Chapter 4: Jesus IS Still Alive!
“But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an uninformed person comes in, he is convinced by all, he is judged by all. And thus the secrets of his heart are revealed; and so, falling down on his face, he will worship God and report that God is truly among you. How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification.”
THE Principles of Letting the King Run the Meeting are the same no matter what the size of the gathering, whether two or two hundred thousand (though we may discover some different twists when we get there)! All of the “principles” revolve around this one Truth: THE GRAVE IS EMPTY! JESUS IS ALIVE. HE IS THE HEAD OF HIS CHURCH! Hallelujah.
Now, how does that change things? What does it mean for the Body to submit to the current direction of her Head? How would the King of the Church reign in reality in the meetings of His Church (rather than merely in philosophical theory)? Reason with me a moment.
Does it not make sense that if Jesus is still alive, and the Head of the Church is present when “two or three are gathered in His Name,” that we would let Jesus run the meeting? Can you imagine Peter, James, Andrew, and the others sitting in rows and files for two hours, a day or two each week, doing “studies” about Jesus, when He was right there with them? Do you suppose that they decided a month in advance what they were going to do when they were with Jesus?…Or do you think that possibly they let Jesus decide the agenda when they were together? You know they were just simply committed to be with Him, and to let Him set the sails!
Imagine you are in a church building next Sunday that functions in ceremonies, rather than Reality. Just as you slide the hymnal back into the rack after the opening song, the booming voice of Gabriel cracks the plaster with these words:
“We now interrupt the ‘regularly scheduled program’ to bring you a message from the King of Kings and Lord of Lords…”:
Jesus declared, “Believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem, [at a certain prescribed time and a certain prescribed place]…. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.”
The Christianity, the New Covenant, that we read of in the Bible, has always been intended by God to be limitless in its expression!
If I might be so bold as to ask, I’d like you to pray fervently tonight and in the days to come about the magnitude and the ramifications of the Truths (if these are truly the ways of Christ Jesus) we are about to discuss. If you are earnestly desiring reality rather than theory and academics, please be open to hearing, and even fasting, over the application of any Truth that may follow, to your own personal life and church. This is not about a gimmicky, informal alternative to ritual (PLEASE!), but about the freedom that we have to be Family in Christ. We need not continue to be entranced and constrained by a stiff, regulated, religious environment entirely foreign to the Church that Jesus established — the one that we read of in the Bible. Many of you already know only too well how dangerous this vacuum of true Life can be for marriages, teenagers, and all of our lives together.
Let’s just touch on some of the attitudes we need to cultivate in understanding this extraordinary topic (of meeting together with the unseen Head of the Church and Creator of the Galaxies), and also discuss a few practical considerations that will come up as we do meet together in Him.
As we consider the nature of meetings of His Church, we must give much weight to the glimpse of meetings in the New Testament Church found in Paul’s first letter to his Family in Corinth, chapter 14:24‑26. This segment of his letter to the brothers and sisters in the city of Corinth describes a meeting in the church of which they were a part. In their gathering, even though the church was very weak in many respects, an unbeliever could still fall on his face and cry out “God is really among you!” Why would he fall on his face? Because God really WAS among them in the gathering of the saints. THAT in itself seems to be a key missing ingredient in the church of this generation.
While religious and emotional hype at some religious meetings might have a similar appearance to God’s presence on a temporary basis, “by its fruit you shall know it.” Lives, families, work places, and neighborhoods aren’t permanently altered by simply an “uplifting worship experience.” The following truths about gatherings and honesty before God WILL have that impact. Why? Because change is based on these words of Jesus: “You shall know the Truth, and the Truth shall set you free” (John 8:31‑32; Rom.12:1‑2).
Hopefully I’ll be able to communicate, as we continue, how the nature of gatherings has a tremendous impact on the speed of Spiritual growth in God’s People. Being a true Priesthood, rather than an audience, is not an unimportant, optional nicety!
Some of what I’m about to say will be meaningful to those whose orientation is towards accepting prophecy to be part of the New Covenant and God’s Church, but possibly not as meaningful to those who believe that this element was only for the first century Church. Either way, let’s stick together and work through some Biblical principles.
The passage in 1Corinthians, Chapter 14, that mentions the non‑Christian man collapsing in the Presence of God in the church gathering also mentions prophecy. Is prophesying the element that caused the unbelieving man to fall on his face and cry out “God is truly among you?” Prophecy is not the issue really. “Prophesying” is added in some churches today because this element is in the framework of their belief system, and so they must therefore have prophesying in the assembly in order to please God. This reasoning may seem to be correct at first glance, but the fact that something may be Biblically possible and valuable doesn’t necessarily mean that God is going to do it on cue. Frequently prophecy today is somewhat conjured or forced (though usually, no doubt, by sincerity or peer pressure, not ambition). Even when the prophecy seems impressive at the moment, it often proves ultimately to be powerless and false by the test of time. For those who honestly care about Truth more than reputation, faddish prophesying should be lovingly exposed as only an imitation of the real thing. “The emperor has no clothes.” Unchallenged, broken “prophetic” promises, carnal expression by carnal men, and lack of fruit as the years roll by, all testify that our desires can sometimes overshadow our discernment. Let’s deal honestly (though never cynically or skeptically — 1Thes.5:19‑20) with what we are hearing today. God can stand up to investigation. If our hearts are soft and teachable, He will show us, in His time, the real thing.
The biggest problem that we have had in recent generations is not really so much related to prophesying. The real problem is the fact that God just plain hasn’t been among us much at all in the majority of religious activities in this generation. If the Creator of the Cosmos showed up in the room, would it be noticeable? Me thinks so. How? Rest assured: God will make His Presence known, and in any way He sees fit. He will lay bare the motives and the intentions of mens’ hearts in any way He sees fit. The essential ingredient we desire is that He really would be among us.
“When you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present….”
The environment referred to in the passage quoted in 1Corinthians 14, the gathering in which He’s really among us, at work in His Priesthood of Believers, looks like this:
“When you come together everyone has a hymn or a word of instruction or a revelation….”
Though this kind of freedom in gatherings will not guarantee God’s involvement in them, this is the nature of gatherings of the Church recorded in, and responding to, the Bible. This freedom in meetings, rarely with an official “leader” other than Jesus Himself, is an essential ingredient of a Family of Believers consistent with God’s Intent — a Priesthood rather than spectators. We must not yield to the gentiles’ format for “order”: a few selected (or hired) men performing for and motivating an “audience” in a “same bat time, same bat place” kind of structure.
The clearest picture we have of the New Testament Church meeting in the Bible involves people coming together with each member of Christ’s Body having “considered how” to spur the Family on. ALL are to be the priests of God — the priesthood of believers bringing songs, and words of instruction, and revelation. Again, the practice of Jesus’ Church did not, and does NOT, as God is allowed His Way, include a hired Bible teacher standing behind a pulpit or even informally in front, giving a “lesson” to an audience that’s watching a pre‑arranged, pre‑programmed, planned chain of religious events.
To illustrate in a playful way the silliness of our state, apart from a much‑needed restoration…
Just picture this scene happening in a cave in the first century: a little shingle titled “Visitor’s Sunday” is positioned just outside of the cave. The congregants file in quietly, dressed in their finest apparel, and find their habitual seats on rocks carefully placed in rows and columns on the floor of the cave. Ushers are available to help the visitors find a rock suitable to their financial standing. Two songs and a prayer start the program. The master of ceremonies helps to navigate the “worshippers” through the defined sequence of “orderly” spiritual components. (Some caves on different street corners are more expressive than others, but it comes out about the same.) A carefully prepared speech is delivered by the speaker of the hour. Some singing, or “fellowship time” ends the day’s events. Paul, Peter, or whoever the dignitaries might be, position themselves at the mouth of the cave to shake parishioners’ hands after the “service” and set up any counseling appointments that the congregants might request.
Is that the way that you have it pictured? We all know better. It didn’t happen then, and it mustn’t happen now.
If it’s not to be the pre-fabbed, packaged plan of “services,” what should our gatherings look like instead? In the Book of Acts, we see some principles about New Testament meetings. In Acts 20, for example, we remember the power of God having been displayed in a young man named Eutychus. As the gathering went on hour after hour until dawn, ultimately, Eutychus fell asleep, fell three stories from his informal place on the window sill, died, and was raised from the dead. What a night! That’s the nature of things. It began with a gathering that was not sterile choreography centered around a speech to dressed-up folks sitting in pews, for a pre-determined length of time. Paul did not give a long-winded “sermon” as some might have thought. He “dielegeto” (Greek) — dialogued with them in someone’s home!
In Corinth, when no one of Paul’s stature was present, things did not grind to a boring halt. Nor did they find someone to “fill in” as the resident “man of God.” As we have seen, God has always wanted a “Holy Nation” of priests (see Exodus 19:4-6), not a few Levites to deliver sermons, lead singing, and make decisions. They were to be a Royal Priesthood. In the Church of the New Covenant, that finally came to pass (Jer.31:31-34; Ezek.36:24-32; Heb.8:8-13). And when they met together, they met as if they were now all Priests! And as if their precious Lord was still Alive!
20 Matthew 18:20. Back
21 1Cor.11:17‑34 makes it clear that, while they had no “services” as most have known them (1Cor.14:26) per se, they certainly were to take their time together in gatherings in a very serious way. Let’s not be careless, but rather respect God’s Oracles as Paul said the Thessalonians had. They received God’s Word through His vessels “not as the words of men, but as it actually is, the Word of God”…“with power, with the Holy Spirit, and with deep conviction.” With that attitude, we’ll do fine! Back
22 Now don’t get mad at me! If there is a chance that I can cause some of my Family to stop and consider some things that would be helpful, though possibly painful, even at the risk of my (non‑existent) reputation and favor with some, it would be worth it. I don’t want to not be liked, but I’ve got to take that chance! I’m compelled! Here goes. Please consider God’s Word as you consider the fate of conjuring up prophesying in the assembly to “keep up with the Smith’s”:
“A prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded him to say, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, must be put to death.”
You may say to yourselves, “How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the Lord?”
“If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously. Do not be afraid of him.”
If we really were planning on obeying God, we would have a lot of dead “prophets” to bury. We couldn’t be applauding, with God’s Mind, those who are speaking of “60‑80% accuracy.” I’m not advocating murder, but just trying to communicate to you the severity of God’s Judgment on men “stealing from one another [or begetting from their imaginations] words supposedly from Me” (Jer.23). One “miss” is sufficient to end the streak permanently, if we are willing to follow God, rather than bandwagons. I don’t mean to sound harsh — I don’t know how we are going to bridge the gap of “vacuum to reality” without making mistakes, either. How were they to bridge that gap in the passage in Deuteronomy just quoted? Yet it says what it says: “Kill those who prophesy what does not come to pass.” God will just
have to help us, I guess! In the mean time, we don’t need to strain to make something happen out of the flesh, out of ambition, or out of desperation and impatience.
I know, from what I’ve seen and from those that I’m close to, that skeptics and advocates of Acts 2:17‑18 alike are not completely convinced by all that is happening today. It seems clear that those in authority in groups that affirm 1Cor.14:1 are frequently unconvinced that a “prophecy” is from Heaven. Many times those who are directing the assembly to achieve the best effect (as they were admittedly taught to do in Seminary) will interrupt a questionable spontaneous prophetic utterance when the one prophesying pauses for a breath. This scenario has occurred in innumerable places: the Pastor or Worship Leader quickly leads a song or adds a few remarks in order to slickly cover up the embarrassing problem with the prophecy, or the things that he did not want the flock to hear.
Maybe we should even reconsider our prior ideas of the means in which prophesying was done in the early apostolic church. True prophesying may not be as stained‑glass and lofty and uninterruptible as most of us have thought (read 1Cor.14:30). Prophecy is likely to be, in its highest form, very organic and natural. Though powerful and nearly unbelievable in its piercing riches, true prophecy is often as innocent and genuine as the Carpenter lovingly looking you right in the eye and revealing your heart. Contrast that with (1) a guru in a trance; (2) an angry, tuft‑haired, eccentric man with projectile saliva; (3) a flashy flatterer with much personal boasting; he maybe leads a “mutual back‑patting society” with those in leadership wherever he goes; or, (4) a timid lamb that musters the courage to try to make a simple heart conviction sound like a prophecy in a gathering. Such children we are! It’s a good thing He loves us so much…! By His grace, we ARE going to make it!Back
23 There will be times, of course, where God challenges us to faithfulness without a lot of feedback. The Israelites got into a heap of trouble for complaining “Is God among us or not?” (1Cor.10:10). Yet, all in all, the marks of a Church whose Existence was born in Heaven, in the “Power of an Indestructible Life,” should be plentiful. Not just theoretical. Back
24 Hebrews 10:24-25. Back
25 In case you’re wondering, “decently and in order,” in its context in 1Corinthians, chapter 14, does not mean a prescribed liturgy of two songs, a prayer, a sermon, etc. It includes, in the same paragraph, “everyone brings a song, a word of instruction.” That is “decent and in order”‑‑ if the King Himself is directing the time. If He’s not, we may need to strike these 1 Corinthians 14 Truths about “how to function in the gatherings” from our Bibles. It is truly too risky to live this way if men are separate from the Head. We will have chaos if there is no script to follow, no Master of Ceremonies to keep the meeting rolling, and Jesus is not running the meeting. “Every man does what is right in his own eyes” when there is “no King.” A script, and traditions of men, are the way to go if Jesus isn’t at the meeting and giving the direction! Back
26 Is a freedom in Charismatic assemblies for any to prophesy or bring a “word of knowledge” at some specified time during the “service” really bringing forth the “layman” into his place as a priest of God? It seems that this generally misses the mark. First of all, it is only allowed in a specified (spoken or unspoken) segment of time. While this seems to allow more freedom for the Family than the traditional denominational setting allows, it still falls short of what God is after. God and His priesthood are still limited to performing within the limits set by folkways and mores, or by those that are orchestrating the gathering. We must learn to let Jesus reign, and TRUST Him! Back
27 They all had jobs they had to get up for the next morning, children to consider, and the normal responsibilities of life that we face as well. But they, as a challenge to us, knew how to “seek first the Kingdom.” What blessings we miss when we walk by sight, “the logical,” and not by faith! Back