the first question, I need to return to the scriptures I mentioned at the start of this article.
The second question can only be answered by the Holy Spirit, as I will explain further on.
The House of God
Sometimes, when we are looking for answers from God, He answers us in ways that are unusual and unexpected. I have taken, in recent months, when seeking God over something or other, to ask and just expect Him to answer. I set no time limit on it (Oh Lord, if such and such happens today by 3pm, I know it is you will to be such and such). And I set no method upon it (Oh Lord if it is your will that I do such and such then let my scripture reading for today mention blah blah). I can tell you that this new approach for me is very refreshing.
On the subject of Question A – What does church as God intended really look like?, I had several pieces of the jigsaw but still couldn’t see it. Then a couple of weeks ago I had an email from someone who had mentioned a particularly difficult passage from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. I simply didn’t understand what was meant by this passage but a single word from it was related to a different Greek word which I had been looking at. This may sound a little strange to many. I won’t apologise. The truth is always in the very small details when it comes to the things of God.
The word I had been looking at was the Greek word oikos (Strong’s G3624), which is usually given or rendered to mean house. The word mentioned to me in the email was oikonomia (G3622), which is rendered as either dispensation or administration. However, as the email had mentioned, its truest or most literal translation should be order of household. When I re-read the lengthy passage from Ephesians with this new (to me) meaning, I suddenly saw it as some more breadcrumbs.
In my mind I could see all manner of connections, all to the same thing – what house really meant.
Above our front door is the Hebrew word Beit’el. You will know it as Bethel. It means House of God…and so much more besides. My seeking and asking had, for some time, centred upon two words – heart and house. The heart subject I have started to deal with in a recent explanation of The Parable of the Sower. But the house thing was troubling because I knew it was really important. I just couldn’t see why. When I received the email mentioning the word oikonomia, I knew God was showing me the way to discovery.
It triggered a memory, just as it was designed to do, that led me to a deeper understanding of what God’s plan for mankind looks like. It is easy for us to get all caught up in the theories and the doctrine and forget that at the very heart of everything (and I do mean everything) is our creator who would be called Father, who calls us to Him that we might be called His children, and members of His household. Now, hold that thought.
Right back at the start of this article I mentioned seven scriptures that were given to us during one week in April 2014. Two of those scriptures were very closely related – Amos 9:11 and 2nd Samuel chapter 7. The connection was David’s tent or tabernacle which had fallen down and which God intends to repair. Now, God had already given me a truly marvellous understanding of the significance of David’s tent. I have written about it in two articles entitled A Tale of Two Tents – Part One and Part Two. The brief synopsis of that revelation is that once David had successfully brought the Ark to Jerusalem without killing anyone, he placed the Ark in a tent and allowed the people, and not just the elected priest, full access to the Ark, without any Holy of Holies. He also made everyone there into priests by giving them the meat and bread from the sacrifices and offerings as gifts. These things were only to be consumed by the priests. Meanwhile, he sent Zadok the priest back to Gibeon where Moses’ tabernacle was, to continue with the daily sacrifices despite the fact that the Ark was in Jerusalem. Thus separating true worship in front of the Ark, from the pointless sacrificial system.
What does this tell us about David? That he understood that God wasn’t interested in mindless religious and legalistic sacrifices. What does this tell us about God? That He is interested in family and community, and in sharing together. But we know from Amos 9:11 that David’s tent has fallen into disrepair. This is because the Hebrews, as soon as Solomon finished the Temple, reunited the Ark with the sacrifice and fell back into their old ways of placing importance upon ritual, tradition and custom.
So, firstly an explanation of the Amos 9:11 prophecy. What was Amos foretelling? He was foretelling the coming of Christ, who would once more show the Hebrews what true worship of God looked like. His coming would re-establish David’s fallen tent. And it did…for a while. That is why the prophecy is repeated by the Lord’s brother James at what we call the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15. Even then, before it had fallen into disrepair again, James was prophesying that it would and that in the fullness of time God would, once again, repair it. Thus showing that the cycle we discussed earlier is truly God’s plan. That hasn’t happened yet. But it will do soon. God is stirring people right now to be willing and open to His word. People like me. People like you.
The seventh chapter of 2nd Samuel is quite a different, albeit related, matter.
David, God’s chosen king of all Isra’el, understood what God’s plan looked like. He knew that God always preferred obedience to sacrifice; mercy over judgement; humility over pride. He knew true righteousness could only be given by God, and was never to be found in the rituals and traditions of men. And, because he walked in humility, in his heart, he felt uncomfortable about living in a palace, whilst the creator of the universe dwelt in a tent.
David consulted Nathan, the king’s prophet, on the matter and Nathan rightly observed that God was with him and that he should do whatever was on his heart because of that. Then God spoke. Sometimes God speaks to us directly. At other times, He speaks through a third party. When He does, it is often to ensure that we do the right thing.
When Nathan returned and conveyed God’s message to David, we can see a very clear picture of how God views all of His children and just what He is prepared to do for all of them. God didn’t want David to build Him a temple. His plan was such that a task of that nature was to be given to his son, Solomon. But, instead, God wanted to do the building. He wanted to build something for David, something that would last much longer than any man-made temple. God already knew that Solomon’s temple wouldn’t last, nor would the one which came afterwards. God wanted to honour David for walking with God, for consulting God at every turn, for understanding the true heart of God towards His people Isra’el. And what God builds, no man can pull down.
What God told David He was going to build for Him is the fascinating part of all of this. These things take a while to explain properly, so I make no apology for the length of this article. Hang in there – we’re drawing to a close.
“And your house and your kingdom shall be established forever before you. You throne shall be established forever.” [2nd Samuel 7:16]
House, kingdom, and throne. The throne signifies authority. The kingdom is the realm in which that authority is valid. And the house…well, as throughout the entire Bible, someone’s household is made up of people. Whether you look at Abraham or Job as examples, their households consisted of people. Not just blood relatives either. The Hebrew household referred to all the people who had a role or responsibility within the family. They were all treated as if they were family, even if they were bought slaves. When Jacob went down into Egypt it was with 70 people, not all of whom were related by blood. From the very outset, God has been showing the world what His church should look like. It should look like community, it should look like family. David’s house or household was made up of people whom he trusted. They were loyal to him and he repaid their loyalty with kindness and protection and provision.
Of course, as always with God, there is another layer to this picture. David is commonly seen as a type of Christ, and rightly so. Everything that God gave to David was in the earthly, temporal realm. But He gave exactly the same things to Christ, only (to start with) in the spiritual realm. Y’shua said that the kingdom of God was here – that is to say He had been given a kingdom from God. It remains unseen, for the moment, but all will be revealed soon enough. Y’shua also said that all authority in heaven and on earth had been given to Him – this is the throne. Again, we can’t see that right now. And He was also given His house – we call it the church. He is the head of the House of God, just as Abraham was the head of his own house. He chooses whom He chooses to be a part of that household. He treats all the same, slave or free. He repays their loyalty with protection, provision, and love.
That is the model Y’shua left us with for doing church. Yes, He had twelve whom He was personally discipling, but His wider household was many more. They stuck beside Him at all times. Politicians and cult leaders alike all lay claim to creating community, but all will fail. Only a house that God has built will last. God’s promise to David about his house, kingdom, and throne being established forever were realised in the first coming of Christ. His second coming will unite the unseen with the seen, the kingdom and the throne with the house, just as it tells us it will happen in Ephesians 1:7-10. It is a long complicated sentence, but instead of reading over it, break it down and you will see that what it actually says is something every simple:
In the fullness of time, God will order His household so that the things which have already been given to Christ in the unseen world (kingdom and authority) will be united with the church which can be seen (house). But…here’s the kicker…Only God can do this. Only He can establish a house that will last forever.
“Unless the Lord builds a house, they labour in vain who build it.” [Psalm 127:1]
Question A was what does the church which God wants really look like? It looks like it did in the pages of the four gospels. It looks like a household of people all living together, sharing everything, with only one clear leader, that of Christ. It looks like people who love and care for each other, who all trust their master. It looks like a community in the truest sense of the word who are taught by their master. The first church met anywhere – on hillsides, by the sea, in boats, in people’s houses. That continued for some time. After Christ had ascended, He sent His Holy Spirit to guide them all. That was all they had. They didn’t have scrolls under their arms or a swish Bible app on a smart phone. They simply had the Holy Spirit and, get this, they all trusted His guidance.
Here’s a great example of how living life by the Holy Spirit really works. It has taken me over two years to understand what these little breadcrumbs were for. I do now.
The three ‘open door’ scriptures I mentioned earlier on which myself and Caz took to mean Go! Go! Go!, were nothing of the sort. They all point to the same thing – That Y’shua is in charge of building His church, and nothing whatsoever can stop that building plan. But the texts also show us how that process works in spirit-filled believers who are walking by the Spirit’s direction.
The text from Revelation has shown me that Y’shua has been given ‘the key of David’. This is actually a reference to Isaiah 22:22 where we see that the phrase is ‘the key to the house of David’. We know that the House of David refers to the church. What Y’shua was saying to the church at Philadelphia – the only church of the seven from Revelation who were still following Him correctly, is that He is in charge. He can close doors and open them. No one has more authority than He. Because the church at Philadelphia was humble (like David) He told them He had opened a door before them that no one could shut. All they had to do was to follow His Spirit through that door in order to further the building up of His household, or church.
The texts from Paul’s two letters to the church at Corinth led me to the book of Acts where Luke describes the actual events that Paul is referring to. Turn to Acts 16:6 and read through to verse 15. Here’s what happened if you don’t have a bible to hand:
Paul and Silas, along with Timothy, after having come from Jerusalem and the council at which James stood up and quoted Amos 9:11 and re-prophesied it for the future, were taking the message to the churches that they shouldn’t be persuaded to be circumcised. They were also preaching their gospels as they went. They had a mandate from Y’shua to preach, first to the Hebrews, and then to the Gentiles (I mentioned earlier that there was in fact two messages. The first was to the Hebrews which said repent of your sins, and return to God. The second was to the Gentiles which said repent of your sins, and come to God). They had planned to go down into Asia Minor but were forbidden by the Holy Spirit. Then they tried to go into Bithynia but, again, the Spirit did not permit them.
We can clearly see that they followed the lead of the Holy Spirit. Like the woman who touched Christ’s robe and was healed, these men had hearts which were open to hearing from God. And they acted upon His lead. They went as far as they could, and came to the port town of Troas, right on the sea. That night, in a vision, Paul saw a man from Macedonia asking for their help. So, in the morning, they got a boat to Macedonia, to Philippi to be exact. We see from Luke’s record what happened but I want to add an observation of what I think the purpose was. Paul described these events as a ‘great and effective door’ which had been opened to him. When we allow the Holy Spirit to do the work, instead of us, the work is always effective and always great. Paul and his two companions could have easily seen the Holy Spirit’s prevention as ‘opposition’ and pressed on towards Asia Minor anyway. But they didn’t. Why? Because God’s plan didn’t look like that. God had planned it so that they would go to Philippi, meet Lydia (who was from Thyatira in Asia Minor), she would be converted, along with her household and the Holy Spirit would then use Lydia to carry the message to Asia Minor, which later on Paul would then visit after first bringing the message to Philippi, Thessalonica, Athens and Corinth. We see a similar situation in Acts chapter 8 when Philip is led by the Spirit to speak with the Ethiopian, who also was used by the Holy Spirit to carry the message into North Africa.
Are you getting a feel for what life by the Spirit is really like? The church was built by God, to His specification, when He had men and women whom had open hearts to His suggestions and when the seed took hold and started to grow, were ready to put into action what the Holy Spirit had suggested. We see none of this happening today. Everything has a committee or a budget. Nothing is done by the Spirit any longer. Therefore, what is being built in God’s name, isn’t being built by God. Sadly, that means that all of that labour is in vain.
Question B was how do will stop falling into the same traps which the Hebrews and the early church did? As I said, only the Holy Spirit can answer that. What I am talking about isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. The Holy Spirit always deals with us as individuals. If our hearts are open and ready to hear His words, then He will speak. This isn’t about a formula for building a church. Those always fail because as soon as the numbers grow, they stop consulting the Spirit of God. Franchise Churching, I call it – run like businesses by businessmen and women. No room for the Spirit of God in there.
Look to David. The House(hold) of David is the model. David sought God in everything he did. Just as Christ did. Just as Paul and Silas did. That is the only formula. I wrote about this last year in an article entitled Formula HS.
Right now, as always, the Holy Spirit is looking for anyone whose heart is loyal to God (see 2nd Chronicles 16:9). Those who are willing will find that the Holy Spirit is constantly sowing seeds of ideas. Many of these people the Holy Spirit is seeking are already outside of the structured church, some are outside of any church. God chooses people who are willing to do His will. He is not interested in people trying to be good through religious observance of traditions and rules. He wants to build His church. He will do it too. And when His church, His household is ready, Christ will return and the things which are unseen will be united with the things which are seen. By trying to do the work for God, we will fail. Only God can do the work. We only see in part. One day we will understand fully. But for now, we have been left with the examples in the gospels and the book of Acts. Individuals who chose to follow Christ as the head of their household. That is church. Not anything else. Just people who are connected to the head of the household.
Paul’s letter to the churches in Galatia was scathing because they started off so well – they were led by the Spirit of God, but soon they stopped consulting God and fell for the lure of ritual and legalism. They became religious and traditional. As a result, the Holy Spirit was grieved and stopped sowing His seeds amongst them. Man-made rules can survive but they lack life and vitality. Man-made churches survive but, despite often having lots of people, they are led by men and not the Holy Spirit.
It is the same for all of us. We start off well and gradually we get our heads turned and our ears tickled until we are doing what we think is of God when really we are pleasing ourselves. I should know. That’s exactly what we did.
The Complete Jewish Bible renders this translation for Galatians 3:3:
“Are you stupid? Having begun in the Spirit’s power, do you think you can reach the goal under your own power?”
The answer is no. Trust me. The answer is no.
As a post-script I want you to consider how the church you attend might have been making new laws out of nothing, as the Pharisees did. Much of what is ‘law’ in churches has no foundation in scripture. The Holy Spirit should lead us in everything. If we got that part right, if we were discipled by Spirit-led people to start with, then we would follow the Holy Spirit. Take a good look at your church’s policies and procedures. Look at their Articles of Faith and the Mission Statement. If you feel that the Holy Spirit actually put those things in place then I am wrong. If your church appears to be run like a business then get out now. Seek God like you have never sought Him before. He will show you His way. Today’s church is in a mess because it has been led for too long by men and women. It is no longer the House of God. To get back to what it should be, all we have to do is be prepared to follow the Holy Spirit’s lead. Nothing else matters. When Y’shua returns He will be talking to today’s church in exactly the same way He did to the scribes and the Pharisees. Look at the traditions and customs your church practices. Look for the Spirit of God in them. You won’t find Him there. But you will find Him in your heart.