There’s nothing new under the sun. These words were uttered by the person whom the Bible esteems to be the wisest man who ever lived (that is, before Jesus of Nazareth came along). See Ecclesiastes 1:9; 1 Kings 3:12; 4:30; Luke 11:31.
I’m not sure about you, but I descend into silent grunts whenever I hear someone make the outlandish statement that what they have to say is brand new, completely original, and hasn’t been said before.
I’ve yet to find this statement to be true. And I’ve yet to meet a human being who could make such a statement without lying through his or her teeth (whether with calculated deliberation or in conceited ignorance). Such over-the-top rhetoric is not only profoundly arrogant, but it has few points of contact with reality.
Being a student of church history, I have never personally met a true spiritual or theological trailblazer. Most of the people I know who are turning the sod on various aspects of the Christian faith are exploring pathways that have been populated by others in the past. None of it is brand new or completely original.
Certainly, in rare cases, the application may be new, but not the core ideas.
As Dr. Laurence Peter once put it, “Originality is the fine art of remembering what you hear, but forgetting where you heard it.” Anyone who doesn’t admit to that is bluffing.
Consequently, what you will read in this book has undoubtedly been said by someone else in some other place at some other time or in some other era. I have often made the following statement when invited to speak somewhere: “If you’re looking for new revelation, you’ve got the wrong guy.”
So I have no new revelation. In fact, I have never met a person who had new revelation. Nor do I possess any “heavy revy” to dish out (that’s cute shorthand for “deep and heavy revelation from God.”)
I am a person who firmly believes what Solomon said, “There’s nothing new under the sun.” In fact, all of what we have in the New Testament is found in the Old Testament—in types, images, allegories, and shadows.
There is one exception, however. “The mystery” that Paul of Tarsus so passionately spoke about in his letters. That was a genuine case of “new revelation.” Unquestionably so.
To put a finer point on it, there’s only one revelation, and there’s only one Revelator. The revelation is Jesus Christ. The Revelator is the Holy Spirit. And we stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us. It is only by God’s marvelous grace that we can (perhaps) see further than they did.
While I’m banging this particular drum, let me add that I don’t believe that there are any elite Christians. And I certainly don’t believe that there are any elite Christian workers or ministers.
I believe that the simplest saint who has met the Lord Jesus Christ is as holy, as valued, and as cherished in the sight of God as Paul of Tarsus, Martin Luther, John Wesley, Watchman Nee, C.S. Lewis, Billy Graham or any other name that you wish to insert into that sentence.
King David is honored in Scripture as being “a man after God’s own heart” (Acts 13:22). This has puzzled many Christians because David’s life was riddled with so many failures.
I suspect the reason why the Holy Spirit regarded him to be a man after God’s own heart is because David caught a glimpse of the Lord’s ultimate purpose. And he was willing to pay any price to fulfill it. David was occupied with building a house for God (2 Samuel 7:2ff.; 1 Chronicles 29:3; Psalm 132:3-5).
As I look back on my Christian life since I was a teen, I’ve been on a quest to find the church after God’s own heart.
What exactly is a church after God’s own heart? Well, it’s certainly not a church that is void of failures and shortcomings.
King David teaches us that lesson quite well. But he also teaches us about the church after God’s own heart. A church that has caught a glimpse of the Lord’s ultimate purpose and is willing to pay any price to fulfill it.
In March of 2006, I was invited to speak at a conference for Christians who gather outside the traditional church. The conference was held in Portland, Oregon. It wasn’t terribly large. Approximately 120 people attended. More than 20 churches were represented.
It was the most unique conference in which I had ever spoken. Every memory of it was burned into our memory banks. In the first message, I cleared the deck. Then I began to build.
The audience of that conference was unique. The messages I delivered were unique. And the group interaction was unique. (By “unique,” I mean it differed from any public event I’ve attended before or since.)
One man, a former pastor from Spokane, Washington, described the event like this:
This gathering was a turning point in the lives of many of us who attended. We were deeply challenged. Our understanding of the glory and the gore of growing to know Jesus together was deepened, as Frank shared out of his 20 years in intimate church life.
In the course of the weekend, our eyes were opened to see that New Testament Christianity is nothing less than the corporate pursuit of the Person who is passionately pursuing us. With a burning heart and great Scriptural clarity Frank explained that ‘We live by the Lord, who dwells in our brothers and sisters, and the body of Christ is a real thing that we must actually experience.’
Relating rich and unforgettable stories drawn from his experience in true body life, Frank taught us that “the divine nature is biological, in that, when we meet Jesus as the head, we still need to meet Him as the body. We must have the other half of Jesus Christ.”
As Frank described how this can actually work, he made us hungry to experience the real expression of the corporate Christ in a Biblical, unreligious setting, where believers can actually get to know each other in the Lord and practically discover the spiritual priesthood for which they were born again. Having drunk deeply of the anointed vision and revelation of the bride of Christ, we left this gathering with great hope in our hearts that God truly is restoring New Testament church life today, and that simple churches with the Holy Spirit as the main leader really can happen.
These words sum up well the content of this book. Some of the events described in the following pages will be accompanied by specific dates and times.
I’m somewhat of a stickler for accuracy, so I’ve consulted my journal notes taken during those years to confirm (and sometimes correct) my less than inspired memory.
I would now like to tell you the story of why I left the traditional church and where that journey has landed me. I also wish to highlight some of the lessons that I picked up along the way.
You can consider this book a spiritual memoir, therefore. Or at least the beginning of one.
At the time of this writing, I’m not presently involved in planting or working with churches that gather outside the religious system. I haven’t been involved in that kind of work for about five years, as the Lord has me in a season of working with the poor and oppressed, developing relationships with non-believers, and focusing completely on my broader ministry of the deeper Christian life, which serves all Christians — not just those who have left the traditional form of church.
That said, the content of this book was written during the years when I labored in planting and working with the churches that sought to meet under the headship of Jesus Christ in close-knit community.
Many of the chapters have never been published before. So no one has read them. Until now.
Others are reworked articles that were published in various magazines and blogs.
If you’ve read any of my work, you are aware that my theology is Christocentric and ecclesiocentric, and radically so. My major claims are:
* Spiritual formation and growth in the Lord is largely a communal activity.
* Character comes from living in a community where people aren’t afraid to call each other out, especially when things don’t go their own way.
* Christ’s fullness can only be fully known and fully expressed in community.
* Constantinianism is defined when a local church is shaped by the world’s structures and governed by the world’s principles.
God’s people have a distinctive narrative, a distinctive identity, distinctive practices because they are a distinctive people. All marked by the supremacy and centrality of the Lord Jesus Christ and God’s Eternal Purpose in Him. The following seeks to explore that.
** From the Introduction to my spiritual memoir about church entitled Rethinking the Church. The book is part of The Rethinking Series.