My daughter suggested I write about the kind of church Jesus would attend. I have been thinking about it and I think it is something all Christians, and especially church leaders, need to consider. Attend is a rather formal word that evokes thoughts of annual general meetings and other formal business-like occasions, but it is an appropriate word that simply means ‘be present’.
So what kind of church would Jesus attend? Well, I doubt very much if He would be interested in denominational labels or self-descriptors like Baptist, or Charismatic, or the like. I doubt too that any particular ethnic mix would especially appeal to Him, or the style and volume of the music, or the pulpit skills of the Pastor. Perhaps He would only attend an on-fire group of passionate disciples… what do you think?
Well, here is a shocker – Revelation 3:14-22 pictures Jesus trying to attend the lukewarm church of Laodicea. He wrote to this church; “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me” (Revelation 3:20). So, it seems that the Lord Jesus is prepared to attend any church that would welcome him. But, and there is always a ‘but’, it seems that if they did not repent and welcome Him, then He was going to close them down (Revelation 2:5). So, perhaps a better way of framing the question would be; ‘what kind of church would Jesus be happy to attend regularly?’
This is a vitally important question because God designed ‘church’ to be the localised ‘body of Christ’, His temple and the place of His presence. If the Lord Jesus is not present in a church then how can we even call it a church? Club, mutual help organisation, religious school perhaps, but not a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16).
The focus of my thoughts
A local church is more than just its Sunday worship service. During the week, it has other types of meetings, and it has structures, processes, outreaches, social works, and so on. However, its primary corporate expression is its weekly worship service. So, I have limited my thoughts and remarks, at this stage, to the presence of God in a church service.
This word, ‘presence’, is key. Thousands of years ago, Jacob encountered God in a visionary dream, and his account of this life-changing experience ends with the words; “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it… How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.” (Genesis 28:16-17). Then he named the place Bethel, set up a stone memorial, and made the vow that “this stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God’s house…” (Genesis 28:22). In a sense, Bethel was the prototype church, the house of God and gate of heaven… the place of the presence of God.
In later years, the temple in Jerusalem became the place of God’s presence and the Jewish scholars of that time regarded it as the location where Heaven and Earth came together. Then, just 40 years before this temple was destroyed by the Romans, the Lord Jesus Christ made the startling declaration to Nathanael that he would see “heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man” (John 1:51). Nathanael and the disciples would have understood this to be a clear reference to Jacob’s vision of some 1,800 years earlier. So, when Jesus lived in Palestine Heaven touched Earth, and in our day the corporate gathering of every true church is this interface… the place of the presence of Jesus.
Therefore, in this article, and in further articles in this series I will initially limit myself to the manifest presence of God in our corporate church meetings.
Sensing the presence of God
How do we know if ‘the Lord is in the house’? What are the indicators of His presence? I have identified nine, but I do not claim that this a comprehensive list. As I ponder on each of them, I realise that they are both indicators of and responses to God’s presence among His people. When The Lord is tangibly present in a church meeting, we respond in significant ways and our responses are both to His sensed presence as well as being evidence of His presence.
The nine indicators/responses are:
- Reverent and adoring worship
- Passionate prayer
- Serious attention to biblical preaching
- An attitude of faith
- Ministry in the power of the Holy Spirit
- Anointed leadership
- Expressions of love
- An impartation of life and wholeness
- A desire to share the presence of God with others
So, my plan is to take each of these in turn and consider how we would recognise the presence of God in a church service by observing and participating in worship, prayer, and so on.
I am looking forward to this series and I hope you are too.
Late in December 2013 I preached a sermon entitled ‘The sense of His presence’, and here it is if you would like to listen: