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What Is A New Testament Church?: Part 2. Offerings Of Fire

 
What Is A New Testament Church?

Part 2. Offerings Of Fire


August 27, 2007

Ron and Karen Schwartz

kmsrjs@triton.net

As we stated in Part 1, there is a definite and serious misunderstanding as to what it means to have a New Testament church. Many in the Home Church, Apostolic, Prophetic, and Five-Fold Ministry groups examine intellectually the structure of what they understand a New Testament church to be and then try to mimic it. Some groups meet in homes, as did many New Testament groups, while others create ministry structures by appointing elders and deacons or apostles and prophets, and some employ the use of spiritual gifts.

Most of these various practices are based on the events found in the Book of Acts. But the Book of Acts is a description of what they did, not who they were. The overriding question in all these practices is: would the church structure created by our modern movements have evolved on its own if they hadn’t first read about them? In other words, are the current practices of home meetings, classes of ministry, and spiritual gifts the native work of the Holy Spirit, or have we created it by copying what we think the first generation of Christians did?

The answer is apparent. The prevailing structure we find in most of our modern Christian groups – house church, apostolic, prophetic, five-fold ministry, end-time, etc. - is merely an attempt to “copy” what the first generation of believers did.

Imitating a New Testament Church format and structure is not what makes a New Testament church. The New Testament church was not the result of a certain structure or format but rather the reverse. Both their structure and format resulted from “being” a New Testament church.

This is why so many who emulate the New Testament format appear to be just a show. They lack substance. It’s like creating a wax image of a person. The wax image may have all the characteristics and color of the actual person but they lack life.

What we find today is an overabundance of churches and groups that claim to be New Testament but are simply empty copies. They lack life and substance. If you want a New Testament church, you must set aside your preconceived notions as to what structure and format you will follow. You must first become what they were, and the structure and format, which developed through the work of Holy Spirit, will follow.

The true New Testament church was built by people of virtue and substance. They did not set out to create a church and leadership structure. They set out to change the world. Their goal was to yield their lives to the work of the Holy Spirit and to serve one another. The true essence of the New Testament church was, therefore, not the result of education and research but of the power of the Holy Spirit to which they yielded.


“Power To Become…”

The Old Testament gave to us as individuals, the power to save ourselves (even though all failed). In the New Testament, however, we do not have the power to save ourselves. We are totally dependent upon God’s power in order to become His children. A New Testament life is the spontaneous and sovereign creation of the Holy Spirit. John described it as follows:

John 1:12-13 KJV
12 But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name:
13 Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.


The Old Testament gave men the ability to manufacture worship and service to God. For instance, Moses built a tabernacle for service and worship, and both Solomon and Herod built temples. Men performed the practice of circumcision (which distinguished God’s people as Jews). The Old Testament (church) was driven by the will of the flesh and the will of man.

In contrast, we are born into the New Testament through a spiritual birth. Jesus told Nicodemus, “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God (John 3:3).” Our New Testament spiritual birth is the sovereign act of the Holy Spirit that cannot be manufactured or duplicated by men. Paul described this sovereign work of the Holy Spirit when he wrote that, unlike the Old Testament, in the New Testament we “are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands (Colossians 2:11).” Additionally, in the New Testament, God “dwelleth not in temples made with hands (Acts 7:48)” but in the hearts of His people. The idea here is that, in the New Testament, nothing is left to “the will of the flesh… [or] the will of man (John 1:13).” We can no longer build a temple and expect God to dwell in it. In the New Testament, if God does not create it, then it is not of God.

In the New Testament, everything about our spiritual lives and our service to God is the spontaneous and sovereign act of the Holy Spirit. Given that, why, then, do we choose to believe that we can create a New Testament church simply because we want one?

Just before Jesus left this earth, He told His disciples, “Behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high (Luke 24:49).” Jesus did not tell them to go to Jerusalem and begin setting up the church. He did not leave them with instructions to begin ordaining elders and deacons, nor did He send out some of the disciples to find a building where they could meet. Jesus did not even encourage His disciples to pursue education (academics). Jesus’ instruction was simple: tarry, (that is, wait for the power of God). Don’t do anything without the power. Don’t go anywhere, don’t teach anyone, and don’t try to figure things out. Just wait. Why? Because anything they would have done would have been their own creation, the creation of men, and therefore would have lent itself to the structure of the Old Testament church.

The New Testament church was birthed on the Day of Pentecost out of a sovereign move of the Holy Spirit. While the disciples “tarr[ied] in Jerusalem,” “suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance (Acts 2:2-4).” This event was “noised abroad, [and] the multitude came together (Acts 2:6)” to see. A miracle had taken place. The miracle wasn’t simply that people were speaking in tongues. What “confounded [the crowd was that]… every man heard them speak in his own language (Acts 2:6).” There were “Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judaea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia, [and] Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes, [and] Cretes and Arabians (Acts 2:9-11)” who were present. Each person heard the whole group “speak in his own language (Acts 2:6).” Men could not have engineered this.

Missing from most churches, especially those that claim to be New Testament, is the sovereignty of the Holy Spirit. You cannot create a New Testament church by setting in place elders and deacons, by being accountable to an apostle, by developing ministries, by giving or listening to anointed sermons, or by seeking spiritual gifts. If you want a New Testament church, you must do what the first generation of Christians did: wait for the power!

The First Century Christians were determined NOT to do anything out of “the will of the flesh… [or] the will of man (John 1:13).” Not one brick was laid, not one sermon was preached, no elders were set in place, and no decisions were made. When the Holy Spirit finally established the New Testament church, it did not come first to the leaders (as we find and come to expect in the Old Testament). No, it came to ALL who were there: “there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance (Acts 2:3-4).”

Do you want to experience a New Testament church? Then stop trying to create one. All we can create is an Old Testament church, a church produced out of human will and effort. If a New Testament church is the sovereign move of the Holy Spirit, how can we cause the Spirit to move? Can we make ourselves attractive? Is there anything that we can do to cause the Holy Spirit to move on us and create in us a New Testament church? Ah! Now that is the question isn’t it?!

Offering Of Fire…

Leviticus 3:3 KJV
And he
[the priest] shall offer of the sacrifice of the peace offering an offering made by fire unto the LORD.

Over forty times in Leviticus alone, God explains that He can be satisfied by nothing less than “an offering made by fire.” Therefore, if we want to draw God’s approval, we must offer a sacrifice that is acceptable to Him.

Most Christians have a conversion experience that is nothing less than an offering of fire. They are passionate and motivated; no cost is too great for them. For most Christians, this is the closest they will ever come to experiencing a New Testament life.

Many older Christians look at such passion and zeal as a sign of immaturity. These older Christians often explain to the new zealous Christians that they will eventually “grow out” of their immature fire to become as they are. But most of these older Christians are not living a New Testament life.

The Old Testament is always waiting to draw Christians back into form, structure, and dependence on men. For the First Century believers, it was their greatest threat, and almost every institutional church (and home church as well) today has been swallowed up by it. The Old Testament simply “feels right.” It is dependent upon people for ministry services. It satisfies our lust for knowledge (answers) by providing an intellectual approach to serving God. It provides us with many rules and laws to keep. It is based on structures like tithing, church meetings, sermons, how-to’s of worship, discipline, and appearance. It gives us a recipe and method for how to serve God. These “things” are not how New Testament believers worship God. Rather, God is worshipped through offerings of fire.

Older Christians who lack passion and serve God intellectually are living Old Testament lives. They are often disturbed by the zeal and passion of new converts because it doesn’t fit their intellectual approach. The new converts must, therefore, be wrong. So the older Christians mentor them, and it isn’t long before the new converts are just as dry and fake as everyone else in the institutional churches they attend.

Nicodemus tried to get Jesus to give him a recipe for the New Testament, but Jesus told him:

John 3:6-9 KJV
6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
7 Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.
8 The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.


Almost all the self-help books, the discipleship classes, the leadership seminars, the prophetic conferences, etc. are little more than men trying to provide other Nicodemus’s with intellectual methods to live New Testament lives. They all go away feeling good but actually accomplishing nothing.

Older Christians don’t want to hear this. They respond like Nicodemus: “How can these things be (John 3:9)?” They want to serve God through a process that is under their control. They don’t want to have to wait on the power or to serve God out of passion and zeal. Yet when you read through the Book of Acts, this exactly what they did. Remember, an offering of fire…

…Brings An Answer Of Fire

Many Christians are proud of Western Christianity. They point to all the Christian broadcasts, the overabundance of churches, Christian literature, and Christian education and colleges as examples of how Christianity is succeeding in the West. It is true that even the smallest town has an average of forty Christian organizations. It is true that Christian material is found just about everywhere. It is also true that no society in the history of Christianity has enjoyed more religious freedom and experienced so great an infusion of Christian material than our society today.

Yet, for all the proliferation of Christianity, why is God’s power so rarely seen? Why is it that whole congregations pray for needs and only see an occasional answer? Why is the power of darkness eroding our nations at such an unprecedented rate of decline to depths not seen since Sodom?

Few Christians have ever experienced a real move of God’s Spirit in their churches. They are so used to attending a lifeless church that any small event they can attribute to God is counted as a major endorsement of their church. They are like people who live in darkness and therefore have become so used to darkness that they have developed the ability to see somewhat in the dark. Any small ray of direct sunlight is blinding. Even the light from a candle seems brilliant. But this is only because they don’t know what living in the light is like.
 

Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal to prove whether they indeed served God. He said, “Call ye on the name of your gods, and I will call on the name of the LORD: and the God that answereth by fire, let him be God (1 Kings 18:24).” So they “took the bullock which was given them, and they dressed it, and called on the name of Baal from morning even until noon, saying, O Baal, hear us. But there was no voice, nor any that answered. And they leaped upon the altar which was made. …And they cried aloud, and cut themselves after their manner with knives and lancets, till the blood gushed out upon them (1 Kings 18:26-28).

The prophets of Baal were very active and worked very hard. But their effort and dedication were not enough to obtain an answer from God. Most Christians point to the dedication and hard work of their pastors as proof of his calling. But where is God’s answer of fire within their church? Like the prophets of Baal, they can be very active and work very hard but not achieve any real success in the Spirit.

Eventually, “Elijah said unto all the people, Come near unto me. And all the people came near unto him (1 Kings 18:30).” Where were all the people? They were enjoying the show. The prophets of Baal were entertaining them. This is exactly the condition of God’s people today. They sit in their powerless Old Testament-style churches believing that they are watching God’s ministers operate. But it’s just lots of effort, great entertainment, and little to actually show for it. If you want to find the prophets of Baal today, then look no further than those places where God’s people go for entertainment. You will find them there every Sunday.

When Elijah offered his sacrifice, “the fire of the LORD fell, and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench (1 Kings 18:38).” And what happened to the people of God? “When all the people saw it, they fell on their faces: and they said, The LORD, he is the God; the LORD, he is the God (1 Kings 18:39).” A true manifestation of God draws His people to sacrifice for themselves “offerings of fire.”

On the Day of Pentecost, the people had sacrificed their lives for ten days, singing and praying. What happened? God answered with fire. “Cloven tongues like as of fire… sat upon each of them.


Conclusion

In the beginning, we asked this question:

Would the church structure created by our modern movements have evolved on its own if they hadn’t first read about them? In other words, are the current practices of home meetings, classes of ministry, and spiritual gifts the native work of the Holy Spirit, or have we created it by copying what we think the first generation of Christians did?

The structure and form of contemporary churches, whether institutional or not, is a creation of men. It is based either on their understanding of what people like or what they believe the First Century Christians did. So just what is the native work of the Holy Spirit? How would we recognize a New Testament church? The church would have begun informally by Christians meeting together to pray and worship God. Time would not be a factor. They would be people who are willing to wait for the Spirit.

Over the past two thousand years, we have heard about many of these movements. We call them revivals. Each one was begun by people who were willing to give to God an offering of fire: passion and zeal. When they did this, God responded as He did on the Day of Pentecost and a New Testament church was born. But because the leaders did not usually understand the difference between a New and an Old Testament church, it was only a matter of time before that revival was brought under control and a denomination was born.

Each documented occurrence [of what we call] “true” revival is nothing more than another Day of Pentecost. It is God’s answer by fire to an offering of fire by His people. Any church can experience a Day of Pentecost if they are willing to offer a sacrifice of passion and zeal.

Scheduling a 24/7 prayer vigil is not the same. These are usually performed out of duty and with little enthusiasm. They lack the expectation of the original believers.

Contrary to popular consensus, God does not need apostles and prophets, spiritual gifts, or the New Testament church structure in order to change the world. God does not need traditional pastors or their programs in our churches. The form of church and the ministry structure they provide has done little to affect the people, communities, or the nations of this world. What God needs from us is something that church form and ministry structure cannot provide. God needs each of us to offer Him our lives as “an offering made by fire.”

If serving God could be found in what we do, then no one could top the church at Ephesus. Jesus recognized and regarded this church. He said, “I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars: And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name's sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted (Revelation 2:2-3).” Nevertheless, there was something wrong. Jesus went on to said, “I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love. Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works (Revelation 2:4-5).”

Jesus wanted them to go back to the passion and zeal they had in the beginning. He wanted them to “remember” what it was like when they were first saved. He wanted them to rediscover the fire of their “first love” that once burned within them. He wanted them to set aside their efforts to create a New Testament church, and He wanted them to once again become one.

This message is as true for us today as it was for them.

Your efforts to create a New Testament church will be in vain. It, like your salvation, must be the sovereign act of the Holy Spirit. Anything short of that is just Old Testament form and structure. Do what Jesus commanded and try to remember…

Amen.

kmsrjs@triton.net

 

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