Fulfilled in Jesus

Our pilgrimage with our Beloved in Japan -- Yoko & Ramone on the journey with Jesus!

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Ekklesia, Part II


This is part II. You can read the original Part I here.

A friend left a comment on the original post and I began to reply to it, but my reply turned into a new post! So here it all is: her comment first, then my reply afterwards. Enjoy! (And let me know what you think! Don't be shy about sharing your experiences!)

*****

Sand Being Drawn wrote:

wow Ramone! I've only known "institutional church" and have no intention to begin "Mukyokai-shugi" but I see truth in your writing.

I am the everyday audience to my husband who loves to share what God has shown him through His word. And recently, God has shown my husband something similiar. Similiar in that: Why do we respect a building because it's "Church" and not ourselves since we are the church. Christianity isn't contained and sustained in a building, but by those people who are called by His Name - "The body of Christ."

I can understand your friends concerns though, because I've seen it happen. But you and Yoko seem to know Jesus according to His Word through study and walking it out. I pray the best for both you and Yoko and thank you for sharing "Mukyokai-shugi."

Be blessed,
Sand Being Drawn

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Posted by Sand Being Drawn to Fulfilled in Jesus at 6/23/2005 02:46:27 AM


*****

The reply - Ekklesia, Part II

The Spirit led into the wilderness

Hi & thanks for your comment! You know, I don't think anyone ever intends to leave institutional church, re-learn what "Church" means and then embrace a less visual understanding of it. We certainly didn't intend to go this route! Many times it feels like being in the wilderness. At the beginning of the year I asked the Lord if we would come out of the wilderness this year, and He didn't say yes or no (yes was the answer my flesh wanted), but He replied in the words of Isaiah that He would make the wilderness blossom, planting the cedar and acacia, the myrtle, etc. So basically it was a "No", haha, because He wants me to get comfortable with Him and trust Him to bring family & fellowship in His timing.

One illustration of this was with our friend Cindy, who lives in Kobe (about an hour away from here [Osaka] by train). Cindy used to come down to a church near us for renewal time once in awhile, but we still never found time to meet. Our schedules seemed to leave no opening. After meeting each other we were always blessed & longed for more time with each other. Last year (or was it the year before), Yoko and I tried to plan times to meet with Cindy and it just didn't work. But then on the fly, we un-expectedly were able to meet with her and share some precious time with Jesus together. During one of those times I suddenly understood: Spirit-led meeting. Usually we use "Spirit-led" to mean that we trust that the pastors or whoever up front is being led by the Spirit. But He re-interpreted the phrase for me one night to let me understand this: He will bring us together when He needs to. We will come together by the power of His Spirit. The "meeting" occurred because of the Lord. Not-so-ironically, that was at least a year ago and we haven't seen Cindy in a long time! We miss her but all three of us know that God still holds us together and will bring us together again soon.

Uncharted territory

I also grew up knowing only church as an institution, building, and weekly programmed meeting (or loosely programmed). This is all new to me, but as I look back into Scripture, I realize it was also all new stuff to the disciples. I once thought of a drama skit where, while waiting for Pentecost, the disciples gather together in the upper room and James starts to organize services, begin a preaching rotation ("Peter, you should be first"), organize a board to find someone responsible to start a collection (since Judas was gone), etc. While the elder disciples debate that stuff, finally little John breaks down crying and the guys ask why. "I miss Him", he says. Somehow, one after another they remember Him and fall down together, crying out for Him, because it's not about them, not about us and what we do, but it's about Him. Then the Holy Spirit comes... (^_^)

No one wants to go into the wilderness. Like all things in Christ, you need to be *led* there. The idea that God might intentionally *lead* a Christian away from an institutional church is unthinkable in the minds of most North American & British churches. Yet it's happening all over the globe. A minister named Andrew Strom has noted the trend and commented on it somewhat (sorry, I don't have a link for what he wrote). Others such as Chip Brodgen (www.watchman.net) have noted the trend as well and are focused on proclaiming the sufficiency of Christ.

The "mukyokai" still meet here in Japan somewhere. I haven't met any of them, but they're somehow descended from Uchimura and the people he used to disciple eighty years ago. I used the term similar to the first time it appeared in Uchimura's writings when he was basically shunned by the institutional churches. He wrote, "I have become 'mukyokai'." The trend existed long before Uchimura gave it a name, just like we too were led away from institutional church without ever really knowing that so many others were led in the same way.

I met a man at the Osaka Christian bookstore named David and struck up a casual conversation with him. Although I didn't go to a regular institutional church, the first thing out of my mouth was "What church do you go to?" because I didn't know anything else to say. David had that awkward moment and replied that he didn't really go to a church regularly. "Me, too" I said! Suddenly I felt all the more foolish because I realized I had no more substantial conversation starter than asking where a Christian went to church. Once that was out of the way, we talked about each other (where we came from, what we were doing in Osaka), and then talked about *Him* ... how He led us here, and what He's doing with us and in our lives. That was a lot of fun! I ended up taking David to another less-known Christian bookstore in Osaka and then we went out to dinner with my wife later. God definitely put him in my life! And again, it's been awhile since I've seen Him, but trust that the Spirit is going to hook us up in person in His timing as He has already hooked us up in the Vine.

Dependency

The most interesting thing I learned from reading the book about Uchimura was his observations of the teaching of western missionaries. He noted that they honestly believed and taught salvation would be lost if one did not have a regular church attendance. Usually it wouldn't be stated that overtly, of course, but the actions (and reactions) of western missionaries would say as much. When I read that I suddenly realized that I had grown up with the same belief -- that if someone didn't go to church regularly, they would fall away from the Lord. And indeed, when people in the West did stop going to church, they did seem to fall away from the Lord. It became a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy. I don't want to generalize, but it truly seems that there is a spiritual dependence on "church" in the Western Church. Believers in countries with religious persecution, however, don't have that kind of dependence. They depend only on the Lord, and they are strengthened & encouraged when the do get chances to meet together.

Somehow, when it is "required" in countries where there is freedom of religion, the spiritual dependence kicks in. I suppose it's like the Law in that sense. When church is an unwritten Law, those who fall short of the Law find only condemnation (from those who go to church and from themselves), and so they really do fall away because they believe they are sinning and believe God condemns them. Yet in persecuted places, the Church can meet together freely -- not because they *have* to (in order to stay right with God), but because they *want* to from their hearts.

It's like giving offering under coercion -- God wants us to give freely from our hearts, not because we think we'll be cursed if we don't or blessed if we do (which is the reason so many offerings are made at Shinto & Buddhist shrines & temples here). He wants us to give just as He gave -- freely, because we desire to bless the receiver, not because we ourselves want to receive. In the same way, "fear" (of falling away, etc.) is not a motivation from God when it comes to assembly.

The favorite proof-text for reigning in dissenters has been in Hebrews, "Do not forsake the assembling of yourselves together", however it's not given as a command ("Or else!") but given to those who were feeling pressure from Jewish traditions to doubt the reality of Jesus' Messiah-ship and the New Covenant (which is the theme of the book of Hebrews). The next sentence makes clear the purpose of the injunction to meet together: "Do not forsake the assembling of yourselves together, but rather encourage one another...". The purpose of coming together was truly to encourage one another, to bless each other, to love each other with His love, to carry each others' burdens. And yes, to be a place where you could lay down your burdens without fear of stalling the program or being embarrassed in front of the congregation.

Somehow when we've read that text, we thought it meant "Don't forsake going to church", but we forgot that Christ's meaning of 'gathering' is "two or three together in My name". Very often we've used the text to reign in those who seemed to be wandering away from weekly church attendance, and totally missed the punchline -- the purpose of the text -- which is that people need *encouragement*, not a law! If we give them a law of attendance, they may feel compelled to attend, but inside they may be hurting and have no one to help them. Worse still, they may fall away while yet remaining in the pew.

As I look at the persecuted Church (in the past and in the present), I believe we can see that they don't have the complusion to meet together. When Christians are tortured and thrown into prision (and denied the opportunity to go to "church"), they don't fall away simply because Christ becomes their everything. When they do meet together, they don't do so because it's a requirement, but they come to encourage one another. Just like Hebrews said we need to.

Therefore...

The thing to do, then, is of course not to tear down every church building and tell people that they must leave and meet in their homes, etc. That's not it at all. The thing to do is to simply preach the all-sufficiency of Christ, and trust that it's His hold on us that saves us (instead of our hold on Him -- see John 10). And I believe we need to be honest with people by telling them that, no, it's not a requirement. We shouldn't continue the cycle of dependency by telling people that if they don't come, they will fall away. Let them come because they have found encouragement, not because of fear. It's like Christ vs. the things of the world: people will cling to Christ simply because He is the Real Thing, not because of all the preaching about how evil the world is. When they meet Him, they will be fulfilled deeper than any of the shallow things they used to pursue could ever do for them. The same freedom should be given for meeting together.

There is a fear, however, in embracing this understanding: What will happen if we tell people they don't have to come? Will some churches close? Will some ministries disappear? If we hold back from speaking the truth because we want to keep God's work open and going, then we don't realize that we're trying to power God's work by fear & coercion instead of by the Spirit. He will truly provide where His Spirit leads and where there is freedom for Him to move on peoples' hearts. He was able to do all that He did in the early Church without using fear & coercion (making "church" into unwritten law). The early Church -- as well as the faith of the reformers & the faith of the persecuted throughout all centuries -- survived in spite of not having "church" as a requirement. They survived simply because they believed Christ is sufficient, and He truly was sufficient for them.

Is He sufficient for us? Can He be trusted to hold us together?

6 Comments:

  • At June 24, 2005 4:09 AM, Blogger Sand Being Drawn said…

    Hi Ramone,

    It's writings like these that make it obvious that you study and walk out the Word of God - Great!

    I totally understand "Spirit led meeting" because it's something I'm experiencing in this season of time. In a remarkable way!

    Your encounters with others such as the bookstore friend and Cindy sound so much like reading the book of Acts. I'm not entirely educated about the Bible, but it seems to me that the disciples encounters with each other weren't at regular intervals in a planned setting - but in fact planned by God. Each person having a vital role in the lives of others to fulfill God's purpose for that season. I am happy for you!

    A true believer of Jesus Christ doesn't base their faith and relationship on denomination. Those who stop attending "church" usually backed away from Christ in their heart long before their bodies ever left the building. Likewise, those whose hearts and lives are totally given to Christ will worship Him with our without a building (or title for that matter.) I honour and respect the place where you, your wife and many others are being called to.

    How many times have I heard of people giving their hearts and lives to Christ outside the church building; Or those who refuse to enter the building because it's "church" yet are hungry for the truth.

    I'm reminded of how God is like a shepherd in that He'll leave the congregation of the sheep to go after the one that is lost. It's blind sheep to think the shepherd is only, always, and just there amongst them.

    May you and your family always be Spirit led in your walk with Jesus Christ.

    Sand.
    (it seems like I am also given to many words!)

     
  • At June 24, 2005 11:47 AM, Blogger Ramone said…

    Wow!

    Thanks again for your comment! God is truly awesome. I can't wait until everyone I know & love will be in the same area -- everyone is so spread out! To know that we're all connected in the Spirit is wonderful, but there's an ache to be together in person, as well.

    The wonderful thing is that we're all already connected in the Vine (Jesus!), whether we see it or not. We all know the same Guy. So we're all already connected in the deepest way possible -- connected in Christ. "You know Him, too!" Have you ever read the Chronicles of Narnia? There's a moment in "The Horse and His Boy" when two friends are re-united after being separated. While they were separated, they each met the Lion and were affected by Him. When they're re-united, they instantly know: "You've met Him, too" and they're at a loss for words.

    Whether in a church, in a home, in a park or a Starbucks, He meets us and we meet Him, and shoot, it's great to be family and to have the same Papa.

    Blessings again in His love,
    Ramone

     
  • At December 29, 2005 5:09 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Beloved brother in Christ, I am a brother who takes part in the meetings of Ecclesia that gathers here in Tirana, Albania, Europe. we rejoice and share in the freedom He has given us, I want to send you love and greetings by these verses written recently:

    You build me up with your hands
    I will live by Your Spirit
    We are One, forever One
    We are together You never abandon us
    We all are One, in You we are one
    We are always together
    You never abandon us
    You chose us and You set us apart
    Through You we are holified
    Around Your light
    In Your cruxifix embraced we are
    I am the apple of Your eye
    I am Yours, noone is my owner
    Everytime I mention Your Name
    The flame of Your love
    takes me to Your holy place
    Lord Christ You are precious to me
    I died and resurrected,
    with You to live
    You have holified me forever
    I'll worship You by the Spirit
    You give me

     
  • At January 03, 2006 1:51 PM, Blogger Ramone said…

    To my brother in Albania,

    Thank you so much for your kind words, filled with love and adoration for the One whose we are! I'm really touched and hope this isn't the last of our contact for now. Click the email link on my profile and send me a mail when you get a chance. If not, pull me aside in eternity and we'll have a good laugh.

    In Him,
    Ramone

     
  • At January 03, 2006 7:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Embracements in Christ, please possibly share with others!



    The tears of my Spirit O' Christ
    Rejoice with Your Precious Stones
    We gather around You and taste
    The life to us You did donate
    Your love, peace, bright white
    amongst us comes and goes like Wind
    With your rain you refresh my heart
    That beats for You and noone else
    As soon as I hear Your sweet voice
    I run to You with my eyes closed
    There is no hurdle
    because You opened the way to me
    when You said: "It's done"
    on the heavy cross
    I asked You my beloved:
    "What are these wounds in Your hands?"
    You replied: "I was woonded in the house of my friends.
    In these palms o' my beloved
    it is written Ecclesia,
    Your Name!

     
  • At January 13, 2006 3:37 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    To my brother in Christ, Ramone!
    I was listening a song and these verses came, I hope you will enjoy! greetings from Albania!

    O Lord Christ, You are my Rock
    the waves smash furious trying to make you fall
    O Jesus Christ you are the mountain of mine
    with your reys you wear me with robes of white

    O Jesus Christ truly You are a tree
    with fruits and leaves that never fall down
    O Dear Christ You are the song of mine
    with sounds and notes strongly you come out

    O Dear Bride I admire You
    always with you I am in sunrise and sunset
    I am your rock and mountain and tree
    fountain of life I will be for Thee

    Because You're the motif of my life
    It's only for you that I will live
    Yes, You hold me truly in your arms
    About you only I will dream

    When out is ferocious wind and cold
    in your heart I will be a fire to keep you warm
    I'm the morning star I fill your eyes with light
    this light of spirit of mine I give you with all my heart

    You only you, you only you
    You always you, you only you

    O Christ I know, now everything has a meaning to me
    It's simply a life without end, without sunset
    Only with You I am rock and mountain and tree
    Everything Dear Lord You are to me

     

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