Touching the Bones of the Apostolic Church
Christianity in the Earth is at a crossroads. Some want us to be more conservative. Others want us to surf the winds of change that are sweeping the Earth. But I believe that Jesus is calling us to embrace apostolic Christianity, which is to say, embrace a kind of Christianity that would be recognizable by the apostles that Jesus left to serve the church.
In my last post, I tried to give some definition to what I mean when I speak of this apostolic Christianity. I had a number of people ask me to flesh out what this looks like. One thing I realized though, was that it’s a very Western thing to want a definition, but it’s an apostolic thing to point to examples. Jesus and Paul were constantly telling stories and pointing to people who embodied what they were teaching. There is profit in looking at examples.
Here’s why: Elisha was a prophet and the successor to the great prophet Elijah. Elisha asked for a double-portion of the anointing that rested on Elijah, and when Elisha died, he had performed 13 miracles. But he died not performing twice the miracles of Elijah. However, 2 Kings 13 tells us this story: “So Elisha died, and they buried him. Now bands of Moabites used to invade the land in the spring of the year. And as a man was being buried, behold, a marauding band was seen and the man was thrown into the grave of Elisha, and as soon as the man touched the bones of Elisha, he revived and stood on his feet.” (2 Kings 13:20, 21 ESV) Now Elisha had his 14th miracle, but more importantly, a dead man came back to life.
What does the story of Elisha tell us? Sometimes when we touch the “bones” of something that is dead and gone, there is something of life that can be communicated to us. God has raised up different movements within Christianity over the past 2000 years that have embodied different aspects of true apostolic Christianity. Even though those movements are dead and gone every time we go back and “touch the bones” of one of these movements, we get a picture of the apostolic church. We see apostolic Christianity lived out in them and it causes us to want to see it again in our day.
So, when I read about the apostolic fathers and the churches of their day and how they lived as a marginalized people who welcomed the poor, healed the sick, cared for abandoned babies and moved in the power of the Spirit, I touch the bones of the apostolic church and I gain faith for God to do that again in our generation.
You can go and read the story of Patrick of Ireland and his almost instinctive ability to reach a totally pagan people and train them up as church planters that would carry the Gospel back into Europe. When I do, I touch the bones of the apostolic church and gain faith for totally pagan men and women to become missionaries and plant thousands of churches.
Or when I read about the First and Second Great Awakenings and the proclamation of the Gospel that was accompanied with signs and wonders, I touch the bones of the apostolic Church. The stories of men and women like George Whitefield, John and Charles Wesley, Jonathan Edwards, Charles Finney, and William and Catherine Booth keep reminding me that God can take broken men and women use them to change the course of nations. As I hear these stories, I gain faith for the Gospel to pierce hearts and change men (and nations) in the same way it did with them.
Or when I read about the early Pentecostal movement and how the Holy Spirit moved among a people who abandoned themselves to seeking God and carrying the Gospel to the end of the Earth, I touch the bones of the apostolic church. When I do, I open my heart for a greater outpouring of the Holy Spirit. I ask Jesus to give me more than tongues or a “word from God” and become jealous for God to unleash a new move of the Holy Spirit in our day.
I touch the bones of the apostolic church when I hear stories about the underground house church movement of China. Here are believers who are giving themselves radically for Jesus and multiplying simple communities of Jesus followers. This stirs my heart for a whole church captured by God’s apostolic purposes and I begin to ask God, “Why can’t this happen here?”
It’s not like the apostolic church has completely disappeared throughout history. Whenever and wherever a group of men and women submit themselves to Jesus and fully living out what they find in the Bible, apostolic Christianity begins to emerge. And we gain insight into what it looks like when we look back at history and discover that God has been breathing fresh life into his church throughout the centuries. Apostolic Christianity looks like the best elements of all of these testimonies that I’ve highlighted, fleshed out in real life.
Now certain aspects of apostolic Christianity emerge in different movements throughout history. The church that was marginalized and moving in the power of the Spirit during the days of the apostolic fathers looks different than the Gospel preaching that turned a generation during Wesley and Whitefield’s day. The early Pentecostal movement undoubtedly looked different than the underground church movement of China. Each movement had one or more manifestations of the apostolic church, but not the whole picture.
But before the end of the age, I’m believing Jesus for a full manifestation of apostolic Christianity in the Earth. One that combines the marginalized people of God moving in the power of the Spirit, proclaiming the Gospel and mobilizing witnesses that plant numerous churches that are simple and reproducible. I call it apostolic Christianity and I’m excited for the day when it emerges on the planet.