Several years ago, I found myself in a bit of ‘trouble’. Before I left the religious system, an incident occurred that greatly opened my eyes to the perils of institutional Christendom. I’d like to share this story for those of us outside of the religious system who may feel compelled to the Lord’s work. Before I do that, however, let me describe what exactly occurred.
The Pastor of the institution that I had been attending called me and asked for a meeting with me. I was excited. He was a genuinely nice person and I had been hoping to get to know him better. I had been attending this particular institution for several months and had already had several meetings with this Pastor. Each meeting, however, had been initiated by me. This was the first meeting that he initiated, and I was elated! Although we usually met at a coffee shop, the Pastor said he would come by my office for this meeting. I was intrigued to say the least.
As the time for the meeting approached, I looked out of my office window and was surprised to see both the Sr. Pastor, and the Associate Pastor getting out of the car with large Bibles under their arms. I opened the door and greeted them. I observed that their demeanor was different than usual. In my observation, they actually looked a bit nervous. Instead of just chatting like normal, the Sr. Pastor asked if could ‘begin’ the meeting with prayer. Shortly after the prayer ended and some nice pleasantries were exchanged, the large bibles were flipped open. They began to share scriptures about submitting to leadership, etc…
I was caught off guard. I wasn’t sure where they were going with this conversation. This is how the dialogue progressed:
SR PASTOR: “Do you believe God has called you to this church?”
SR PASTOR: “If you feel led to stay at this church, you are going to need to buy into the ‘vision’ of this church that is set forth from this church’s leadership.”
SR PASTOR: “You will have to run the articles that you write past our leadership team before you send them out.”
ME: “Hmmm.” (I recalled that I had recently written an article about my changing paradigm of church leadership)
SR PASTOR: “What position do you want at this church?”
SR PASTOR: ”Yes, I know you used to be a Pastor before you moved, and I imagine that you would like to serve here in some leadership capacity as well. If you want any kind of leadership position here, you will have to begin by submitting to this church’s leadership and going through our membership course.”
ME: “Umm, I think you misunderstand my intentions.”
SR PASTOR: “?”
ME: “I am not looking for any position.”
SR PASTOR: “Then what do you want to do at this church?”
ME: “Well, I would like to simply love God and love people. I mainly express His love by building relationships. I like to have people over for meals. I like spending lots of time with folks. Knowing people helps me know how to serve them. I don’t need a ‘position’ for this do I?”
The conversation quickly ended, and unfortunately, I never had another conversation with them again. I attended their institution for several more months until it became clear that my continued involvement there was not what the Lord desired. Although I am no longer a part of the institutional system, experiences like this helped me realize something very important:
You never need permission to express the life & love of Jesus Christ.
In the New Testament church, Jesus Christ was the life of the church. Christ’s life was expressed through each brother and sister in the church community. Some of the more mature saints in the churches were described as ‘elders’ (wise ones) in the faith. Some other saints were also described as ones who were sent out to encourage and establish other church communities. Some of these saints are publicly mentioned in the scriptures, but many others were not. The point is, believers were free to express the life of Christ in them through loving and serving others. This freedom did not come from the permission of any man, rather it came organically through the life of Christ living in and through them.
A Warning To Those In Organic Church Life
To my brothers and sisters who have left the religious system & are involved in New Testament church life, (especially those who could be called to the Lord’s work), let me encourage us to be careful to not slip back into the old mindset of seeking approval or permission to express the life of Jesus Christ. This life in you is already free to love and serve others.
If Christ in you seeks to encourage and share the mysteries of Christ, do so with freedom and boldness. You already have permission to do that. That which is birthed from the Spirit will establish and build up Christ’s life in the saints. Your expression of Christ does not depend upon the permission or approval of any man. You are qualified. Consider Paul’s example here:
For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel that 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…But when God, who had set me apart even from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, was pleased to reveal His Son in me so that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went away to Arabia, and returned once more to Damascus…(Gal. 1:11-12, 15-17, NASB)
Paul’s words apply to us as well. Even though we heard the gospel of Christ through the medium of a human being, a true understanding of Jesus Christ comes by spiritual revelation from the Lord Himself. It was not given to us by the will of any person.
Many years later, a revelation of Christ regarding a specific situation in the church brought Paul before the other apostles in Jerusalem. There were also people of high reputation in that church that recognized Paul’s function in the body of Christ. Paul’s attitude about this situation is very eye opening:
But from those who were of high reputation (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)- well, those who were of reputation contributed nothing to me. But on the contrary, seeing that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been to the circumcised, (for He who effectually worked for Peter in his apostleship to the circumcised effectually worked for me also to the Gentiles), and recognizing the grace that had been given to me, James and Cephas and John, who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship…(Gal. 2:6-9, NASB)
It is important for us to take note what came first for Paul. What came first for him was a revelation of Christ. Paul then lived out and expressed this revelation of Christ. Paul’s apostleship was a result of this revelation. The ‘right hand’ of fellowship from others of high reputation came as a result of the revelation of Christ that Paul carried. Paul’s apostleship was NOT the result of the ‘right hand’ of fellowship that he received, however. We must not get this backward.
Paul’s example speaks to the fact that the Lord handles our recognition and approval. We are simply to stay focused on Him & allow His life to flow through us. We are a part of an eternal kingdom that is built upon and held together by love. Jesus Christ is the personification of love. Freely we have received this love, and freely we are to give this love to others by expressing this love through our lives.
Brothers and sisters, we are free to receive and express Jesus Christ. Whether or not others extend approval to us is not our concern. We have permission to remain focused on Him alone.
For the revelation of Jesus Christ,