Fulfilled in Jesus

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

Friday, June 10, 2005

Ekklesia


Part One of Two.

Introduction

For some time Yoko and I have not been part of a traditional church. We've been with God and He's been wonderful. Life with Him has been growth and peace. Yet when I meet other Christians here in Osaka (or chat by email with Christians in England or elsewhere), they ask what church we go to. I say we're not part of one, and they immediately invite us to their church. This is the turning point...

If I respond honestly, I will say that we're not looking for one, and that I'll ask the Lord and pray if and when we should go visit. I am thankful for their love and invitation, and would truly hope to know them better and become spiritual family to them. But often I rarely or never hear from them again. Especially damaging is if I try to explain what "church" means to us. After that it's as if there will be an unspoken barrier between my new friend and I.

Lord, help me write this in a way that glorifies You and helps everyone we know and love see You and believe in Your power and unity, just as You're teaching us to trust in Your unity, provision and in You alone.

Kanzo Uchimura

I recently read a book about a Japanese Christian man named Kanzo Uchimura, who lived over 80 years ago. He had become frustrated with western missionaries in Japan because of sectarianism and a peculiar but strong belief that if people didn't belong to an institutional church, they would lose their faith. If one were to suggest that trust in Christ alone was sufficient to keep a new believer's faith going, that person would soon be shunned by western missionaries, church authorities, and by zealous members of the institutional churches. They would see that person as a heretic, leading Christians astray (the logic being that if people weren't going to church, they would soon lose their faith, be deceived, or apostasize). Uchimura experienced this shunning, but discovered you can hold onto Christ (and even have your faith strengthened) even if you're not part of an institutional church! He continued serving Christ in Japan, and coined the term "Mukyokai-shugi" (the non-church church) for those who served Christ outside of western-style institutional churches. People who are Mukyokai-shugi still meet together today in homes, rented halls, or wherever, sharing Christ and not instilling the fear that if they don't attend somewhere they'll fall away from God.

In modern times, the problems faced by Uchimura (and countless others through the ages) have not gone away, nor have the fears of institutional church leaders & missionaries when they encounter someone with similar beliefs. Yoko and I have experienced some of these hurtful reactions from well-meaning but fearful Christians (ranging anywhere from warnings about being a "Lone Ranger Christian" to prooftexting to prove that "You have to be connected", meaning you must have "membership" somewhere "under a pastor"). So now I wish to write this so all my friends, family, and any new person I meet can read what we've come to understand from walking with the Lord and studying His words.

I might add that we have believed these things for several years, and not because I recently read a book about Uchimura. Thousands upon thousands of Christians are learning these same things and are being called out of institutions to walk with Christ wherever He may lead. Many are also being sent into institutional churches. These are all the Church, whether inside or outside of institutional churches. So what is the "church" anyhow?

Ekklesia

The Greek word for "church" is ekklesia, and perhaps the best one-word equivalent is "assembly", but the full meaning of ekklesia is "the called out ones". I will re-arrange the traditional order of the meaning to "the ones called out" for purposes of explaining what we've learned.

What is "church"?

We can learn a lot about it simply by looking at the meaning, "the ones called out". I would like to share some observations based on each of the four English words used to literally translate the word ekklesia.

"THE ones called out"

There is only one group. One vast, unified group. This is it & all there is. Yes, we see many groups today called "church", but in God's eyes, there is only one. He sees only one bride! One bride, not many! How do we reconcile what we see with what should be? We don't need to. All we need to do is trust in what He sees instead of what we see.

Simply put, the unified Church is invisible. Sometimes we will see a manifestation of the Church locally, but we aren't to trust in the manifestation; we are to trust in the truer invisible, spiritual reality. It's like love. Sometimes you give your spouse flowers. That's a manifestation of your love. Yet if there are no flowers to be seen, the love is still there, and is much deeper than the physical expressions.

In the same way, when people come together to share and worship God, the Church may be visible for a time. But when they are apart or do not meet together, they are still THE Church in God's eyes. They do not cease being the Church to Him, and neither should they in our eyes of faith. The unity that is invisible is stronger than the unity that is visible.

"The ONES called out"

Ones, not buildings. This should be obvious. "Church" is neither a building, nor a worship service, nor a program. Another name for the Church is "the body of Christ". A body is living, so Church is living. Sadly it has been made into a list or an institution particularly in western civilization. Our buildings may be beautiful, but they are not the Bride which will go to heaven to be united forever with her Bridegroom, Jesus Christ. Rituals, services, programs & traditions are likewise not the Church. To say we're "having church" would be like saying we're "having American", because Church is an identity; it's who you are.

The second thing that should be noted is that "ones" is plural. You are not alone! God has given you family! He has called individuals and so individuals make up His Church, His Body. He loves each one of us individually first. But He has also let us know that we are not alone. Even if in our surroundings we cannot find others who understand or who know Jesus, He says we are not alone. We are still the Church, and we are still connected by a bond stronger than any visible organizational unity.

"The ones CALLED out"

Simply put, each one of us must be called! What does this mean? It means that there is Someone who does the calling -- the Holy Spirit. Christ said, "I will build my Church". He has made Himself responsible for building His Church and for holding us all together in Himself.

He is the One who assembles us together and sets us in spiritual families. It is no use searching for spiritual family by our own desires and cravings. God knows what is best for us and will lead us. Perhaps He will lead you into a group of friends to share, pray, and carry each others' burdens. But maybe He will lead you somewhere where you do not know anyone. Maybe you will not be able to find any for quite some time, either. In the Bible, the Spirit often led the faithful into the wilderness. Know that when God leads you there, He is leading you to spend time with Him Himself and grow deeper in intimacy with Him. One of the reasons He often removes us from comfortable churches is because we have been leaning on them instead of on Him. Hence in Song of Songs, "Who is this coming up from the desert leaning on her Lover?"

He knows who He has called and who He has not called. Not all who profess to be Christians are His Church. This is a difficult thing to say! But many of us are walking by sight instead of by faith. Many of us belong to church in the flesh but not Church in the Spirit! Oh God! My spirit weeps with Your Spirit! God, turn us to what is Real! Lead us to see from Your point of view and Yours alone, Lord! Tear us away from our confidence in the flesh and in our sight!

The definition of the Church is that we are and must be those who are called by God. It is no use considering ourselves "Church" if we do not know Him who called us! He is the Caller, and Church is built upon Him and around Him. He is what it's all about! He is the center! Church is not the good news -- Jesus Christ is! It's not about us and never will be: it's about Him.

"The ones called OUT"

We are called on a journey. Being called by Him means leaving something. Sometimes it will be "the world", other times it may be institutions (even churches), and still other times it may be a group of people. Just like God will call you personally, what you leave will be different because you are different than I am and you live in different circumstances.

But we are not called "out" just to be left outside. More than this, we are called TO something... and that something is Jesus Himself. We are called out of all that is not Christ, and we are called into Him Himself -- intimate personal union with Him. As He leads, He may call us to one another, but our primary calling is to Him.

To the Unchurched

As I was putting together these thoughts, I realized that I would need to explain "Church" differently to someone who had no knowledge of institutionalized churches.

My wife's sister is such a person. She has recently begun believing and knowing Jesus Christ Himself, and it's been wonderful to behold how He is working! One day she began to berate herself for messing up at work, but suddenly the Lord stopped her and told her she wasn't stupid. She came to Yoko and told her, "Yoko, He's not just in church! He's with us every day!" Prior to knowing Him, she had only a faint image of Christians going to church once every weekend. She was shocked to discover that Christ is living and is with us all day, every day! That's Jesus, and that's what Christianity is about!

If I had to explain "Church" to her, I would probably pull out the Bible and explain with some verses. I would also remind her of times we had shared and prayed together, and how He had given her peace in her heart at those times. I might say something like this:

"Church -- it's us! It's us who know Jesus and live because of Him. He's given us Family. He's given us each other. Somehow, we're all connected. We can't always see it, but when we come together and pray, we really know it, don't we! But even when we're not together, we're still connected in Him.

"He sent me here to Japan and away from my Church (my prayer group in Riverside). I missed them so much! I missed the times of prayer and worship we had together, the times when we waited for Him to speak, when we laid hands on each other and cried with each other. But He told me to come and I knew He was here with me. I miss them, but we're still connected in Him, you know? Sometimes He has me pray for them, or He has them pray for me.

"The Church is all who believe, all who love Him. All people who believe in Him and love Him, no matter where they are, they are our Family. In Osaka, in Tokyo, in Africa, China or Europe. It doesn't matter where you are. You're still the Church. I remember talking with my friend in Riverside about something I had learned about Jesus, and suddenly she interrupted me saying she knew! We both suddenly were crying in happiness and smiles. We knew the same Person. We both knew Jesus, and we knew that the other person knew Jesus, so we couldn't say anything! He makes us speechless sometimes!

"Never forget that He has given you Family. He loves you and will watch out for you wherever you are and wherever you go. You're never alone. You're surrounded! Surrounded by Him and surrounded by Family who love you. Sometimes -- well, many times -- it will seem like you don't have Family. But trust Him, because you know that's not true. It may be a long time before you meet your Family, or you may meet them soon.

"You know Yoko and I are your Family, too! We're blessed to know you and to share with you. Jesus is the Strong One and He holds us together. Don't worry if we have to go. We'll spend this time we have sharing and getting closer together.

"Sometime He may send us to a traditional church, where people will meet together how they know best. Yoko and I used to go to those places, but He called us to Himself in such ways that we know we'll never be content with anything less than Him and Family. We didn't always find Family there. Those places need our prayers and love, though, too. If you meet someone from a traditional church, be glad because they are your brother or sister. But don't fear if they tell you that you have to 'go to church' every week. Remember what Jesus' Spirit has said: you ARE the Church, you ARE His body. All the fullness of God is in Jesus, and you and I have all fullness in Jesus. You are not incomplete.

"Remember how you have found Jesus -- or rather how He found you. You've learned of His love for you and for everyone, and You've learned that what is invisible is stronger than what is visible. Trust in His Spirit to keep you safe and to continue to teach you. He is your Teacher, and He is my Teacher, too! Sometimes I worry that I don't learn, but a Christian man a hundred years ago [Andrew Murray] pointed out that my inability to learn is not as strong as His skill as a Teacher. With such a Teacher, I can't help but learn! He is faithful."

*****

I'll write more later, maybe with some verses I've found. Until then, won't you join me in reading Isaiah 62 and crying out for His Church? Ask for His heart and join me in crying out as He leads you, for His people and those who want to be His to have all obstacles removed and to find our identity in Him alone and in the name He has given us!

3 Comments:

  • At June 23, 2005 2:46 AM, Blogger Sand Being Drawn said…

    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

     
  • At June 23, 2005 1:19 PM, Blogger Ramone said…

    Hi! I posted a reply to your comment and a follow-up to this article here:

    Ekklesia, Part II

     
  • At July 11, 2006 7:07 PM, Blogger Ramone said…

    This article by Chip Brogden needs to be linked here. :)

     

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