“If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God.” Colossians 3:1
The purpose of this paper is to share some personal reflections on church culture, vision and mission, that may be helpful as we consider how best to align ourselves as church leaders with what the Holy Spirit is doing in our midst in this hour. As ever, this must be our starting point, for unless it is the Holy Spirit who is leading us, then our labour is in vain. In fact, this truth must be established and remain foundational to everything we claim to be or do. It cannot simply be relegated to a ‘tenet’ or ‘statement of faith’, but rather must be allowed to continually present us with this basic challenge; are we prepared to go where we have not been before? If we are not, then we are not prepared to be led by the Spirit, for the things He desires to reveal to us, will take us beyond our human experience to date (1Cor.2:9,10).
Another way of stating this, would be to say that the vision and purpose of God’s Spirit for us, will always be beyond our natural resources and capacity to achieve. This is because He refuses to speak to us as if we are mere men, involved in building some monument to God’s glory. Unlike the Pharaohs and Kings of this world, God’s building is His people and classic apostolic revelation sees the Church at the centre of God’s plan, not merely a means He uses to achieve some greater goal. Ministry is not something we do for God, but is of Him and in Him, for our lives are no longer apart from God, but are of Him and in Him. This revelation, that Christ is the living head of His Church and that His Spirit manifests His life in us and through us, is the DNA of true apostolic ministry (1Cor.3:10-16). The person and work of Christ is the foundation of the apostles and prophets (Eph.2:18-22), from which all ministry flows and so the primary calling of ascension ministries is the proclamation of Christ and Him crucified (1Cor.2:2). It is this proclamation that brings revelation of the mystery that natural religious thinking cannot comprehend apart from the Spirit; Christ in you, the hope of glory (Col.1:27).
It is only this growing up ‘into Christ’ that matures believers from converts into disciples. Ascension ministries are not for the production of good church goers, but for the growing up of believers into Christ. Maturity in the natural world is defined as reaching the stage of being able to reproduce, through the capacity to impart or carry life. It is through ascension ministries that believers are matured and so ‘equipped’ with such capacity to multiply. If our churches are not ‘sending out’ such disciples, then ‘ministry’ will remain a description of what the ‘leaders’ do, while the majority of our congregations merely ‘attend’. Growth will remain limited to the addition of more converts, rather than the multiplication of disciples.
We are not a people working our way towards God, but the expression of His life on this earth (Col.3:1-4). Without this revelation of Christ and what He has accomplished being established as the foundation in the lives of believers, they will appear to this world as just another religion, offering advice and instruction on how to ‘reach’ God (Col.2:6-10). From such lips the gospel has always sounded like good advice on how to reach a Kingdom called heaven, rather than the good news that the Kingdom of God is here (Luke17:21). The proof of this good news, is nothing less than the life of the King Himself, manifesting in and through the lives of believers, living from the revelation of their union with Him (Matt.10:7,8). This is not some ‘ideal’ version of the Christian life, which we will only reach in some future dispensation. This is basic Christianity, the life of the Spirit, a life so many of us across the Church have not matured into (Eph.4:22-24). It is from such maturity that the works of the Spirit, the works prepared by God, flow (Eph.2:10). They flow through the mouths of believers, who speak not of natural things that men can see, but see and speak by the Spirit, things of eternal consequence; the destinies and callings of men and women in Christ (2Cor.5:16,17, 2Tim.1:9-11).
It is the work of the ascension gifts of Christ, the ministries identified in Ephesians 4, to call the body up into the maturity that works of the Spirit are birthed from (Eph.4:11-16). As has been said, if maturity is defined as the ability to reproduce, to give life, then although we may add to the numbers in our churches, if those believers are not growing up into Christ, into the maturity of the new creation, then addition will never become multiplication.
This is why the apostle Paul recognised that laying a sound doctrinal foundation for his churches was his primary apostolic calling. “By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.” (1Cor.3:10,11). The person and work of Christ brought such a paradigm shift in the relationship between God and man, that Jesus was able to declare that the least in the Kingdom of God is greater than the greatest of the Old Testament prophets (Luke 7:28). Not only do we have by the Holy Spirit a greater revelation of Christ and thereby the Father, but we have become the very temple of God’s Spirit, the place He has chosen to live (John 14:23, 1Cor.6:17). It is the very vitality of our union with Him, the appearance of His life in ours (1Cor.14:24,25, Gal.5:22,23) that is the public confirmation of the truth of the gospel.
How are a people, who have lived all their lives in darkness, to understand what darkness is? Which is a more effective way to persuade them, to preach about the dangers of darkness, or to show them light? The most effective way to awaken a nation to the reality of the darkness of lives separated from God, is to present them with the shining reality of lives lived in communion with God (Matt.5:14-16).
This is the fundamental difference between an Old and New Covenant mindset; the revelation of the passing away, through Christ, of our old ‘self’ life, a separated from God life and the gift of the new life IN Christ, an entirely new creation, holy and righteous in God’s sight (1Cor.6:11, 2Cor.5:17, Eph.4:24, Col.3:12, Rom.5:17, Col.2:10).
This foundation, of how believers now appear in God’s sight; hidden with Christ in God (Col.3:3), appears to be missing in the lives of many across the Church and this remains a serious hindrance to maturity (Heb.5:11-13). A recent National Women’s report for the Apostolic Church U.K noted the following, “We have noticed since we started, that many women do not know who they are in Christ and the authority they have been given through Jesus.” Without this revelation of who we now are and what we now have in Christ, believers are left striving to become who they already are and to ‘deserve’ what has already been gifted to them in Christ. Many are not able to distinguish New Testament ministry from Old Testament ministry.
A New Testament ministry points to Christ and leaves the faith of the believer rooted and grounded in the person and work of Christ. Its emphasis is on being, not doing, being ‘in Christ’ and learning to live and walk from that new creation reality. An Old Testament ministry points to the believer; (if you will….then God will….but if you don’t….then God won’t….) and so leaves the believers faith in himself and his performance. This ministry of the letter, a ministry of condemnation and death (2Cor.3:4-11), effectively alienates the believer in his mind from God and so fear replaces love and earthly vision replaces heavenly vision (Eph.4:17-24).
In constantly being spoken to, as if they are little different to those under the Old Covenant, believers remain short-sighted to the point of blindness. This is how the apostle Peter described believers who appeared to be living as if their sins had not been atoned for (2Peter 1:8,9). His introduction to this statement, sums up magnificently how high believers have been lifted in Christ. This is the fundamental test of ascension ministries; are they ascending the thinking and so living of believers, into the life of Christ? “To those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours, by the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ: 2 Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord; 3 seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and [e]excellence. 4 For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.” (2Peter1:1-4).
Note that grace and peace is multiplied to believers, not in the knowledge of what is expected of them, but in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.
To see ourselves by the Spirit, to see ourselves in Christ, as God now sees us, is transformational (2Cor.3:18). The way He thinks of us, is as far from natural religious thinking as the heavens are from the earth, and that is the reason why any discussion about our vision for working together as churches must begin and grow from the Spirit’s vision of the Church, not our natural experience to date, a very mixed experience! God already has prepared a heavenly vision for us and it is nothing less than His heavenly vision of us. It is as His heavenly vision is declared over His people, that they start to rise up to live from that vision, for faith comes by hearing.
Is it possible for believers, to harden their hearts against the gospel and never grow up into the maturity of sonship, into thinking of themselves and God as one life? Is it possible for believers, those who have been raised with Christ, to live a mere natural earthly religious life, thinking of themselves as mere men separated from God by their sin, rather than temples of the Holy Spirit, the very habitation of God? Anyone who has been around the church for any length of time, knows that its more than possible. Such immaturity has become the widespread normal state of the body of Christ, for a church that has not grown to see that they are the very habitation of God, will always be seeking a visitation from God. When you cannot see what God has done, you will spend your life waiting for something better. Here is the Gospel. There is nothing better than, Christ in you, the hope of glory.
I believe the Holy Spirit’s strategy to strengthen the Church is timeless and transcultural, because it was never based on natural human wisdom, but on raising the vision, the thinking of believers, out of the natural realm and into the heavenly realm. The apostle Paul described this strategy in Ephesians 4 as, growing up believers into the head, the mind of Christ (Eph.4:11-15.)
Bridges have a purpose; to enable people to get to the other side of a natural obstacle. Bridges are not built so that a country can claim to have bridges. Apostolic teaching is not about believing in apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. These ascension ministries are called to ascend (raise up) believers to transcend a natural obstacle; their natural earthly thinking and rise up into a new way of thinking and a new way of living, called life ‘in Christ’. True ascension ministry produces a manifestation of ascension life (Col.3:1-4). “What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived” — the things God has prepared for those who love him—these are things that God has revealed to us by His Spirit.” (1Cor.2:9,10)
Notice what the Spirit comes to reveal; not what needs to be done, but what has already been prepared. The greatest blessing is revelation and it is the blessing by which Christ builds His Church. This is why we need to pray for revelation across our churches. “Blessed are you Simon bar Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.” (Matt.16:17) Jesus declared, “This is the rock I will build my Church on”. He was speaking of revelation from the Father, of the person and work of Christ, which is precisely what the apostle Paul would later define his gospel message as; “Christ and Him crucified”.
Paul described his apostolic calling to the Romans as one “set apart for the Gospel of God’ (Rom.1:1). This gospel, He claimed to be the power of God unto salvation and in his epistles he continually returned to this foundation of his ministry, for he increasingly understood that earthly religion points men to themselves as their hope, but the Gospel of God’s grace points to Christ alone (Acts 20:24, Gal.1:6,7, Gal.5:1-9).
In this generation too, our understanding of what the gospel is and what it is not, is no less fundamental. The Church is not built on good advice, but good news!
“As you received Him, so walk in Him”…..(Col.2:6). You and I received Him by a revelation of His Spirit and so that is how we are to walk through the days ahead; by settling not for flesh and blood, but for nothing less than revelation from above. We too should not look to persuade men through any other means, but the proclamation of the glorious gospel of what God has done through Christ; reconciled the world to Himself and is now no longer counting their sins against them (2Cor.5:19). We preach this gospel not just to the world, but to the Church, that the community of saints in any location may mature into one body, with a deepening love for each other that points the world to Christ, the head of this one body (John.13:35). This is the fruit of a gospel that communicates the grace of God in truth; it continues to bear fruit in the hearers from the very first day they hear it (Col.1:6). They continue to grow up into Christ and are equipped, not just to live for Him, but to live from Him, not just to speak about the Kingdom of God as one day in heaven, but to be the very presence of the King on the earth (Matt.10:7), the very revelation of what union with God looks like (John 14:23).
Such a gospel, that does not lift up men and emphasis their role in their own salvation, has always been misunderstood and challenged by the religious mindset (Rom.3:8). Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones summed up this mark of the true gospel in his writings on Romans 6. This is what he said.
“The true preaching of the gospel of salvation by grace alone always leads to the possibility of this charge being brought against it. There is no better test as to whether a man is really preaching the New Testament gospel of salvation than this, that some people might misunderstand it and misinterpret it to mean that it really amounts to this, that because you are saved by grace alone it does not matter at all what you do; you can go on sinning as much as you like because it will redound all the more to the glory of grace. This is a very good test of gospel preaching. If my preaching and presentation of the gospel of salvation does not expose it to that misunderstanding, then it is not the gospel.”
To ears trained up to relate to God under the Old Covenant, New Covenant ministry has always sounded almost blasphemous (Acts 19:8,9). Paul knew that mixing Old with the New, remained the greatest hindrance to the gospel bearing fruit in the churches he had planted. Contrast the language he uses in writing to the religious Galatians, with that to the licentious Corinthians (Gal.5:12). He knew that for the Galatians to take the gospel of God’s grace and add to it, even the smallest mixture of religious performance, would be to ‘leaven the whole lump’ and result in something that may sound like the gospel, but is in fact a different gospel, that is no gospel at all (Gal.1:6,7, Gal.5:9). Despite the vulnerability to accusations of antinomianism that a gospel centred on Christ leaves ministers open to, Paul declared himself to be unashamed to preach it for one very good reason; it works! (Rom.1:16). Under such a gospel, comes the power for men and women to walk in the Spirit and walking in the Spirit is a far more effective way to deal with the lusts of the flesh than will-power! (Gal.5:16, Col.2:23).
A gospel leavened with a little law, always sounds more appealing to the flesh, for it revives the pride of the soul (you can do it!). But it always leads to condemnation, division and stagnation, for such a gospel is not revealing the new creation, the sons of God, but mere men and as a man thinks, so will he be. If the gospel we have been raised under has left us still thinking of ourselves (and so living) as mere men (1Cor.3:3, Col.2:20), then we may have been raised under it, but we have not been raised by it! The gospel that the apostle Paul preached, lifted men’s thinking and so their living, into the heavenly realm, for it is only in living from there, can the Church reveal the heavenly man, the new creation; Christ in His body (Col.3:1-4).
In seeking to move forward as a group of churches, into a greater dynamic and demonstration of the union of Christ with His body, we can only give what we have received (Matt.10:8). In our rush to achieve for Him, so often we have neglected to appreciate just what a great and glorious salvation we have received, how all that we already have in Christ is far beyond what our earthly imagination or experience has yet revealed (1Cor.2:9,10). This revelation of the unbounded generosity of the Father, to have blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing (Eph.1:3), leads our souls into such a profound rest, that our heart motives in life and ministry are formed and informed not by a fear of failure, but by pure thanksgiving. This is the life He always purposed for us (1Thess.5:16-18). Surely also, this is the most powerful spiritual warfare that the Church can engage in; to participate in the victory celebrations of heaven, by trumpeting the finished work of Christ as sufficient to bring life and immortality to all who will receive Him (Eph.2:8,9). What brings this “to light” in the darkness of this world, is the proclamation of the gospel of Christ and Him crucified (2Tim.1:10). Only the undiluted message of a victory won and eternal life freely gifted and waiting to be received and enjoyed, can match the description the angels gave at Christ’s birth; “good tidings of great joy, which will be to all people” (Luke 2:10). Only such a gospel can be worthy of the magnitude of the invitation of the Father, who beseechs a nation estranged from Him by religion to, “rejoice with me because what was dead is alive again and what was lost is found.” (Luke 15:32).
To receive the gospel in truth, is to allow ourselves to be led into a house of music and dancing; the heart of the Father over His children (Luke15:25). The gospel we preach must carry the sound of this celebration, the sound of confidence in Christ’s work, a sound that a generation of souls have searched for in vain among the cacophony of self-help and self-effort gospels of this world and the churches ‘of’ this world (Col.2:20). At this hour in history, the world is again setting its hope on what man can do to save our planet. So what better hour for us to return again, to the only truth that reveals the gospel as a message not of this earth; the declaration that what Christ has done is sufficient, for all the needs of all men (2Cor.5:19), the message that still sounds like foolishness to the world; all that needs to be done, has been done! (John 19:30)
Let the sound of this gospel produce in our churches, such a liberty from fear and anxiety, that the world turns again to marvel, at lives once marked by naked despair and death, now sitting fully clothed and in their right minds, in Christ! (Luke 8:35). Let the rising light of such a gospel, begin to dispel the smog of legalism that has obscured the beauty and glory of Christ in His Church. By that light, let the fields of this nation blossom once again with a harvest of saints and scholars, that Europe may be blessed again by an Ireland in the Son! Let ascension ministry bear no less fruit than a generation manifesting ascension life, life in Christ. Let us not attempt to do something to become something. Let us allow the Holy Spirit to convince us, that the great work that will be seen in this nation, is not what we will do for Him, but who we already are in Him. We are the maturing sons of God, churches growing up into Christ and all by grace!
“If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. 2 Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. 3 For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.”