Inevitably I would hear stories of how these excited young people would return to their hometown churches with hope of continuing their newfound passion in Christ. Unfortunately, many of the stories did not have a happy ending. As they returned to their churches they were met with religious stagnation and deadness. Soon the excitement they had encountered at camp was stifled by the dead religious spirit back home. Before long these precious young people found themselves back in bondage wondering why they could not sustain the spiritual passion they had experienced at summer camp.
My contention since that time has been that church should be more like summer camp. There in the beauty of the forest with the aroma of pines and bear clover filling the air and the intoxicating flicker of the campfire, the young people shared their hearts and opened up to one another. They heard the word and received it freely. There were tears of joy and repentance and tender, loving hugs as everyone opened up to the Holy Spirit. There was hope in the air and in their hearts and they renewed their faith in Christ and His word. It was as if Christ was the guest of honor and we were reveling in His presence.
I stand by my conviction that every gathering of the saints should be filled with the elements of summer camp. There should be lively, joyous singing of praises to God and sensitive worship that humbles us before Him. The word should be center stage and we should allow it to penetrate our hearts separating flesh from Spirit. Open sharing from all participants should be the norm as we cast aside our Christian masks and clothe ourselves in truth and sincerity. The saints should minister to one another as the Spirit exhibits His gifts as they are needed. There should be healing of spirit, soul and body and encouragement to face the challenges of life in the world. This should not be a top-down meeting with one person dominating but an open meeting where everyone is exhorted and built up in their faith. We should leave with hope and joy to face the challenges of life (see Eph. 4; 5:18-21; 1 Cor. 12; 14:26-33; Acts 2:42-47).
But I remain concerned that the religious institutions will not allow their structures to adjust to the true needs of the people of God. Just as in those days many years ago, our institutional churches continue to be places where spiritual vitality is stifled rather than encouraged and sustained. People coming into our gatherings are served up a barrage of top-down sermonizing and self-serving religious programs. Our churches exist to further the agenda of the organization instead of to encourage, challenge and heal the saints and glorify Christ. It’s a shame that people have to go to summer camp or special conferences to get energized about Christ. Every gathering of the saints should be a conference where Christ is the guest speaker and everyone has a part in the program.
God is ushering in a new paradigm to His church but there is strong resistance from those who hold fast to the old paradigm. The old is characterized by spiritual heroes who spearhead programs aimed at furthering the institution. This paradigm uses the people of God for its own purpose. It promotes Christ and His teachings but does not commit to Christ as Lord. It allows its programs to become sacred in the eyes of the people instead of lifting up the Holy One and submitting to His will. It uses the spiritual movements of God to promote itself instead of allowing them to usher in the presence and glory of God.
The new paradigm is Christ in the midst of a submitted people who allow Him to have His way. In this expression the church is not a building or the programs surrounding it but people committed to following Christ. This church will be organic in that its shape will be determined by the presence of God in the lives of willing people not by the programs of a church growth expert. Nothing will stifle the excitement of people joyfully gathering in a relaxed setting to enjoy one another and the Lord they serve. The shape of the gatherings will be determined by the Holy Spirit who will be in the midst leading, guiding, empowering and encouraging.
But this shift will not take place without a fight. The enemy of God does not want the church to rise up. More than anything He fears the awakening of the sleeping giant that still does not know its own strength. He will use the fleshly power of the institution to strike out at this new life to keep it from prospering. The institution stands to lose much power and influence as this shift takes place. The enemy will use doctrinal disputes, division, worldly pursuits, cultural, economic, social or political issues or whatever works to keep us apart. He will lie, destroy, kill, condemn and strike out using the voice of many who have no vision for God’s will.
Already I hear of rumors of defeat. Some in the so-called house church movement are becoming disgruntled because they mistakenly thought it was simply a new way of doing church. God is not after a new way of doing church but a new way of living life in fellowship with Him and with one another. Some have brought their old religious staleness into this “new way of gathering” and have promptly poisoned it with the leaven of religion. They impose their will upon the church and Christ instead of humbling themselves before the Master and submitting to Him.
Some have asked me what organic church will look like and my answer is always, “I don’t have any idea, because that is the work of the Holy Spirit.” If something is genuinely organic we must take our hands off of it and allow it to grow on its own and take its own shape according to the life within it. We cannot force it to take a certain shape. That would be like a gardener trying to force his tomatoes to grow and produce. Growth can be encouraged and fostered but it must be allowed to take place organically, from the life within.
I do not know what it will look like but I know it will be characterized by His presence and glory reflected in the lives of His saints. I know that it will not be a top-down expression with men in control but a inside-out expression where the Christ within us and in our midst comes forth in glory. It will be spiritually enjoyable and will express the imaginative, diverse heart of the Creator Himself.
If you really want to know what church life should look like, study the life of Christ. Read the red-letter parts of the New Testament and re-examine the Christ you think you know. See the creative genius, the clarity of purpose, and loving heart of the One we love. See how He encourages others to participate, how He forgives, heals, and liberates those He touches. Observe His gentle manner and the patience with which He waits on His Father. Be amazed at how He speaks truth in a loving way while standing up sternly to those who play the game of religion.
Church is simply Christ allowed to move in the midst of His people. He is still alive and quite available to meet with us and talk with us through the words and actions of our fellow believers. He has not changed but we have changed in that we do our own thing and expect Him join our folly. See how Christ reacts to Peter when the disciple tried to alter the redemptive plans of the Lord (Matt. 16:22, 23). Jesus saw that behavior as demonic and I believe when we choose to go our own way and expect Christ to alter His plans for us we are being seduced by evil.
How long will it take us to realize that Christ is Lord of His church and only He can build it? How long will it take us to step aside and let the Holy Spirit do what Christ sent Him to accomplish? I am a bit disgruntled with what I see but my faith is not deterred because I know what His word says. I know what He promised and prayed for in the upper room before He went to His death (John 17:20-23). He died not just to get us to heaven but to produce a loving, faithful bride here on earth.
Christ went away in bodily form to prepare a place for us. That place is the bridal chamber and it awaits the preparation of the bride. We are called to prepare ourselves, not to go off on our own religious tangents while He desperately waits for our readiness. We prepare ourselves by following His advice to the Laodicean church:
I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich,
and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may
see (Rev. 3:18).
Instead of going to Him for spiritual life we devise our own riches in the form of programs and buildings. We clothe ourselves with the filthy garments of religion or walk around spiritually naked without embarrassment. We cannot see because we trust in the religious knowledge of doctrines rather than the anointing touch of the Master.
We must repent. Pure and simple—we are going the wrong direction and must have a change of heart and do an about face. The older generation in on the verge of being passed over for a younger generation more pliable in the hands of the Potter. Just when I think that we are on the threshold of newness I see unrepentant hearts settling for the stale offerings of religion and rejecting the One who died for us. Yes, when we do our own thing we are rejecting our Lord. If we cannot see that we truly are blind.
I can only repeat the admonition to repent. The time is short and there is much in the Lord’s heart for us. Will we receive it, or will reject it? The Spirit and the bride say “Come,” and let the one who is thirsty come.