We all desire to come out of the wilderness and break into the Spirit’s power, but there are some things we must understand first. The ekklesia (the called of the Lord) is first mentioned in scripture immediately after Israel’s crossing of the Red Sea and being baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea. Thus, they became the congregation of Israel. According to scripture, Moses is mentioned as having the first “congregation” ( i.e., Gr. ekklesia). Ekklesia is used more than 70 times in the Septuagint to translate the Hebrew word for “congregation,” whether the congregation of Israel or of Moses. So the ekklesia or church finds its expression first in the wilderness of Sinai.
Not unlike the “congregation” of Israel following Moses, we have been called out from the world system – of which Egypt was/is a type. As a type it represents the place or state of bondage to sin, oppression, and death. It is this world or world system of which Satan is referred to as being Lord over. We are told that all the world lies in the hands of the evil one! Part of that world system is (unfortunately) religion or the Religious System, including that which calls itself church. As such the church system is something less than Christ’s new and living way – his body – His congregation. It is a belief/performance based religious system which I sometimes refer to as Churchianity. Churchianity is an intellectual system based upon rules, regulations, beliefs, theologies, rituals, religious obligations, moral and ethical values, etc. This system has a stronghold on many of God’s people: so strong that it has become the preferred alternative or adjunct to Jesus’ new and living way.
There is a world of difference between Christianity (Christ living in and through you) and Christian religion which is you imitating Christ.
In the minds of countless persons identifying themselves as Christians, the plans and purposes of God in Christ have become about the church: joining the church, attending church, serving in the church, and/or building the church. It is a closed system and as such, for many, it is a substitute for true organic life – familial relationship through Christ. In this new community loving and caring for each other is a natural outflow and overflow of the new nature derived from the new birth. It is simply a visible manifestation of the life and love of God poured into the hearts and lives of God’s elect by the indwelling Holy Spirit. Instead of God inhabiting some sacred space, such as a temple or tent (tabernacle) in the wilderness, He chooses to inhabit redeemed men and women. Their bodies in effect and in fact become His dwelling place, His home, His temple: the temple of the Holy Spirit.
Before the fullness of time under an old economy, God was not to be found. He was hidden behind a thick veil or curtain inaccessible to all but the Jewish High Priest. This one representative could only enter His presence once a year. As we learn, the Tabernacle was not God’s ultimate or permanent place of habitation. It was simply a type or symbol made “according to pattern.” It was a shadow, a vague or natural representation of a higher spiritual or heavenly reality. It was also a prophetic representation of the nature, person, and work of the coming Messiah. The tabernacle was NOT the establishment on earth of some new, acceptable and “religious system,” or place of God’s dwelling! It was a representation of God’s work of redemption through the atoning sacrifice of His Son.
I have been thinking lately about the present discontent, disconnect, deconstruction, departure, or exodus by so many from our present church or meeting-centered Christianity. This well documented exodus (as George Barna has noted) is more than the result of a loss of faith or dissatisfaction with God in Jesus! I believe that it is Spirit initiated, Spirit breathed, and perhaps even Spirit led. Once again Jesus, via His Spirit, is calling: “Come Follow Me!” This call I believe is not just for a select few, but for all who have ears to hear and hearts willing to respond with: “Yes, Lord, I will follow you no matter where, no matter what the cost!” The call is more than an invitation to membership in some new denomination, religious system, or contemporary church form. It is not exclusively driven by doctrinal dissatisfaction or modern theological differences. It is not a call to accept some particular creed, or statement of faith, or to join some new religious movement.
As Bonhoeffer so insightfully put it, “When God calls a man He bids him come and die.” Inherent in this call is the understanding that there is indeed a cost of becoming His disciple. The entry fee into the Kingdom is (as Andrew Murray put it) Absolute Surrender. It is death to self life (selfishness) and absolute allegiance to Him who IS the way, the truth, and the life. Life is ONLY to be found in Him, not in it, be it a church, a denomination, or a new philosophy. Christianity is not just learning to act in a new way according to new rules. It is receiving a new kind of life – spiritual life. This eternal life is spiritual life, the very essence of God, or God kind of life. That life is only in Christ and by the Spirit – for God IS Spirit.
It has been well documented by Barna and others that there appears to be a massive exodus of people departing Christian religious systems. However, after searching high and low for a better expression or fulfillment of their heart’s desire, these people are not finding fulfillment in various church forms, novel theologies, the house church movement, the new Monasticism, “Emergents,” and other so called organic expressions. Their expectations with respect to a living experience of the body of Christ often goes unmet, and the result is disillusionment. Some seekers just give up and turn back to their old way of life, while others return to church and begin to seek for “revival,” or for a return to the “the good old days of blessing” in the light of their disappointment.
Into the Spirit’s Power
My understanding of what is happening in Western Christendom, is that we (you and I) having been delivered from Egypt or captivity to Babylonian system now find ourselves on the other side of Jordan facing a wilderness to cross. It is in the wilds of the wilderness where we are doomed (or blessed – depending on how you see it) to wander until all of the world is DEAD IN US, not just TO us. Religion(derived from the Latin re & ligare; meaning to bind tightly) is a poor substitute for true spiritual or ‘eternal’ life (zoe) which is our inheritance in Christ. In our wilderness struggle with spiritual dryness, we are faced with a choice: we can continue to wander and search for somewhere to erect some new tabernacle, religious edifice, or system, or we can die to such a worldly construct and accept our destiny to become a new creation, living stones which can be fitted together and built up as a holy habitation in the Spirit – a true temple not made with hands.
Jesus said to Peter, when first referring to the ekklesia (the called out), “I will build MY church (ekklesia)! ” Our Lord’s use of ekklesia did not signify the establishment or endorsement of a new religious system or assembly to replace Judaism or even Pagan worship. The term ekklesia was a uniquely political term which referred to the Greek democratic form of governance which first appeared in Athens under Solon. Jesus did not say I will build my Temple, or Synagogue, or organization, but “I will build my congregation.” As we pointed out earlier, the use of the Greek word ekklesia is first seen in the Septuagint right after the crossing of the Red Sea, and we find God’s pilgrim people referred to as the ekklesia – the congregation of Israel.
The term originates with the citizens of Athens who were the called out ones who constituted the body politic of Athens. In like fashion the Lord’s “called out ones” would constitute the body politic of His Kingdom – for the government was placed upon His shoulders! In both instances the reference was to the “called-out ones” and not simply an assembly. We are called out to be subjects of King Jesus whose position and power is above all others.
I believe that Ern Baxter was right when he said, “Who first had a church (ekklesia)? Moses! He had the church in the wilderness – the congregation of Israel. So,” Ern Continues, “When Jesus says I will build my church, he is not putting the emphasis on the church but on I and MY. “I will build MY church (in a contradistinction to all others) and the gates of Hell won’t prevail against MY church.” “They stood against Moses church, but not against MY church. My called out ones will be successful! Moses couldn’t take his “church” in, but MY church will kick the gates of hell in!”
Anyway, suffice it to say, I am convinced that the wilderness represents the God-ordained place where those of us who have responded to the call to “come out” are destined by God to wander until all that is flesh, all that is Egypt IN US, all that is part of the world system “IN US” gives way and expires (dies). It is where, as David Wilkerson used to say, “The wilderness is where we receive a definition of power over sin“. We are to continue this wilderness journey (which I believe we have been led to by the Spirit) until (as my wife says) submission gives way to surrender, and we “give up” and become totally dependent on Him! As my dear friend Jay Ferris used to say, “the desolation of the flesh is the fertility of the Spirit!”
Having exited and crossed over, this present spiritual wilderness is where we must continue to wander until the world is not only dead to us, but dead IN US. It is the place where we, like Jesus, are tempted and where we learn to gain ascendency over the world, the flesh, and the devil through surrender and dependency on Him. We must remain in our wanderings until we reckon ourselves as dead to sin and alive to Christ. While in this place we learn the way of faith, trust & obedience, for this IS the victory, even our faith! We surrender ourselves to Him as Lord and to the control of the Spirit so that His life, His Holy Spirit, His character, and His dunamis power will be made manifest in and through us! Then, having experienced His death through this “baptism of suffering,” we may sign our “Declaration of Dependence,” step up and emerge from the wilderness as did Jesus, “into the Spirits power.” For that is His promise, our legacy and our inheritance… “You shall receive power!”
I think that many of us “boomers” are in death throes to religion and about to succumb to life in the Spirit! Soon we may emerge from this wilderness (like our Lord) in a demonstration: not of our piety, religious fervor, intelligence, giftedness, survival skills, or our strength, but INTO THE SPIRIT’S POWER! Then the world will see Him and not US! Then we will be, as my wife Nancy says, “Avatars of Jesus.”