Kingdom of God Fellowship

Shelterglen University
School of Theology

To the “Not So Many”


             In Matthew 7:22 & 23 we read "Many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?' "And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.'(NAS)

            We often look at this passage of scripture with some arrogance and say that the text only applies to a band of money-making charlatans that only pretend to be “Christian”. That presumption might be made in the form of an automatic association with shady “tent revivalists” or even with most of the bulk of the television evangelists surfing the media airways. Scripturally, we often even connect this passage to Paul’s writings to his ministerial apprentice Timothy in the second letter, the third chapter, the fifth verse, where it reads “holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power” (NAS)

             But the word we skate over very quickly in Matthew 7:22 is the word “Many”. The reader can use any number of methods to rationalize it or blur the implication, but the word “many “ still says what it says. It prescribes a very uncomfortable prefix to most of the so-called “Christian” ministries and churches in existence. Some would even categorize themselves as “evangelicals”, “charismatics”, or “fundamentalists”. Some might even simply declare themselves to be “born again”. But their motivations play into the actions of many of these ministries and the output eventually speaks for itself.

              Look closely at the action verbs in verse 22. The word “prophesy” means to proclaim or preach the truth. One can preach or teach the past truth, the present truth, or even the future truth. That word “prophesy” is even qualified by the following prepositional phrase “in Your name”. This would strongly imply that these “many” preachers ministered under their own assumption of the authority of Jesus Christ. But were they really preaching with or under the authority of Jesus Christ?  

              The next action verb is “cast out” which is the Greek word “ekballo” which means to eject violently. The implication here is very shaky when you continue to read on in the book of Matthew 12:25 where Jesus Himself says “A house divided against itself shall not stand” (NAS) Does this really make sense? What is Jesus trying to communicate?

                The last action verb is the word “perform”. The definitive Greek text connects and compares the primary verb “poieo”, which means “to make or do”, with another Greek word “prasso” which means “to repeatedly or habitually execute or perform”. And here is where Jesus‘ words may have revealed the most hints as to who he is speaking about. Could He have been talking about those who are performers and continually repeating the same acts so as to almost create a ritual? 

               With the dawn of the post-modern era in North America, the Evangelical Christian community decided that they would adopt many of the world's standards in an attempt to grow themselves numerically. Unfortunately, it has been all but humorous to observe this vain attempt to retrieve the status and even the so-called power that the local church would like to have in the community by incorporating such worldly tools for church growth.

                The mainstream protestant Christian Church continues to drown in the self generated deception that they have a desirable product in the public eye. Within the next couple of decades the generation that financed most of mainstream Christian denominationalism will be mortally dead. Their repeated generational rituals and traditions every Sunday morning do very little to perpetuate themselves or make the message of Jesus Christ attractive in a society that now holds very little regard for highly structured organizations of any kind. Their denominational hierarchies are financially suffocating as they sell off their once exceptionally valuable properties for fractions of their original construction costs. The trickle down effect of this has thinned their clerical ranks and left gaping vacancies that are often filled with eager radicals, homosexuals

or other non-committed theological liberals looking for a platform on which to promote their shallow flesh oriented spiritually dead agendas. Jesus referred to this phenomenon as "the blind leading the blind." Luke 6:39 "A blind man cannot guide a blind man, can he? Will they not both fall into a pit? (NAS)

                    Mainstream seminaries continue to close and merge together for the sake of perpetuating a tradition that for the most part is no longer being required. Their theological systems have become diluted with skepticism and either agnosticism or Gnosticism. The fervent teaching of, or the true belief in inspired scriptures is a fading vapor in the back halls of most of these formerly Bible based institutions. The scripturally based spiritual lifestyle and education that was once offered to those who had experienced a call to “vocational ministry” has now been replaced by "optional thinking" and "multiple choice" theology. Such a “choice based theology” that is now being perpetuated in some of these diluted institutions may include, but certainly not limited to such issues as the actual gender of God, the choices of sexual preference, the redefinition of sin and its nature, the blending of eastern mysticism and western philosophy and religion with Christianity. Other options may include the total redefinition of the possibility of any afterlife based on mortal performance and of course the doctrine of ultimate reconciliation, which teaches that one day all of mankind will be reconciled to the eternal presence of God, even after “time spent” in the refining fires of hell.                       

               The leaders of Roman Catholicism continue to rest in the false sense of their historical security, ignoring the fact that their priesthood is not usually respected outside of the ranks of their limited number of wealthy and faithful parishioners. Priests no longer dress like priests in the public (for a reason). The ranks of almost all of the “holy” orders rapidly thin out because there is very little appeal in a highly sexually oriented society for the younger generation to become associated with a lifestyle of celibacy and ritualistic tradition. Roman Catholicism was too late to acknowledge “modernity”, and they will probably not make much of a contemporary attempt to embrace “post modernism” to any noticeable measure for years and decades to come.  

              The media attacks every inconsistency of the Roman Catholic priesthood like hungry dogs fighting over a piece of raw meat. Most of the remaining faithful parishes have become very splintered in emphasis. The only way they can create appeal to their former congregants or attract new parishioners is to look more and more protestant in their style of worship and even in their architecture. In the Roman Catholic Church, tradition is indeed experiencing a screaming death. The best they can hope for is to re-attract a collection of former devotees currently worshiping in more protestant style circles. The vast majority of former Roman Catholics do not "convert" to Protestantism. They usually assume an agnostic position that does not deny the existence of God but simply eliminates any possibility of developing a realistic relationship with Him.

            But this book is not about the mainstream protestant Christian church or the Roman Catholics. It is about those who claim to adhere to the inspired scriptures known as the Holy Bible. And to those who in someway promote the possible relationship with God Himself through a personal relationship with the very person of His only Son, Jesus Christ. It is about those Christians who say that our mortal existence should be lifestyle of their Savior - Jesus Christ Himself.

             It is important to note that any group of Christians can have very excellent intentions and still exercise exceptionally poor evangelical, stylistic or liturgical technique. But, no one goes to hell because they didn't “do Christianity” correctly. Clearly God looks at the heart of every man and does not judge him by how something either is or isn't accomplished. Hebrews 4:12 For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.(NAS) God sees us through the accuracy of our motivations.

          However, so many times good intentioned people or groups of Christians can engage themselves in activities and processes that fragment, dilute or even nullify the gospel of Jesus Christ. This may even happen in what we often refer to as evangelical Christian churches.

          One of the controversial motivational points emphasized in the post-modern society that the evangelical community appears to have somewhat attached itself to is that "bigger is better". This philosophy is all around us, every day of our lives. We purchase bigger vehicles to travel around in. We call them “sport utility” vehicles. Americans have more floor space in our homes per family member than any other time in the history of this nation. Our technology yields larger and larger resources than could ever have been imagined even 40 years ago. The government of the United States is larger politically and economically than it has ever been. Our credit limits are larger than ever before and thus, so are the number of annual bankruptcies recorded across the nation. The larger retail outlets offer more and more products and services under one roof and thus get bigger and bigger, driving the smaller businesses out of the competitive markets.                   

           In the same manner the church has bought into the very same philosophy and belief system. It has become apparent that many pastoral proprietors for one reason or another, now believe that one church of a thousand people is by far better than ten churches of one hundred people each. This is a very non-Biblical concept and trend that has and will continue to dilute the gospel into digestible sound bites geared at the typical “A-D-D” post-modern Christian church attendee.

           All of the major denominations and affiliated seminaries subconsciously bow in reverence at the feet of the few selected so called “success” stories, duplicating their crowd management techniques, musical agendas and so-called contemporary homiletic skills. But the Word of God says very clearly that “All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; Isaiah 53:6 (NAS) Most commentators take this passage and apply it only to the lost, never regenerated “sheep”. But after careful scrutiny, one will find that you cannot “go astray” unless you were in the right place to begin with. And so, we all turn away from His way to our way, usually because we think our way, it is the best way. Then we are building "our kingdom", rather than “His Kingdom”. Here the applicable definition of the word "our" is a person, denomination or group of people with discernable agendas, preferences and goals.   

           Indeed, we have turned everyone to their own way. We adopt the “hamburger shop” mentality of offering Jesus and His church in as many different socially compatible forms as possible in order to bring in the crowd and fill up the coffers. We have hoodwinked ourselves to see it all as the “end justifying the means” so we can "touch" more people with the gospel. Some so called churches have even gone as far as to utilize the Dr. Spock / Star Trek philosophy that says “the good of the many outweighs the good of the few”. What a shame. 

           A person can be touched by poison and not be poisoned. Someone can be shocked by electricity and not be electrocuted. One can even be educated and learn about occult activities and never become a Satan worshipper. So in our self conceived ideals, we attempt to touch the many with the gospel in a very flesh oriented tangible pattern of behavior. They may be touched, but not converted. This is because we have not consulted God’s Word for proper spiritual skills to accomplish the work of evangelism.

            David attempted to bring the Ark of the Covenant back into Jerusalem with all of the  big  pomp  and ceremony he could muster up. But because he did not do it according to the correct pattern God had already determine centuries before, there were problems, and one man eventually died because of it. II Samuel 6:3-7 And they placed the ark of God on a new cart that they might bring it from the house of Abinadab which was on the hill; and Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, were leading the new cart. So they brought it with the ark of God from the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill; and Ahio was walking ahead of the ark. Meanwhile, David and all the house of Israel were celebrating before the LORD with all kinds of instruments made of} fir wood, and with lyres, harps, tambourines, castanets and cymbals. But when they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah reached out toward the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen nearly upset it. And the anger of the LORD burned against Uzzah, and God struck him down there for his irreverence; and he died there by the ark of God.(NAS)

              Then the scriptures go on to say that David asked how he should actually accomplish this job. The content of the rest of this passage makes a strong implication that for three months David researched the proper way to transport the Ark of the Covenant and then went and did it in the correct way as prescribed in the Laws of Moses. Because he consulted God for the correct pattern in the law for how the Ark was to be transported, and what was to be done in that process, he was successful and God blessed his efforts.  2 Samuel 6:9-13 So David was afraid of the LORD that day; and he said, "How can the ark of the LORD come to me?" And David was unwilling to move the ark of the LORD into the city of David with him; but David took it aside to the house of Obed-edom the Gittite. Thus the ark of the LORD remained in the house of Obed-edom the Gittite three months, and the LORD blessed Obed-edom and all his household. Now it was told King David, saying, "The LORD has blessed the house of Obed-edom and all that belongs to him, on account of the ark of God." And David went and brought up the ark  of  God from the  house  of  Obed-edom  into  the  city of David with gladness. And so it was, that when the bearers of the ark of the LORD had gone six paces, he sacrificed an ox and a fatling.(NAS)

           What are we really accomplishing? Are we truly consulting God and His word, the Bible, for the right patterns of worship, evangelism and fellowship? Are our techniques for reaching the masses truly touching their lives with the life-changing gospel or just making the general Christian congregation “feel” a little better about themselves? Is what we are doing in our churches and worship services a transposed version of what Jesus did or would have done Himself? Is what we do what Jesus taught His disciples to do? Did Jesus ever teach His disciples anything about congregational dynamics? Was Jesus laying an organizational foundation in those first century followers or was He setting the stage for an entirely different “organism” than we would typically know or call the "Christian" church of today?

          Unfortunately, many normal church-goers and church leaders might be shocked or even appalled to know the answer to those questions.  


The Movers and the Shakers 


            If you are an attendee or are a pastor or a staff member in a congregation of 400 or more people, you are probably already raising your eyebrows at the implications made in the former chapters. If you are an attendee or are a pastor or a staff member in a congregation of 400 or more people and the previous chapter didn’t have any affect on you at all, reading the rest of this book will probably have very little impact on you.  

            Many pastors and church leaders may dismiss this book as the meager attempt of another angry or frustrated pastor or theologian to level the playing field down to his or her grasp. Some church leaders may even dismiss what has been presented thus far in this publication and what is about to be presented in this book as an uninformed and poorly educated presentation of Biblical principals and patterns. Some may even see it as a vindictive attack at someone else’s so called “success”. Please rest assured that none of the above conclusions or implications are accurate in any way. God has used many large venues on selective occasions throughout the history of the Christian church. Large congregations are not and were not ever worthless. Even Jesus Christ Himself ministered to and fed several thousand people on a couple of different occasions. But the people He ministered to in those situations were not his faithful “congregational” followers. Jesus was not a mover and a shaker raising much needed cash by getting a better head count at the next worship service. The situations where He

ministered to the thousands in one setting were the exception to the rule and not the rule or the normal pattern of His earthly ministry.

              We have a tendency to become the "movers and the shakers” of religion when it comes to developing stylistic and financially productive ministries. We almost subliminally create a crisis or situations by which we can appeal through the various medias for funds that may or may not be totally necessary or required. We "shrink wrap" our image and logo into any sociological or cultural medium we can so as to achieve more name or face recognition. We facilitate ourselves so as to not look odd or unusual from the rest of the society, and thus gain their approval or acceptance, or become more "user friendly".  Yet Peter writes to us and tells us that we are aliens and strangers in this world and we are not to look like the world or allow the lustful systems of the world to affect us. 1 Peter 2:9-11 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts, which wage war against the soul.(NAS)

            Ultimately, it is important to understand that God is a very gracious and loving God, and the ministry of His Holy Spirit can be effective regardless of how inaccurate our perceptions and even our styles or ministry techniques prove to be. The vast majority of our errors in evangelistic or ministerial techniques are not committed intentionally. They are most generally a result of our natural tendencies to desire to merge and blend with the sociological and cultural influences constantly surrounding us. This comes from a desire to be accepted by a world that hates the King of the Kingdom we are spiritual citizens of. Jesus clearly defined this worldly mindset of hatred in John 15:18-19 when He said "If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. "If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. (NAS)

            Some may think by now that the “flash point” of this book is the issue of how large a congregation can and should be to hold its highest potential in the Kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ. Some may perceive that the key point is about the actual technique(s) involved in our ministry attempts and experiences.  

           If we are willing to lay down our own predispositions and biases that have been instilled in us through revered pastors and teachers, seminarian educations and / or denominational leaders and just look clearly at the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, we will find out that there can be a very positive “method to our madness” that will not only grow us more accurately in our faith, but also help us reach a world that is radically changing with every new strategy that we can generate.    

           And so, it is very important to go back to the core of our faith’s structure, God’s Word. It was written to us as people who claim to be followers of the risen Lord Jesus Christ. Let’s examine what God’s Word tells us about this issue. Does God’s Word to us tell us how to “do ministry” and be a productive congregation? Are there patterns in scripture for us to see and observe that can set the stage for healthy relationships and congregational fellowship that truly promotes positive evangelistic results and aggressive discipleship throughout the constituency of God’s Kingdom?

           There most certainly are. However, we must be candidly honest and willing to lay down our learned terminology and categorizations and just see the example for the way God wanted us to. It is in that frame of mind and spiritual openness that we can expect God to communicate His will to us, so we can act upon it and be effective for His Kingdom and purposes.  

            As we take an honest look at scripture, we will be able to see that Jesus was actually very intentional in the patterns of ministry he taught his disciples. If we look at His example and see it through the “lens” of the culture and society He ministered in, what He was doing and communicating can actually become quite clear.

           The reason we typically don’t see these lessons in ministry clearly is because we often interpret them through our western mindsets and cultural perspectives. This usually gives us a very biased picture that pertains more to the flesh and not the spirit. Often we try to literalize these lessons in ministry so that they become a part of our own “Christian” society and culture.             

            Once we transpose the principals from the society and culture Jesus lived in and ministered to, then we can began to see the ministry situations and applications much more accurately.    


Revealing the Patterns


            The canonized New Testament gospels are full of positive indicators that show us much about the life and ministry of Jesus Christ that we often ignore. What we must do is seek to understand why Jesus did what He did and why he responded to His society and culture as He did. We must also very carefully examine what He was not doing and why He didn’t say certain things. This takes some knowledge of the historical backdrops He operated in and around.                    

                 Let’s first examine how Jesus selected His closest followers. The common pattern for Jewish rabbinical leaders of the first century was to discern and gather a core group of enthusiastic followers / students which were often referred to as disciples. It was probably from a group of a little over a hundred followers, Jesus Christ selected the first twelve apostles personally and individually. A few of them were obviously related to Him through His mother Mary’s side of the family. The New Testament gives us a vague, but somewhat discernable description of that family tree. No doubt, Jesus grew up with many of the original apostolic team members. There is not much doubt that they worshipped, worked and played together through their youthful years.

           Many of these first apostles knew there was a marked difference in Jesus. His behavior would have been noticeably consistent. So by the time He was standing on the beach calling them to a “full-time” apostolic journey with Him, they were probably quite well acquainted with Him and the already existing ministry He was developing.

            In Christian churches everywhere there is often a classical picture of this virtually “unknown Jesus” appearing on the banks of the Galilee beckoning to these mysterious unacquainted fishermen to become His disciples. Or, that He walked into the tax collector’s office named Matthew (Levi) and locked eyes hypnotically with Him and commanded him to “follow me”. The implication is that because Jesus is the “Son of God”, and that He almost had an intimidating power to make these men leave their jobs and families for a very uncertain, possibly deadly journey of faith. That scenario probably couldn’t have been farther from the truth.

            All of the scriptural indicators of the personality of Jesus Christ would clearly define Him as a very compassionate and relational person. Jesus had gathered a congregation of approximately 100-120 people that He would spend time with on a regular basis as He journeyed through the Galilean region of Northern Israel. This was a very common practice of Jewish preachers and messianic figures of that era. If one goes through the New Testament gospels and tabulates the names and numbers typically seen in the mentioned ministry scenarios of Jesus, most of that group can be identified without much difficulty by name or relationship. 

            It was those original twelve that Jesus selected from the larger group of disciples He called His apostles. The Greek word “apostollos” is where we get our English transliteration “apostle”. It literally means “someone who is sent with a message”. Apostles are often confused with the term disciples, when they are actually not the same. Not all disciples are apostles. However, all apostles are disciples. A disciple is one who learns the disciplines and teachings of the teacher or instructor, because he or she wants to become like the instructor or teacher. A student is not necessarily a disciple. A student is only interested in the knowledge that can be obtained from the teacher, but is not necessarily interested in taking on the likeness or persona of the teacher or instructor.

             Those original apostles were called into a closer fellowship of interaction and training by Jesus Christ. They are recorded in scriptures as Peter, Andrew, James the son of Zebedee and his brother John, Philip, Bartholomew (sometimes called Nathaniel in the gospels), Matthew (also called Levi) James the son of Alpheus (referred to as James the less), Thomas, Thaddeus (also called Jude or Judas the son of James) Simon  the  Zealot  and  Judas  Iscariot,  referred  to  in  all of the apostolic listings of the three synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) as the one who betrayed the Lord.

             From these twelve Jesus selected three to go places and see things the other nine would only hear about. They were Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, James and John. All three (theologians commonly refer to them as the “inner circle”) would eventually have a church.

           It was Peter, James and John that witnessed Jesus raising Jarius’s daughter from the dead (Mark 5:37-39). They would also experience His glorious transfiguration (Mark 9:2-9), and the agonizing prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:32-33).      

              Ten of the original disciples would meet mortal death violently as a martyr at the end of their earthly ministry. The one who would not die the violent death of a martyr, John (of the original inner circle), would be the last to die a slow death under the imprisonment and exile of the Roman Empire. The twelfth disciple, Judas Iscariot, never lived to see the resurrected Jesus. Sometime during the crucifixion or burial of Jesus, he took his own life as an act of repentance for the remorse he displayed by acknowledging that he had wrongly betrayed the innocent blood of Jesus the Christ (Matthew 27:3-5). His apostolic office would later be filled by a church persecutor named Saul of Tarsus, who  was the actual selection of Jesus Christ Himself. The disciples had attempted to fill the empty apostolic position left by Judas Iscariot earlier with a man of their choice named Matthias as recorded in Acts 1:15-26.    

             There is another common occurrence we see throughout the New Testament. It is the regular retreats made by Jesus to either be alone or to just spend time with the selected apostles. Some of these retreats were made even when Jesus saw the approaching crowds. John 5:13 But he who was healed did not know who it was; for Jesus had slipped away while there was a crowd in that place. (NAS) Matthew 8:18 Now when Jesus saw a crowd around Him, He gave orders to depart to the other side. (NAS) Mark 3:13 And He went up to the mountain and summoned those whom He Himself wanted, and they came to Him. (NAS)

              Another indicator that Jesus was not interested in impressing the multitudes or raising up a massive following, was when and where some of His most spectacular miracles took place. When Jesus raised Jarius’ daughter he didn’t demand that they bring the dead girl out into the streets where everyone could see the potential miracle that was about to happen. Mark 5:39-40 tells us “And entering in, He said to them, "Why make a commotion and weep? The child has not died, but is asleep." And they began laughing at Him. But putting them all out, He took along the child's father and mother and His own companions, and entered the room where the child was.(NAS) It is obvious that Jesus was not doing miracles to develop public notoriety. In this scenario the public was basically laughing at Him in unbelief. Jesus didn’t answer their remarks, and in that showed His complacency to the whole context of public opinion. It was clear from the text that He was not interested in drawing a crowd or building a potential faith or religious movement.

               The glorious transfiguration of Jesus was only witnessed by three apostles according to Matthew 17:1-3. One can only imagine what kind of following Jesus would have been able to generate had this event occurred in the busy streets of Jerusalem, or even during one of the times He was feeding the multitudes. There would have been no way to stop the ground swell around His ministry and its recognition. The very imagery of Jesus standing fully illuminated by the gory of God between the two key patriarchs of the Jewish religious history would have caused an unbelievable revival amongst even the most skeptical religious teachers and leaders of His day. But only three apostles witnessed that magnificent event.

               In the seriousness of His teaching the crowds by the sea from a boat, Jesus never once stepped out onto the surface water to  take a  stroll  across  the  waves  to  prove  His  points  and/or

astonish the local crowds. The only ones who saw the miracle of Him walking on the water were the twelve apostles. Matthew 14:26-27 And when the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were frightened, saying, "It is a ghost!" And they cried out for fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, "Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid." (NAS)

               Jesus had absolutely no desire to build a large following or even a new religious movement. His whole ministry was primarily focused around those twelve common men who had virtually no money or influence with which to propel Him into the spotlight of the public eye or raise his numbers in the polls. He poured Himself into them for nearly three years and then modeled in the most perfect possible way a mortal death that they would be more than honored to follow Him in many years later. Jesus was not in ministry to reach the masses. But rather He discipled very accurately and completely a handful of people that would change the spiritual destiny of the majority of the population of the known world for centuries to follow.       


Genuinely Cultural 


              There are two types of Christianity in the world today. There is what we will call “cultural Christianity”, and then there is what we will call “genuine Christianity”. The other day I went out and purchased a new smoke alarm for a room in my house. On the box that I purchased it in, there was a life size picture of the smoke alarm I had just purchased. And obviously, inside the packaging there was the actual smoke alarm.     

              If I were to take the box containing the new smoke alarm and adhere it to the ceiling of the room in my house that I needed a new smoke alarm in, it will not detect smoke. This is because the real smoke detector has not been removed from its original packaging, energized by the insertion of a battery and properly installed. Even though the box is approximately the same size as the actual smoke detector and the image on the box looks very similar to the contents, if I light a fire underneath the box it is inside of, the smoke detector will not yield the proper warning because it has not been unpackaged and installed properly.

              This is the great picture of the North American “Christian” church today. The packaging for the smoke alarm is the picture of cultural Christianity.  It bears a similar image to what the genuine product inside of it is. But in reality, it in itself (the box) is very non-effective. Even though the box may contain the actual product (“genuine Christianity”), unless the product is removed from the container and installed, it will do absolutely no good when and where it is needed. 

               What may look like the church is actually a container for the church and many times prohibits it from actually functioning the way it was designed to. Cultural Christianity is anything that makes genuine Christianity look like any other worldly institution or religion. Cultural Christianity might be (but not limited to) the building, the facilities, the “business machinery”, the various medias used to attach itself to the society around it, the hierarchy of organizational structure or the very name of the congregation itself.

          None of those things in themselves are wrong or sinful, but do they hinder or prevent the real thing from being expressed in its fullest potential? The immediate response from anyone directly involved in a larger congregation is “But all of those things help us reach more people with the message of Jesus Christ.”  Going back to the illustration of the smoke alarm, the more packaging that is put around it, the more difficult it is to remove from the package. It not only takes more effort to remove it and install it, but it also takes more time.

         The box the smoke detector comes in has absolutely no ability to do anything but transport the real product. It will never have the power to save your life. Neither will cultural Christianity. The box looks a lot like the real thing.  It even contains the real thing. But the box is not the real thing.   

              Until the smoke detector is removed from the container and energized by a battery and installed properly into the environment it is required to serve in, it will not serve its intended purpose. Likewise when the real church is released from its packaging and it is energized by the power of the Holy Spirit residing within it, it will be effective in the environment it is intended to be used in.

              When we, the genuine followers of Jesus Christ, remove ourselves from the cultural packaging of our faith and become energized by the infilling of the Holy Spirit, then we will become radically effective in any environment the Lord places us.

                  Ask any Christ centered missionary working in a third world country. The cultural trappings have either never been there to be used, or they are unwrapped completely out of necessity. If they used some of our ridiculous cultural packaging for the presentation of the gospel, it could get them (the missionaries) in serious trouble or maybe even martyred. Because they are not confined or inhibited by such cultural issues, their message is direct and  energized by the Holy Spirit's ability to work in those situations. There are genuine results that have a long-term affect in the society that the gospel is presented in.      


The Packaging


              What is the cultural packaging? It is anything that makes us compete or look like we are competing with any other institution or religion this world has to offer.  The media has been exceptionally good at convincing the Christian church in North America that they are indeed another “religion”.

               I surveyed the evangelical congregation that I am the pastor of, asking them what religion they were. Nearly 90% of them said they were Christian, as if indeed “Christianity” is a religion. Some called them selves by any number of denominations that they had previously been affiliated with (which wasn’t even the denomination our church is affiliated with).

              Christianity is not a religion. Jesus never said it should be nor does anything we have recorded that He did imply that He wanted it to be some kind of new religious movement. Jesus never once hinted to the organizational structure most of Christendom adheres to. Jesus never did mass evangelism. Jesus never sat the apostles down one day and explained the organizational structure that would keep “the sheep” in line.  A proper or accepted liturgy is never expressed in the New Testament, excepting that of Paul’s vague procedural discourse on the Lord’s supper in I Corinthians 11. Jesus never designated a youth pastor or children’s minister from amongst the ranks of his apostles or disciples. The closest thing the apostolic team had to administrative organization was Judas Iscariot, the one disciple that ran the groups finances. That in itself is rather humorous, because Jesus knew all along that Judas would eventually be His betrayer. Why would Jesus trust Judas Iscariot with the group’s money? Because, in the grand scheme of it all, it really didn’t make much difference. This is not to say that money and finances are not a factor in the legitimate function of God’s Kingdom. But we should be sure to note where the priority of such earthly and tangible matters fits into the big picture of God’s Kingdom  being  enacted  and experienced here

on earth. 

          Cash is not the fuel for effective evangelical Christian ministry. If it were, Jesus would have certainly taught his disciples definitively how to generate and use money. Instead, He instructed them in quite the opposite style of outreach and ministry.  In the gospel of Luke, Jesus sent seventy disciples out to "test-market" the ministry skills he had been teaching them. Luke 10:1-16 Now after this the Lord appointed seventy others, and sent them two and two ahead of Him to every city and place where He Himself was going to come. And He was saying to them, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest. "Go your ways; behold, I send you out as lambs in the midst of wolves. "Carry no purse, no bag, no shoes; and greet no one on the way." And whatever house you enter, first say, 'Peace be to this house. "And if a man of peace is there, your peace will rest upon him; but if not, it will return to you. "And stay in that house, eating and drinking what they give you; for the laborer is worthy of his wages. Do not keep moving from house to house. "And whatever city you enter, and they receive you, eat what is set before you; and heal those in it who are sick, and say to them, 'The kingdom of God has come near to you.' "But whatever city you enter and they do not receive you, go out into its streets and say, 'Even the dust of your city which clings to our feet, we wipe off {in protest} against you; yet be sure of this, that the kingdom of God has come near.' "I say to you, it will be more tolerable in that day for Sodom, than for that city. "Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles had been performed in Tyre and Sidon which occurred in you, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. "But it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the judgment, than for you. "And you, Capernaum, will not be exalted to heaven, will you? You will be brought down to Hades! "The  one  who  listens  to  you  listens  to  Me,  and  the one who rejects you rejects Me; and he who rejects Me rejects the One who sent Me." (NAS)

            In this passage Jesus very clearly instructs the seventy how to prepare for and how to accomplish what we will call "Kingdom Ministry". He tells them not to take any money. He also tells them not to take a suitcase with extra clothes and shoes. He advises them not to allow distractions to slow them down.  He instructs them how to interact socially in the communities that they enter, and He teaches them how to discern acceptance and how to issue blessing. Jesus also teaches "ministry technique" to these disciples. He tells them to heal the sick and to proclaim that the Kingdom of God is right there with them. It is interesting to note that He did not tell them to say that He (Jesus Christ) is the real messiah or that He is the source of their ability (even though it is obvious that He is). This is because Jesus is desirous of illustrating the one principal in congregational dynamics we often overlook. That principal is this. If the Kingdom of God is properly enacted, the constituency will know the King. Jesus Christ is obviously the King of the Kingdom of God. When people see our emphasis on God's Kingdom and not our own local or denominational abilities or organizational emphasis, they will be able to see and know the King much more easier and efficiently. 

             So if money is not the fuel for ministry, what is? Isn't money what it takes to make the wheels turn - ministry wise? And obviously, if we have more people involved, we will usually turn up with more cash - correct? If we come up with more cash, then we will be able to purchase the staff and technology that will attract the masses to His Kingdom – right? If we are to understand what the fuel for genuine Christian ministry is, we must understand the same principals that are conveyed to us in the New Testament book of Revelation.  

             When you read the book of Revelation from a non traditional or a non literal view, you may see the main theme as a metaphoric battle between "good" and "evil". It is often mistakenly interpreted that at the end of the book, "good" indeed does conquer "evil". This could probably not be further from the actual truth. It is not "good" that conquers "evil". It is actually love that conquers the proprietor of all evil, our enemy, Satan himself. Good is simply the "by-product" of that conquering love.

             That love is articulately illustrated in Revelation chapter five verse six And I saw between the throne with the four living creatures and the elders a Lamb standing, as if slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God, sent out into all the earth.(NAS) That mortally wounded little Lamb that John sees standing before the very throne of God is obviously the grace filled picture of a God that loved His creation so much that He allowed His most prized and perfect Son to take on mortality and die for the sinful state of the world so we could enter into a loving relationship with our Creator through His Son Jesus Christ. Then that loving God raised Jesus from the dead that we might have life eternal in His presence.

              The real fuel for ministry is "love" It is a passionate love that burns within us to serve Jesus Christ with all we are. It is a love that yearns to see a lost and dying world experience Jesus personally and intimately.  It is the love that looks beyond the temporal tangible needs to support a ministry and does whatever is necessary trusting God in faith to accomplish that which is needed to carry on only as far as He wants us to. 

                   When the genuine church is unpacked from its cultural trappings things like buildings, the number of attendees and/or members, ministry programming, amount of the offering, even the size of the world missions budget will not figure into the dynamics of the congregation one bit. Even how long a ministry will or should exist should not play into our motivations.

                  There is no doubt that many churches and ministries have attempted to perpetuate their existence far beyond their own mortality simply for the sake of their own memorialization. They say they are establishing such endowments and trust funds to insure that there will be someone or some organization in tact to promote the gospel. Is this ministry memorialization mentality truly a Biblical based attitude, or is it a disguise for our own egos? There is certainly no Biblical teaching that would stimulate such activity or such a mentality.  

                  When it all comes down to it, only our love for the lost who need a loving relationship with Jesus Christ should matter. How many people are involved, how secure the finances are or what the potential future can or should be, holds no basis for the motivation of a church and/or ministry. If it does, it is self serving and not Christ serving.       


The Big Lie


                The big church lie says “The bigger the congregation - the easier it is to accomplish ministry”. From a very superficial strictly economic sense, it might possibly be true in the minority of some of the larger congregations. But in the foundational reality, it is a very complex deception. The more people that must be dealt with, the more organizational and management problems there usually are. The frustration that this issue brings often decays character and multiplies the invitation for sin to invade the ranks of the leadership in such a situation. This sequence doesn’t even bring into consideration the congregational dynamics that would dictate that where there are more people, there is obviously more sin to deal with.      

                Can larger congregations be used by God to win the lost and change people’s lives? They most certainly can.  Is it a very efficient model for ministry? When you look at it from the economic and staffing efficiency viewpoint, it is generally not. When you look at the larger congregational model from a strict New Testament Biblical view, it simply does not exist. Neither do associate pastors, youth pastors, musical instruments, church choirs and a multitude of other programmed ministries, many of which are very useful in congregational ministry applications in our culture and society.      

                 Big churches look good and feel good primarily not only because our society has bought into the lie that "bigger is better", but also because they give the person involved in them the opportunity to remain  part anonymous, for the most part. In our post-modern society anonymity is one of the most valued sensations. Anyone can go on line and browse any aspect of the world wide web without any accountability. While surfing they are for the most part an unidentifiable individual that can go just about anywhere they desire. Their internet service provider never questions how long they are on line or even nature of or the reason they visit the sites they visit while surfing the web. So when they come into the large church utilizing the same attitude, they can blend in to the sea of faces, pick and choose the activities they want, and attend scheduled worship services or ministries they want to without any spiritual accountability. In these arenas the “paid” and “volunteer” staff fore the most part carry all of the responsibilities. For many attendees, the worship experience  becomes the equivalency of what we would refer to as a “spectator sport”.   

               Can this same thing happen in a smaller more intimate congregation? Yes, it can. However, it will probably not happen as frequently or as easily. This is because it is a more personal environment. It is much more easy to know the names of one hundred people than it is to know the names of seven hundred or a thousand. It is much easier for people to become involved in the activity of the ministry in a local church, simply because of the necessity of it. It is much more difficult for someone to be anonymous in a congregation of one hundred. The dynamics of a smaller congregation should not “force the hand” of the attendee to mandatory involvement, but it should breed a more relational environment and approach between the people of the congregation.

                The common argument on behalf of the large church is that of “small groups” or “cell groups”. The large congregation is very quick to initiate the “small group” or “cell group” ministry network. But an honest evaluation will show that in a church of a thousand people, only about two hundred and fifty will be actively involved in the “small group” ministry. The amazing comparison is that as the size of the congregation gets smaller, the percentage of people involved in “small groups” or “cell groups” noticeably goes up. Again, it becomes a question of efficiency and being a wise steward of the resources that God has provided for us to use in congregational ministry.           

                This book is in no way condemning of larger congregations, but rather is simply raising the questions that need to be addressed so that the entire body of Jesus Christ may be more affective to reach the decaying culture and society we live in with the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ.

               The ministry of Jesus Christ was a very personal and relational model. He as an individual person, knew the names of all of the people who were following Him regularly. He interacted personally with them throughout the gospels. He never delegated His apostles to do the “touchy-feely” work. Through the obvious canonically recorded encounters, He walked with them, ate with them and their families, stayed in their homes and spent time listening to them share their lives. He was a “one-on-one minister”. The couple of times he addressed the thousands, He wasn’t promoting Himself or the potential ministry movement He wanted to inspire. In those situations He was teaching them how to look at their lives as it pertained to their relationship with God.

           The vast majority of all the miracles He performed were done with and for individuals. Jesus never stood before the crowds waving His arms as they fell over on their backs healed of every disease. He never called fire down from the heavens to destroy an entire community. However in the gospel of John, Jesus did speak directly to the regiment of soldiers during His arrest who were collectively knocked to the ground by the very language that He spoke. John 18:6 When therefore He said to them, "I am He " they drew back, and fell to the ground.(NAS)

            He spoke to them and touched them on an individual basis. Most of the time when Jesus performed a miracle of healing, He immediately warned the recipient not to tell anyone what had happened, but simply to go on their way and live a different lifestyle than they had. He was not in ministry to grow a movement or even to promote Himself. He was there to disciple the individuals around Him to be perpetuators of God’s Kingdom on earth. The kingdom He had obviously came to be the focal point of.

            Jesus didn’t wrap the gospel of God’s Kingdom up in the culture of His day and age. We are the ones that have done that in our day and age. Because we have, the “genuine church” is heavily wrapped and packaged in the trappings of the “cultural church” and all of its accoutrements. We need desperately to unpack it, allow it to be energized and become productive.                  


The Carnivalites


                  It would simply be unfair to just point a subtle finger at the more organizational aspects of cultural Christianity by exposing its immediate packaging issues. Some of the issues that revolve around the cultural packaging of Christianity are directly connected to the mentalities of those consuming the spiritual products and/or by-products of Christianity. Those who call themselves “Christian”, whether they truly are or not, also place certain cultural and sociological demands on the proprietors of Christianity. The main attitude that is projected from the vast majority of the Christian constituency is that of a consumer. It is not only a “basic needs” consumer, but a very eclectic consumer at that. For the most part they are only interested in those previously mentioned digestible spiritual “sound bites” that seem to fit their lifestyle issues. In this mentality they express the newly formed imagery of an “A-D-D” post-modern Christian church attendee.

                The former generation of Christianity also had a consumer mentality base, but was blessed with a much higher percentage of what we will refer to as “Christian industrialists”. Christian industrialists are those who are active and function in the Christian movement actively because they see themselves as part of the product and not just as an individual consuming the product.    

                 In I Corinthians 9:20-23 Paul teaches the church at Corinth how he has developed an effective tool of personal ministry to evangelize the lost he comes in contact with on a daily basis. He says “And to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law, though not being myself under the Law, that I might win those who are under the Law; to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, that I might win those who are without law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, that I may by all means save some. And I do all things for the sake of the gospel, that I may become a fellow partaker of it. (NAS)

            Cultural Christianity, in its seemingly vain attempt to “be all things to all men” has created a pseudo religious carnival of ministry activities and spiritual flavors that are readily available, especially in the North American culture. This environment along with many secular sociological influences has created a new breed of so called Christians that pick and choose the various aspects of the Christian experience that may personally appeal to them, regardless of whether or not it may be applicable or profitable in their present experience.

                 It is like going to a “Christian Carnival” and stopping off to experience several of the attractions. The typical “carnivalite” may like the wild rides, or the games of chance, or the freak shows or maybe just the special performers that enhance the over all projection of the carnival. As a “Chrisitan carnivalite” in the 21st century in North America, it is always available for them to experience at their own pace and desire. The technology of today will gladly provide it for them at any time and in virtually any format.

                 The apostle Paul discussed these “carnivalites” in 2 Timothy 4:3-4 when he instructed Timothy saying, “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths. (NAS) We live in an age when there is a predominantly strong consumer mentality in the entire general population and those participating in the Christian movement are no exception. The secular society of pill popping / credit card using / microwave cooking / palm pilot carrying citizens is no less a part of Christianity than any other aspect of the culture. People in the church want their personal religious experience to fit their preferences immediately.

                 As Paul said, they want their “ears tickled”. The want to hear what they want to hear and how they want it said. Notice the word in that text from 2 Timothy 4 - “accumulate”. This word strongly implies a large number, or at least many more than one. They are not just happy to find “a voice” speaking the language they want to hear, but they seem to desire large volumes of voices stimulating this insatiable itch.

                   This may truly account for the reason so many “believers are constantly moving from one church to another. It may also account for why there are some many “Christian skimmers”. A “Christian skimmer” is someone who attends several churches regularly, without making any attempt to “settle in” or commit to any one congregation. They are accumulating several voices and worship environments to tickle their ears with. Unfortunately, Paul goes on to describe the end result of this accumulative process. He says they will “turn aside to myths.” This is when someone forsakes the “sound doctrine” (Bible based teachings) of the genuine Christian faith to believe a diluted or totally non-effective discipline that will have no eternal purpose in their life. The Webster Dictionary says that a myth is a traditional story of ostensibly historical events that serves to unfold part of the worldview of a people or explain a practice, belief, or natural phenomenon. In this case myths would be used to explain away the reality of a God who became flesh and dwelt amongst us - a Savior that lived a faultless sinless life, did miraculous works and was resurrected from the dead after suffering mortal death on a Roman cross.  

                 Many people walk up and down the midway of the “cultural Christian carnival”.  Some stop at the Pentecostal or Charismatic event to get an emotional high that makes them feel good or hyper spiritual because of the potentiality of the spiritual gifts being displayed or utilized. Some stop at the booth of the fighting fundamentalists and learn how to live by the rules of what is right and what is wrong. The narrow path they walk on is not only as wide as Jesus but it is paved with lists of “do’s” and “don’ts” that are sure to make them look more righteous than any other Christians at the circus.     

               Some like to play the elite games that only accept those who play just like them in the parochial schools, home-schools, Bible colleges and seminaries. Others seem to be attracted to the wilder exhibits, like those who chide or rebel against any of the previously described groups.

               The various “Christian” denominations are all represented at this carnival. They try to look different because of their emphasis or varied doctrinal vantage points. Some are Wesleyan or Calvinistic in nature. Some emphasize evangelism, while others place great importance on physical healing. Others emphasize world evangelism, restoration or recovery, while others “tarry” for the spiritual gifts. A close look at all of them basically traces their family tree limbs back to same trunk. They are all pedaling the same wares with little variety. The main difference is that the labels are changed to look a little more appealing to various age groups, social and ethic diversities. 

                At this carnival, on this midway, it’s all there. Anyone can take their pick. Anyone can have it anyway they want it. No one can tell anyone what to do next, or when they are at a booth they shouldn’t be at. No one wants anyone to be offended. No one wants to be questioned for why they are interested in this game or that booth. It’s a religious hybrid of the post modern influence that doesn’t seem to have a cure or even seem to desire a cure.

               It is really not much different than it was in the days of the early church. Paul faced the same multiple examples and trends in Christianity in Corinth and in Ephesus. The subtle constant influence of cultural based polytheistic paganism of the Roman Empire and the slowly evolving Gnostic teachings were the groundswell that Paul was constantly teaching and guarding against. Polytheism was the multitude of gods that were worshipped by the general population of the Roman Empire in the first century. The word “pagan” is not a derogatory word but

more of a sociological descriptive word of the everyday religious practices of the non Jewish and non Christian communities in the Roman Empire.

               Gnosticism was a growing belief system in Paul’s day that was slowly diluting the story of Jesus Christ to place the emphasis of salvation through Christ in one’s personal and higher knowledge of Jesus. It proclaimed that the words and teachings of Jesus were where the true knowledge of God’s relationship with mankind could be found. They diminished the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ that Paul so boldly proclaimed was the pivotal source of our redemption, giving it little or no importance at all. Some Gnostics even went as far as to say that Jesus never experienced mortal death.

              Gnosticism has never really gone away. It noticeably surfaced again in the North American culture

in the mid 1980’s as the postmodern society was beginning to birth. It has subtly continued to gain ground spreading like a very subliminal undetectable gangrene. It can be regularly detected mainly through various forms of the mainstream media such as movies, books and television.         

               Seeing all of these other pagan and Gnostic influences, Paul preached firmly to the churches in the region of Galatia. In his epistle to the Galatians he writes “I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you, and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed. For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ. For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but {I received it} through a revelation of Jesus Christ. Galatians 1:6-12 (NAS)

              Paul was clearly talking about the same problem. There was a variety of gospels and versions of those gospels being presented to these churches. They were extremely varied and meant to exclusively appeal to those people who were already used to accepting various versions of the polytheistic Greco-Roman gods they were raised on. Some of the people were obviously being spiritually seduced by them. This alarmed Paul and thus he addressed this threat of a varied gospel presentation from a very stern posture. He refers to it as a “different” gospel and a distortion of the real or true gospel of Jesus Christ. He does not allow any room for this variety of gospels to be offered to or desired by the “carnivalites” of his day. Paul realized that he could not afford to give them an inch in such variations of Christianity, for fear they would take the non yielded “doctrinal mile” and fall over the cliff of spiritual demise. 

               So today, by both demand of the “carnivalites” and the self-serving will of those claiming to be the so-called leaders of Christianity, the gospel of Jesus Christ, (the “good news”) is presented with many flavors, styles and sometimes even definitions. Some are simple variations in denominational doctrines, practices and preferences, while others have grown into very noticeable pivotal branches of doctrinal dispute. Most of the time they perpetuate themselves primarily because the cultural “carnivalite” walking down “the midway” of Christianity will still take the time to stop at the booth and buy some of it.   

             If we are to become effective in our ministries and worship practices, we must separate the necessary from the unnecessary and the requirements from the excess. While the carnival mentality may continue to exist, we need not promote it or cater to it. If we are called as leaders and constituents of this Kingdom, we must re-examine the basic details and responsibilities that Jesus gave us to adhere to and accomplish. If we do this, the “Christian carnival” should look less appealing and eventually draw a smaller crowd. Then Jesus, and His plan for fellowship in our churches and congregations will be more like He designed it to be and we will accomplish what He told us to do.  


The “To Do” List


              Jesus gave His disciples and apostles three major tasks to accomplish for the future of the faith. If we all would adhere to this New Testament “to do list” in its purest form, we probably would not have the problems we have today in the Christian faith. Nevertheless, these are the three things that Jesus gave us to do and to practice. None of them involve a formalized worship or liturgy. None of them require organizational and administrative skills to accomplish. None of them require a staffed facility to operate from. You can do these without a high school diploma or a college degree. There is no professional license required to participate in these activities. They don’t cost you anything. If you learn how to do these things in an effective Biblically pattern, you will also be teaching others around you at the same time how to do them. Here they are in no particular order.

              The very last thing Jesus said to His disciples just seconds before His ascension into heaven is best recorded in Matthew 28: 19-20 and is commonly referred to as the Great Commission. "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." (NAS) It is simple and straight forward. The original Greek text reads more to the effect of “as you are going, make disciples”. This makes the primary action verb out to be the word “make”. The important thing is to “live” the gospel of Jesus Christ to those who need to receive Him as savior.

               Our faith has only perpetuated itself down through the generations of people since the time of Jesus Christ because of this very act. It is the way we reproduce and multiply. But, we don’t multiply for the sake of having large numbers of people in the church. We multiply because God desires to have a personal relationship with every person on the planet. The only way a sinful person can have a personal and intimate relationship with a holy and righteous God is through the perfect sacrifice for sin, His Son Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul packs this theological position up very neatly in Romans 5:11-12 And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation. Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned. (NAS) Notice the phrase in verse 12 “to all men”. Salvation is available to everyone, and thus we as believers have been commissioned to make the good news of Jesus Christ, available to everyone.  

                 The next two things Jesus was obvious about telling His apostles and disciples to do go hand in hand thematically. The one is connected to our behavior and attitude toward the unredeemed people we work and live around everyday. It is found in the New Testament text of Mark 12:30-31 “and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these." (NAS)

                 Jesus was asked by a Jewish leader of His day what the greatest single commandment of Moses was. Jesus answered him with a plural reply capping His answer with the phrase “There is no other commandment greater than these”, which in reality said the two cannot be separated. To some extent, the two are conditional upon each other. If you truly love God with all that you are, you will love your neighbor as yourself. If you are issuing a genuine love to everyone you live around and with, you are loving God through His most valued creation – mankind.  

                 If our lives are truly focused on loving God with all of our deepest desire for intimacy, with all of our expressed emotions and intellect, with all of our decisions and thoughts and with all of the physical strength and ability we have, it will not only change who we are and what we do, but it will have some form of impact on everyone around us.                       

                 This expressed love isn’t wrapped in religious activities. It is expressed and lived out best in the singular form. The word “neighbor” in verse 31 of Mark 12 is singular. It is not “many neighbors”, but rather “your neighbor”. Your neighbor is anyone that doesn’t live inside of you. This does not mean that you should only pick one neighbor and express the love of God to them. It means that you should love your neighbors as individual people whom God loves so much that He has provided salvation for them through the death, burial and resurrection of His only Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord.   

            This is obviously not love in the cultural sensual description. It is not even love in the caring supportive expression, even though that may be a loving method we use to initiate and develop a relationship in which God’s love can be expressed and infused into. It is the kind of love that God lives through us. The Greek word for love that we often define for theological reasons is the word “agape” (pronounced “uh-gop-ae”). It is a word that describes three basic characteristics of God’s love for us that can be lived out through us. These characteristics are that God’s love is without measure, sacrificial, and the unconditional. 

           Love that cannot be measured has no boundaries. It cannot be held in a structure or any standards of man on this earth. It is like pouring an endless stream of liquid concrete from a cement mixer onto the ground where no frame for it has been built. It will just continue to spread out everywhere because there are no boundaries to frame it. That is a very shadowy picture of the enormous overwhelming, unmeasureable love that God is and has for us.            

             Love that is truly sacrificial is totally giving of itself without any reservation or hesitation. Sacrificial love does not pause to count the cost. Sacrificial love sees the needed results and pursues it with a reckless abandon. Jesus says in John 15:13 "Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. (NAS) The act of God giving His only Son as our sin offering through His death burial and resurrection was God’s purest display of sacrificial love.

              Unconditional love is best described by the Apostle Paul I Corinthians 13:5 Love…does not take into account a wrong suffered, (NAS) This non-human love can only be experienced by a holy God loving you and loving through you. This kind of love does not know the meaning of the word “if”. This is because it cannot be yielded through one another to one another based on conditional activity.

            It cannot under any circumstance say “I will love you - if you do this” or “if you don’t do this” or “if you say this” or “of you don’t say this”. People do not have the ability to love one another this way excepting that God is pouring His love through them in a way that is without measure, without comprehension and completely enabling them to yield themselves in such a sacrificial way that there are absolutely no conditions placed on the object of their affection.

            This is exactly why Paul can write to the church at Ephesus and say in Ephesians 2:4-9 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ by grace you have been saved, and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, in order that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast.(NAS)

               Please note the phrase “because of His great love with which He loved us”. This is how God loves us. His love is so great. We cannot measure it. The very testimony of Jesus Christ proves that it is indeed a truly sacrificial love. The wording in that passage which reads “it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast” states that His love is unconditional because it is a true gift and we cannot do anything to earn it.     

           The last thing we will discuss that Jesus told His apostles to do was that they should take care of each other. Jesus sets the prime example by serving up a post resurrection breakfast. As soon as the meal is finished He speaks directly to Peter. John 21:15-17 So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon, {son} of John, do you love Me more than these?" He said to Him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." He said to him, "Tend My lambs." He said to him again a second time, "Simon, {son} of John, do you love me?" He said to Him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." He said to him, "Shepherd My sheep." 

He said to him the third time, "Simon, {son} of John, do you love me?" Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, "Do you love me?" And he said to Him," Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you. "Jesus said to him," tend My sheep. (NAS)

Jesus is identifying all ages and groups of His Kingdom by using the words “lambs” and then “sheep” in this dissertation. No matter what their  age or diversity, we are take care of each other and in doing that we love Jesus and serve His Kingdom. 

           This was not the first time the disciples had heard this instruction given to them. Jesus had said in John 13:34-35 "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. "By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." (NAS)

            Jesus was telling them that how they handle each other in their day to day journey is a testimony of the love they have experienced from God through Christ. The love we express to each other as fellow believers in Jesus Christ is our identifying mark in the world we live in. 

           So when Jesus looked at Peter and said “tend My sheep” He was in effect saying take good care of each other. He was telling them to imitate Himself as the good shepherd. John 10:11-14 "I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. "He who is a hireling, and not a shepherd, who is not the owner of the sheep, beholds the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep, and flees, and the wolf snatches them, and scatters them. "He flees because he is a hireling, and is not concerned about the sheep. "I am the good shepherd; and I know My own, and My own know Me. (NAS)

           There are basically only three things Jesus commissioned His disciples to do. They had nothing to do with when to worship, how to worship, where to worship or the organizational structure that should be wrapped around the Christian movement. We have created all of that over the last two thousand years. We are the ones who have wrapped the product up with a packaging that has inhibited it from many times accomplishing these three things. If we are to live in obedience to Jesus we must live the gospel, love God and in so doing we will love our neighbor. And we must serve His Kingdom by caring for one another. 


Private Entrance


                In Matthew 7:13-14 Jesus is teaching his disciples in what we classically know as the “Sermon on the Mount”. He says ”Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide, and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and many are those who enter by it. "For the gate is small, and the way is narrow that leads to life, and few are those who find it.”(NAS) It is a very interesting teaching because it implies about as much as it directly addresses. It can be applied to a person’s world view and the effect of the Gospel on that same person. It can also be applied to our conceptualization of the Gospel from a theological and doctrinal view.

                  In reality, Jesus is using the illustration of a first century city wall to make the point. Generally there were only two ways to get in and out of a first century walled city. There was the main gate that was generally built to be very wide so as to accommodate larger groups of people coming and going. The various staples of life would be imported and exported to and from the city through that gate on any given day. This gate Jesus is referring to as the wide gate.

                The other gate was a private entrance that connected directly to the residences of the wealthy powerful rulers of the city. They were very well secured doors and may have even been made of stone that blended in appearance with the actual wall of the city. These wealthy powerful people used their own doorways simply to avoid mixing with the commoners so that they were both safer and “cleaner”. With all of the traffic in the main wider gate, one could get dusty and dirty just from the actual environment itself. There was also the risk of safety because you would not always know who was coming and going and what their motives form coming and going to and from the city were.    

                 With their own private entrance, these special citizens could avoid all of the potential bad experiences of the wide gate. These special entrances were often called the narrow doors or the narrow gates. In this passage Jesus is encouraging us to enter the city by the narrow gate and not to the gate that the vast majority of people use when they come and go from the city. He goes on to warn about the use of that gate and how that it will lead the user to a life of destruction. But he makes a very sad footnote when he continues the dialogue about the wide gate. He goes on to say “many are those who enter by it”. He literally means that many people use the wide gate into the city, whereas only a few use the narrow gate into the wealthy powerful ruler’s residence.     

             Let’s examine what Jesus might be possibly trying to communicate to us in this teaching. Notice the firmly stated parallel of the words “wide” and “many”, and also the words ”few” and “narrow”. The actual walled city could be seen as the world in general. It might possibly be seen from the Christian world view as the universal community of Christianity. The wide gate is open to all and many types of people who come and go in and out of the city. Some entering the city have good intentions and purposes. Others may come into the city with wrong intentions and evil purposes. Some stay and some go (a whole other doctrinal discussion for some other time).

         The wide gate can be a very destructive and dangerous environment, just because of what one can be exposed to or have opportunity with. Can some good be transacted in the wide gate? One can comfortably suppose so. However, Jesus indicates the final disposition is definitely one of ruin and demise when He says “the way is broad that leads to destruction”.

           While many can have general access to the city, only a few will have access to the ruler of the city through His private entrance. Jesus makes this very clear by saying “few are those who find it”. The great thing is, that the few who do find and use the narrow gate, find the reward of life itself – “the way is narrow that leads to life”.

          The life that is described here is not physical or psychological. The Greek word used here is the word “zoa” which is spiritual life that only God can give. This is because it is the very essence of God. If the implication can be made an application, we must come to the realization that there are genuine Christians coming and going in and out of the wide gate. It must also be known that the wide gate is a very dangerous place spiritually and will ultimately end in a destructive pattern. The real experience of life in proper relationship to God comes from entering the narrow gate that leads directly into the residence of our Lord Himself. It is not the common gate or the popular gate. There are only a few that go through it. They are the ones that find a true personal relationship with Jesus Christ. They do not enter the wide gate with the many masses of people looking to do their own thing or find intimacy with God on some other avenue or street in the city.


Defining the Groups


          Jesus did have something to say about various groups of people. He said “Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide, and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and many are those who enter by it. "For the gate is small, and the way is narrow that leads to life, and few are those who find it.”(NAS) Matthew 7:13 & 14. He also said “Many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?' "And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.'(NAS) Matthew 7:22 & 23. Let the word “few” and the word “many” reverberate in the reading of these texts.

           Jesus set a very definite and definable pattern for our fellowship and worship as believers. It was personal and manageable. It was not based on the current sociological trends or ideals. It was not spiritually influenced by the culture. When the first recorded Christian congregation gathered in Acts chapter1 there were about 120 people present. Acts 1:15 And at this time Peter stood up in the midst of the brethren (a gathering of about one hundred and twenty persons was there together) (NAS). There was no special liturgy performed and there was no recorded order of worship. There was no discussion about how they were going to survive as a fellowship or take their new faith out in the world. There were no committees formed and the finances were managed communally. The only thing that they really did outside of prayer was rush to make a bad decision about filling the apostolic seat that Judas Iscariot had vacated by his act of suicide.

            Despite the fact that all of the previously mentioned components were totally missing at that first congregational meeting, these 100-120 people, energized by the first hand experience of apostles, took to the streets after a powerful encounter and infilling with the Holy Spirit, and evangelized some 3000 people in a few short hours. Acts 2:41 So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and there were added that day about three thousand souls.(NAS) Those new believers went back to their home cities and towns and spread the good news of Jesus there and the story has continued to this day.     

         It’s like going to the technology store and buying some new software for your computer. Sometimes they package the CD-Rom in a beautifully printed and marketed box that in reality could actually hold a half dozen or more CDs. Most of the time you simply remove the CD from all of the excessive packaging, and throw everything else away. All you really need is the software that you purchased, not the packaging they used to catch your eye. It’s just one less thing to fuss  with.

             John the Baptist looked prophetically down through the corridors of time and saw it happening off in the fuzzy distance when He said.  "As for me, I baptize you with water; but One is coming who is mightier than I, and I am not fit to untie the thong of His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. "And His winnowing fork is in His hand to thoroughly clear His threshing floor, and to gather the wheat into His barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire."  Luke 3:16-17 (NAS)

           Eventually the packaging wrapped around the real thing will be removed and discarded. We should desire to be efficient perpetuators of the Gospel. This means inspiring and encouraging new believers in Jesus Christ to develop healthy intimate relationships with Jesus Christ and also with one another in His church. When we do this with the genuine love of Christ motivating us, we will no longer desire to go “big time” like all of the other cultural Christian role models have supposedly done.

          A few chapters ago we looked at Luke 10 to see how Jesus sent His disciples out to do "Kingdom Ministry". As the disciples returned from their "test-market" experience, they were filled with joy at the results they have experienced

         Luke 10:17 says “And the seventy returned with joy, saying, "Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name."(NAS) Then in verse 21 Jesus is also filled with the joy of the Holy Spirit offers a very unique and often discarded prayer. Luke 10:21 At that very time He rejoiced greatly in the Holy Spirit, and said, "I praise Thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that Thou didst hide these things from the wise and intelligent and didst reveal them to babes. Yes, Father, for thus it was well-pleasing in Thy sight. (NAS)

              Who are the wise and the understanding? If you look at these people from the natural standpoint you might categorize them as the "educated" and the "capable". But Jesus is not interested in them whatsoever. Instead, Jesus puts the emphasis of His prayer on those who are able to receive and do "Kingdom Ministry" in a humble, trusting and innocently way, such as little child would do. Could it be that the wise and the understanding that Jesus mentions in His prayer are our equivalent of church growth  builders and ministry developers? Could they also be our denominational “gurus” and the movers and shakers we typically consider to be successful?

            It very well could be. Because their ideals are turned into actions, the sheep that are turned to “their own way” start believing that the style of music or worship is important. They may also start to believe that children’s, youth or singles ministries are the reason they should be a part of a particular congregation. Could it be that they attend a certain church because that congregation has a very nice and/or user friendly facility? Some could even been attracted to a congregational setting because it already has a well established global missions program firmly in place?

         We need to check our motivations and examine what it is in God's kingdom that we are called to do and to be. When these values are properly aligned we may find that we participate in the ministry and perpetuation of God's Kingdom through the New Testament church in a much different manner and method than we previously thought we ever would. God uses His Kingdom to change us and the others we are ministering to.




It is very likely that you are not desiring much to change in your life. You may be very content to continue on in the rhythms and the normal routines of fellowship of your Christian experience. The fact that God is continually wanting to change us and develop us into the vessels and tools He can use in His kingdom may sound threatening to some extent. The process that the Holy Spirit uses to develop us as we allow Him to, is actually a very rewarding and joyous experience. Most congregants have become content and complacent by their perceptions of what Christian fellowship and congregational activity is and also by how it has been defined in its cultural wrappings. The vast majority of people involved in Christianity have yet to take the genuine product out of the box. This is because it is much easier to transport and control in the cultural packaging. But the real thing is much better than its packaging. It functions like it should in any environment when it is properly installed and energized.            

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Shelterglen University
P.O. Box 750491
Dayton, Ohio    45475