Since Diana and I embarked on the journey of exploring the simple church movement, and how we might transition our originally traditional Baptist church into a network of house churches, we have met many people with many different ideas about church, church history, and what God is saying his people should do.
There are some among those who have withdrawn from the Established/Christendom/Traditional church (whichever label you have chosen to use) who believe that the Lord himself has withdrawn his blessing from it. They are convinced that he is calling all “true believers” to come out of it. They even use such emotive expressions as “Harlot Church”.
Granted, there just might conceivably be some segments of the church in this condition, I don’t know. This is a judgment the Lord alone could make. I do believe that the Lord does call some believers out of some churches. I even believe that some, perhaps even many, churches have sunk to the commission of acts of what might be accurately termed harlotry. But to call a church ‘harlot’ is to speak of it as a living thing, and I believe such a church would have to be a dead thing – only the true church of Jesus is described in the Bible in ‘alive’ terms such as ‘body’ and ‘bride’.
To take some of their statements as a word from the Lord about all believers and all established or traditional churches is a huge and possibly dangerous presumption. It also speaks of a very Old Testament (mis)understanding of God’s character. To be honest, in the Old Testament God did call it quits on some groups of people. However, I’m sure he had given them every opportunity to repent from their path which would otherwise have brought destruction to others besides themselves.
Yet, even in the Old Testament God’s forgiving, reconcilling nature shines through. Nineveh is a good example, much to the discomfort of Jonah. Poor Jonah frequently receives a bad press today, but if nothing else, he certainly understood the depth of God’s love and desire to forgive. He just didn’t want that sinning city to receive it!
I fear there are a lot of Jonahs in the world today. Some of them have even been expelled from, or driven out of the church, just as Jonah was thrown out of the boat. Now they naturally feel justified in hating the church and expect God to do the same. Like the sailors, however, in some cases the church might have had good reason for sending them away. Perhaps the Lord, in his wisdom, also knew what was best for both parties.
But, at the same time, the church certainly has sinned against many. Does this mean that such a church has committed the unforgivable sin? No, not if they are still able to repent. Has Jesus removed their lampstand? Probably not, although it may well be low on the oil of the Holy Spirit and thus burning dimly.
My own belief is that the Lord still wants to build all parts of his church, whether it be traditional or one of the many new expressions we see today. As there is only one church, this means we all must love each other and be prepared to work together as the Lord directs. In fact, we have heard prophecies and seen examples of the Lord directing the simple church and the mega church to work together for the increase of the Kingdom.
Of course, there are dangers in this. My own tradition, the Baptists, was once part of what was called the Radical Reformation. They certainly were radical, and paid dearly for there stances, such as the separation of church and state, the freedom of conscience for the believer, and the need for a conscious choice to follow Jesus demonstrated through believer’s baptism. The price they paid for living by these principles in ‘civilised’ England was very often a charge of treason against the state and the penalty of imprisonment and/or painful exectution.
With the help of other radical groups the Baptists survived, and even thrived. However, like most denominations, once the law was changed they gradually became acceptable to the wider community through their good works, absorbed many of the practices they had previously ‘rebelled’ against, and largely lost their radical edge. I find this incredibly sad, that we now so often speak about “The Baptist Way” as if we understood it , or even all agreed on what it is means, rather than about following Jesus who is The Way.
My point in this story is that it is not the fault of the traditional churches around us who have somehow ‘corrupted’ us. Rather, it is the inevitable result of a focus on the survival of a tradition, instead of watching and listening to what Jesus is doing and saying now and concentrating on doing that alone, regardless of what we’ve done before. This is how the Baptists began, so why shouldn’t they do it again? Equally, why shouldn’t any of the traditional churches do it again?
Well, the good news is that, to the dismay of the Jonahs, many churches are doing just that, and Jesus is blessing them in it! In my case I am particularly excited about what has been happening in the Baptist Union of Victoria over recent years.
So, even if you have left one tradition and don’t want to return, at least be prepared to bless and not curse what Jesus is doing among them, and find out what he really wants you to do. There is only one church – no other options are available.