So with a foundation of agreement concerning who Jesus is and what His good news is, and with an understanding of what an “ekklesia” actually is, what should we, the Lord’s people in Bloomington, do about it? What we have in our city currently is obviously nothing close to what we see in the New Testament. We obviously are not fulfilling Christ’s prayer and command for us to be one. So what does He want us to do?
This page explores the answer to that question and is divided into the following sections:
- What stands in the way of us being one?
- What can I as an individual do?
- Common follow-up questions answered
What stands in the way of us being one?
After meeting with a number of respected christian leaders in Bloomington to discuss the idea of the Lord’s people truly becoming one, the following practical considerations kept coming up:
- Many of the Lord’s people in Bloomington are timid about change and are very tied to the identity of their organizations and/or denominations.
- Many of the Lord’s people in Bloomington have some biases or unresolved issues between them that result in distance.
- Many of the Lord’s people in Bloomington have taken on financial debt and there are many assets, livelihoods, and projects that would have to be considered.
Along with these considerations these leaders also provided many ideas on long term strategies and solutions, but, interestingly, a long while before having those wonderful conversations, during a season of meditation on how the Lord’s people in Bloomington could become one, the following list of three practical prerequisites had come together:
- For the Lord’s people in Bloomington to be able to honestly welcome the ekklesia of Christ, they must abandon any name by which they distinguish themselves from one another.
- For the ekklesia of Christ to be established in Bloomington, there must be a physical gathering for all the Lord’s people.
- For the ekklesia of Christ in Bloomington to flourish and do what it was designed to do, the members of the ekklesia must love one another sincerely, willing to share all things – debt, time, work, concerns, decisions, joys, etc.
As you can see, the practical considerations which the leaders raised, although extremely helpful to have clarified, were no surprise. Each of the three practical considerations that continued to come up matched perfectly with one of the logical prerequisites that had been drafted beforehand. Each stumbling block that came up has a simple solution of the heart that no long term approach or activity can bring about (even though at first that would seem to be the wisest course of action).
The reason the long term approach isn’t the right approach is because the long term approach wrongly treats the considerations as obstacles instead of treating the act of holding onto those considerations as the obstacle. Those considerations are the very things that must be surrendered to the Lord in order for us to see His prayer be fulfilled in our city. The practical prerequisites that had been written down beforehand turned out to be exactly that: prerequisites. We must first walk in the path of obedience towards the oneness the Lord commanded for us and desires for us, and then we will have the power to address people’s legitimate concerns. There will be resistance to a change of identity? His people must share only one identity! There will be discomfort in coming all together? His people must share a time all together to encourage and enable resolution! There will be difficulty in caring for one another? His people must share their hearts and possessions as each is able!
“I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, [are] in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.” (John 17:20-21)
Because the three practical prerequisites deal with the individual, there is no reason to wait or delay. These are obstacles of the heart that we can each overcome immediately with the power of His Spirit. And without that change of heart, the Lord’s will for our oneness will never be fulfilled. We cannot fulfill his desire for us of truly being one if we are not willing to change and let go of our traditions to the extent that we can call ourselves by the same name and stop distinguishing ourselves from one another. We cannot fulfill his desire for us of truly being one if we are not willing to forgive and humbly seek reconciliation to the extent that we physically come together. We cannot fulfill his desire for us of truly being one if we are not willing to trust the Lord with all the debts and possessions to the extent that we share all things with one another.
Our clinging to human traditions, our passive approach to reconciliation, and our material concerns are the very things that prevent us from fulfilling his desire for us. We don’t need wisdom to resolve those things before we can become one. We don’t need a clever way of slowly getting people’s feet wet to the idea of unity. We don’t need to have a rigid structure or extreme caution in order to form a unity that will last. We don’t need to consider everyone’s debts, financial needs, and assets before committing to unity. And we definitely don’t need everyone else to go first. What we need first is to abandon these concerns altogether, cling to the one name, come all together, and share all things, and then he will give us wisdom for dealing with the difficulties!
“But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33)
If we rely on putting it all together or figuring it all out before offering the hand of fellowship to one another, then the doubters will be proven correct and we’ll never be one like Jesus commanded until heaven. And if we rely on everyone else to go first, everyone will always be waiting… But if instead we turn it all over to the Lord and are willing to forsake everything to fulfill His will for us – His prayer for us – His command to us – then we can be sure it will happen, because it is what He wants!
“But Jesus looked at [them] and said to them, ‘With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.’ ” (Matthew 19:26)
What can I as an individual do?
If after reading the main content of this page or the above, you are feeling convinced that something should be done but you don’t know what you can personally do, here are some ideas:
- Pray for the Lord’s desire for His people to be one to truly take form in your city.
- Confess any part you have had in the separation of the Lord’s people.
- Abandon any denominational or congregational names that you have used to identify yourself and/or any memberships you have placed yourself under.
- Keep in mind that abandoning memberships does not always mean you need to abandon the people, relationships, or ministries associated with the congregation.
- Ready yourself and your affairs for the potential of the ekklesia coming all together, which Christ Himself will build in his own good timing.
- Begin meeting with believers who are willing to meet only under the name of Christ, only under the auspice of being believers, and only under the direction of the Holy Spirit. The only thing a small group can do is to example the kind of love for one another and desire for obeying His commands that they hope to see exhibited by every other believer in their city.
- This doesn’t mean you can’t also visit other believers who are gathering in a large group on a Sunday morning or other time of the week. Maybe the Spirit is leading you to continuing doing that so you can be an influence among them towards establishing the ekklesia.
- Ensure that you are continuing “steadfastly in the apostles’ teaching and the sharing [of all things] and the breaking of bread and prayers” (Acts 2:42). If we begin by doing this from house to house, it will be much easier to also do it with one accord in one place when the Lord makes that happen.
- These four things completely summarize the communal life of the believer, and we we’re not called to expect to do anything else. If the Spirit has something more for you to do, He’ll tell you (Acts 8:26). Besides these we’re left with our personal work: receive gladly, work justly, love mercy, and walk closely with your God (Micah 6:8; 1 Thessalonians 4:9-12; 2 Thessalonians 3:10-13).
- Start with yourself. You can’t control others’ willingness to obey, so you have to let that be in God’s hands. You can only choose for yourself to listen and obey. And that’s all your supposed to be doing. If we’re doing something that’s more than just listening or putting into practice what we’ve heard from the Lord, then it comes from us and we’re no longer being a follower.
- If we are first focused seeking God, we will be drawn to coming close to Him, listening to Him, and being an extension of Him, and then it will please Him to connect us with others who are doing the same. He’ll use the same process of coming close to Him to bring us close to one another in small groups of followers, to bring together those small groups together as the ekklesia in Bloomington, and to use that ekklesia to change our city and world.
- Use the contact methods below to reach out for encouragement, clarification, or opportunities to connect.
- Even if you’re from another city in the world, please feel encouraged to reach out for support!
Common follow-up questions answered below:
- Do we have to do anything? Is the current state really a problem?
- But what about the commands to submit to an “authority”?
- Are all leaders outside of the ekklesia doing bad work?
Do we have to do anything? Is the current state really a problem?
If after reading the above you are left feeling unconvinced and wondering whether or not such drastic changes are really necessary, the answer is yes, they are. We are commanded to “let it be for the edification of the ekklesia that [we] seek to excel” (1 Corinthians 14:12), and so we are obviously disobeying that command if we aren’t even interested in being a part of establishing the ekklesia in our city in the first place.
Furthermore, Jesus prayed that we would be one so that “the world may believe that [the Father] sent [Him]” (John 17:21). If the world is not believing enough to either join us or attack us, something is terribly wrong. Jesus promised persecution for His followers, so if we are His followers why hasn’t that promise been fulfilled? We aren’t separated away from the world. It is all around us in Bloomington, and yet there’s such little evidence that those practicing evil “hate the light” (John 3:20). Could it be that it is because we are dim embers separated by distance and coldness when instead we should be close together and warming each other to such a point that we produce light?
But if impacting the magnification of Christ and the salvation of the lost is also unconvincing, then consider how we obey Christ’s command to address sins against one another. Jesus commanded that if a brother refuses to hear one and then two brothers about his sin, they are to take the issue before the ekklesia (Matthew 18:17). He commanded His followers to take such issues before the ekklesia without even a mention of the possibility that we would go so far in our divisions to not even have an ekklesia. Paul instructed Timothy in a similar way saying, “Those who are sinning rebuke in the presence of all, that the rest also may fear” (1 Timothy 5:20). Is the person’s small group or close friends good enough to be considered “all”? What about a congregation of a few hundred? No, “all” means all – all the believers in that city or town to whom the person could run to for inclusion. Taking the unresolved issue to any group less than the ekklesia is to do less than commanded.
If the Lord’s people are not truly one then any discipline among them is ultimately an empty measure, and the rebuked person will simply find another congregation that will accept his sin, or if all else fails he will form his own congregation in order to avoid the issue. But no matter what he does, how can any of the other congregations dismiss the one he finds (or founds)? The existence of those congregations is founded on the idea that Christ recognizes and accepts multiple ekklesias in the same place, each one governing itself. The only congregation with the ability to dismiss the authority of another congregation in the same place is a congregation founded upon the idea that more than one local and authoritative congregation is not possible – that the only options are to work things out and submit to one another or to stand on the sidelines – such a congregation is the ekklesia.
It’s not up to a single believer to establish the ekklesia in his or her city, but if we are not even willing to participate in the ekklesia or its formation, are we not rejecting a necessary component to obeying one of Christ’s commands? How can we ever say we’ve done our best to obey that command if we have not worked toward or even desired his ekklesia to be established in our city?
But what about the commands to submit to an “authority”?
Above you’ve been encouraged to invalidate any “formal” Christian memberships you have previously entered into because it directly conflicts with your call to be a natural member of one body of Christ in your city. And it was also clarified that this doesn’t necessarily mean you need to abandon the people or ministry you may have been connected to within some congregation. You were not encouraged to be unloving or opposed to good work believers may be doing, but only separating yourself from anything that would stand in the way of Jesus’ aim. Yet many may still be cautious of this encouragement to separate yourself from formal memberships and to freely meet more organically with other believers based on certain commands that Peter and the writer of Hebrews gave about submitting to elders.
“Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.” (Hebrews 13:17)
“Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to [your] elders. Yes, all of [you] be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for ‘God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble.’ ” (1 Peter 5:5)
Some argue that taking yourself out from under someone in authority will put you at odds with the above commands and put you in a dangerous situation. Many go even further to assume that believers are in rebellion if they do not find someone to put themselves under. This is simply not the case, which is easy to see on closer inspection.
Three questions will illuminate the problem:
1. Who put you under the person in authority in the first place? Or in other words, who made them an authority in your life?
If God puts someone in authority over you, obviously that person must be heeded as an authority as much as possible, even if they are not a believer:
“Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. ” (Romans 13:1)
But what about the authorities you put yourself under? Selecting an authority for yourself is the way it works for nearly every person in modern day congregations. Maybe someone like a parent or husband has brought you to the congregation and put you under the influence a leader, but likely, if you are under an authority in a congregation, it is because you have put yourself under them. If you placed yourself under authority using a formal agreement or covenant that restricts you from leaving, then you may be obligated to abide by that agreement even though it was unscriptural to begin with. But if not, then there’s nothing stopping the person who put you under the authority (that is you) from taking you out from under it.
This is not the same when it comes to the elders of the ekklesia of Jesus wherever it is established. Elders should be appointed in the ekklesia by a higher authority, either by the Lord Himself through revelation, a tested apostle (literally a “sent-one” similar to our modern day “mission”ary), or a prophet. And being appointed by God as an authority in the ekklesia of a city, elders are then in authority over all those believers in that city whether they “choose” to be so or not.
The accusation is that it is dangerous to not choose some elder for yourself, but in reality it is dangerous for anyone to choose an elder for themselves because then they can unchoose them whenever it is convenient. A believer is only obligated to submit themselves to a true authority, and that is only an authority that God has put in place or recognized.
2. Out of all the leaders you could have selected as the authority in your life — out of all the leaders in your town that you see as legitimate leaders of other believers — are you submitting to all of them?
The commands given by Peter and the writer of Hebrews do not say you should only submit to the elders you like or the ones you have selected. It simply says to the general audience in the various cities that they should submit to the elders that are over them. Would it make any sense to imagine a believer in Peter’s audience thinking “Peter’s is only talking about my elder Jon,” while that same person’s next-door neighbor is thinking “Peter is only talking about my elder Jim”? Obviously his expectation is that whoever in his audience lived close together would share the same elders.
This is emphasized by the fact that it says “elders” plural. Some propose it is dangerous to not pick an elder for yourself, but what is dangerous is every person choosing a certain set of elders for themselves and being allowed to ignore all the others. It’s even worse for someone to select only one person to put themselves under! Some congregations do have elders plural, but even those that do, often times they are powerless, money managers who are mostly unknown to the congregation — definitely not seen as the authority.
In today’s typical congregation, it is one “pastor” who is seen as the authority, even if there are elders with the ability to “fire” him. But the elders the apostles wrote about were the shepherds/pastors (1 Peter 5:1-2). They were the overseers and they were charged with tending and caring for the people in the ekklesia. They would visit the sick, be the primary teachers, and be major voices in settling disputes and direction. All that responsibility and authority was the reason they were expected to be plural. Paul wrote to Titus:
“For this reason I left you in Crete, that you should set in order the things that are lacking, and appoint elders in every city as I commanded you–” (Titus 1:5)
If Titus had appointed only a single elder in a city, he wouldn’t have been obedient. He was commanded to appoint elders, plural, in each city. Obviously Paul was trusting God that each city would have at least a few men who met the qualifications of elders. This doesn’t mean an elder should be appointed hastily if there is only one qualified man (1 Timothy 3:6; 5:22). There may very well be situations where there is only one elder, such as when all but one elder is killed or imprisoned, but it shouldn’t stay that way. The priority of any lone person in authority should be to prayerfully identify and/or raise up others to join him.
“For by wise counsel you will wage your own war, And in a multitude of counselors [there is] safety.” (Proverbs 24:6)
It is clear that there are supposed to be one set of elders, plural, over all the believers in a city and that each believer should submit to them all, so what is keeping people from doing that today?
Some people believe that all the Christian leaders in the city are legitimate, but they don’t submit to all of them. This is an obvious inconsistency, but because there is no ekklesia that holds the various leaders together, it’s inevitable. How can you listen to all of them if they do not even meet together or can’t even agree on the basic fundamentals of the faith? If one elder tells you one thing but another something different, who do you listen to? People would simply choose who they want to listen to on a given topic, and it would be chaos…but then again, most believers can already choose to leave one local leader for another, so that chaos is already around.
On the other hand, there are some people who don’t believe that all the Christian leaders in their city are legitimate, and only the one they have selected for themselves is legitimate. But what standard are they using to claim the other Christian leaders are not legitimate? If you claim the leader you have selected for yourself was “appointed by God” because a limited number of believers selected him for themselves, then that means all the other leaders in the city must also be legitimately appointed by God because they were selected in the same way. And so this too is obviously inconsistent. You cannot defend someone’s credentials while also questioning the credentials of someone who received their credentials the same way.
None of it works unless there is only one set of elders, plural, over all the believers in a city that each believer must submit to. Neither person is correct; neither the person who believes all the Christian leaders from various congregations in a city are legitimate, nor the person who believes only their leader is legitimate. They were appointed by a division of the people to lead only that division of the people in line with their particular issues of division; they were not appointed by God. In order for an elder to legitimately have authority over a people, there has to be one ekklesia in a city and they have to be among the one set of elders that rules over it. Only that system can possibly have elders who are truly in one accord. Only that system can make it possible for all believers in a city to be submitting to the same elders. God is not the author of chaos.
3. Who is the authority you have put yourself under submitting to? Are they submitting to any other person? Are they operating as a servant? Do they even qualify as an elder?
If you have selected an elder for yourself, who does that elder submit to? Possibly you have selected a group of elders to be in authority over you, and so hopefully they would submit to one another, but what about them submitting to all the other elders in the city? Just like you are commanded to submit to all the elders in your city appointed by God. Any elder appointed by God in your city should also be mutually submitted to any other elder appointed by God in your city.
But elders in today’s congregations do not do that, and they go even further by discouraging any under them from submitting to any other elder in the city besides themselves, even though those elders among other congregations were appointed in the same way they were. How can you trust the elder you have selected for yourself if they don’t even affirm the authority of the other elders and tell you to only listen to them? They command you to submit to them while not submitting to their peers. This seems to bolster their authority, but in reality it exposes their lack of authority. They do not submit to the other elders for the same reason you have no obligation to submit to them; they were not appointed by God but by a limited number of people to have limited authority over a limited number of people. The elders of an ekklesia are appointed by God and have real authority over every believer in their city.
“If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.” (Mark 3:24-25)
Elders of the ekklesia in a city must meet the qualifications of an elder (see Titus 1:5-9 and 1 Timothy 3:1-7), or else the likelihood of them misusing their authority is high. They must be appointed by God and not by people they will be expected to lead (and definitely not a subset of the people), or else they have no bases for their authority. They must affirm the ekklesia and the full scope of the city to which it is tied, or otherwise they will have nothing to oversee, or worse they may neglect some who they are meant to oversee. And they must affirm one another’s authority, even in their own life, or else they undermine their own authority.
Are all leaders outside of the ekklesia doing bad work?
Just because there is confusion and things to be corrected, don’t assume those who have been appointed by the people are doing no good. By God’s grace, many leaders of congregations appointed only by the congregations can lead well and even be called to that work during this state of confusion. God does not discount us simply because of our ignorance or the state of our community. He happily uses more mature believers to build up less mature believers, and in fact it is this activity of leading and teaching that a man must already possess before he may be considered for eldership in the ekklesia (see Titus 1:5-9 and 1 Timothy 3:1-7). Yes, having elders is essential, but establishing the ekklesia comes first, and even once it is established it must be God who appoints them.
“Let him who is taught the word share in all good things with him who teaches.” (Galatians 6:6)
“But Jesus said to him, “Do not forbid [him], for he who is not against us is on our side.” (Luke 9:50)