575:  Why Did Jesus Pray for His Church to be One?

575: Why Did Jesus Pray for His Church to be One?

To download the slides for this message, click – HERE

Subscribe Where You Listen the Most


Church:  The Hatfields and McCoys

We live in a world that is totally at war with itself.  Our nation is being torn apart by division – racial, socioeconomic, political – you name it, and we’ve experienced it.  But that’s not how Christ designed His church to be.  In fact, Jesus said in John 17 that when we love each other more than we love ourselves, the lost world will come to believe God sent Jesus and He is truly the Son of God.  In other words, our unity and oneness with each other will be the strongest evangelical draw we have to bring others to Christ.

But if you look around, all we see within the church is division.  Some churches believe in the sovereignty of God, while others deify man and his free will choices.  Some churches see homosexuality as a sin, while others have drag queens teaching the children on Sunday mornings.  The church has a history of dividing on trivial matters such as the mode of baptism or our posture in prayer rather than uniting around the “faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3).

But what did the Lord have in mind when He created His church?  And does it look anything like what we’ve turned it into today?  Let’s take a few moments and do a brief survey on what the Lord said about His church.


It’s Unity Above Almost Everything Else

As we’ve shared already, the early church was built on devoting themselves to the four disciplines found in Acts 2:42.  And as you can see, two of the four deal with building our family relationships with each other in unity (fellowship and the Love Feast, or the breaking of bread).

And they continued steadfastly in (were devoted to) (1) the apostles’ doctrine and (2) fellowship, in the (3) breaking of bread, and (4) in prayers – Acts 2:42.

Then we have the prayer of Jesus before His death on the cross.  And what was the content of His prayer?  Our unity in Him and each other.

“That they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us (why) that the world may believe that You sent Me” – John 17:21.

Notice how many times Paul encouraged the church (and the individual believers) to humble themselves in unity with others like our Lord did.  It seems that being one together in Him was continually on Paul’s mind.

Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be (what) like-minded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus, (why) that you may with one mind and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ – Romans 15:5-6.

Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that (what) you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment – 1 Corinthians 1:10.

I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to (what) walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, (how) with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.  There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all – Ephesians 4:1-6.

Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.  Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.  Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others – Philippians 2:1-4.


Ugh, Enough Already

I know, too many passages all saying the same thing lose their power over time.  Maybe.  Or maybe several passages all saying the same thing might convict us of our sins and move us to make the changes internally we need to in order to become one with other believers.   Maybe we will realize Jesus was serious about unity in His church, and Paul just piled it on even more after Him.

And maybe, just maybe, this will move us to change how we view church and each other in order to make His name known to those who live in sin, skepticism, and denial.  And maybe when we are one in Him, our loved ones will see the incredible power of Christ and come to faith in Him.

And if so, all He is waiting for is us to obey His commands.  Are you ready?  I sure hope so.


Leaving Laodicea | The Survival Manual for the Coming Underground Church

Subscribe Where You Listen the Most


574:  Turning Church from an Institution into a Family

574: Turning Church from an Institution into a Family

To download the slides for this message, click – HERE

Subscribe Where You Listen the Most


Fellowship is More Than a Pot-Luck Dinner

If you look at the book of Acts, you’ll find the amazing story of how the church was born and grew to 3,000 people after one 297-word sermon preached by an impetuous, former fisherman named Peter.  It’s one of the most transforming passages in all the New Testament.  But what we fail to look at is the fact that now the church had a serious logistic issue.  Like, “What are we going to do with all these people?  How are we going to feed them?  Many of them don’t even speak the same language we speak.  We don’t have training materials, a church structure, or places for them to sleep.  And we don’t even know if we like them?  All we know is they have now received the same Spirit we received, and they consider us family, and we should start acting like family.”

This was a difficult problem for the infant church, which was only hours old.  I can imagine Peter and the rest of the disciples fretting over the fact this problem was way above their pay grade.  This was something Jesus needed to figure out before He ascended into heaven just ten days ago.  But He didn’t.  He just left them His Spirit and trusted them to follow His will.

I can imagine their prayers went something like, “Lord, show us what to do.  These are Your people, called by Your name, and filled with Your Spirit, just like we are.  So please, show us what to do.”

And that is exactly what the Lord did.


They Continued Steadfastly in Four Things

As you can see from Scripture, they “continued steadfastly” or “endured to the point of devotion” to four vital disciplines that allowed them to grow from a gang of strangers into His church (Acts 4:42).  Not three.  And not five.  Just four.  But these four were essential to their growth and devotion to the Lord and to each other.

And they continued steadfastly in (1) the apostles’ doctrine and (2) fellowship, in (3) the breaking of bread, and (4) in prayers – Acts 2:42.

Note what they were devoted to and the order they are listed.

And they continued steadfastly in
(1)  the apostles’ doctrineor preaching and the study of the Word of God.
(2)  and fellowshipwhich is koinōnía and means a partnership, communion, or joint participation.  This is something more than sharing a chicken dinner on Sunday.
(3) in the breaking of breadthis is more than communion or the Lord’s Supper.  It is a shared communal meal, much like a family reunion, that was part of their worship service.
(4) and in prayersboth corporate and individual.

As you can see, there is much we are missing today that the early church deemed essential when they came together as the family of God to worship the Father.  I believe there is much we can learn from them.  But the key discipline that changes them, and can change us, from an institution to a family is in the “breaking of bread” or the Love Feast.  And it is this forgotten love feast we will explore in this message.


Leaving Laodicea | The Survival Manual for the Coming Underground Church

Subscribe Where You Listen the Most


What Did the Agape or Love Feast Look Like?

What Did the Agape or Love Feast Look Like?

The Lost Discipline of the Love Feast – Part 2

As with most of life, all good things must come to an end.  Some by natural design and others by more sinister means.  We can say the same for the “love feast,” which was a foundational aspect of worship during the church’s first three centuries that met its demise in the most nefarious way.  And as we dig into this further, you might conclude, as I have, that the forces of darkness conspired to rid the early church of a powerful, God-ordained way of forging a group of individual believers into a single voice, a single body, into the body of Christ (Eph. 4:12).  And that way was the “love feast.”

Oh, and the results of that conspiracy?  Well, just look around at the fractured and scattered church today.  I think the fruits are evident, don’t you?


What Is or Was the Love Feast?

As we have shared earlier, the early church was a group of Spirit-filled and committed strangers who were brought together by God’s effectual calling to form more than an organization or religious institution, but a family— the family of God or the body of Christ.  And the Lord gave them the discipline of sharing a common meal together as part of their corporate worship time (Acts 2:42) to facilitate the intimacy and fellowship (koinōnía) needed to become the light of the world (Matt. 5:14).

But the “love” or “agape” feast was more than a simple meal.  It was a time of bonding together, much like a family does after a tragedy.  It was a time to embrace new believers, encourage those struggling in their faith, and rejoice with those with whom God was doing mighty things.  The agape, or love feast, was an opportunity for the church to share the highs and lows of the Christian life as one, while building itself up on the “most holy faith” (Jude 1:20).

During the feast, the older, more mature Believers would share wisdom and what they had learned from walking with Christ longer than the new believers just learning how to crawl spiritually.  It was a picture of what a Christian worship service should look like.  Everyone had a part, and everyone was encouraged to participate.

How is it then, brethren?  Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation.  Let all things be done for edification – 1 Corinthians 14:26.

When was the last time you saw congregation members encouraged to share a teaching, tongue, revelation, or interpretation during a Sunday worship time without that first being cleared by those in charge?  Exactly.  But what a fantastic time that would have been, not constrained by the rules or traditions of men, but singing spontaneous songs and hymns, offering prayers without being asked, and praising God continually for all He had done in the lives of those with you, all prompted and empowered by the presence of the Holy Spirit moving in everyone, and not just a few.  Amazing.


Couldn’t Things Go Wrong?

Now, it is true that this type of freedom in worship has its inherent dangers.  We see that in Jude 1:12, where Jude says non-believers, satanic plants, had infiltrated the church, just like they have today, and became “spots in your feast, while they feast with you without fear, serving only themselves.”  The word translated spots is spilás and means “a rock by the sea or submerged in the sea by which ships are shipwrecked.”  In essence, these people became a hidden reef that could cause great damage to the church due to their selfishness, “serving only themselves.”  It looks like not much has changed in 2,000 years.  But is the fear of abuse or selfishness a reason to scrap something God established for such good?  I don’t think so.

Then, we see the problem with pride in the church.  In Corinth, the people had strayed into factions and groups, favoring those who “have” and rejecting those who “have not.”  In giving his instruction for the Lord’s Supper in 1 Corinthians 11:23-26, Paul first chastised those who had turned the agape or love feast into something dishonoring to Christ.  And it was this rebuke that gave rise to his instructions (1 Cor. 11:17-22).  You might want to read it yourself.  It kinda stings.

But again, is this a reason to reject the plan of God entirely because some in the church have abused it?  Notice that Paul did not cancel the love feast.  He only regulated it and the Lord’s Supper.  So yes, as with anything, there are inherent dangers.  And this is true of the love feast.  But do you think that when God instituted it along with Bible teaching, fellowship, and prayer, He was unaware of the dangers?  Like maybe they caught Him by surprise?  Or perhaps He made a mistake?  Again, I think not.


So What Did the Love (Agape) Feast Look Like?

According to the New Testament and the writings of the early church fathers, the agape or love feast was celebrated by the early church this way:

The church would gather on the first day of the week to celebrate the Lord and praise Him.  This time, what we would call our Sunday Worship Service, would begin with a common, shared meal— with those who had much sharing with those who had little.

The agape feast and the Lord’s Supper were closely connected, with the feast first followed by the Supper.  Ignatius of Antioch (35-108 AD) wrote: “It is not lawful without the bishop either to baptize, or to offer, or to present sacrifice, or to celebrate a love-feast.”¹  This indicates the love feast and the Lord’s Supper were not separate practices for the early church.  They were two sides of the same coin.

During the love feast, those present were encouraged to share, for the edification of the body, what the Lord had shown them or what He had done in their lives, much like our time of testimonies.  There was freedom within the church.  No clergy, laity divide.  Everyone had direct access to the Lord and, therefore, everyone had the opportunity and right to share their relationship with Him.  It was the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers on steroids.

According to church historians, their time began with prayer, followed by a communal meal (love feast) and time of sharing, singing, testimonies, Scripture, and worship.  This was followed by a teaching from the Scripture and ended with the Lord’s Supper.  An offering was also received for the needs of others.  Tertullian (160-225 AD) explains the offering in his Apology, “Our feast explains itself by its name. The Greeks call it agape, i.e., affection. Whatever it costs, our outlay in the name of piety is gain, since with the good things of the feast we benefit the needy.”²

Remember, when the church came together, they were “devoted to” or “continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42).  These were not four separate activities that took place on different days.  These four God-ordained practices of His church made up their worship service and were sum parts of the whole that were vital in turning the persecuted early church into the men and women of God who “turned the world upside down” for Christ (Acts 17:6).


But What Happened to the Love Feast?

Great question.  And the answer may surprise you.  Remember, whenever God provides His children with something to benefit them, as He did with the four practices in Acts 2:42, the enemy and the flesh work overtime to destroy all God has created.  We see this in every area of life, and especially in His church.

So next time, we will look at the sinister compromise the church made with the secular world for the sake of acceptance and wealth and how the agape feast proved too powerful to be allowed to stand.  So, like most things God gives us for our good, it was set aside for something we want more.  And the unintended consequences for the church (or maybe they were intended) have been severe.

We can learn much about how God intended His church to function rather than how we have decided we want it to be today.  And who knows, maybe God is moving His church from its dependence on repurposed pagan temples back into the homes where it first began.  Perhaps He will reinstitute His love feast among believers and how we worship Him in the future.  Who knows?

But if that is what He is doing, I, for one, am ready for it. Are you?


Notes:

1.  Letter to the Smyrneans 8.2
2.  Apology, 39.16


Leaving Laodicea | The Survival Manual for the Coming Underground Church

Subscribe Where You Listen the Most