And when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch. And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch. Act 11:26
People of many different kinds of churches believe their church is the real church and often think they are the only ones destined for heaven. Truth be told, many churches only operate in a portion of the gospel. The church has crossed two millenniums and multiple changes since the original upper room, spirit-filled church was birthed. Even then the early believers had different levels of understanding as Paul discovered among the Ephesus believers who had not yet received the Holy Spirit (Act 19:1). They went on to grow in knowledge and power and we should be continuing in our growth. With the benefit of seeing the model church, we can compare our worship experience with theirs to determine if our church experience is authentic. Some church leaders may say the upper room experience was unique and no church should expect that type of experience today. Actually, that is not true. The Christian church today is part of that same church. The Holy Spirit is still falling from on high to birth new churches. People are still hungry for God and God is still willing and waiting to infill believers. Miracles, signs, and wonders still occur. The only problem is whether or not we today have the same type of expectation as that first church that got on one accord and waited for the outpouring of the Holy Ghost.
You will recall from scripture that Jesus had disciples that followed Him day and night. They trusted and believed what He preached because they experienced His miraculous power and saw the results of faith. He told them to go to the upper chamber and wait on the Holy Ghost that would come upon them. They obeyed, believed and then received their expectation: the miraculous power of the Holy Spirit. After they received God’s power, they went out and began to witness to other people and shared the good news of the gospel. They began to act just like Jesus did when He was on the earth. They preached, healed, delivered and empowered others. Over a period of time, the first church reproduced itself among other nations and overspread the world with the good news of Christ’s resurrection.
It’s true that believers are of that same church; but if we are not seeing the miracles, healings or even the empowerment in the midst of our people like they did, we have cause to wonder. Even though some churches may be experiencing healing and deliverance in their services, they may be missing other aspects of the church. Spirit-filled churches should also be experiencing the gifts of the Holy Spirit. So, many churches may be experiencing only a portion of what the first church experienced and yet they may be satisfied with their experience when there is so much more available to them. A half-protected warrior is a poor defense against an enemy seeking to overthrow him; and why would we choose to be only a limb if we can be the body? We live in a time where many churches do not have the same experience or expectations as the first believers. Their gospel message may have been changed or watered down but the real gospel message brings real power. So, many people today are willing to come together, sing songs and pray with little or no empowerment and call it the Christian church.
Is Jesus in the Midst
Jesus stated that where two or three believers come together in His name, He would be in the midst (Mt18:20). Could Jesus be happy to come among those of low expectations, let alone pour out His spirit upon an unbelieving congregation? All the things of God come by faith and the scripture states that the just shall live by faith. He is faithful to those that believe, but many of us have seen believers come into the church and over time begin to adjust to the atmosphere of the house. If the church is usually sedate then they learn to be sedate; and where the church is “on fire for the Lord,” newcomers adjust to that temperature as well. So a church can become comfortable with its church atmosphere and begin to accept their level of experience as complete and normal. We should have a constant hunger for more of Jesus.
How should the church behave at this hour? Jesus is Lord over the church and rules as Lord over the earth. As Lord over His own church, Jesus is in charge and sets the atmosphere for a believing church. He has shown us the liberty and power of the church in scripture. The Holy Spirit came among believers in the upper room and saturated the believers with a praise and worship experience that overflowed their hearts and changed their community. The believing church should be alive and excelling in power, authority, and growth. It should be maturing into a rapturous state. The most important thing to remember is what Jesus spoke:
Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth. Mar 9:23
The very word that Jesus spoke lets us know that God has given unlimited power to the Christian church to operate in the earth in His name. The true church consists of born-again believers who have accepted Christ as Lord and Savior. There is no problem in the earth that God is not able and willing to handle when the people of God ask in prayer.
A Church Empowered
In the midst of the Coronavirus that America is now contending with, there are many opportunities for the church to represent the Lord. First of all, the spiritual church has power with God to know and pray about problems before they occur. The church has been given the ability to be in the know of what God is doing because the church partners with God to do His work in the earth. The power of God comes down from heaven to rule in the earth and everything on earth must bow in submission. Healing and deliverance power belongs to the church and yet some churches are denying this truth. A failure in the American church is that it has been willing to relinquish the authority of God and come under the rule of a secular government. The secular government has become a type of idol to some people but it will never be supreme to the real Church of the Lord Jesus Christ, which is universal and multi-ethnic. Some groups have tried to use their beliefs to rule over the church and government but this action is patterned after that of the antichrist. Jesus, Himself, still rules over His church and the real church is submitted in love and looks like Christ because it is His body. He came to give every believer direct contact with Him; so He is still there for us even when church or government authority fails. Jesus’ authority can rest upon the least of mankind of any class, ethnic background or location and the Spirit of prophecy can be activated by Christ through any person He chooses to use at any time. He has revealed this in scripture over and over.
For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: That no flesh should glory in his presence. 1Co 1:26-29
Father God purposely anointed and used vessels most people would consider unworthy of such power in order to show that it is His power not the wisdom of man that does the work. Times, like we are experiencing right now, are times when the real church should shine, but we are seeing religious leaders who are dumbfounded or silent. The church was to represent His arm in the earth in times of trouble to teach truth and correct wrong, but the church has repurposed itself to seek worldly wealth and control. Such a church has made itself ripe for the antichrist’s rule. God cannot allow it because He is God and He sent Jesus to set mankind free. Some things God will personally correct, but there is much that righteous people will have to rise up and correct like Gideon or evil will take control. The word of God is our instruction book for guidance in troubled times.
A Jealous God
People in places of high visibility expect special treatment because of their position but God hates man’s pride. It is a fatal mistake for churches to lift the man or woman pastor to the place of God because we have a jealous God whose wrath falls as a result of idolatry. It is in fact already falling. Some churches have agreed to remove their leaders for misconduct but other congregations are fearful of approaching the religious leader for cause, even though God will back up righteousness with His power. God showed the church through the examples of Moses, the tabernacle high priests, David, other Israelite Kings and Judas that sin at high levels should be dealt with lest we all be defiled.
For thou shalt worship no other god: for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God… Exo 34:14
We saw in scripture that Paul and Barnabas refused to accept the praise of men.
And when the people saw what Paul had done, they lifted up their voices, saying in the speech of Lycaonia, The gods are come down to us in the likeness of men. And they called Barnabas, Jupiter; and Paul, Mercurius, because he was the chief speaker. Then the priest of Jupiter, which was before their city, brought oxen and garlands unto the gates, and would have done sacrifice with the people. Which when the apostles, Barnabas and Paul, heard of, they rent their clothes, and ran in among the people, crying out, And saying, Sirs, why do ye these things? We also are men of like passions with you, and preach unto you that ye should turn from these vanities unto the living God, which made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are therein: Act 14:11-15
The mighty men and women of God called patriarchs were people who had a godly fear or respect for God and we should permit no leadership that will not respect our God. There is a place we reserve for God that no one has a right to hold in our hearts and lives. When we put someone or thing in that place, they become an idol and provokes the anger of God upon us. Our modern churches have not been as devoted as Paul and Barnabas were in refusing to accept the glory that rightly belongs only to God. Many of our ministers have celebrity status and live like stars, being envied by the people that supply their wealth. When this idol worship happens, the church can expect to see the Spirit of God depart from their midst. The Holy Spirit is very sensitive and we should make sure not to offend Him. The church size and wealth may grow while the Spirit departs.
So we have shown in scripture that God is willing to do anything for His people and also that people can disrespect God and cause His power to be withdrawn so that they become powerless. A powerless church is a mockery to God and becomes a haven for the enemy. Many of the problems experienced in our churches and our communities are because churches have compromised power and effectiveness to become more like the world and seekers of God have become religious groupies. While believers could complain about the behavior of our political leadership, it would be a waste of time as long as church members continue to allow their religious leaders to do the same things. The behavior of our political leaders is simply a duplication of the behavior of many pastors and, therefore, pastors would mock themselves by protesting politicians’ immoral behavior. Since pastors lord over, abuse and defraud the people, live a life of excess, greed and ungodly conduct; how can they say politicians are guilty of the same. The media has reported and we have seen overbearing religious leaders who do not yield to Christ. That is why believers should cautiously consider the appointment of leaders, be responsible to pray for them and check the word they preach to verify the truth. In His mercy, God has pulled the cover off some leaders to reveal error to protect the sheep.
It was never God’s will to have His church submit to solely the rule of a singular person over the hearts and souls of the church and that is not the model we find in scripture. Ephesians 4 and I Corinthian 12 teach that the church is established with a multiple-layer leadership that guides the church and operates through various gifts, all subject to the will and agreement of the Holy Spirit. Apostle Paul as a leader made us aware that he was totally dependent on the Lord. He said: “And lest, when I come again, my God will humble me among you, and that I shall bewail many which have sinned…(2Co 12:21).” Ministers are vessels that the Spirit operates through to speak to the people of God, but He can speak through any vessel He chooses. Christ is the Lord and everyone is called to bow and submit to His power. It is unconscionable that pastors would abuse their power and make believers subject themselves to a pastor’s carnal will rather than to Christ, but it happens and is an offense to our God. As long as the church permitted this dishonor of God, it was predictable that the world and Satan would show up to take this power over men’s hearts and souls because he is always at the center of chaos. If leaders would listen to the gentle rebuke from the home or in their peer group, they would be less likely to suffer public rebuke. While we are expected to respect leadership as authority from God, we saw Christ rebuke false leaders and warn believers about them. If one has surrendered the heart and soul to a false leader or church, the only response is to repent and cry out to God. Repentance is not an ugly word but a cleansing force. God longs to hear us say, “Lord, I am sorry; please forgive and help me.” He will perform a cleansing of the heart and restoration for a person or a church.
God clearly spoke to the Israelites: Thou shalt have no other gods before me (Exo 20:3). People in America put a high value on material things, self, job, celebrities, religious leaders, money and sometimes unknowingly place them above God. We must reject false leadership and idols because they supplant God’s place in our hearts. We are seeing problems in our homes, country, and world because of disobedience to the word of God; but the real church is correctable, committed to God and will yield to the truth. When our hearts turn fully back to Christ, He will change us and our world. He is even now pulling the cover off false leaders so the believer can escape the lie and walk in truth because the gates of hell will not prevail against the real church. To be sure, God will prevail, the truth will prevail and God will have His way. He is shining His light to bring all hearts into the knowledge that He alone is Lord, Master, and King!