Good Morning Brothers…
Last week I ended our discussion with this sentence:
“The Church should be building and launching spears…if we are not, then we are not a Church.”
I make this statement because of the example set forth by the early apostolic Church, or the body of believers in the first 3 centuries after the ascension of Jesus Christ. I need to set the scene a little bit to help us understand the time and place, or the context that our Church was operating under. They were openly pursued and persecuted, imprisoned and put to death, ostracized and ridiculed. They were caught between a ‘rock and a hard place’ to use a modern phrase. The Jews in Jerusalem and the Roman government were both trying to eliminate any, and all, followers of the Way (Christians were called ‘followers of the Way’ before they received the title ‘Christians’). Early ‘followers’ developed a secretive method for identifying safe houses and passages in the catacombs under the city of Rome for Christians to follow, to find fellow believers. The symbol they used was that of a ‘fish’. Today, we call this symbol the ‘fishing for men’ symbol. The image of a fish scratched onto the wall of a tunnel or the side of a house was innocuous enough to evade attention by the persecutors and bold enough for any ‘followers of the Way’ to notice. The ‘fish’ symbol became the symbol of the Church, it marked us a ‘set apart’ from the world. What is interesting to me is the meaning of the symbol itself. It communicated action, it communicated the necessity of continued evangelism. Remember, Jesus called with these words, “Follow Me and I will make you fishers of men” and commissioned with these words, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.”
For the first 300 years of our Church, our brothers and sisters identified, through their choice of symbol, the mission and purpose of our Savior. I think the passage in Luke 4:18-19 captures the mission of Jesus perfectly. Jesus had just returned to Galilee after being tested in the desert and stood up in the synagogue to read. He chose a messianic text from the Book of Isaiah and recited the following:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
Because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor.
He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives,
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set free those who are oppressed,
To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.”
The early Church carried on the mission of Jesus through their choice of symbol and their actions. Historical accounts recapping that time in our Church history paint a very different scene that what we may typically experience today. They identified themselves with this passage from Luke 4 and realized they were indeed empowered to carry out the calling because Jesus Christ was victorious over sin and death. This victory, enabled them (and us) to shake off the chains of sin and work from a place of filling. The filling of the Holy Spirit which directed and empowered them (and us…again) to preach the gospel, proclaim release, recover sight, and set free. How they practiced this in their lives and worship services seem to emphasize the importance of 3 things:
- spiritual formation
Reaching the lost with the good news of the gospel was the lifeblood of the Church. If the early Church had hid from the world to escape persecution, eventually the Church would have died because there wouldn’t have been an influx of new converts. New converts were restricted from partaking in the sacramental rites of Baptism and Communion until they reached a certain level of spiritual formation. They were encouraged to ask questions about the messages they heard and the letters they read (remember…at this time in our Church history, the Bible had not yet been canonized, or fully put together yet). Once the new converts were able to fully ‘count the cost’ of following Jesus and surrender their entire life over the Lord’s service, they were baptized and allowed to participate in the Eucharist. There is a connection between salvation-spiritual formation-sacraments that the early Church recognized…and that is ‘surrender’. To live and worship victoriously through the blood of Jesus is to surrender to His will.
Now…I must point out that our Church today still uses this same language and we do have the added benefit of a Bible to continually point us toward Jesus. It seems, however, that we have lost our desperation for the mission of Jesus to be completed. This is why I say, “The Church should be building and launching spears…if we are not, then we are not a Church.” A spear has direction, it points toward a target, the target is the lost and fallen of this world. A spear must be built before it can be thrown or launched. Spiritual formation is necessary to develop and build Godly character and perseverance within the modern day ‘followers of the Way’. A spear is offensive. The gospel of Jesus Christ is offensive to those of the world. Like our predecessors, we cannot hide from the world and take up defensive positions, we must be offensive with the love of Jesus because the Church is always 1 generation away from extinction. If our modern day Church is building spears, then we are indeed identifying with the mission of Jesus and partnering with our brothers and sisters of the early Church to declare that Christ is risen indeed, this is STILL the favorable year of the Lord, and through His victory, we can work from a filling to bring love, joy, and peace into this lost a fallen world.
How do we build ‘spears’…we start by surrendering ourselves.