The Easter Sunday crowd packed the seats in the school gymnasium where the young Four Square Church held its service. The worship team led off with fantastic worship music. One song, Hungry, captured the assembly’s attention, especially its chorus: “So, I wait for you. So, I wait for you.”
The worship team finished as the young, good-looking pastor walked over to the microphone. He clapped his hands in appreciation for the worship team’s efforts. He turned to the assembly, winking an eye at everyone.
“Maybe by now,” he said, “you’ve realized that we’re a little different from all of the other churches in the city…”
The pastor continued on, but I did not hear a single word he said for the next five minutes or so. I was in a different zone, one where the Holy Spirit had my full attention.
“No, this church is not any different than the others,” said the Holy Spirit. “Not one bit different than any of the other churches in the city. If you were, right now, attending a Catholic Church or a Baptist Church or a Pentecostal one or any other church in the city, it would be no different than this one. You would still be sitting here like a bump on a log listening to a head frog croak at you. Your only input into this service will be the check you toss into the offering plate when it is passed under your nose. Is this the church Jesus hung on the cross and died for?”
I sat there, stunned by His words. I wanted to weep. I wanted to run. I wanted to vomit. I wanted to quit, but I did nothing.
Afterward, I told Carol about my experience. She sighed and stared at me.
“You’re sure different, aren’t you?” she said. “I really like this church and now this happens.”
Just so you know, the Holy Spirit was not referring to doctrines at the various churches. If that were the case, each would be different, but instead, He was referring to the wineskin, the particular format, which all traditional churches follow in their churches. They are all basically the same, in that there are definite separations between the active few −the clergy −and the passive many −the laity−who sit in the seats and pay for the privilege to do so.
I hurried down West Broad Street in my Ford pickup truck, carrying Toyota parts to a mechanic who needed them right away. As I drove along, I had a graphic vision.
Do you remember iron lungs, which polio sufferers used during the 1950’s? They looked like large cylindrical metal tubes and encased polio victims, helping them to breathe via a pressurized airflow system. The bulky machines filled entire hospital wards during the height of the polio epidemics.
In my vision, the American church system was terminally ill. As a last ditch effort to save its life, the whole church system laid in a white iron lung, gasping for its every breath. The long power cord, attached to the rear of the unit, meandered itself through other electrical cords to a unique power source: money. The life support system was plugged into bags and bags of money.
I stared at the strange sight and then a thundering voice interrupted my thoughts.
“Pull the plug!” proclaimed the voice.
Carol and I prayed about my vision that night. We felt we needed to leave the traditional church system.
Our decision to not attend churches sounds easy now, but at the time, it seemed like we were the only people in the whole nation walking away from churches. A little research on the Internet revealed hundreds of thousands of Americans had done the same thing over the previous years.
Still it was not easy to break our church attending habits. We were used to sitting in pews on Sunday mornings, Sunday evenings, Wednesday evenings, and whenever the church doors opened.
A well-meaning pastor once took me aside and gave one of those lectures no one likes to hear.
“Larry, you need stability in your life and for your marriage,” he said, shaking his head at our nomadic life. “No one will ever take your prophetic ministry seriously if you don’t settle down. You need to settle in a city and find a good church to park yourself so others will take you more seriously. Please, seek the Lord on this advice.”
This vision blew any thoughts about obeying his words out of the water.
(The above excerpts are from my memoir, The Hunt for Larry Who, an Amazon eBook.)
If my two experiences are really from the Lord, what is His eternal purpose in all of this?
Why did God pour out the ten plagues on Egypt?
It all began almost thirty-five hundred years ago with Moses having a burning bush experience. It was there that God said, “I have seen the oppression of My people and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. So I have come down to deliver them out of their bondage and bring them to a land flowing with milk and honey.”
Moses eventually accepted His calling and headed for Egypt.
When Moses arrived in Egypt, he met with the elders and told them how God was going to set the Israelites free. The elders rejoiced, bowed their heads, and worshipped God.
That jubilant attitude by the elders and the Israelites lasted until Moses walked into Pharaoh’s court and said, “Thus says the Lord God of Israel, ‘Let My people go.’”
Next, Pharaoh persecuted the Israelites and beat the officers who were in charge of the Israelite slave workers. Because of the spirit of anguish and cruel bondage, the Israelites no longer listened to Moses.
God did what only God can do, He poured out a powerful anointing on Moses, so that he could confront Pharaoh with boldness and speak truth to the Israelites, which they would listen to and obey.
Over several weeks, God poured out ten plagues on Egypt: blood, frogs, lice, flies, disease on Egyptian livestock, boils on man and beast, locusts, darkness, and death of the first-born. Each plague was aimed at a particular Egyptian god.
Finally, Egypt and its gods were plundered and destroyed by the Lord God of Israel. Pharaoh and the Egyptians said to Israel, “Leave or we will all be dead!”
But God was not quite done yet, He led the Israelites to the Red Sea, which became a trap for them when Pharaoh changed his mind. Pharaoh and his whole army soon followed and drew near to the Israelites.
What did Israel do?
But even so, God destroyed the Egyptian army in the Red Sea.
So, why did God pour out the ten plagues on Egypt?
Yes, the plagues obviously convinced Egypt to let the Israelites go free, but a second reason was that God wanted to set the Israelites free of their desires to ever return to bondage again.
Ah, but there was also a third reason for the plagues.
“Return to Me, O backsliding children,” says the Lord, “for I am married to you…” (Jeremiah 3:14)
Israel was the Lord’s bride, He loved her, and wanted to walk with her. He desired to remove every one of her lovers so He would be the apple of her eye.
Who else is is known as a bride of the Lord?
What’s God main intention for the church? Is it to evangelize the lost? Is it to be a pulpit for a pastor to preach sermons to pews filled with believers, holding onto each word? What is it?
The Apostle Paul spoke of the gospel and the church as being a mystery hidden in God from the beginning of ages and a part of His eternal purpose. If this is true, let’s look at the four chapters of the Bible Frank Viola states in his Rethinking Church teaching as the most important ones for us to gather insight into God’s plans for the church.
The chapters: Genesis 1 – 2 and Revelation 21 – 22.
Why these four chapters?
These chapters are the only ones in the Bible where Satan is not the god of this world and sin is not intertwined in our cultures. Genesis 1 and 2 are before Adam’s sin and Eve’s deception in Chapter 3. And Revelation 21 and 22 are after Satan, death, and sin have been thrown into the lake of fire in Chapter 20.
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1:26-28)
Adam and his bride were commanded by God to rule the earth. Eve was created out of a rib taken from Adam’s side. There was a tree of life and a river life in the Garden of Eden.
Now let’s fast forward to the end of the Bible.
And the Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” (Revelation 22:17)
The Second Adam – Jesus – and His bride will pick up the commands spoken by God to the First Adam to rule and reign on earth:
If we endure, we will also reign with Him; (2 Timothy 2:12)
And have made us kings and priests to our God; and we shall reign on earth.(Revelation 5:10)
Like the First Adam with Eve, the church came out of Jesus’ side when the soldier pierced His side with a spear and blood burst out. Not only that, the river of life and the tree of life are restored on earth.
Thus, I believe God’s main purpose for His church – the Bride of Christ – is to rule and reign with Jesus on the earth for eternity.
Could we be ruling and reigning with Jesus on the earth now?
So that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was according to the eternal purpose that He has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord (Ephesians 3:10-11)
In his book, House Churches that Change the World, Wolfgang Simson stole a page from Martin Luther’s reformation playbook and wrote a 15 Theses for the house church movement:
1. Christianity is a way of life, not a series of religious meetings.
Before they were called Christians, followers of Christ were called ‘The Way.’ One of the reasons was that they had literally found the way to live. The nature of the church is not found in a constant series of religious meetings led by professional clergy in holy places specially reserved to experience Jesus. Rather, it is the prophetic way followers of Christ live their everyday life in spiritual extended families, as a vivid answer to the questions that society asks, and in the place where it counts most – in their homes.
2. Time to change the ‘cathegogue system’
The historic Orthodox and Catholic Church after Constantine in the fourth century developed and adopted a religious system based on two elements: a Christian version on the Old Testament temple – the cathedral – and a worship pattern styled after the Jewish synagogue. They thus adopted, as the foundational pattern for the times to follow, a blueprint for Christian meetings and worship which was neither expressly revealed nor ever endorsed by God in New Testament times: the ‘cathegogue,’ linking the house-of-God mentality and the synagogue.
Baptized with Greek pagan philosophy, separating the sacred from the secular, the cathegogue system developed into the Black Hole of Christianity, swallowing most of its society-transforming energies and inducing the church to become absorbed with itself for centuries to come. The Roman Catholic Church went on to canonize the system.
Luther reformed the content of the gospel but left the outer forms of ‘church’ remarkably untouched. The Free Churches freed the system from the State, the Baptists then baptized it, the Quakers dry-cleaned it, the Salvation Army put it in uniform, the Pentecostals anointed it and Charismatics renewed it, but until today nobody has really changed the system. The time to do that has now arrived.
3. The third Reformation
In rediscovering the gospel of salvation by faith and grace alone, Luther started to reform the church through a reformation of theology. In the eighteenth century, through movements in the pietistic renewal, there was a recovery of a new intimacy with God, which led to a reformation of spirituality, the Second Reformation. Now, God is touching the wineskins themselves, initiating a Third Reformation, a reformation of structure.
4. From church houses to house churches
From the time of the New Testament there has been no such thing as a ‘house of God.’ At the cost of his life, Stephen reminded us: God does not live in temples made by human hands.
The church is the people of God. The church, therefore, was and is at home where people are at home: in ordinary houses. There the people of God share their lives in the power of the Holy Spirit, have ‘meatings’, i.e. they eat when they meet; they often do not even hesitate to sell private property and share material and spiritual blessings; they teach each other in real-life situations how to obey God’s Word – and not with professional lectures but dynamically, with dialogue and questions and answers. There they pray and prophesy with each other, and baptize one another. There they can let their masks drop and confess their sins, regaining a new corporate identity through love, acceptance and forgiveness.
Continuing with Wolfgang Simson’s 15 Theses from his book, House Churches That Change the World:
5. The church has to become small in order to grow large.
Most churches today are simply too big to provide real fellowship. They have too often become “fellowships without fellowship.” The New Testament church was made up of small groups, typically between 10 and 15 people. It grew not by forming big congregations of 300 people to fill cathedrals and lose fellowship. Instead, it multiplied “sideways,” dividing like organic cells, once these groups reached 15 to 20 people. This then made it possible for all the Christians to get together in city-wide celebrations, as in Solomon’s Temple court in Jerusalem. The traditional congregational church as we know it is by comparison, a sad compromise, neither big nor beautiful, an overgrown house church and an undergrown celebration, often missing the dynamics of both
6. No church is led by a pastor alone.
The local church is not led by a pastor, but fathered by an elder, a man of wisdom and engaged with reality. The local house churches are then networked into a movement by the combination of elders and members of the so-called fivefold ministry (apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers), circulating from “house to house,” like the circulation of blood. Here there is a special foundational role to play for the apostolic and prophetic ministries (Ephesians 2:20; 4:11-12). A pastor (shepherd) is an important member of the whole team, but he cannot fulfill more than a part of the whole task of “equipping the saints for the ministry,” and he has to be complemented synergistically by the other four ministries in order to function properly.
7. The right pieces – fitted together in the wrong way.
To do a jigsaw puzzle, we have to put the pieces together according to the original pattern, otherwise the final product, the whole picture turns out wrong, and the individual pieces do not make any sense. In the Christian world we have all of the right pieces, but we have fitted them together in the wrong way, because of fear, tradition, religious jealousy, and a power and control mentality, just as water is found in three forms – ice, water and steam – so too the five ministries mentioned in Ephesians 4:11-12 – the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers – are found today, but not always in the right forms and in the right places. They are often frozen to ice in the rigid system of institutionalized Christianity; they sometimes exist as clear water; or they have vanished like steam into the thin air of free-flying ministries and “independent” churches, accountable to no one.
Just as it is best to water flowers with the fluid version of water, these five equipping ministries will have to be transformed back into new – and at the same time age-old – forms, so that the whole spiritual organism can flourish and the individual “ministers” can find their proper role and place in the whole. That is one more reason why we need to return to the Maker’s original blueprint for the Church.
8. Out of the hands of bureaucratic clergy and on towards the priesthood of all believers.
No expression of a New Testament church is ever led by just one professional “holy man” doing the business of communicating with God and then feeding some relatively passive, religious consumers, Moses-style. Christianity has adopted this method from pagan religions, or at best from the Old Testament.
The heavy professionalization of the church since Constantine has been a pervasive influence long enough, dividing the people of God artificially into an infantilized laity and a professional clergy, and developing power-based mentalities and pyramid structures. According to the New Testament (1 Timothy 2:5), “there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” God simply does not bless religious professionals to force themselves in between Himself and His people. The veil is torn, and God is allowing people to access Himself directly through Jesus Christ, the only Way.
To enable the priesthood of all believers, the present system will have to change completely. Bureaucracy is the most dubious of all administrative systems because it basically only asks two questions: yes or no. There is no room for spontaneity and humanity; no room for real life. This may be all right in politics and business, but not the church. God seems to be in the business of delivering His church from a Babylonian captivity of religious bureaucrats and controlling spirits into the public domain, putting it into the hands of ordinary people who God has made extraordinary and who, as in the old days, may still smell of fish, perfume or revelation.
9. Return from organized to organic forms of Christianity
The “Body of Christ” is a vivid description of an organic, not an organized, being. Church consists on its local level of a multitude of spiritual families, which are organically related to each other as a network, where the way the pieces are functioning together is an integral part of the message of the whole.
What has become a maximum of organization with a minimum of organism, has to be changed into a minimum of organization to allow a maximum of organism. Too much organization has, like a straightjacket, often choked the organism for fear that something might go wrong. Fear is the opposite of faith, and not exactly a Christian virtue. Fear wants to control, faith can trust. Control, therefore, may be good, but trust is better.
The Body of Christ is entrusted by God into the hands of steward-minded people with a supernatural charismatic gift to believe God that He is still in control, even if they are not. A development of trust-related regional and national networks, not a new arrangement of political ecumenism is necessary for organic forms of Christianity to reemerge
10. From worshipping our worship to worshipping God
The image of much of contemporary Christianity can be summarized as holy people coming regularly to a holy place at a holy day at a holy hour to participate in a holy ritual lead by a holy man dressed in holy clothes against a holy fee.
Since this regular performance-oriented enterprise called “worship service” requires a lot of organizational talent and administrative bureaucracy to keep going, formalized and institutionalized patterns developed quickly into rigid traditions. Statistically, a traditional 1-2 hour “worship service” is very resource-hungry but actually produces very little fruit in terms of discipling people, that is, in changed lives. Economically speaking, it might be a “high input and low output” structure.
Traditionally, the desire to “worship in the right way” has led to much denominationalism, confessionalism and nominalism. This not only ignores that Christians are called to “worship in truth and in spirit,” not in cathedrals holding songbooks, but also ignores that most of life is informal, and so is Christianity as “the Way of Life.”
Do we need to change from being powerful actors to start “acting powerfully?”
11. Stop bringing people to church, and start bringing the church to the people
The church is changing back from being a Come-structure to being again a Go-structure. As one result, the Church needs to stop trying to bring people “into the church,” and start bringing the Church to the people. The mission of the Church will never be accomplished just by adding to the existing structure; it will take nothing less than a mushrooming of the church through spontaneous multiplication of itself into areas of the population of the world, where Christ is not yet known.
12. Rediscovering the “Lord’s Supper” to be a real supper with real food
Church tradition has managed to “celebrate the Lord’s Supper” in a homeopathic and deeply religious form, characteristically with a few drops of wine, a tasteless cookie and a sad face. However, the “Lord’s Supper” was actually more a substantial supper with a symbolic meaning, than a symbolic supper with a substantial meaning. God is restoring eating back into our meeting.
Continuing with Wolfgang Simson’s 15 Theses from his book, House Churches That Change the World:
13. From Denominations to city-wide celebrations
Jesus called for a universal movement, and what came was a series of religious companies with global chains marketing their special brands of Christianity and competing with each other. Through this branding of Christianity most of Protestantism has, therefore, become politically insignificant and often more concerned with traditional specialties and religious infighting than with developing a collective testimony before the world. Jesus never asked people to organize themselves into denominations.
In the early days of the Church, Christians had a dual identity: they were truly His church and vertically converted to God, and then organized themselves according to geography, that is, converting also horizontally to each other on earth. This means not only Christian neighbors organizing themselves into neighborhood- or house-churches, where they share their lives locally, but Christians coming together as a collective identity as much as they can for citywide or regional celebrations expressing the corporateness of the Church of the city or region.
Authenticity in the neighborhoods connected with a regional or citywide corporate identity will make the Church not only politically significant and spiritually convincing, but will allow a return to the biblical model of the City-Church
14. Developing a persecution-proof spirit
They crucified Jesus, the Boss of all the Christians. Today, his followers are often more into titles, medals and social respectability, or, worst of all, they remain silent and are not worth being noticed at all. “Blessed are you when you are persecuted”, says Jesus.
Biblical Christianity is a healthy threat to pagan godlessness and sinfulness, a world overcome by greed, materialism, jealousy and any amount of demonic standards of ethics, sex, money and power. Contemporary Christianity in many countries is simply too harmless and polite to be worth persecuting.
But as Christians again live out New Testament standards of life and, for example, call sin as sin, conversion or persecution has been, is and will be the natural reaction of the world. Instead of nesting comfortably in temporary zones of religious liberty, Christians will have to prepare to be again discovered as the main culprits against global humanism, the modern slavery of having to have fun and the outright worship of Self, the wrong centre of the universe.
That is why Christians will and must feel the “repressive tolerance” of a world which has lost any absolutes and therefore refuses to recognize and obey its creator God with His absolute standards. Coupled with the growing ideologisation, privatization and spiritualisation of politics and economics, Christians will, sooner than most think, have their chance to stand happily accused in the company of Jesus. They need to prepare now for the future by developing a persecution-proof spirit and an even more persecution-proof structure.
15. The Church comes home
Where is the easiest place, say, for a man to be spiritual? Is it hiding behind a big pulpit, dressed up in holy robes, preaching holy words to a faceless crowd and then disappearing into an office?
And what is the most difficult, and therefore most meaningful, place for a man to be spiritual? At home, in the presence of his wife and children, where everything he does and says is automatically put through a spiritual litmus test against reality, where hypocrisy can be effectively weeded out and authenticity can grow.
Much of Christianity has fled the family, often as a place of its own spiritual defeat, and then has organized artificial performances in sacred buildings far from the atmosphere of real life. As God is in the business of recapturing the homes, the church turns back to its roots, back to where it came from. It literally comes home, completing the circle of Church history at the end of world history.
As Christians of all walks of life, from all denominations and backgrounds, feel a clear echo in their spirit to what God’s Spirit is saying to the Church, and start to hear globally in order to act locally, they begin to function again as one body. They organize themselves into neighborhood house-churches and meet in regional or city-celebrations. You are invited to become part of this movement and make your own contribution. Maybe your home, too, will become a house that changes the world.
Fifty percent of American Evangelical Christians attend a church with 300 or more members. So, unless you live in a rural area of our country, the odds are high that you attend a church of this size or larger.
Okay, here’s something for you to consider the next time you attend a service:
After you sit down, look at the people in the row ahead of you, to the left and right of you and also behind you. What are their names? What are their children’s names? Do they have problems or needs? Are you willing to share your life, home and finances to help them with their needs? Are you willing to die for them?
Do you really believe that these same people would be willing to answer “yes” to the above questions for you and your family?
If your answers to the above questions are “I don’t know” or “No,” then you attend a church that falls far short of the New Testament model in the Book of Acts.
32 All the believers were united in heart and mind. And they felt that what they owned was not their own, so they shared everything they had. 33 The apostles testified powerfully to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and God’s great blessing was upon them all. 34 There were no needy people among them, because those who owned land or houses would sell them 35 and bring the money to the apostles to give to those in need. (Acts 4:32-35 NLT)
Maybe you’re thinking the traditional American church has outgrown the blueprint of the early church in the Book of Acts. If that’s your thinking and your comfort zone right now, then you need to read the next few articles in this series.
Using Chapter 24 of the Book of Matthew as our End-Times timeline, we read that the Anti-Christ will commit the abomination of desolation in verse 15. This was prophesied by Daniel and Jesus tells us to understand his prophecy about this event.
Will believers and the Church still be on the earth at that time? Yes, because Jesus will not return for the Church and believers until verses 30 and 31.
Now, there are timelines in the Book of Revelation, but they’re not always chronological, according to chapters and verses. Some of the text is out of order and must be lined up with other books in the Bible.
Okay, with the above words as guidelines, what will be one of the church’s biggest problems in the End-times?
He [the Antichrist] causes all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hand or on their foreheads, 17 and that no one may buy or sell except one who has the mark or the name of the beast, or the number of his name. 18 Here is wisdom. Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man: His number is 666. (Revelation 13: 16-18)
After the “abomination of desolation” takes place, the Antichrist will persecute and kill Christians and Jews. His biggest weapon to bludgeon people into obeying him and his government will be the “mark of the beast.” No one will be able to buy food or medicine or gasoline or whatever without the mark.
Can Christians just rely on His grace and take the mark of the beast, while tossing a wink toward God?
Then a third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives his mark on his forehead or on his hand, 10 he himself shall also drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out full strength into the cup of His indignation. He shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. (Revelation 14:9-10)
I am an eternal security believing Christian, but because of my fear of the Lord, I would never want to cross the line against these verses nor would I suggest others to do it. What might happen to us? I don’t really know nor am I interested in finding out. Just obey His words!
So, what can believers do to protect themselves?
“Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one – the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts…Your affectionate uncle, Screwtape.” (C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters)
We have to keep in mind that the Great Tribulation will be a seven-year time period, which begins with peace. A man (the Antichrist) will forge a peace treaty that will be accepted by most Christians, Jews, Muslims, and nations. This will stop the wars – nations fighting against nations and kingdoms against kingdoms.
The peace treaty will be so strong that the Jews will be allowed to build a temple on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem and carry out sacrifices. I know – it’s hard to imagine this ever happening, but it will!
This peace treaty will be in effect for three and half years until the Antichrist sets up the image of the beast in the Temple and stops the daily sacrifices.
Now, don’t go thinking the three and half years during the peace treaty will be a time for Christians to sit around a campfire, strumming a guitar and singing, “Kumbaya My Lord.” No! It will be a time when churches will be pressured to accept compromises – small at first, but increasing in severity – in order for them to survive.
How do I know this?
This is what the Communists did in China with their Three Self Patriotic Movement. The same Satan who authored the suffocating rules on the Three Self Churches will attempt to do the same on our traditional churches. All of it will be done under the guise of tolerance and keeping the peace.
“Home fellowships are persecution proof and are the only viable form for underground churches. We believe in the years to come, we will see increasing restrictions on our ability to meet together, to worship together and to pray with each other.” (Chuck Missler)
In God’s first attempt at planting a new church, He did it in a unique fashion.
And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. (Acts 2:2-4)
The gifts of the Holy Spirit fell on all the people, not just the apostles or prophets or evangelists or pastors and teachers. Everyone was empowered by the Spirit and His spiritual gifts.
Four or five years later, Philip was preaching in Samaria when a revival broke out with many people being saved. Peter and John traveled to Samaria to help Philip. The first thing the two apostles did was check the new believers to see if the Holy Spirit had fallen on them.
For as yet the Holy Spirit had fallen upon none of them. They had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. (Acts 8:16-17)
Almost twenty years later, the Apostle Paul had already planted many churches, including the Corinthian Church, when he met some new disciples in Ephesus. What was the first thing Paul checked with these new believers?
“Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said to him, “We have not so much as heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.” (Acts 19:2)
When Paul heard these new disciples had not been baptized in the Holy Spirit, but only into the water baptism of John the Baptist, he wasted no time.
And when Paul had laid hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke with tongues and prophesied. (Acts 19:6)
The evidence seems to prove that the apostles made sure that all of their new church plants followed the same pattern God used when He planted the first church in Jerusalem. They laid hands on the new believers and asked the Holy Spirit to fall on them so that the spiritual gifts were poured out on the new believers
Why was this important? And is it important for use today?
My guess is that 5 to 10% of American Christians believe the gifts of the Holy Spirit are not for today’s believers. They believe the gifts were only for the early church and passed away when the last apostle died. Another 15 to 25% are either Pentecostal or Charismatic in their beliefs and believe the spiritual gifts are for all believers.
If my guess is accurate, this leaves approximately 70% of American Christians who either have not considered the spiritual gifts as important enough to seek or have received no teaching on them.
Here’s the dilemma for the 5-10% naysayer group and the 70% clueless group: what will we do when the Antichrist requires everyone to receive the mark of the beast in order to buy and sell anything?
What if our spouse needs special medications in order to live or our child needs emergency medical assistance to survive an ailment, what will we do? Will we let our spouse or child die? Or will we take the mark of the beast for their sakes? There will be no fence straddling at this time.
But here’s what we can do: we can prepare ourselves ahead of time for these end-time events by seeking the spiritual gifts now. The gifts of word of wisdom, word of knowledge, faith, healing, working of miracles, prophecy, discerning of spirits, tongues, and interpretation of tongues have already been provided by the Lord for these extreme situations. Thus, why not lay down our traditions and follow the practices of the early church by seeking the spiritual gifts now?
Ah, that brings up another dilemma.
Let’s say we seek the spiritual gifts and then receive them through the baptism of the Holy Spirit, where will we practice using our gifts? We have to remember that our gifts and our faith will be strengthened as we use the gifts, but still there is a learning curve and a few mistakes may occur along the way.
Can we practice using our newly received gifts in a median-sized sanctuary of 300 or more members? Probably not. This is generally the realm for pastors and elders to operate their gifts. Most pew-sitters are required to be spectators only.
So, the only place where each believer can practice using his or her gifts is in a small home fellowship where each knows and trusts each other.
(Continued in Part 13)