What a blessing it was for my friend, John, and I to go and spend a couple of hours with Jack Gray last week. Wayne Jacobsen had introduced us to Jack when he was with us last month. As soon as I met Jack I new that I wanted to spend some more time with him, I loved his spirit and the evident walk and relationship that he has with the Father.
Jack is a doctor who came to New Zealand with his wife and family in 1965 after many years serving as a medical missionary in the Congo. The other main passion of Jack's life has been his walk with God, and his pursuit of the Church "the City which Has Foundations, Whose Builder and Maker is God".
As John and I shared a little of our journey with Jack, we were amazed at the number of people that we all new and had walked with in years past. The interesting thing however was that when Jack started seriously seeking God, in the mid 1980's, about what church should look like, his connection with those people ceased as he pursued another path. However, for John and I, it was "church business" as usual, for the next 15 years. As I have reflected, over the last couple of days, on those mutual relationships that we had with Jack, all of them, pretty much without exception, have ended in split churches, broken relationships or that particular expression of the "local church" no longer existing.
We, John and I, fell into the later category, when the church that we were a part of imploded some 11 years ago. As painful as it was for all of us at the time, we are now very grateful to God, as it has put us back on the same path that Jack decided to go down, twenty seven years ago. It blew us away to see the evidence of the hand of God in our lives as we shared a little of our journey's together, and the fact that Father had enabled our paths to cross after almost 30 years.
I have today read Jack's "Search for the Church" on his website at The Pilgrim Path, that you may like to read. I have taken some excerpts from his story as a "little appetizer", and set them out below.
No longer am I a member of any religious organisation. My name is on no church roll here on earth. I do not "go to church." I have no Minister or Pastor in the official sense, and church services, for me, are a thing of the past. How then, you may well ask, can I profess a longing for the Church? What is my relationship to the Church? My answer would be that I believe I am now more in the Church than I have ever been, and for this position I have sound New Testament confirmation. (see Jack's website for the "sound confirmation").
What about Fellowship ?
We have seen that Jesus, when we trust Him to, does exactly what He said, builds His Church. As we have surrendered ourselves into His hands as "living stones" he has joined us spirit to spirit with many others in a network of love. And all this in the total absence of any human organisation or institution! At this point I must mention another saying of the Lord Jesus, which has taken on new meaning for us. "Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst of them".
So now, when people ask me the inevitable question, "Where do you fellowship?" I answer with joy, "Wherever and whenever two or three are gathered together in His name." That may be any day of the week, any hour of the day, as the Lord plans, and not in some regular slot of time humanly organised.
The Centrality and Supremacy of the Lord Jesus Christ
Jack quotes twice here from A .W. Tozer in an article entitled, - The Waning Authority of Christ in the Churches.
"May it not be that one of the reasons for which God is calling people by His Spirit to leave organised churches and come out to Him is to restore that supremacy and centrality which the Lord Jesus had in the New Testament Church? I believe it to be so. He is training us to listen for, to hear and attend to His voice and to obey Him. He is restoring His absolute "shepherdship", if a word can be coined. If, as we have before maintained, He is building His Church, our whole responsibility is just to follow Him and let Him do it. Outside of organised church those who do not have a vital living growing relationship with the Lord Jesus quickly fall away. Inside the organisation the stimulation of being part of a crowd, the emotional uplift of congregational singing and other group activities may be sufficient to make good church members, but if the props are pulled out only a genuine relationship with Jesus will ensure survival. So, as I see it, the Lord is training people in that absolute dependence on Him. He is wanting to teach us that He and He alone is appointed "Head over all things for the Church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all."
"What are we to do? Each one of us must decide, and there are at least three possible choices. One is to rise up in shocked indignation and accuse me of irresponsible reporting. Another is to nod general agreement with what is written here, but take comfort in the fact that there are exceptions, and we are among the exceptions. The other is to go down in meek humility and confess that we have grieved the Spirit and dishonoured our Lord in failing to give Him the place His Father has given Him as Head and Lord of the Church. Either the first or the second will but confirm the wrong. The third, if carried out to its conclusion can remove the curse. The decision lies with us."
Every Day Living
Another thing that God seems to be doing with those of us whom He has called out of organised churches is to restore every day Christian lifestyle. In the church system Christians are so often graded on their performance levels in the "service" situation. Are they frequent attenders, never missing a meeting? Do they enthusiastically participate in the worship? Do they willingly submit to the leaders? There are a hundred and one such church-performance based criteria. But that is not where the New Testament emphasis lies, as William Law points out so graphically. There, the emphasis is on every day life and relationships in the family and community.
God is weaning us off that performance thing into daily Christian lifestyle in the home, the workplace and the playing field. We are to be, as Paul says, "letters of Christ, known and read by all men." That call is both liberating and challenging. It frees Christian living from the confines of church buildings, services and organisations, releasing it into the common stream of life, and it demands a humble self-crucifying walk in the Spirit. "In the past", as someone has said, "We used to live in the world and go to church. Now we live in the Church and go to the world."
In conclusion, having shared these things; what lies ahead? I do not profess to know how the Lord's purpose will be worked out "until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ." But, I do know that, for me, there is to be no turning back to the old way. God has given us glimpses of a glory yet to be revealed in the Church, and so, like Paul, "forgetting what lies behind (in our experience of traditional church) and straining forward to what lies ahead, we press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus."
You can listen to two interviews that Wayne did with Jack by clicking on the following links The life of a Pilgrim - Part One and Part Two