Crowns and thrones may perish, kingdoms rise and wane,
But the church of Jesus constant will remain.
Gates of hell can never gainst that church prevail;
We have Christ’s own promise, and that cannot fail…
Onward Christian Soldiers
The church of Jesus is constant – this is Jesus’ promise. He has promised, however, to preserve his people, not any particular denomination or institution. In so many churches so much effort, time and money goes into maintaining structures. When we consider the future, the question we ask ourselves shouldn’t be “how can we preserve [insert your church name here]?” but “how can we more effectively spread the gospel and make disciples of Jesus in our locality?”
In his book Mere Christianity, C.S Lewis wrote:
“The Church exists for nothing else but to draw men into Christ, to make them little Christs. If they are not doing that, all the cathedrals, clergy, missions, sermons, even the Bible itself, are simply a waste of time. God became Man for no other purpose.”
Church, in essence, is simple, and we must stick to what’s necessary to achieve the mission of the church, which is drawing men and women into Christ.
Jesus’ big message was the good news of the kingdom, and the early church understood this as their organising truth. Way before they had any buildings, budgets and cumbersome institutions, the gospel was enough for them.
For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.
1 Corinthians 2:2
For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.
1 Corinthians 1:1
If you look at a medicine packet, you’ll see it contains active and inactive ingredients. The inactive ones are there to bind the pill together and help with taste and swallowing. Only the active ingredient(s) makes any difference. The message of the cross is our active ingredient. It needs some structure and we must gather, but if we have too much or try to be too clever we’re in danger of emptying the cross of its power. The message of the cross is in itself a powerful force.
In the 1950’s there were 2 million Christians in China. Mao tried to stamp them out by various brutal means. In the 1980’s, western missionaries were allowed back in and found that the church had grown to 60 million, without any central organisation, money or events. They had one another, the Holy Spirit, the message of the cross and not much else. Everything else had been stripped away and through it they found a simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ. Only when we have nothing left except Christ can we truly realise he is all we need.
But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ.
2 Corinthians 11:3
Mission is simpler than we think and the spread of the gospel can be much more organic than we realise. Years ago just after I became a christian I invited my friends from the pub round to my house so I could share my testimony with them, but they couldn’t understand why I needed to do it that way when I could just tell them there in the pub- which is what I ended up doing, there and then.
What sort of structure and organisation do we need to be an effective church today? E.Stanley Jones writes:
It is the depravity of institutions and movements that given in the beginning to express life, they often end in throttling that very life. Therefore, they need constant review, perpetual criticism and continuous bringing back to the original purposes and spirit. The Christian church is no exception. It is the chief illustration of the above.
It’s our heart to bring our church back to its original purposes and spirit. We don’t have the resources or finances that we had. This forces us toward simplicity. What do we need? Less admin, more mission. Change provokes a range of responses but our aim is to reduce church-as-institution and grow church-as-people built around the original purpose – a simple and pure devotion to Christ. Our greatest resource is the message of the cross, empowered by the Holy Spirit.
A simple church with a simple message is a powerful force.