Perhaps the most radical thing Jesus did while on earth, besides taking the punishment for our sins on the cross, was starting a church. There is generally agreement amongst Bible scholars and theologians that what Jesus did with His disciples was not a church. But I disagree. Jesus said He would build His church – not just after His ascension into heaven. He started His church while He lived on earth, planning for it to multiply to the ends of the earth.
He and His band of followers did all the things we agree are essential to function as a church. They functioned as a spiritual family doing life together, pursuing relationship with the Father, and serving the world around them. They fulfilled the qualifications for doing church the way we see it modeled in the book of Acts.
The disciples learned the new way of being a covenant community from their Master. After His ascension, they realized He had given them a model to follow – and they followed it. It was more than a model, in fact, it was a way to live intentionally together.
Jesus didn’t add a lot of frills to His church. In fact, He subtracted from the Old Testament way of doing things: He took away the uniforms, He got rid of the barriers between men and women and Jews and Gentiles, and He empowered everyone to be a priest. He didn’t ask for their money, organize a choir, or choose one particular day over another to gather for worship.
No holy day, no holy priests, and no holy meeting place. When you stop to think about it, it was a radical model of simplicity and mission: worship and prayer, community and care, and reaching out as a way of life.
He taught them how to be leaders by serving. He walked beside His followers, not above them. Yet, He was clearly the leader.
He bridged the dualism of the Old Testament, calling for a radical new kind of spirituality. He taught spirituality of the heart, not outward behavior. Every person who followed Him was treated with equal value and given equal responsibility. Yet, with this new emphasis on being a spiritual family, He recognized and modeled the need for servant leadership.
I love how Jesus did church. He only mentions church twice in His teachings, and it is interesting to note it was Matthew, the most Jewish of the gospel writers, who records Jesus’ teaching on the “new church” way of being God’s people.
In Matthew 16 and 18 Jesus teaches about church...but that is for another blog post and another day....