God gifted everything necessary for the reformation of the New Testament church. Beyond the necessary doctrine, desire and dependence, He also enlightened the church with an essential design. It is conducive for the fulfillment of the important ministries of decentralization, demonstration and divestment.
When the early New Testament church moved beyond Jerusalem, it gathered in small group community alone. Its manifestation in intimate small group community was by eternal design.
Small group community was the design most conducive for the life-based (zoe) practice of the New Testament church. It accommodated both the personal presence of the living (zoe) God and the cultivation of the life-based (zoe) spiritual intimacy necessary for its life-based (zoe) practice.
In accord with the practice of the early church, the modern New Testament church must preserve and protect its life-based (zoe) practice through small group community. According to apostolic tradition, its life-based (zoe) practice is a celebration of life shared with God. The ecclesia celebrates God in small group community through the life-based (zoe) practices of purposeful prayer; intentional community interaction; the Lord’s Supper as a full, celebratory meal; participatory praise and worship in song; joyful giving; corrective spiritual discipline; cooperative discipleship; and team-oriented outreach.
In contrast, the large group setting for church gatherings is not conducive for the life-based (zoe) practice of the New Testament church. Its organization and management are an impersonal endeavor, naturally facilitated by the rule of law. As a result, the large group church setting is typically characterized by law-based practice.
Reformation from law to life (zoe) requires the cultivation of intimate small group community. However, it cannot be achieved by simply adding small groups to law-based, predominantly large group church practice. The practice of law and life (zoe) are incompatible. Therefore, the addition of law-based small groups only serves to provide a different but smaller setting for law-based practice.
Organic, small group community is a fundamental characteristic of the New Testament church. It alone can effectively accommodate life-based (zoe) practice.
Every small group community of the New Testament church is a spiritually interdependent part of the church. Each one can accommodate its shared life function fully and independently. Consequently, every practice of the New Testament church can be fulfilled in life-based (zoe) small group community.
The small group communities of the New Testament church allow for the decentralization of the ministry of life (zoe). Consequently, they enable the expansion and fulfillment of its life-based (zoe) church mission beyond the walls of a building.
God purposefully chose the design of intimate small group community for the gatherings of His ecclesia beyond Jerusalem. It was critical for the nurture of life-based (zoe) ministry. Therefore, the church must carefully evaluate its design for ministry.
Is the design for church ministry derived from New Testament apostolic tradition alone, or is it the product of religiosity, civic and historic precedent, practicality, and convenience?
Is the design for church ministry best suited for control and management by mankind or the indwelling Spirit of God?
Does the church gather in a large group setting simply because it has always done it that way before?
Does the design for gathering produce the fruit of life (zoe) or law?
Does the design for gathering emphasize and elevate God or man?
God alone is the source of the reformation of the New Testament church from law to life (zoe). By grace through faith alone, His reformative work is supported by the intentional cultivation of organic, life-based (zoe) small group community.
The reformation of the church from a large group setting in one location to small group community in multiple locations serves to decentralize church life (zoe) and ministry. With minimal effort and expense, it contributes to the bearing of fruit in New Testament quality and quantity and is able to influence the extension of eternal life (zoe) “to the remotest part of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
The living (zoe) presence of the sovereign God cannot be constrained on earth. However, it can be quenched. The primary means by which the church quenches the ministry of God on earth is by limiting access to His living (zoe) presence.
The advent of the church building and its corresponding large group meeting was a significant event in church history. It served to restrict church ministry to a specific location. Its ministry centralized, the exposure and access of the world to God's living (zoe) presence was significantly reduced.
Scripturally, it is incumbent upon the ecclesia of God to pursue conditions favorable for His indwelling life (zoe) to be freely accessible to the world. Instead of staying and waiting for the world to arrive at the church building, the command of Christ was to “Go…and make disciples of all the nations.” (Matthew 28:19)
Christ and His disciples demonstrated the decentralization of ministry through life-based (zoe) small group community. It was critical for making disciples.
The early New Testament church also revealed the effectiveness of life (zoe) based small group community. It was evidenced by the bearing of spiritual fruit so abundant that it was clearly not of this world.
Only God can effectively decentralize the ministry of the New Testament church. Therefore, the church must carefully evaluate its ministry.
Is church ministry living (zoe) or merely a simulation of divine life (zoe) attempted through the religiosity of dead “programs”?
Is the ministry of the church centralized in one location or decentralized in multiple locations?
Does church ministry reach past the walls of a building into the surrounding community and beyond (providing evidence of life (zoe))?
Does the ministry of the church produce spiritual fruit in New Testament quality and quantity?
Does church ministry emphasize and elevate God or man?
God alone is the source of the reformation of the New Testament church from law to life (zoe). By grace through faith alone, it is supported by the decentralization of ministry through the intentional cultivation of small group community in multiple locations.
According to the biblical doctrine of life (zoe), the New Testament church was designed to be indwelt by God. By His immediate presence within, it was organically representational of the living (zoe) God. During the Church Age, the New Testament church, representational of divine life (zoe), has always been the chosen means for demonstrating the presence of God on earth.
The representational status of the New Testament church is not fulfilled by performance for God but by His immediate, living (zoe) presence within. Therefore, the representational role of the ecclesia is fulfilled only by life-based (zoe) practice characterized by living (zoe) works of grace through cooperation of dependent faith alone.
For the living (zoe) saints of the New Testament church, it should be clear that the law-based practice of the religious church is not demonstrative of the presence of the living (zoe) God. Representative of divine law rather than representational of divine life (zoe), the law-based practice of the temporal, inorganic church only serves to demonstrate the legalistic emptiness of human religiosity. Consequently, it is unappealing to both believers and unbelievers alike.
God has chosen the New Testament church to be demonstrative of His life (zoe) on earth during this present age. Therefore, the church must carefully evaluate its life source.
Is the church and its ministry demonstrative of the living (zoe) God or mere religiosity?
Is the church and its ministry characterized by a law-based “service”?
Is the church and its ministry evidenced by religious accoutrement such as a predetermined liturgy, sermon, etc.?
Is life-based (zoe) small group community the primary emphasis of the church?
Is every member of the church body actively involved in spiritually gifted ministry?
Does the church and its ministry emphasize and elevate God or man?
God alone is the source of the reformation of the New Testament church from law to life (zoe). It is supported by a living (zoe), representational demonstration of His presence, purpose, and power on earth. Human cooperation occurs by grace through faith alone.
The faithful pursuit of the living (zoe) Christ is an essential priority of the life-based (zoe) practice of the New Testament church. Fellowship with Him through His immediate headship and ministering presence must be cherished and protected above all else.
In contrast, the practice of dead religiosity is not a priority of the New Testament church. To the contrary, it is counterproductive for the pursuit of Jesus Christ and the eternal plan of God.
The practice of religion for God diminishes the awareness of His indwelling presence, His immediate headship, and His living (zoe) power. Therefore, it causes the church to appear no different from any other religious organization in the world.
The motive for the legalistic practice of religiosity does not come from God. It originated from the fall of mankind. Thus, the practice of religiosity is a product of the human sin nature, the fallen world, and the devil.
The practice of religion provides fallen mankind with the ability to manage and control the church apart from God. It is the equivalent of replacing divine headship, the gracious rule of life (zoe), and life-based (zoe) practice with human headship, the rule of law, and law-based practice.
The practice of religion is not characterized by spiritual life (zoe) but its absence. Therefore, it must be ordered by a dead, law-based, predetermined liturgy.
The liturgical church “service” often includes but is not limited to an introductory prayer (frequently characterized by a religious prayer about God rather than to God); voluntary singing about or for God rather than participatory singing to God (not directed by the Spirit, but a hymnal or songbook); and lecture-style teaching rather than Spirit-directed, interactive ministry to and from the brothers and sisters of the body. It is also frequently inclusive of the ritualistic observance of the Lord’s Supper (not a full, celebratory meal, but a solemn, religious observance inclusive of broken cracker and thimble of juice); an offering (not for personal ministry, but typically for building and salary expense); and a concluding prayer (generally religious and impersonal for the benefit of the entire body rather than the individual needs of the members that comprise the church body and the surrounding, unbelieving community).
The organized, predetermined liturgy associated with dead; law-based religiosity is not practiced with God but for Him. It is typically performed in an impersonal, large group setting in an expensive building dedicated to God for the exclusive purpose of religious activity.
Dead, law-based religiosity removes the practical need for God's living (zoe) presence, His grace, and human faith. They are simply unnecessary.
The New Testament church is not for unbelievers. It was originally designed for believers alone. Outreach to unbelievers was considered a New Testament church ministry beyond its family gatherings.
The divine reformation of the church to New Testament standard requires the divestment of every characteristic of dead, law-based religiosity. Therefore, the church must continually “fight the good fight of faith” to eradicate every trace of religious practice. Any future readmission of religiosity must be carefully and continually guarded against, no matter how seemingly insignificant.
“Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough? Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened.” (1 Corinthians 5:6-7)
God is willing to provide the direction necessary for the divestment of every aspect of religiosity. Therefore, the church must be willing to follow His lead, evaluate its quality of practice and divest itself of all legalism and dead religiosity. Consequently, the New Testament church must ask some important questions.
Is church practice derived from the New Testament alone?
Does church practice retain any vestige of religiosity, civic precedent, practicality, or convenience?
Is church practice law-based or life-based (zoe)?
Is church practice for God or with God by the Spirit?
Does church practice emphasize and elevate God or man?
God alone is the source of the reformation of the New Testament church from law to life (zoe). By grace through faith alone, redeemed humanity has the distinct privilege of divesting the church of every attribute of dead religiosity.
The reformation of the New Testament church from law to life (zoe) is a gracious work of God. It not only requires the divine illumination of the biblical doctrine of life (zoe), living (zoe) desire and faithful dependence but a small group community design. It is essential for its decentralization, the demonstration of His life (zoe) on earth and the divestment of all that is contrary.
“Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20-21)
© 2023 James Hiatt