‘Thingification’ is the reduction of anything meant to be in the spirit to an artifact of the flesh. It is the reversal of spirit-life and the undoing of the Kingdom of Heaven by performance addiction. It is the substitution of the spirit of the new covenant with the law of the old. Spirit and life is when heaven invades earth. Religion is when flesh pretends to be heaven.
The Kingdom Jesus is established is more real than the appearances around us. But some of the church is not the Kingdom of God. Much of that which is called ‘church’ is not God’s church and much of what is not yet recognized as ‘church’ is His Church. His church is always the manifestation of Himself in the people. Incarnation writ large is the church he builds without human hands because it is His life manifest.
The test is, is this establishment a manifestation of Jesus in people or is it the ‘thingification’ of what we are meant to be in the Spirit? A truncated version of the new creation is a theology of new covenant but a community that is old covenant.
If the Kingdom of God is simple the nature of the church is more so. It consists of those who are joined to Christ. It is defined as those who worship Jesus as Lord. When Peter said, ‘You are the Christ’ Jesus replied ‘And you are Peter.” From those who worship Me as Lord, I will build the church that overcomes the powers of hell. There is no template that is the church. But there is Jesus who is the template. He is the source of spiritual order and diversity.
In 2006 I lumbered around the United States with a massive suit case when one less than half the size would have done. On Four Corners some time back I saw a photo-voltaic cell smaller than an envelope that was over four times as effective in producing electricity as one 60 times its size. Concerning the Kingdom of God it is not size or complexity that counts – it’s the Presence of God. This principle is crucial to our understanding of ‘church’.
Father has always pursued us. People never had to chase God to find Him. The old testament is replete with stories of those to whom God revealed Himself. Israel grew out of a pagan man who ‘obeyed God.’ Today God’s Kingdom grows from those whose life is Christ.
God is not far from the non-Believer. Because of the cross He lives in all. But He effects lives only when He is sought and when He is acknowledged for who He is.. In the Believer Christ is our life and we are transfigured by His presence. The difference between the old and new covenants is that Christ lives in people. He had come in our flesh. Even in the old testament He affirmed that He does not live in temples made with hands. Today God makes people His home and we are alive with the life of heaven by the One Spirit. The Shekinah lives in you!
The key is to recognize and embrace this truth. This is why when Peter said, ‘You are the Christ,’ Jesus replied, ‘And You are Peter. On the rock of your worship of Me will build my church.’ His church is composed of those for whom Jesus is life. This precludes the husk of institutionalism and the reality that is Christ manifest as His people.
The institutional church grew burocratically and institutionally in direct proportion to the absence of Christ’s presence through the Holy Spirit. In the modern age it disported itself in cessationism with nonsensical sayings such as we must be careful of ‘experience.’ Sadly much of it had settled for the experience of the absence of God. The presence of Father and son will always be underwhelming with the absence of Holy Spirit.
The institutional church is the creation of the letter – the letter that kills. When Christ is our life we are the church who is the expression of Jesus and we are alive. When buildings, programs and celebrity speakers are our life we are a lot less than we are destined to be. We can be consumers of religion. A similar effect can be experienced if we put our faith in building new configurations of church. A house church can be just as institutional as your large corner church. Some are entirely the creation of the letter.
‘Church’ does not create Jesus or His life. Jesus creates His church as He is expressed in people. This is the church He builds – without the hands of flesh. Simply by us agreeing that He is our life. Venues are not the issue. The question is, ‘Is it Christ who is our life’ or are we attempting to extract life from some entity or value of our own?’ We are not a new creation church if the life of God is mediated by an elite to a mass of consumers of religion. The new creation comes from Christ as our life, Christ in us and Christ manifesting Himself through the five-fold ministry and every Believer who has received the union with God that belongs to all.
A tremendous effort is put into building and maintaining the structures that we call ‘the church’. Although done in His Name, much of this effort has little to do with God and much more to do with group dynamics, flesh, soulishness (See Watchman Nee) and mistaken models of fathering. In many ‘successful’ churches there is a tremendous amount of stuff that has little to do with the Kingdom of God and everything to do with maintaining those structures called ‘the church’. These ‘structures’ equate with what Paul calls the old covenant of ‘the letter’. Jesus desires to lead us individually and as a church by His Spirit. The body is not and never has been the institutional church. The Body is the manifestation of Jesus in His people. This is a community of spirit and life. There are quite a few weeds produced by theorists and formulae mongers.
Running about saying ‘organic’ does not make a church organic. This word in this context is a function of the letter that kills. ‘Organic’ occurs when we are part of the vine and branches and fruit of the tree of life. We are part of Jesus and complete Him when He Himself is our life.
Not a few of the participants in ‘church’ have a relationship with the activities labeled as ‘church’ but very little life-changing relationship with Christ or other people. If we were to re-direct the tremendous energy that is dedicated to maintaining the departments and ministries that we call ‘church’ into seeking Jesus’ face, into maintaining the anointing of the Spirit, into knowing His heart and discerning His will, we would know God and know each other deeply. We would know who are the leaders and in what spheres they are to lead. This would give rise to extravagant creativity in which the Lord would create ‘church’ as the fruit of our union with Him. He said, ‘I will build My Church’.
He will build it. But not necessarily in the packages, bundles and hierarchical boxes that comprise the popular religious notion of church. It is clear from the Bible that Christ’s church is spiritual, relational, personal, communal and WITH POWER. It’s also clear that it is precisely fitted together from living stones (ministering saints).
But its’ foundation is not buildings or institutions. Many small groups already are the church. Some cease to be so as soon as they try to become ‘a church’. Take care. We can note that ‘The Rock, not cut by human hands strikes the constructions of men and shatters them’ (Dan 2:45). We see Jesus prophesy that the Jewish temple would be replaced by the ‘church’ of His Body, not made by human hands. (Mark 14.58). Jesus said that true separation from the world – genuine spirituality – comes to us at His hand, not our own (Col. 2.11). In this season we need to go where the Lord is going and not attempt to rebuild what He is leaving behind. Beware of attempting to put new wine in old wineskins.
I am not arguing that buildings are carnal. I am saying that Christ come in the flesh is right; that His incarnated self is our life and the life of the new creation. This is a plea to have our priorities right side up. I’m saying that the church of Christ grows from union with Christ – intimate union. Start with ‘structure’ and we multiply structure but enslave people. Start with Jesus and we multiply liberty and equip people. The two talented end up with ten. When Jesus came He did not ‘start a church’. Through intimacy with His Father and the mentoring of those who loved God, He built the church. More than anything else, the Church is those who are joined to Jesus and each other by their hearts. Two or three gathered in Jesus Name have infinitely more power than those gathered in the name of ‘a church’. Don’t ensnare yourself and others in the idol of the church.