For my overseas readers, let me explain. Besides soccer (our national team ‘no where’ at the moment), South Africans are fanatical about rugby (we lie 2nd in the world). Last Saturday our top SA franchise, the Sharks (supported by my son) played a quarter-final match against the top New Zealand franchise, the Crusaders in Christchurch NZ. We knew beforehand that our team didn’t stand much of a chance against the peaking Crusaders. However we were so badly beaten, due to generally poor play and specifically poor kicking for possession, that we were totally embarassed. For me and others, two half-time video clips in the respective dressing rooms told a significant story. As pointed out by the commentators, the Sharks dressing room depicted an agitated and animated coach Jake White, gesticulating and exhorting the troops, while the Crusaders dressing room revealed a calm team in a circle quietly engaging with the captain and senior players, while coach Todd Blackadder looked on from the outside of the circle, listening but never intervening. The first scenario appeared to be very much a one-man show (with respect) as the coach reminded them of the game plan and how it had to be carried out more accurately, the second scenario appeared to be a mixture of leadership and participation with a balance of structure and spontaneity (forgive the mixed metaphor, but speak to any musician worth their salt and they will tell you that basic structure and personal spontaneity are the right mix for a good performance).
From a worship and fellowship perspective, why can’t we trust the body, i.e. the body of Christ?? Yes there may be a leader or facilitator as such, but even that is a horizontal servant-leadership or facilitation.
When I say, ‘why can’t we trust the body’ I am of course also saying ‘why can’t we trust the head of the body, viz. Jesus Christ,’ to lead his gathered saints and ‘why can’t we trust the Holy Spirit’ who imparts the mind of Christ to those who are before him?
Certainly in the eight years my wife and I have been ‘facilitating’ (hopefully under the guidance of the Spirit) a number of small organic house church groups in our city, we have never encountered any rank heresy breaking out or a lack of order (in terms of 1 Cor. 12:26ff), etc. [Some years ago we had to caution and eventually challenge one particular family we were trying to help who were abusing that help through licentious living. They chose to move on. A few years later the husband passed away unexpectedly and the family asked me to preside over the funeral, which I did. They were very appreciative of my assistance, although sadly still continue to live a very disfunctional lifestyle]
On the contrary, in recent times I have repeatedly been blown away by the astute and edifying contribution of each member, even the humblest, as they have participated and contributed. God has given us some amazing revelation and personal breakthroughs in the process. Our newer, largely youthful group, is learning to participate with enthusiasm and real wisdom as they are mentored by three more experienced believers who lend stability and maturity going forward.
If we consider the ‘body life passages’ of the NT such as Rom. 12, 1 Cor. 12-14, Eph. 4-6, 1 Pet. 2 etc, they all reveal certain commonalities:
- The Lordship of Jesus over the world and his body. Col. 1; Eph. 1:3-23, 4:1ff.
- The sovereignty of God in dispensing spiritual gifts through the Spirit. 1 Cor. 12, etc.
- The importance of godly character, i.e. the fruit of the Spirit. Gal. 5:13-26.
- The ‘priesthood of all believers.’ 1 Pet. 2:4-12.
- The motive of edification, service/mission, and the fulfilment of Christ’s purposes on earth to his praise and glory. Eph. 4:11ff; Col. 1 & 2.
- The empowering resurrection life of Jesus Christ in all who believe. Jn. 7:37-39; Eph. 1:18-23.
I still, strangely enough, get asked to preach in traditional churches, mainly I suppose because of long-standing relationships of trust (I do this infrequently and only after hearing from God – the pastors also know my stance on issues). When I re-visit the old way of ‘church,’ I remember from my old days in that milieu the subtly controlling worship I used to be part of – I mean, after all, you had to fit everything into one hour twenty minutes (max 90 mins)! Once or twice during my ‘pastoring’ of thirty-eight years someone spoke in tongues (horrors, in a Baptist church!), and I recall my heart missing a beat… What to do now!?
So how do we, under God, and by his indwelling Christ, develop this more biblical kind of ‘trust in the body?’ I came across some helpful general guidelines a few days ago (please note, not a formula) by Joseph Horevay, when transitioning from organised church to simple church. He suggests we cultivate:
- Intimacy with God
- The priesthood of all believers
- Rich inter-personal relationships
- A sense of mission
- Discipling one another
- Expecting the supernatural. cf 1 Cor. 14.
- Servanthood in all things
I take comfort in Jesus’ reply to Simon’s inspired confession ‘you are the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the living God,’ as recorded in Mt. 16:17ff: “God bless you, Simon, son of Jonah! You didn’t get that answer out of books or from teachers. My Father in heaven, God himself, let you in on this secret of who I really am. And now I am going to tell you who you are, really are. You are Peter, a rock. This is the rock on which I will put together my church, a church so expansive with energy that not even the gates of hell will be able to keep it out!” (my emphasis) (MSG).
We can safely trust the body, under the practical headship of Jesus and the sovereign guidance of the Spirit, and expect to be overwhelmed in community and damage to hell.