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“Our assembling together may be disrupted some day by governmental upheaval,” 1981

I’m now in Tucson, Arizona, finishing up the manuscript of Elusive Community for publication. In light of the many concerns surrounding the intrusion of the CoronaV, it is appropriate to reflect on how this disease has so far affected what is called “church” in light of some prophetic remarks I made in 1981.

What are three key pillars that church leaders connect with practicing church in America? Building to meet in; pastor to give sermon; a way to collect tithes. All three of these have been deeply challenged by the in-your-face enormity of the CoronaV problem. The buildings cannot be used for services. The pastor’s sermon is now found on-line. Tithing has to be done electronically or by mail. If this goes on long enough, will church leaders be sweating about how their salaries will be met, and how building costs will be maintained?

Do you think people will realize that the essential components of “church” that have been practiced for hundreds of years need to be revisited and evaluated? Will they have a revelation that the body of Christ is about relationships – the 58 one anothers in the New Testament?

In 1981 I closed my article, “Building Up the Body: One Man or One Another?” with these words:

Some might feel that churches are not “ready” for the truths that have been discussed in this article. But why should truth be postponed? Were churches “ready” to practice the responsibilities of priesthood a hundred years ago? Fifty? Twenty? If years of tradition are wrong, just when will we be “ready” to edify one another as we should? If something important is missing in our churches, then the time has come for us to implement what Christ has revealed. The implications of a functioning priesthood probably seem “radical” only because we are used to patterns of tradition which have no foundation in Scripture.
We must ask ourselves if our churches are being prepared for future suffering. Our current “freedoms” with reference to assembling together may be disrupted some day by governmental upheaval. Are the saints being prepared now to care and sacrifice for one another? What if all evangelical pastors were arrested? Would the churches be in a position to continue functioning? The possibility of an underground church in the future (which is a reality in many places) should cause us to reflect upon our preparedness for such a situation. Learning to care and minister to one another now is an essential.

The church traditions built around one “office” and the personality that occupies the pulpit is a monumental aberration. This model portrays the idea that the body of Christ depends on one part. Unless and until we cast out this demon-like paradigm once and for all, we will just continue to suppress the full expression of Christ which comes only through the many parts.

It has been 40 years since 1981. Now it is 2020. Churches have not changed, just different Band-Aids cover over the problems. There is a way to reality and authenticity in Christ: simplicity. Eugene Peterson in The Pastor: A Memoir (HarperOne, 2011) acknowledges that “the first three centuries of Christian churches were cave churches – unobtrusive house churches and catacombs” (p. 170).

It seems that these facts from history are usually glossed over as if they stand as an irrelevant footnote for us. I would like to suggest that a pattern of Christ-centered simplicity unfolds in the New Testament. Jesus desires for himself to be expressed through his body in this age (Eph. 3:10). The ekklesias of the first century were relational face-to-face communities. Eugene notes that “all the great realities that we can’t touch or see take form on ground that we can touch and see” (p. 12). I agree. Which means that, to a watching world, the invisible heavenly realities on earth can only be seen in the properly functioning body of Christ – where all parts express Christ, not just a select few paid staff.

A Marginal Minority
A most profound insight comes from Peterson in his persuasion that smallness, not largeness, will be most effective in forwarding Christ’s kingdom.
[I came to] a developing conviction that the most effective strategy for change, for revolution – at least on the large scale that the Kingdom of God involves – comes from a minority working from the margins . . . . That a minority people working from the margins has the best chance of being a community capable of penetrating the non-community, the mob, the depersonalized, function-defined crowd that is the sociological norm of America (p. 16).

It is my heart-felt conviction that this marginal minority will penetrate our alienated, wounded, impersonal culture best with people functioning outside of the institutional church. The traditional pastor-centered form is just not going to cut it – from a biblical or pragmatic perspective. Eugene asked his pastor friend, after he expressed frustration about being pulled away from vital relationships “because I have to run this damn church” – Why did he find the diner a more hospitable venue for being a pastor than the church?

What catastrophe must come for us to awaken to the fact that pastor-centered churches have never equipped people to relationally pursue the 58 one anothers in the New Testament? What are we going to do when “the pastor” and the Tithe are gone? Frederick Buechner noted that support groups like AA are “far closer to what Christ meant his Church to be,” and “they make you wonder if the best thing that could happen to many a church might not be to have its building burn down and to lose all its money. Then all that the people would have left is Christ and each other.”

Again, as I prophesied in 1981: “Our current ‘freedoms’ with reference to assembling together may be disrupted some day by governmental upheaval. . . . the possibility of an underground church in the future (which is a reality in many places) should cause us to reflect upon our preparedness for such a situation. Learning to care and serve one another now is an essential.” – JZ, April 2, 2020

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Comments

  1. Excellent explanation! God help us remove the obstacles that keep us from execution.

  2. Anthony Kasper says

    Hello Brother,
    I have been wanting to call you recently. This article has really touched me today. We need to talk and catch up. Love and miss you and Dottie. Thank you for sharing.

  3. LINDY COMBS says

    So, so well put. Wow!! 1981!! I love this. Jon.

  4. John Johnson says

    Well said Jon. Someone else recently said that the “church” isn’t empty it’s been deployed.

  5. Art Moreno Jr says

    Thank you Lord for John and Dotty. Words of truth. May the church be ready for the glories that await her.

  6. Harry Stevenson says

    My fear is that when this “present crisis ” has passed that the sheep will run back into the stable where their little shepherd will be waiting with open arms and they will be happy to be back where they feel safe and comfortable.

    • In principle, Harry, you are right. But it looks like this crisis could go deep, and it might not be so easy for the sheep to go back passively in the pew.

  7. Yes brother and amen! It’s time for believers to stand up for their privileges, yea and their God given rights as the true Body of Christ!

  8. Barbara Sorrow says

    Thank you for the comments. I pray that the church is ready. All I have seen in my area is people enjoying the online messages from their churches. No one is concerned about their neighbor and how to help or pray. I ask them what about our one anothers in Scripture and their answers are to not pass on the virus. To them it is the most important one another.

  9. Lindy Combs says

    This whole article, so timely…as though it came from a time-bottle. It is a flood light. Thank you, Jon, for your boldness and for the heart-felt example you set in “…pressing on toward the mark…”

  10. Good stuff bro! And a resounding amen.

  11. jason H bump says

    Amen I totally agree

  12. john campbell says

    Wow. This perspective has been my sense for the past 30 years as a Christ centric remnant empowered. The Kingdom of God is the conscience presence of Jesus Christ not a structure Pastor and required tithing. When the body of Christ receives the main message of the Bible as the prophesied blood bought and glorious new covenant of grace which continuously shines the spotlight on Jesus Christ and who we are in Him which is a beloved and redeemed child of God and Kingdom of priests at new birth whose primary purpose is to minister unto the Lord in the inner court to be nearest his presence thus being empowered to bring the Kingdom of God to earth we will then have a pure and enduring Jesus movement revival.

  13. John Ridgeway says

    Spot on Brother Jon.

  14. Thank you Jon. God’s church is Christ’s communal living body, and when functioning properly, by His enabling, we “bear one another’s burdens (Gal 6:2).” Social distancing has brought us closer together in heart love for one another in Christ, and it has made us more appreciative of being able to physically gather together in His name. Just now, we are unable to actually “Greet one another with a holy kiss… (Romans 16:16).” If not now, we shall in the kingdom to come.

    http://storage.cloversites.com/wakarusamissionarychurch/documents/59one_another_scriptures.pdf

  15. May the Lord send workers into the harvest, may the equipped function according to the purpose, and may the life of Christ pour forth like the breaking dawn to dispel the darkness. May we all hear what the spirit says to the church.

  16. Good point.

    It is time to reflect / search the meaning of ‘Church’ again..

    Blessings,

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