The Church: A Return To Pure and Simple

Several months ago when I started this blog and named it “Bonfires”, the sub title that I included was “Fanning the Flames of Pure and Simple Devotion and other extraordinary tales of Faith Filled Living”.

The whole concept of “pure & simple devotion” had become something that I had found, and still find, to be very intriguing. So much so to the point that it has become a passionate pursuit to discover what a life and a lifestyle of “Pure and Simple Devotion’ is supposed to look like. The pursuit to discover God’s heart in that concept naturally led me to His Word, which makes sense because that is where this journey originated in the first place (2 Corinthians 11:3), and it also included the Spirit of God (through the Word) speaking some things directly into my own spirit.

Out of that experience the Lord spoke to me “Six Words”, which I have expounded on in previous blogs, and which were referred to in primarily a context of how that applies to us as individuals. More recently though, this concept of “pure and simple devotion” has been strongly emphasized in my spirit in the context of the corporate Body of Christ, the Church, in representing and establishing His Kingdom in the earth.

In referring to that portion of scripture in 2 Corinthians 11:3 (But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ), we see that Paul was not addressing an individual but rather the Corinthian church corporately. So the question remains, what does “pure and simple devotion” look like, not just for me as an individual, but what does that look like in a corporate context, and how does that compare to what our experience has been with what we refer to as “the church”?

I want to briefly take just a little closer look at these three key words: pure and simple devotion.

The word pure refers to something that has no defect or blemish, in other words nothing has been added to it to dilute its state of purity, there is absolutely no division in the makeup of something pure.  The word simple is similar in that it speaks to a singularness of focus, without distraction, undivided and whole-hearted, that is sincere without any pretense or fakeness, and that is sold out and completely committed, giving itself without holding back, to the object of its attention. The word devotion itself is not generally included in the Greek lexicons, but the use of the simple greek word eis which means “to or into” (referring to Christ), carries the connotation of moving towards, positioned, and existing directly in the center of something, or in this case someone – Jesus Christ.

In Pauls exhortation to the Corinthians his concern was that their minds would be “led astray” from what had initially been established in their corporate expression as a Kingdom people, which was characterized by pure and simple devotion to Christ. The church as described in the book of Acts was the benchmark and model (and still is) that Paul and the apostles laid as the foundation for the Corinthian church. The Corinthians were now straying from that which had been established and Paul is bringing a word of correction to recenter them on the “pure & simple” Gospel of Jesus.

In looking at this scenario it is striking how true the saying is that “the more things change, the more things stay the same”. While Paul was speaking to a specific issue in the Corinthian church (of which there were several), it is obvious that the 21st century church is in dire need to take heed of the apostles forthright confrontation in our day as well. Let me explain.

In looking at Pauls history of communication with the Corinthian church, the first issue he addressed with them in his first letter had to do with their propensity to establish unhealthy allegiances to different leaders in the body, to the point that it had caused contentions and splits among them. He essentially took the better part of the first four chapters of that first letter to speak directly to this issue, as it was the antithesis of pure and simple devotion to Jesus.

The Corinthians had developed a fascination with propping up and glamorizing those with obvious giftings, choosing favorites and creating allegiances with various leaders, in essence developing a culture of celebrity that we unfortunately still see not only alive and well in our day, but it is a predominant characteristic that permeates the vast majority of our western church culture and how we operate.

Our propensity to idolize people, positions, and platforms runs counter to the pure and simple devotion that the early church was established on, it is a fleshly fatal distraction that removes a singular focus on Jesus and the Kingdom that he has entrusted us to demonstrate and to establish. Much of our modern church culture (like the Corinthians) has mistakenly chosen to exalt the flesh and in so doing, to our disgrace and detriment, we have diminished the divine. We have glorified people and positions to the point where we have allowed them to receive a portion of what is designed to be exclusively God’s! Our so-called devotion is neither pure nor simple.

Some of what I’ve described is blatantly obvious and we have no problem recognizing and calling it out; and yet there is a strain of what we call devotion that we have developed a level of comfort with which allows us to “appreciate” certain people with discernible giftings that do stand out and then desire to be associated with those people. We don’t like to call it this, but on some level it’s more or less a popularity contest. It’s human nature, but it’s not pure and simple devotion, because in it devotion to Jesus has been diluted, to some degree, with devotion to a person, a gifting, an anointing, or a platform.

Look, it can be real subtle, I’ve found myself being acclimated to that way of thinking as well. In my ministry experience pastoring churches, and then working with a ministry where I connected with pastors and leaders all over the region, I found myself identifying various ministries by the person who was leading those ministries. If I was speaking about a particular ministry, I would say “that’s so-and-so”s church”, naming the particular pastor or leader.

I have a deep respect and I do honor those in leadership positions, and due to the nature of their role and function they naturally are more visible, and for sure it’s not wrong to emulate and admire God appointed leaders and to appreciate their gifting and to glean from the wisdom they carry. But the current predominant culture of tending to glamorize such leaders, often times based on gifting and popularity alone, has hindered the very thing that the church was created for – making disciples of each and every redeemed person, conforming them into the image of Jesus, bringing them to maturity in Christ (Col 1:28). These then will in turn be the ones to go and put Jesus on display to those around them, resulting in “And the Lord added daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47).

Community-a-daily-devotional-by-Vince-Miller

Thankfully though, the truth is that there is a remnant of believers who have experienced Jesus at the core of their being and are not satisfied with anything less than His fullness, whose desire is to “find out what pleases the Lord” (Eph 5:10), and passionately pursue it. To once again become a people characterized by “pure and simple devotion”.

In the coming weeks I’ll continue to expound on what that looks like from a corporate perspective, getting back to the basics, following the prototype of the church we see throughout the book of Acts and that Paul describes as “God’s household” in Ephesians 2:20 – “…built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone…”.

Returning to the “pure and simple” will seem like a bold contrast to much of what we have become accustomed to, but it is essential to reforming the church back to a place where we experience not just revival or visitation, but building a habitation consisting of living stones “jointly fit together”, where the King is enthroned and His Kingdom established. It starts with stepping away from the culture of celebrity – no more one man/woman show, it includes confirming that our purpose in God is to be conformed to the image of Christ, as well as re-establishing the importance and necessity of covenant community in that process of being conformed.

I conclude this blog with an excerpt from the book written by Bob Gladstone entitled “A Time To Build”:
“To build such a church, we must build people. I fear that the outward success of many modern ministries has usurped our vision for discipleship. We have become effective at church service as public celebrations with worship and preaching – customs that can be good but profoundly insufficient in themselves – while the Jesus way of life-on-life discipleship seems to have gotten lost in the crowd of big events and productions. Successful ministries may look good to the natural eye. But will they endure the fiery gaze of Judah’s Lion? We are happy to fill our buildings with people, but He wants to transform people into His temple. Jesus’ command to make disciples stand firm atop the mountain of His teaching. It’s just not going away.”

Amen! Until next time.

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