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Wednesday, May 27, 2009


If you were asked to define a New Covenant church, the kind which the Lord Jesus said He would build, how would you define it?

For many years, among saints with whom we gathered, I had grown accustomed to defining churches by activities. (If a group of Christians is a church they will do this and that and the other and if they don't do those things they are not a church.) This manner of thinking allowed me to have a "measuring stick" by which to judge other gatherings of saints and determine in my mind whether or not they were a church!

But when I looked for such an "activities based" definition in scripture, I became troubled that no such definition could be found! I knew then that if my thinking on the church were to be truly scriptural, I would have to find a scriptural definition, even if my former thinking about the church would have to be radically altered!

It was then that I began to notice that every time the apostle Paul, the NT writer who writes most about the church, defines the church - he does it by relationships rather than by activities. See I Corinthians 1:2; II Cor.1:1; Ephesians 1:22,23; Philippians 1:1; I Thessalonians 1:1; II Thessalonians 1:1 etc.

It is for these reasons that I was deeply impressed by the following article by Bill Hoffman which I found at


© Monkey Business - Fotolia.comBill Hoffman

“Would you like us to pray for you about something?” I asked. Immediately the eyes of our waitress opened wide as she blurted out an answer in the affirmative. It was Tuesday evening and our men’s accountability group had gathered for our regular meeting at a local coffee shop. For the past several months we had been offering to pray for those who waited on us. Most of the requests we received were fairly superficial. “My grandma is sick.” “I have a test coming up tomorrow.” “My boyfriend needs a job.” But when “Fran” began to share her needs with us it was like someone had backed up a garbage truck to our booth and dumped its contents out onto our table. Her daughter was suffering from cancer. A grandson had been born with serious medical problems. And her adult son had been thrown out of his home along with his three-year-old daughter. Fran had sacrificed financially to set them up in an apartment nearby but they had no furniture and her son had no job. She was working two full-time jobs to support them all and was still sinking quickly into debt.

“We will certainly pray for all of these requests,” I promised, “and we will see what else we can do to help.” Over the next few days we managed to come up with some leads for employment for her son and found a few items of furniture for them to use. On the following Tuesday Fran, who turned out to be the night manager at the restaurant, was again our waitress and once again we offered to pray for her. By the third week Fran was sitting down with us in our booth and joining us in our prayers. This was the evening she dropped the bombshell that has revolutionized the way we’ve been doing church.

“Thank you so much for your prayers and for all your help,” she gushed with a huge smile. “You guys have meant so much to me! I look forward to Tuesday night all week. Other people have invited me to their churches but they all meet on Sunday mornings when I am always working. So, God brought you guys to me on Tuesday nights.” After spreading out her hands toward the rest of us sitting at the table she joyfully declared, “This is my church!”

I’m afraid the first thought that crossed my mind was, “No it’s not! This is a men’s accountability group.” But the Lord suddenly revealed to me that this is exactly what we had been praying for. For months we had been moved to fervently pray for “workers for the harvest” asking the Lord to specifically connect us to a “man of peace.’” These prayer directives came from our study of the book of Luke, chapter 10: 1-7. It dawned on us that we had just found a “man of peace” even though the “man” was definitely a female and her house was not a house at all but rather a restaurant.

At first we attempted to invite her to our weekly house-church fellowship that meets at our home on Sunday evenings. However, her schedule made this impossible and her own apartment was in a community some twenty miles away. So, we just resigned ourselves to accept the fact that the Lord of the harvest had just morphed our men’s accountability group into a rather unique church. Early on Fran provided the name for this special gathering when she related to us a conversation she recently had with a fellow employee.

“You’re doing drugs, aren’t you?” Fran asked one of her co-workers with a tone of compassion rather than accusation. “Don’t try to deny it because I’ve been around and I know the signs.”

The young waitress just stared back at her through dilated, bloodshot eyes waiting for the expected pronouncement of her termination.

“Don’t worry,” Fran continued, ‘I’m not going to fire you or turn you in to the police. I’m just concerned about you and I know that whatever your problems are this is not the answer. Jesus is the answer! We need to change your work schedule so you can be here on Tuesday nights. Then you can go to church with me.”

Feeling somewhat relieved, the drug-addicted waitress responded by asking, “Where is your church located?”

As her face erupted into a huge smile Fran pointed over to a booth in the corner of the restaurant and proudly proclaimed, “Table number two!”
From this point on our gathering has been called “The Church at Table Number Two.”

Not long after Fran revealed to us that our gathering was in fact a church, she told us she had a surprise for us. She then excused herself from the table, went back into the kitchen, and brought out the cook and his assistant. After we all introduced ourselves we asked the two men what we could do to help them.

“We have heard all that you have done to help Fran,” began one of the Hispanic men speaking in heavily accented English. “We both live in very small apartments and have very large families. Could you perhaps find us some furniture? We especially need beds for our children.”

“I don’t know if we can help you,” I responded. “But I know who can. Jesus was the one who found help for Fran. Would it be okay of we asked Jesus to help you, too?”

Within a couple of weeks we had found some used furniture for these men and we began to connect every Tuesday evening with the cook. He led us to another family in a nearby community who was also in dire need of help, a young, recently widowed Hispanic woman with three young children and very little means to support them. We soon began meeting regularly in this woman’s home taking the Love of Jesus with us and doing what we could to help. Before long we were also traveling regularly to the cook’s home and “doing church” with him and his family. The cook, his wife, and her mother have all placed their faith in Jesus and God continues to open up doors through them into the Hispanic community. This has all been truly amazing to us since neither my wife nor I speak any Spanish and most of these new acquaintances speak little if any English. I’m not even a fan of Mexican food, but God’s Word tells us to “eat what is set before you.” (Luke 10:8) So, I’m learning to sacrifice my tongue and digestive tract for the greater good of reaching out to a people group in our area who are in desperate need of the Gospel of love. We are learning that the love of Jesus can break through any ethnic barriers.

I believe it is significant to note that not one of these individuals have ever attended our own home gathering. However, we are perfectly content with this development. It’s not that we wouldn’t love to have them; it’s just that they would most likely have a difficult time adjusting to our way of doing things, not to mention our food. Besides, the Lord has been teaching us to change the direction of our focus. For years our goal was to grow our home gathering to the point where it would be obvious we needed to split off and start another group. We would then commission a few of our members and send them out to plant the next church in another home. It’s not that this concept is terribly wrong; it’s just terribly slow. Meanwhile, the harvest is ripe and waiting.

These days we are not asking people to join the group that meets in our home. When we come across a “man of peace,” or discover someone interested in doing simple church, or lead someone to the Lord, our first instinct is to plant a new church in their home. We ask them to gather together their family and friends, especially those who are not yet Christians or who don’t attend church anywhere else, and we proceed to help them plant a church in the surroundings they know best, where Jesus can make the biggest difference, in their homes and workplaces. The results have been truly remarkable. But why should we be surprised? This is exactly how Jesus taught us to do it.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Where Do You Go To Church?

In the previous post, I noted how the Lord had taught me that "church" or the assembling together of His new covenant people had nothing whatsoever to do with the OT dichotomy between things "holy" and things "common". The called out company of which every new covenant believer is a part has nothing to do with meeting in "holy places" or buildings, nothing to do with a "holy priesthood or ministry" distinct from other saints, nothing to do with observing "holy days", eating "holy foods" or dressing up in "holy clothes"! Nor does it have anything to do with assembling to listen to "pulpit ministry" or monologue sermons!

But still, one of the most commonly asked questions when Christians first encounter other Christians is the one which is the title of this post..."Where do you go to church?"

The very asking of such a question reveals a very common but a very false conception of what the church really is! It is not a place to which one can go but rather a family relationship into which one enters by way of the new birth!

The following article is found on the web site
I hope it will help you and me the next time we are asked this common question!

Where Do You Go To Church? By Jack Helser

© Skimaxpower | Fotolia.comWhen Christians meet for the first time, the question most often asked is “where do you go to church?” I dread that question more than any other because the people who ask are usually shocked by my unusual answer. I hope by the end of this column, to show the reader just how silly the question really is.

Since the time of Christ, the question has been asked in many ways. There was the woman at the well who asked Jesus about worship on Jacob’s mountain or in Jerusalem. Jesus’ reply made it clear that where we worship is no longer relevant, but who and how we worship (John 4:21-23). On another occasion, the disciples stopped a man from working miracles because he was not a member of their church. Clearly angered, Jesus said “don’t stop him - if he’s not an enemy, he’s an ally” (Mark 9:38-40).

If where is not important, and there are only 2 sides in the conflict between light and darkness, can there be more than one church (Mark 3:25)? The answer depends on perspective. Since we are a people called to “deny ourselves” and follow Christ (Luke 9:23), only His perspective matters.

What has impressed me the most is our Father’s heart for unity, as expressed in Jesus’ prayer for all believers to be one with each other in the same way that He and the Father are one (John 17:20-23). In keeping with His Father’s desire for unity, Jesus commanded us to love each other (John 13:34-35) and when we have disputes to resolve them quickly (Matthew 5:23-24 and 18:15-17). Our oneness and love for each other lets the world see Jesus in us and shows them we are His disciples (John 17:20-23, John 13:34-35).

© House2HouseSadly, division and opposition began cropping up in the church even before the New Testament was complete. To the church in Corinth Paul wrote that their gatherings did more harm than good because of disagreements between opposing groups (1 Corinthians 11:17-18). He also corrected them for boasting about whom they followed, whether Paul, Apollos, or Peter. Paul wrote that such boasts were carnal and sinful, and he refocused them on God (1 Corinthians 1:12 and 3:4-7). Today, divisions are known by the sanitized name “denominations” where people profess religious brand-name loyalty to Calvin, Luther, Wesley, et al, and opposition has turned to competition between churches. Are division and opposition any less carnal and sinful today than they were then?

From God’s perspective, there is one church, and it is not a building that we “go to” (Acts 7:48 and 17:24). Rather, the church is the Body of Christ (Ephesians 1:22-23) which is people, what Peter calls “living stones”, and God is assembling us into a spiritual temple (1 Corinthians 3:11, 12:18 and 1 Peter 2:5). Instead of asking “which church do you go to”, we ought to recognize one another as temples of God in which His Spirit dwells (1 Corinthians 3:16 and 6:19), and wherever God brings any 2 or more of us together, church happens (Matthew 18:20).

The Biblical example for the church is cities and regions living for Christ in relational fellowship, hence the 9 letters of Paul and the 7 letters from Jesus in Revelation, which are addressed to all believers in a city or region. If Jesus were to write a letter to us, He would likely address it “to the Church in Princeton” or “to My People in Bureau County.” His message is clear; wherever we live, we are God’s children and we are brothers and sisters. Imagine the kind of relational community described in Acts 2:42-47 and Acts 4:32-35 here! What would it take from each of us to become a city united in Christ?

As for the original question “where do you go to church”, the answer is everywhere! Church happens in the aisles of a grocery store, in a cafĂ© over pie and coffee, in the Laundromat, in homes, outdoors, and even in church buildings, because it is Christ who makes us the church, not where we meet.

Friday, May 1, 2009

The New Covenant Radically Different from the Old

Years before I'd ever given the subject of "covenants" any serious thought, Judy and I went to the West Indies with all good intentions of being "New Testament Church Planters". In my mind if one established churches after the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus, one was establishing New Testament (Covenant) churches!! I was to learn years later how wrong I was!

In recent years I've come to realize that 90% of what we taught believers in Dominica to do was patterned NOT after the New Covenant but rather after the Old!!

Under the Old Covenant (established by God with Israel at Sinai) all of life was divided into two categories: (1) Holy things and (2) Common things.....
-there was a Holy building (the tabernacle or temple) where Israelites were to offer all their sacrifices and offerings and common buildings (their homes and all other buildings),
- there was a Holy ministry with special credentials (the sons of Levi between the ages of 20 and 50) and the common people,
-there was a Holy priesthood with special credentials (the sons of Aaron) and the common people,
- there were Holy clothes (worn by the priests and Levites in the tabernacle/temple) and common clothes worn by common people and by the Levites and priests when not serving in the tabernacle/temple,
- there were Holy foods eaten only by the priests and their families and common foods eaten by the common people,
- there were clean animals which Israelites could eat and unclean animals which only Gentiles could eat,
- there were Holy days (sabbaths, feats and new moons etc) consecrated in special ways and common days,
- there were Holy tithes required to be given/used in special ways (i.e. for the support of the Holy priests and ministers) and common uses of resources with which the Lord blessed the people,
- there were Holy offerings for the building and maintenance of the Holy building and common uses of the people's resources for their own needs,
- there was one instance in all the O.T. where the Word of God was read from a pulpit of wood (when the people returning from captivity did not have the Word of God in their own hands Nehemiah 8:4) and other times when the common people had the scriptures and were to read and talk of them with their children throughout the day,
- there was a school of the prophets where young men were trained in prophetic ministry and there were prophets whom God personally called and equipped apart from any school.

Can you begin to see how the majority of things we taught the Dominican believers to do were patterned after the Old Covenant and not the New? We taught them the OC dichotomy between the Holy and the Common, between the sacred and the secular! But the beauty of NC life and ministry is that, for the child of God, the common is made holy! There are no longer to be any such divisions in our lives or ministries!

- We taught the saints in Dominica to meet in a special building (we called it "the church"!) But according to the New Covenant, saved people themselves are the church and such people in the early centuries met most often in their own homes! (Acts 2:2,46; 5:4; 8:3; 12:12; 16:40; 20:20; 28:30; Romans 16:5; I Cor.16:19; Col.4:15; Philemon1:2)

- We taught them that the church must be lead by a special credentialled class of ministers called the "clergy" who were distinguished from the common people, the "laity" by special titles, by special clothes, by special documents/certificates/letters, by special responsibilities and by a special means of support! But such a distinction is absolutely foreign to New Covenant scriptures. All New Covenant believers ARE God's kleros (clergy, inheritance, heritage appointed lot I Peter 5:3), all are gifted and to be equipped for ministry (I Peter 4:10,11; Ephesians 4:11,12), and all are ordained to bear fruit that remains (John 15:16)!

- We taught them that "clergy men" must wear special clothes when ministering "in church" and that the laity should wear special clothes (not their common clothes) when they "went to church"! But such a teaching is absolutely foreign to the new Covenant scriptures!

-We taught them, that there were special Holy days for "going to church" and ordinary days for doing their own business! But the New Covenant scriptures make no such distinction between "the sacred" and "the secular"! Rather, the New Covenant scriptures teach us that NC saints are called to live holy lives 24/7 (I Peter 1:14,15)!!

- We taught them that there were Holy foods (little pieces of bread or crackers and little cups of grape juice) which were to be eaten and drunk only on special holy days, in the Holy building when they were administered to them, by the Holy ministers) and that these Holy foods were clearly distinct from the ordinary food which they ate in their own homes! But the New Covenant scriptures never separate remembering the Lord from the eating of daily meals in ordinary dwellings (Acts 2:42,46; 20:7-11; 28:35)!

- We taught them the necessity of bringing their "tithes and offerings" for the support of the Holy ministers and the maintenance of the Holy building but that the rest of their resources could be used for their own ordinary needs! But the New Covenant scriptures teach that we are stewards of all that has been entrusted to us and we must give account of our stewardship of 100% for the total is the Lord's (II Cor.8 and 9)!

-We established a Bible school for the training of young people who wanted to go "into the ministry" but that those who wanted to train for other occupations should seek out other ordinary schools. New Covenant believers were equipped and discipled by older saints in the course of ordinary daily life among the saints.

- But more than anything else, we taught them two or three times every week that "pulpit ministry" or "the sermon" was the central and most important component of "doing church" when the saints gathered together! But such ministry is absolutely foreign to the New Covenant scriptures! In fact, I have yet to find even one instance in the New Covenant scriptures of divine truth being communicated to saved people by means of a "sermon" or monologue lecture! We have been falsely conditioned to think of a "homily" as a monologue sermon delivered by a pastor from a pulpit to a congregation and that "homiletics" is the art of sermon preparation and delivery, but such could not be further from the truth! If we simply go to the Bible, we learn that the Greek word HOMILEO always designates a conversation among a number of people! (Luke 24:14,15; Acts 20:11 and 24:26)

When the impact of the radical differences between OC and NC life and ministry dawned upon my heart and mind, I was astounded to realize that while I had believed we were establishing NC assemblies we had actually been gathering the Lord's NC people under the bondage of OC teachings and practices whereas He desired that they live in the liberty of New Covenant ministry! (See the contrasts as they are shown in Galatians 4:21-5:2 and in II Corinthians 3)

Only in the last 9 years have we personally enjoyed living and ministering in the context of New Covenant relationships where all believers are appreciated at priests, ministers and God`s ordained clergy, where we realize that all of life is to be lived in holiness, where we practically realize that as believers we ARE the church where ever we go, that all Christians are called to full time ministry and that, for us, there is no distinction between things "sacred" and things "secular"! We enjoy simply meeting with other believers in each others' homes, remembering the Lord as we eat our meals and ministering one to another as the Lord desires saints to do whenever they assemble together i.e. "provoking or stirring one another up to love and good works and exhorting one another" (Hebrews 10:24,25).

We encourage all believers to remain no longer under the bondage of Old Covenant principles where the "holy" is separate from the "common" and the "sacred" is separate from the "secular" in the lives of God's people, but to live in the glorious realization that for us the common has been made holy by the One who established His New Covenant with us (Hebrews 8:10-13)!