During a Perth Prayer meeting recently a woman fervently asked that God bring together the different parts of the body of Christ. This is not an uncommon prayer, and one supported by some familiar biblical texts (e.g. Ps 133 ESV; John 17 ESV). Whilst I wholeheartedly support such passionate prayers they are often rather naive. After decades of promoting practical Christian unity at the local, city and national levels I still see massive spiritual obstacles to a truly functional oneness in the Church that would manifest the glory of God to the world.
The individualism, personal ambition and self-reliance of modern Western culture is a big barrier to Christian cooperation.
Only a Church under pressure will come together.
When I asked a brother from Czechoslovakia where he learned the importance of Christian unity his reply was unforgettable. “When the communists persecuted the Church it didn’t matter to us whether we were Lutheran, Catholic, Orthodox or Pentecostal, we needed each other.”
Much the same point was made by Pope Francis concerning an “ecumenism of blood”; militant Islam (etc.) should stimulate all varieties of Church to recognise one another in Christ.
The teaching of this article seeks to promote unity by illuminating some internal pressures that exist on all Australian believers. It endeavours to shine a light on a shared spiritual condition that should powerful move us to unite. For as our fervent intercessor at Perth Prayer asked God for Christian unity I saw in the Spirit some very unpleasant things.First, an ugly image from a memorable Old Testament text came to mind. Moses prophesied that the fruit of divinely given material prosperity in Canaan would be an obese nation in rebellion against God. ““But Israel grew fat, and kicked;you grew fat, stout, and sleek; then he forsook God who made him and scoffed at the Rock of his salvation.”(Deut 32:15 ESV).
We might mock little fat Buddha statues but internally the Western Church commonly carries such a self-image in its heart.
We are like the Laodicean Church of whom Jesus spoke, “For you say, I am rich,I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” (Rev 3:17 ESV).
We of course will deny that we hold a plump and sleek spiritual self-image, but our failure to work together across the Church testifies against us.
It is rare to find a local churchgoer who is not in some significant way inwardly bloated, “puffed up”, by the inherited tradition of great theology, spirituality, liturgy, mission, revival, art, music etc. of Western Christianity (1 Cor 8:1 ESV).
As the Pharisees proud descent from Abraham held them back from genuine repentance (Luke 3:9 ESV) so our rich inheritance blinds us to our real condition before the Lord.
Whilst a few churches may be accused of overfeeding their members we are actually all gorged on “empty calories” and spiritually malnourished. This relates to the second image I perceived during Perth Prayer.
When the Lord showed Ezekiel a valley full of scattered bones he commanded, “vs.4 “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. vs.5 Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live.”” (Ezek 37:4-5 ESV).
The prophetic declaration is the power of the Word and the breath is the ruah-Spirit of God. As the bones come together bone on bone God adds to them flesh and muscle and they become a mighty army (Ezek 37:7-10 ESV).
This resurrected Body goes on to reclaim the land that belongs to the Lord (Ezek 37:11-14 ESV).
Ezekiel 37 is a prophetic picture of a dried up lifeless Church which however can be powerfully revived by the Word of Christ and the Holy Spirit.
When we turn away from the self-contentment of our satisfied spirituality and see ourselves as scattered and separated dried up bones we will be urgently motivated to come together in the Spirit of God.
Effective Christian unity depends upon a vision of the Church as broken and impotent.
Yet without a further vision such discernment of our brokenness can only lead to legalism, resignation or despair.
As in all things, we must first of all see JESUS.
Christ did not die to marry an obese Bride nor is he returning for a skeleton.
He will come to enjoy eternal intimacy with “a glorious church without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish. Instead, she will be holy and without fault” (Eph 5:27-28 ESV).
The emerging beauty of the fully formed Church is assured because vs.29 “no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, vs.30 because we are members of his body” (Eph 5:29 ESV).
The Church falls into the deformities of obesity or leanness whenever it takes its eyes off the cross and resurrection of Jesus.
In seeing Christ’s disfigured form on the cross, where “he had no form ormajesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him” (Isa 53:2 ESV), we are persuaded of the measureless sacrificial love he has for us.
In seeing his resurrection we are persuaded of the power of God to reshape his broken Body.
Such revelations motivate us to take whatever decisions we must to be shaped more like Jesus. In the natural course of marriage we all know only a wicked and lazy husband could sit idly by and allow his wife’s body to become distorted into obesity or become skeletonised.
Those who see themselves as prosperous will never feel the need to fast, but those who have a revelation that in the eyes of God they are “living skeletons” pray and fast that the Lord sends forth his Word in the power of the Spirit to form us into a beautiful Bride. And they pray that he does this quickly.
When we see a chain of 24/7 prayer-and-fasting across Perth revealing a bridal love for Jesus revival will already be upon us.
Until that time we are mostly like the Laodicean community, bloated on rubbish teaching.
As the old covenant people was taken into the wilderness to hunger for God’s Word alone but fell away in time of plenty (Deut 8:2-4, 17; 32:15), and as the confessing Christians in Laodicea were blinded by their affluence, so it is with us.
Only a clear vision of ourselves as like bones separated and broken up can move us to come together as members of the body of Christ powerless apart from each other (cf. Rom 12:5 ESV).
The great prophet of the Spirit could only answer the Lord’s question, ““Son of man, can these bones live?””, with his own question, ““O Lord God, you know.”” (Ezek 37:3 ESV).
But our sure hope is that the Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead can fill us with a vision of the One who has breathed life into his dead Church again and again (Rom 8:11 ESV). Jesus can do this.
Let us in humility pray that bone be joined to bone across our city and nation.
MESSAGE DELIVERED: 29th, June, 2018
Author: Dr. John Yates
MESSAGE YouTube or PODCAST: N/A
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