Friday, November 19, 2010

Discerning the Authentic from the Artificial by Greg Austin

Some years ago as I was traveling through Hong Kong, I noticed the many sidewalk salesmen there hawking “Rolex” watches for twenty or thirty dollars. I knew that the price of any Rolex started in the thousands of dollars, but of course, these Asian versions of the Swiss timepiece were phonies, cheap knock-offs that would neither withstand normal use or a customs officer’s eye. I chose to pass on the opportunity to own an apparently reliable but functionally worthless watch.

There exists in ecclesiastical reality a vast distinction between the Spiritual church and the Institutional church.

On the day that Peter verbalized Jesus’ true identity, that “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God,” Jesus declared “.... I will build My church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

From Jesus’ statement, taken by itself and in isolation, one might assume a record would follow that would parallel the construction of a building; a foundation would be laid upon which a superstructure would be erected, resulting in some sort of functional edifice. 

But church history reflects a different story; indeed ours is a saga rife with disagreements, disunity, divisions and ungodly partitions of a Body that was intended, that was destined to become “one” in Christ.

And yet with all the dark, dysfunctional history of a divided church, Christ “loved the church and gave Himself for her.”   Those who profess love for Christ while voicing disdain for His church, who speak in derisive tones regarding those who have confessed love for the church expose a glaring deficiency of the Spirit of Christ in their own lives.

The injuries sustained by those in relationship with the church, the often deep, spiritual wounds incurred were derived not from the church, but are the natural and inevitable consequence of religion, and not the church that Jesus promised He would build.

Religion is the cradle of the Institutional church, and the children of the Institutional church are Intolerance, Spiritual Manipulation and Death. Religion separates, while Christ unites. Religion kills, but Christ brings life. The tension of the “church” today is increasingly one between “Institution” and “Spirit.” “The letter kills, but the Spirit makes alive”  are not the words of a contemporary Emergent leader, but of Jesus.

When we discuss existing discontent and rejection of the church we are not referring to the spiritual church. In fact, it is a misstatement for any truly born-again follower of Jesus Christ to say that he or she has rejected “the church” or that “the church” has failed or that “the church” has injured them.

It is the misrepresentation of the church that is not the church that causes deep injury and pain to human hearts. The doubly painful effect of this distortion is that injured people tend to believe it was the church, the life-giving community of heaven on earth that produced their wounds when in fact it was an imposter that hurt them.

The truth is that injury and failure cannot proceed from the true, spiritual church. The spiritual church is the heart of God’s nature and activity, the revelation of His glory in the earth. The spiritual church is God’s chosen vehicle to manifest His nature to mankind, even as Jesus of Nazareth was God’s chosen Vehicle to manifest Himself to men. The true Church is wound-healing, life-giving, hope-restoring and future-promising. The true expression of the church will always bring life and never death.

Let me be clear: God loves the church! He created the church through the blood of His own Son and He will never abandon the entity He has chosen to become the Bride of Jesus; “...even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.”

There is no place for a follower of Jesus to throw stones at the “apple” of God’s eye – the true and living church.

However we are not speaking of this entity when we talk about change or reformation in the church. We’re talking about the religious system of man that masquerades, that is a pretender, that dominates the spiritual landscape of religious life today: The Institutionalization of the true church - the “form of godliness” that “denies the power thereof”  is the target of objection. The danger of this Pharisaical cadaver is that it produces spiritual death. Jesus said to the religious leaders of His day, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.”

The spiritual must be lived, walked out in a practical manner. Therefore the church must have a body, a form, a skeleton to live and walk with and through. Just as man is spirit, soul and body, so the church must possess a body. That body may be cared for, exercised, fed, rested, and strengthened by the manner in which we treat it; or it may be neglected, abused and weakened by our behavior toward it.

There are rules of physical health that may not be successfully violated if one is to enjoy good physical condition. If we feed our bodies junk food, we pay the price in reduced health. If we exercise our bodies and give them pure and proper food, they rise to the challenge of increased stress and demand and grow stronger: The same is true in the spiritual realm.

If we examine the effect of the Institution of the church, what has become the “Business of Organized Religion” in Western nations especially, but also increasingly among other nations who have imitated Western Christianity, we find a steady stream of disillusioned, disheartened, wounded, broken hearts walking away from whatever expression of “church” they have known.

The collective Institution, the “Professional Religionists” have created an abusive, exclusive system out of the Company that Jesus engendered to be a receptive, grace-filled, mercy-giving, society of “Love, Acceptance and Forgiveness.”

Our governmental structure – not the structure that Christ gave us, but our imitations of secular government and our reproduction and baptism of secular business systems is the thing that has in many instances replaced the true church. It matters not a whit if a man chooses to affiliate or associate with one denomination or another or any non-denominational organization as a means of finding his comfort zone within the church. None of these things truly matter; if a man or woman is born again of the Spirit by the blood of Jesus Christ, he or she is a member of “the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven.” 

If our pursuit is the kingdom of God and a new creation lifestyle and order, our denominational, sectarian and theological differences all will be washed away in the atmosphere of the supremacy of the government of heaven and by the glory of the administration of Jesus. The common denominator among us all will be “by grace (were) we saved through faith, and that not of (our)selves...” 

It’s the structure, the form that man creates to accommodate the spiritual Body that is enemy of spiritual and Body life in Christ. Dr. C.M. Ward had it right when he stated, “The tendency of religion is to muddy.”  Jesus said, “you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition.”  Eugene Peterson translates these words, “ . . . you cancel God’s command with your rules.”

If we look with a clear eye at the church that Jesus birthed and compare it with the religious morass of our current hour, we must conclude that we have drifted, or more correctly steered ourselves miles from the original template. But merely capturing the format of the primitive, New Testament church is not the solution either. The thing that must be discovered is not a cookie cutter image of a church form that has not existed in two millennia, but rather it is the heart of the Father, the image of the Son and the life of the Spirit that will produce an authentic representation of His church in the earth.

This is the thing that will finally answer the question, “How should we do church?” When form flows from the functioning presence of the living Spirit of God within and among God’s people, shape and structure will appear as it will appear, and will effectively serve the needs of the Body. This necessarily means that “church” may well appear differently in different locales. And it is this potent possibility that causes some to tremble with fear of the unknown and in the insecurity of lack of control. 

Yet this is the thing that must happen. Whatever its form, the church must serve the needs of man instead of man serving the needs of the church. Too many wounded, broken, hurting people have entered supposed “sanctuaries,” hoping that somehow, the church could provide healing and restoration to their souls. Some found help, but the majority exited worship services more disillusioned than when they came; their fading hopes dashed by a lifeless institution that could not, by virtue of its very lifelessness, produce life.

It’s the wineskin, and not the wine that is the problem. It’s the skeleton and not the spirit that must change. It’s the “after-market add-ons” that we must abandon if we are to truly become the church we seek. But another jettisoning of forms and structures is not sufficient to produce a true, life-giving church. Jesus is building His church, and we are not. Jesus is Author of our constitution and by-laws, and man is not. The Lord of the church, the Head of the Body is also the Master Potter Who alone is qualified to shape, form and create the lovely and life-sustaining entity called “church.”

The gates of hell have not and cannot prevail against the church – the spiritual church. But the gates of hell have played havoc with our Institutions and because so many people have (mistakenly) connected the Institution with the true, spiritual church, their anticipations have been met with disappointment. The church – the true church is existent today. But she is not the imposter that masquerades herself in gowns of self-importance, human wisdom, self-promotion and spiritual superiority. She is the humble, plain-spoken imitator and reflected image of Jesus, destined to be purified and prepared, adorned in His righteousness, ready to serve, to touch, to bless, to heal. 

You may email Greg, or feel free to comment to post below -


  1. "Religion separates, while Christ unites. "

    Actually Jesus said:"Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to 'set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law'; and 'a man's enemies will be those of his own household.'
    Matt 10:33-35
    Historically, Jesus and the name of Jesus has been the most divisive thing in the world. He split time.
    This very article is about the division of the real church and the religious man made institusion.

    En Agape Marietjie

  2. "Whatever its form, the church must serve the needs of man instead of man serving the needs of the church." ... Greg I also think this is a misconception. The church is for God. When we do what He tells us, we have good success. We cannot be moved by the need or the manipulation of the people around us. The reason, George Mueller and some of the Giants of the faith has been so successfull is that they served God and when they felt a burden for something, they did not do anything untill they have the mind of God. We serve Gos NOT the people.

  3. Isaiah 5:1-2 was marked in my Bible and as I was reading this, I was flipping through the pages (thoughtlessly and aimlessly). I looked down and saw that I had these scriptures marked with the notation "church today 2005". You have very eloquently described a condition that has been for many years. I only pray that the 'skeleton' wakes up before the prophet cries out "Arise"! Perhaps that is what you are doing here.

  4. I am blessed to be a part of the remnant God is raising up in the earth in this hour. We are those who God is teaching the meaning of Agape. We are those who God is teaching what it means to worship Him in Spirit and in Truth! We are those who God is teaching to walk as sons and daughters, led by the Holy Spirit! He is retraining those with 'eyes to see and ears to hear' in the apostolic order. Praise God for His amazing love that is teaching us that we are 'as Jesus is' in the earth, anointed for the greater works! Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on earth, as it is in Heaven. And may we all be found in the faith when Jesus comes!

  5. Hi Marietjie. Thanks for posting your comments on the article above. Please allow me to clarify the statement you noted, "the church must serve the needs of man instead of man serving the needs of the church." I agree fully with you that the church is for God. The church is from Him and by Him for His purposes. What I intend by my statement is to clarify that God both willed and created the church to become the redemptive and healing community of people who through the church would demonstrate His love and glory to the earth. This is in contrast to a church form that demands our service, our gifts, our talents; that sucks the life out of people and burns them out, disappoints and does not reflect God's glory or carry His healing virtue. Bless you, Greg

  6. Great comment Greg, I agree fully. They (the people) will know us (the church) by our fruit and they will know that we are His (not a system's) disciples by our love for one another.
    Sucking people dry and then going down the line to the next "freshly" gifted person is not what Love had intended from the beginning :)

    Great stuff brother...look forward to meeting you one day.

    John Meyer

  7. John 17...! The last agonized prayer of the LORD before He was to go to the cross - the condemned Man's last wish, so to speak....

    "I do not pray for these alone, but for those also who will [those yet to come - us!] believe in Me through their word; that they may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one." (Verses 20-21)

    Are we one? the so-called church ONE? If it is the body of Christ, how pathetic that MAN has broken it up into about 40,000 little pieces! we have the mind of Christ? - and are we united in Spirit and in the will of God? I know that there is a remnant that IS - but I can WELL understand Jesus' desire that the world many believe that the Father sent Him.... and the world sees the division and finger-pointing and runs the OTHER way! May God's light in US so shine before men that they may SEE our light and KNOW that Jesus is sent by God, surrendering their lives to the will and power of Him who prayed this prayer. We are to salt and light - not vinegar and darkness. A good tree cannot bring forth bad fruit, neither can a bad tree bring forth good fruit. By our fruit we are known. Amen.

    Pursue love. (1 Cor.14:1) God IS love. (1 John 4:8)

  8. Truth spoken in love ... oh that the Spirit would captivate our hearts w/ revelation & fill us with the Love of God shed abroad in our hearts in Christ Jesus to be a conduit of the TRUE CHURCH of called out ones... the systems of man must be shaken and fall... they will.. it is happening .. for "the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart." Father, let your Kingdom come and YOUR WILL be done in all of our heart and lives upon this earth AS IT IS IN HEAVEN... transform us all by the renewing of our minds by the Spirit of Truth to conform to YOUR Kingdom message ... for we ARE the Church which will bring the Kingdom to earth, Amne

    Thank you Greg... love you bro! Jule


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