The church in the West is at a crossroads. Beset on every side by dangers from the outside (political and social pressure) and dangers on the inside (immorality, legalism, heresy, etc.), it’s become increasingly clear that we cannot remain where we are and be faithful to Jesus, let alone be effective….Instead of going left, right, or beyond, we have the option of going back. Going back, you ask? Go back to what? The answer is to go back to the original design Jesus has for His church. The design is not complicated, it is not hidden, but it is often neglected. When we return to Christ and His original design for His church, powerful things begin to happen… This design for God’s church is what I call “apostolic Christianity.”
And with that, I began the first of a series of posts describing what I believe is apostolic Christianity. These posts started being written in 2014 and have only finally all been written and posted. You can find the complete collection of apostolic Christianity articles below:
One of the key misunderstandings I think most people will have with the term “apostolic Christianity” is that their mind will immediately jump to those people who consider themselves apostles. Now, I not only believe this gift operates in the body of Christ, I have a high value for people who are legitimate apostles. They are a necessary part of seeing apostolic Christianity lived out on the planet. But when I describe apostolic Christianity, instead of describing one segment of the body of Christ’s gifting, I’m actually describing something I believe God will allow the whole church to walk in.
At this point, if you’re following along closely, you’re probably ready to accuse me of forcing a specific gifting on the wider body of Christ. But my goal is not to make everyone in the church an apostle, but for us to embody the same spirit of surrender to Christ’s leading that the early church experienced. The bishops of the church in the third century expressed it this way: “We believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.”
You see, the whole church (that’s what that whole catholic thing means, universal) was meant to live together in a way that was handed down from the apostles themselves. Why the apostles? They were the ones Jesus himself charged with taking the Gospel all over the Earth. They were believed to have the most accurate testimony of His life and the most capable of understanding His Kingdom. And these guys gave their lives for the message of the Kingdom in the same way that Jesus had. They were good examples to follow.
So what does it mean for the whole church (not just those gifted as apostles) to embrace the lifestyle of apostolic Christianity? I’m so glad you asked! Let me give you a couple of high-level benchmarks of apostolic Christianity, fleshed out in the life of the church:
- Jesus is Lord: This could easily be described as the Church’s earliest doctrinal statement, but it is so much more than a mere doctrine. For those who are living out apostolic Christianity, this is a way of life. This starts at a very personalized, individual level. We all have to come to value Jesus as the pearl of great price, worth losing our lives over. This reality changes everything about us and we begin to live a new life, the life of Jesus. The realities of the Sermon on the Mount become the code of ethic for the individual. As we come to this recognition individually, it changes how we relate to one another. Jesus becomes what brings us together and we as a family respond to His leadership. (Romans 10:9)
- The Power of the Lord is Manifested: The constant dependence on Jesus showing up and healing, leading through dreams and visions, and casting out of demons was the norm for the early church, beyond the completion of the New Testament. It’s also a common sign whenever the true apostolic church begins to emerge through various renewal movements. More and more churches are shifting and becoming more open to the power of the Holy Spirit, but more so in theory than in actual practice. They believe Jesus does miraculous things today through people, but they don’t seek to move in the spiritual gifts. Paul strongly encouraged believers to seek these gifts out, especially prophesy, because he knew it was essential to living out the lordship of Jesus. The church that is living out apostolic Christianity not only seeks the miraculous power of Jesus, but sees it happen in its midst. (1 Corinthians 14)
- The Harvest is Plentiful: Jesus clearly intended us to believe there was an abundant harvest waiting for the church. He taught that the harvest was so abundant that it’s only limiting factor was the number of workers. Paul actually believed Jesus in this regard and was constantly moving from one place to the next, training up workers who would train other workers. Wherever we see apostolic Christianity emerging, we see the church focused on reaching this plentiful harvest. It causes the church to move out of buildings (and even homes!) into the streets. The Gospel begins to touch people who have never heard it or those who have been apathetic to it in the past. When the church embraces this apostolic lifestyle, the whole church engages with Christ’s mission to reach a vast harvest field and how they spend their time and energy reflect these commitments. (Matthew 9:37-38)
- The Oppression is Real: Jesus was clear, if they hate me, they are going to hate you. Wherever the church is truly operating as an apostolic reality following the ways of Jesus, it will be persecuted. The level of persecution will vary from culture to culture, from threat of physical death like we see in China and Middle Eastern nations to mild ridicule like we’ve seen in more open Western countries. Society doesn’t like change, no matter how much they use it as a slogan. Living out “Jesus as lord” threatens the grip of governors and makes us people who “turn the whole world upside down.” This will cause everyone from governments to social groups to feel threatened and persecute us in some way. But this will cause ample opportunity for the Gospel to go forth. In places like the first century church and China, it has amplified the church’s message, not drowned it out. This will only increase as the return of the Lord draws nearer. (Acts 17:2-8, 1 Peter 4:12-14)
- The Church is simple: Because the harvest is great, because the workers are few, because oppression is real, and because Jesus is Lord, the church typically becomes simpler and less programed. Regardless of what you believe about church structure, you are hard-pressed to find highly organized structures in the book of Acts. Simpler churches allowed the early church to start churches wherever the harvest was being gathered. I’ll say more on this in my next post “Why House Churches are Apostolic.” But for now, let me just mention that when Paul spoke of the church, he spoke of a church that was relational, connected, met primarily in homes, enabled every believer present to function in their gifts, and was able to effectively care for one another. In my view, this required simpler, more reproducible forms of organizing themselves. (Ephesians 4:11-16, Romans 16:1-16, 1 Corinthians 14)
- The Return of the Lord is Clear: Followers of Jesus function best when they believe that Jesus is coming back soon. Now, we’ve all met the guy that lives in a bunker and is storing food and guns away to resist the Anti-Christ. But this is not the kind of end-time view I’m advocating. The church that Jesus started believed He was coming back quickly. It didn’t cause them to hoard stuff, it caused them to give themselves to spreading the gospel to the darkest places on the planet. When we believe that Jesus is returning and that return will have real and irreversible consequences for the planet, we live differently. We actually begin to live in the way Jesus intended: with urgency. (Acts 1:6-11, Revelation 22:12)
Friends, if these things are true, they have tremendous implications for what we’re doing now. Business as usual has to change if we want to embrace the kind of life described here. If you are already doing this, awesome! Pray for us and pray that we all can go deeper in the grace you’re touching. If this isn’t you, then let’s together contend for God to release this type of Christianity in the Earth. I believe He will and it will change everything.
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.
The church in the West is at a crossroads. Beset on every side by dangers from the outside (political and social pressure) and dangers on the inside (immorality, legalism, heresy, etc.), it’s become increasingly clear that we cannot remain where we are and be faithful to Jesus, let alone be effective. If you’re the person arguing that the church in the West needs to stay the same, you are in a small minority.
But how do we change? And what kind of change are we looking for? The discussion typically focuses on two alternatives: A return to more conservative, evangelical Christianity typified by Billy Graham (but possibly with a more Charismatic element) or a move to liberal Christianity typified by Rob Bell or Jim Wallis that is often more acceptable to society as a whole. Frank Viola and others have argued that there is a third way, focused solely on the person of Jesus that leaves the left and right debate behind.
And while I think there is a trap in some of the left vs. right thinking, I would like to argue that there is actually another way available to us. Instead of going left, right, or beyond, we have the option of going back. Going back, you ask? Go back to what? The answer is to go back to the original design Jesus has for His church. The design is not complicated, it is not hidden, but it is often neglected. When we return to Christ and His original design for His church, powerful things begin to happen, both in our lives and the lives of those around us.
The good news is this design isn’t lost to history or buried in some Roman catacomb beneath a thousand years worth of rubble- It’s found on the pages of a book in nearly everyone’s home and latent within the hearts of those who believe in Jesus. The answer God has for us is to go back to the movement Jesus started when He was raised from dead. This design for God’s church is what I call “apostolic Christianity.” Apostolic Christianity is Christianity lived out on the earth in the same spirit as the first century church.
This is the goal- to live out a kind of Christianity the apostles Peter and Paul would recognize where they to meet us. We can never completely return to the first century, but we can be captured by the same Spirit that captured the first followers of Jesus. The culture of our churches should reflect the same vision and values that the church in the book of Acts held.
You should note that apostolic Christianity is not about a person or even a spiritual gift. It’s about a people radically set apart as belonging to God, living sent lives under the power of the Holy Spirit. The goal of apostolic Christianity is to become a church “attain[ing] to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13). It’s the church becoming a bride who has “made herself ready” (Revelation 19:7) and presented to Christ “without spot or wrinkle” (Ephesians 5:27). It’s this type of Christianity that Jude references when he says to his readers “I found it necessary to…appeal to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).
One of the hardest things to ever deal with our expectations. People are constantly forming expectations–sometimes they recognize them, other times they don’t. But one of the things I’ve come to realize over the past couple of years is that it’s important to tell folks what they can and should expect from you and what they shouldn’t, otherwise people will consciously or unconsciously make expectations and you will disappoint them. Maps are helpful in this way because they help people to know what’s coming up in front of them.
A map for us is important because we gained a lot of new readers during our “Journey in the Knowledge of the Holy” series. That’s a really positive thing. But to be honest, our tour through “The Knowledge of the Holy” was not typical fair for “Pursuing Glory.” I don’t know that I would change much about how I did the series, but it was a different style of writing in order to accomplish something different than what I normally do. Going forward, you should expect the blog to look a little different, in the following ways:
- Weekly or twice weekly writing, instead of daily posts (unless there are 30 generous patrons out there who would like to sponsor daily blogging at $10/per post).
- Less posts reflecting on the work of Christian authors
- More of a focus on Jesus and the Church He is forming for the end of the age.
If you haven’t caught on by now, this isn’t your typical general-audience Christian blog. My blog is devoted to preparing the Church for the harvest and the end of the age. I believe before the return of Jesus, the gospel of the Kingdom of Heaven is going to be proclaimed in every nation on the planet and there will be a great harvest of souls unlike anything we’ve seen. I also believe there will be an outpouring of the Holy Spirit unlike anything the church has ever seen. These shifts will require the church to be simpler, reproducible, and organic and for her to a revelation of Jesus at a deep level. I call these shifts “apostolic Christianity. And its these ideas that keep me writing and posting.
So the map for the blog going forward will look different than the last 45 days. I hope to post a four part series about the nature of apostolic Christianity- what is is, how you recognize it, and why it’s important. The next series after that will be a look at the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Christian who resisted the Nazis and helped form an underground church in the midst of World War II. Finally, I hope this year to get to spend some time talking about the book “The Starfish and the Spider” and how it relates to planting reproducing churches at the end of the age. And in between those times, you’ll probably see a post here or there that some how ties in to the posts you find on my Top 10 page.
Finally, this blog is a community. The thing about community is you get out of it as much as you put into it and connections are really important. So, in order to continue grow together, here are a couple of ways to connect and build together:
- Follow Me on Twitter. I’m pretty active there. If you’re a regular reader, message me so I can let the rest of my followers know that you’re a person to follow.
- Subscribe to the Blog. Either by email or by rss feed. You can check out more details on subscribing by RSS feed here or you can hit the “Sign Me Up” button on the right side of this screen to subscribe by email.
- Finally, send me an email and let me know your thoughts about the blog so far. I love getting emails from readers.
One of the most misunderstood aspects of the church as God designed it is the place of the five-fold ministry. God has designed the body of Christ so that it builds itself up in love. An important part of that process is mature five-fold gifts functioning in and amongst the body of Christ in a mature way. But many have misunderstood the purpose and functions of different aspects of these gifts.
Because of the importance of these ministries, I’ve assembled some of the best posts on the five-fold ministry that I’ve found on various blogs. These are written by men and women with experience with people who have functioned in these gifts. These are my top five posts. Feel free to leave a link to your favorite post on this topic in the comment section.
Felicity gives us a great post to introduce us to the idea of the five-fold ministry and right off the bat she combats the major misconceptions about these gifts God gives the church. This is a short post but many people miss the profound implications that are found within it.
Len’s thoughts on a quote from An Ethic for Christians and Other Aliens in a Strange Land don’t directly mention the five-fold ministry. But he does touch on an interesting idea: The Kingdom of God is extended by Jesus as He gives these gifts to the church for the world. Read on to see more.
I love this post by Bob Roberts. Bob really brings a very balanced perspective to the whole issue of the five-fold ministry. I love that his insights are born out of his work in the non-Western world and I’m greatly encouraged on his emphasis on the whole church becoming apostolic, and not just one man.
Mike does a great job in this post of describing what a missional community will look like if it is lead by each of the five-fold ministries. While not entirely the same as a house church, I’ve noticed similar group dynamics in house churches led by each of these different ministry gifts. You may learn a few things about why you lead your house church the way you do from this post.
Last but not least, this post is extremely helpful because it identifies characteristics of immature people with five-fold giftings. Many times we reject five-fold minstries because of our negative experiences with the immature versions of five-fold ministries. This frank discussion about the downside of immature five-fold ministries will help those who have had negative experiences. It’s also really helpful to those maturing in these gifts because it highlights weaknesses they will need to address.
Photo Credit: This image is a product of five pictures representing each of the five-fold ministries.
It’s no secret around here that I strongly believe in having all of the gifts described in Ephesians 4:7-11 functioning in a body of believers. To that end, I’ve developed a little test to help you, yes YOU, determine what your “five-fold” or APEST gifting is. Are you ready?
If you are living on a mission from Jesus and fathering others…. you are a Christian.
If you hear God’s voice well enough to declare it to others…. you are a Christian.
If you love to tell lost people about Jesus and have success in making disciples…. you are a Christian.
If you love and care for God’s people on an intimate level…. you are a Christian.
If you know how to teach in a way that gives people understanding of Jesus and His purposes…. (Say it with me everyone!) you are a Christian.
If you are equipping other believers to live on mission and father others….or if you are training other believers to hear God’s voice…or if you are equipping younger believers to reach their friends….or you are giving other believers the skills to care for hurting believers….or you are helping believers teach others….well….you get the idea.
But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.
Therefore it says,
‘When he ascended on high he led a host of captives,
and he gave gifts to men.’
(In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ… Ephesians 4:7-13