If we do not properly define “ekklesia,” we may be tearing down what Jesus is building. We may also allow the gate of hell to stand against our substitute.
In the US, a greater movement is in full swing for Christians to follow Jesus but not be part of church. I fully identify with the valid sentiment that following Jesus would be much better than sacrificing my life to institutionalized church-anity. However, Jesus hasn’t been, isn’t now, nor planning tomorrow to build church-anity. He is building His ecclesia, a called together assembly from within the kingdom of God on earth to legislate heaven’s authorizations and release heaven’s power on earth.
Oddly, this comes as big surprise to most people, especially Christians. The substitutes for ecclesia have worn them down, made them sick, built their cynicism, and hollowed their hearts. They want out of the political atmosphere, the leadership dynamics of manmade religion and institutionalization. They want out now.
Sadly, they are turning away from what Jesus didn’t built with little direction of where to go or what to do now that they have turned. They aren’t turning away from Jesus! They, in fact, demand that they be “followers of Jesus.” They are adamant about that. Yet, without a proper understanding of what Jesus is building, they may be as guilty of tearing down what Jesus is building as the substitutes for ecclesia that drove them away.
First, what I call “the Great Walkaway” has properly identified leadership as a focal point of failure for church defined and dominated by man. Yet, a greater sophistication may be needed to uncover the cause of this debilitating symptom. Leaders in a church built by man answer to man; they become leaders more interested in reacting to the demands of people than the desires of God. The definition of church that builds on “the accumulation of believers” demands leaders who lead with this goal as the highest value. Such leaders become politicized very easily because they must be political animals to lead in the first place.
Certainly this leadership dynamic robs church of a necessary foundation upon Jesus actively and personally involved in His ecclesia, but the definition of church is the problem and the leadership failure is a symptom.
For example, many people leaving church-anity still desire to give money, time, and talent to the cause of Jesus. They search out “worthy” enterprises to which to donate, to do good in Jesus’ Name, to make a difference. Without a proper ecclesia, they are left to give to charities that give material things, human wisdom and strength. Without the ecclesia, there is nothing else…
So, they do the very thing they hate. They invest themselves and their money and time in things that will cause people to believe in people instead of Jesus. Paul says, “I did not come to you in Corinth with human wisdom and strength. I determined to know nothing among you but Jesus Christ and Him crucified. I did not want to frustrate or limit the Power of the Cross. The power of the Cross is the power of God.”
When we substitute what good people-Christian people-can do, we build people’s faith in people, not the Cross. Oh, I know we pray for them as we are doing so, but we are no better than the institutionalized church-anity we couldn’t wait to leave behind when we do not demonstrate the power of God instead of the power of man. As much as a strong ecclesia may be part of changing the culture and the economics of a region, the dominate effort of the ecclesia is not to exhibit a “Christian wisdom or strength” to a needy world. We are called together to demonstrate something totally unavailable to man through any other means.
Yes, that’s right! When we substitute other definitions for church, we are tearing down what Jesus is building, for what He is building is a demonstration of His authority and power on earth. Only in this way will people put their faith in God, according to Paul, so “their faith does not rest in man but the power of God.”
Leadership is the source of this process of power. Jesus designed a life-changing strategy for His ecclesia within His kingdom on earth that requires the ecclesia to be led by discipling leaders that produce mature disciples. Jesus left and went to heaven; He sat down. So, if you are hoping to leave church-anity and follow Jesus, you have a problem. Jesus isn’t going anywhere. He is seated at the Father’s right sending the leaders of His ecclesia.
You see, you cannot be a disciple without following a discipling leader. You must follow to be discipled. Jesus called people to follow Him so He could disciple them. If they didn’t leave and follow, they could not be discipled. Discipling isn’t following, but following is necessary to discipling. You gotta be there with the discipling leader to be matured, share spiritual experiences, and gain teaching, correction, and discipline, making yourself available, and putting yourself at the disposal of the leader who is discipling you.
You can’t be discipled directly by Jesus because you can’t follow Him. He isn’t going anywhere. He is sending His kingdom leaders, and you will be assigned to follow those leaders. That means you gotta be there so you can be discipled.
Here is the “tearing down” of which I speak. The rush away from manmade substitutes is not creating a greater desire for strong, discipling leadership in many of those involved in the Great Walkaway. They are ready to tailor-make a “following of Jesus” that fits their own style and values. They are happier putting their money where they want it, giving their time to things they are interested in, and investing themselves in activities that will help them “be all they can be.”
Such a thing is foreign to the mind of God, Scripture, and the kingdom. Humanized church-anity has programmed people to expect God to be an after-market add-on to their little American lives, a spiritual career consultant on how to reach their potential. That is not discipleship. It is, in fact, the very thing that needs to die so you can be what God wants instead of what you want.
Leadership is the empty place on the front row of our kingdom culture because we redefined discipleship along the lines of our previous definition of church. We determined to help people feel better about themselves, fit into the accumulation of believers scenario, and provide a broad range of “be all you can be” resources for the people Jesus called us to disciple.
When Jesus says “disciple,” He includes other words we forget like “cross, die, sacrifice, lay down your life, obey, continue in My Words, and go disciple nations.” He doesn’t include the words we love like “potential, happy, talent, ability, excellence, and success.”
I was reading a testimony of someone in the Great Walkaway talking about how she had rearranged her life to fit her new “living for Jesus but not going to church” lifestyle. She said that she stopped tithing and giving offerings and started supporting doctors who volunteer to do medicine on people in the nations where medical help isn’t immediately available.
Now, I thought that was noble and human, and I don’t want to say anything negative about doctors who do this nor people who give them money to do this. It is even something Jesus would smile about as noble and kingdom. It is not a substitute for the ecclesia however. It is not giving God His tithe and offering. It is not discipling, Gospel, or missional. It is good people doing good things for people.
For example, the ecclesia will have doctors and medicine within it, but the ecclesia isn’t about sending medical help to people so they can believe in medicine, science, skilled professionals, and sacrificial behavior of these good people. The ecclesia is about “Be healed in the Name of Jesus!” in a way that leaves no doubt that only the power of Jesus Christ did what happened through those words. Certainly, doctors and medicine will be available, and should be, but that effort is subsequent in spiritual priority to leaders who have the spiritual authority and power to release Gospel.
So, the idea that the Great Walkaway opens to door to a new spirituality that will replace bad leadership with no leadership is so anti-Jesus and opposed to Scripture that the Great Walkaway will need a new Bible to read. The idea that discipling is just “me and Jesus” living out my little life together, enjoying sunny days and enduring rainy ones together, meeting in add-on sessions of spiritual consultation so I can get my potential into place is so foreign to the kingdom Jesus asks us to establish that the ecclesia that is called together to assemble will look like more like spiritual-ed Boy and Girl Scouts than an army of the mighty who can take nations.
Tearing down Bible leadership, redefining discipling, and substituting our “modified, appropriated, and adapted” definitions for ecclesia isn’t going to accomplish the goals of God, get God what He wants, or establish kingdom. It is going to encourage a substitution for the Gospel, a rewrite of the Message that will be more gnostic than godly.