The New Testament Church Part 7: (Pioneers or settlers?)


Before you read this series of articles, it's important you read the general introduction.  In this series we've identified a number of features and qualities that can be found in the lives, experience and practice of the Early Church.  These characteristics, which are not set out in any particular order, are also being outworked in many congregations and faith communities today.

Through this series we hope to encourage individuals and congregations within the Church, to break free from the strait-jacket of religious tradition to re-discover their true identity and destiny as a living organism, a subversive and counter-culture movement, and the Bride of Christ.

In the introduction to this series we said that the Church is the Church by virtue of its continuous response to the living God and consists of those who are hearing and doing the will of God.  The Church cannot be defined by reference to buildings, creeds, structures, celebrity ministers or individual experiences.

The Church is a living, moving, developing body through which God expresses himself.  It's the means whereby he manifests his purposes, person, glory and rule in the earth.  Since God is not static, neither can the Church be static.

Pioneer (organic) or settler (institutional)?

In Part 7 we consider the need for the Church to have a pioneering spirit.  The New Testament Church was a living organism, prophetic, subversive, counter-cultural and pioneering movement. 

Her calling and destiny were to follow the teaching of Scripture and the leading of the Holy Spirit, in order to prepare a pure and spotless Bride for the coming glorious Bridegroom King.  Armed only with the truth of the Gospel she was ready to live as aliens and strangers, to take risks and face the unknown.

The institutional Church, on the other hand, by its very nature has settled.  No longer is it a prophetic, subversive, counter-cultural and pioneering movement.  It has stopped giving a moral lead and is now happy to take its lead from the surrounding culture.  It stands like a colossus, an unmovable and unyielding obstacle to anything organic.

It may have started out well, but has now settled.  Many congregations have lost their first love and have become self satisfied and comfortable.  They’re no longer hungry for God.

Some may even be growing numerically, have a good reputation in and outside the Christian community, be led by gifted and charismatic leaders, but sadly have grown to rely more on image, personalities, traditions, fads and programmes.  They pay lip service to the Holy Spirit, but he’s no longer in control.  Jesus would call them ‘lukewarm’ (Rev 3:16).

For the Church to rediscover herself as a living organism, it will require prophetic and pioneering leaders who are ready to take an axe to the roots of the tree.  It will take courage because the institution will always fight back.

Pioneering is more than just changing direction to something already on offer, it's like the rock climber who goes out in front finding the hand and footholds, putting the cleats in and laying the ropes, for others to follow up the rock face.  There's no road map to help pioneers navigate, and no ‘how to do it’ manual!  They have to rely on the Holy Spirit who teaches them to draw the map as they go.

A new season in salvation history

Here at Christian Spectrum we believe we've entered a new season in salvation history, where the events leading to the return of Jesus Christ are now accelerating.  This fills us with resolve, anticipation and hope; it also calls for pioneering hearts since we haven't been this way before.

We believe the battle we're now engaged in is still in its early phase, but will increase with intensity and force in the not too distant future.  We believe we've entered the beginning phase in God's End-Game.  This battle, which we do not anticipate will be easy, will ebb and flow in the days to come.  It will only conclude when God the Father calls time and Jesus returns in power and glory, as King of Kings and Lord of Lords, to defeat every last enemy and to establish his millennial rule on earth.

In the meantime the Church must prepare and position herself to face the challenges ahead.   

Four penetrating questions

A trusted friend and adviser to the community to which we belong, at an earlier critical point on our journey, asked us four questions.  The answers we gave revealed much about our desire to pioneer or to settle.

In light of the rapidly changing landscape we face as Christians today, when business as usual is no longer an option and we need to establish priorities to meet the new and demanding situation as it unfolds, we do well to ask them again:

i    Are you committed to travel, and with whom?

ii   What will you leave behind and what will you take on the journey?

iii  Are you ready for unfamiliar terrain? 

iv  Are you ready to embrace trouble?

As we move ever closer to the return of Jesus when we will face major distress (Mt 24:21) and deception (Mt 24:24), these questions take on great significance.  We will need to think strategically and to be armed emotionally, mentally and spiritually.  Ps 84:5-6 (part) says:

Blessed are those whose strength is in you, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage.  As they pass through the Valley of Baca, they make it a place of springs . . .

Anyone who sets their hearts to pioneer and to again become a prophetic, subversive and counter-cultural movement, will pass through the Valley of Baca - a place of weeping and struggle.  

We will need therefore to rediscover the Spirit as an experienced and empowering reality, no longer paying mere lip service to him, if we’re to navigate successfully. 

The late Jill Austin

The late Jill Austin prophesied to one of the leaders here in Christian Spectrum:

I feel like the Lord says you’re in a place of shifting, change and acceleration.  It’s not totally comfortable, for he says he’s taking you out of the old wine skin and you are in the place of building a ship at sea.  And in the midst of the waters and on the fresh things, you’re actually building it.  I’m going to give you people with a pioneer heart, a forerunner heart, they love the creativity, they love the unexpected, they love the movement, and it doesn’t mean you have language for it all, but you are part of a new breed of forerunner that the Lord is bringing forward.

The Lord is looking for pioneers and forerunners!  Are you ready to journey? 


Mutually beneficial characteristics

It's important to bear in mind the overlap and relationship that exists between the different characteristics of the New Testament Church:

General introduction to series . . .
Part 1 in this series discusses Eschatological focus . . . 
Part 2 in this series discusses Prophetic mandate . . .
Part 3 in this series discusses Meeting in houses and community living . . .
Part 4 in this series discusses Leadership . . .
Part 5 in this series discusses Discipleship . . .
Part 6 in this series discusses Spiritual gifts . . .
Part 7 in this series discusses Pioneers or settlers . . .
Part 8 in this series discusses Identity precedes function . . .
Part 9 in this series discusses Relational unity . . .
Part 10 in this series discusses Kingdom message and proclamation . . .
Part 11 in this series discusses The persecuted Church . . . 

The New Testament Church was a pioneering movement.  No-one had been this way before.  Its destiny was to follow the teaching of Scripture and the leading of the Holy Spirit, in order to prepare a Bride for the coming Bridegroom King.  Armed only with the truth of the Gospel, it was ready to journey, take risks and face the unknown.  It knew that it was an alien and stranger on the earth . . .

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