This is the third in a series of articles aimed at edifying the church in the current season of the coronavirus pandemic and the lockdown. The first article focused on doing church in the crisis of coronavirus. The second one focused on drivers for effective life in the current season of the pandemic. In this article, we focus on restating the foundations of the New Covenant (NC). The New Covenant was ushered by the Lord Jesus Christ through the sacrificial act of the Cross. Not only did His death serve as a ransom and a penalty for our sin, offering us salvation through grace, it also nullified the ineffective Old Covenant (OC) of law, which represented a whole philosophy of relating to God and of doing ministry. We therefore must see the Cross not only as a mechanism of human redemption, but also as a doorway into a new dispensation of life and ministry. The Cross represented a massive reformation of systems of ministry – a replacement of one system by another.
Matt 27:50 And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. 51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. NIV
The picture that we get when we read the story of the crucifixion and its impact on the system of Moses (the Law and the Temple) is one of sovereign and violent confrontation as God was nullifying one system to establish another. Hebrews states, “by calling this covenant “new”, He (God) has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear” (Heb. 8:13). The word “obsolete” defines that which is worn out or that which no longer has utility in life. On the other hand, the word “aging” literally speaks of old age – it speaks of being wrinkled, frail and weak. We know that God does not want His church to be wrinkled (Eph. 5:25-27). To be wrinkled is a spiritual condition. We can be the most “advanced, modern and trendy” church and still be wrinkled in the spirit. To identify the wrinkles, we don’t look at how contemporary is our buildings and worship songs or how technologically advanced we are (needless to say that the absence of these components does not automatically constitute a healthy church). Remember, the idea of being wrinkled must firstly be understood in the very nature of the world – we do live in a world that (although currently leading the 4th Industrial Revolution) is wrinkled and decaying. We live amidst a humanity and culture that is progressively decaying and from which we are exhorted to escape (2 Pet. 1:4). The decay is not in technology; the decay is in the values and arrangements of life. In the same way, to assess whether we are a wrinkled church / believer or not, we must look at (a) our doctrine, (b) the content of our vision and inspiration towards the future, (c) values, culture and or our very humanity as the church (or our quality of life) (d) and philosophy of ministry. The emphatic point we are making here is that the Cross violently confronts wrinkled and ineffective systems of ministry.
The curtain was a partition that separated God and man. It created a system of representative spirituality and ministry in which one priest represented the masses of people. The emphatic value of the system of Moses was separation and limitation. Every church represents a value, and it’s important especially for elders or pastors to consider carefully the main value that the churches they lead represent. It is important to note that through the Cross, the Lord nullified the system of law without consulting any priest – i.e. He acted sovereignly. This is the confrontational nature of the Cross towards systems of ministry that activate old ministry approaches of law. The “tearing of the curtain” is an act of divine violence towards any ministry that operates as a hindrance between God and man.
Before we itemize the foundational values of the NC, let us consider key components constituting the framework within which a church must operate:
Church requires leadership: there must be elders in any biblically constituted church. Although church was established through the act of Holy Spirit baptism to all believers in Acts 2, but this did not nullify the principle and requirement for leadership. Paul planted churches and appointed elders (Acts 14:23). Not only was eldership appointment simply Paul’s “approach to ministry” but he established this as doctrine or a “standard operating procedure” for all churches (1 Tim. 3:1-7). Paul referred to absence of leadership or leader-lessness in the church as a form of crookedness that needed to be straightened out (Tit. 1:5). But what does the presence and function of leadership mean in the church? It means that there must be oversight, guidance, care and accountability. It means that leaders must give prophetic direction under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and believers must (willingly and voluntarily) submit themselves to their leaders, under the witness of the same Holy Spirit.
Church requires doctrine: the duty of elders is to instruct the saints in the way and purpose of the Lord. It is to shepherd the saints in Christlikeness. Paul said, “we teach everyone with all wisdom” (Col. 1:28). The early church devoted themselves in apostles’ teaching, among other things (Acts 2:42). Doctrine means that in the church, there must be a common and shared belief system that guides every believer in the way of the Lord. The absence of doctrine produces (a) lawlessness and (b) disunity of life and purpose. It is through doctrine that we can be “perfectly united in mind and thought” (1 Cor. 1:10).
Church requires to meet for the purpose of fellowship, corporate worship and instruction: we are not to forsake the gathering of the saints (Heb. 10:24&25). In the statement, “where two or three gather in my name, there I am with them” (Matt. 18:20), the Lord is not simply giving us a “comforting scripture” for gatherings that have less numbers. But this scripture declares two powerful values for us: (a) our common belief in Jesus Christ must produce dynamic and ongoing fellowship and intentional gathering, (b) and these gatherings must release and dispense the government of God into the atmosphere (spirit world) and into the conditions of human life. In prior verses (Matt. 18:15-19), the Lord gives the picture of church as an organized community with governmental responsibility over its affairs. This clearly indicates that we are not to be casual about our membership in the church.
Hebrews 2 declares, “I will declare your name to my brothers; in the presence of the congregation I will sing your praises” (Heb. 2:12). Another translation says, “in the midst of the church” (KJV) or “in the midst of the assembly” (NKJV). This verse is taken from Ps 22, the psalm of the suffering of Christ. In Ps. 22:25 it says, “from you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly”.
In Rom. 1:11, Paul declares his desire to meet the saints in Rome in order to impart a spiritual gift to them. And there is evidence throughout the book of Acts of the practice of church gathering for the reasons stated above. However, the scripture does not prescribe where we are to meet. “Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together” (Acts 2:46&47). “Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ” (Acts 5:42). “On the Sabbath day we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer” (Acts 16:13). “When Priscilla and Aquila heard him (Apollos), they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately” (Acts 18:26). “He (Paul) took the disciples with him and had discussions daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. This went on for two years…” (Acts 19:9&10). There is no evidence that suggests that there is a particular meeting place for the church that must be adopted as doctrine. If there is a “house church” then there must be a “temple courts church”, a “river church” and a “lecture hall church” according to the scriptures highlighted above. The following things must be considered to sustain a balanced healthy life in the church: (a) we must be clear about the value of meaningful fellowship in the church and we must do all we can to protect this; (b) we must consider logistical and administrative issues in our choice of meeting places. It is reasonable to expect that different people or churches may have different burdens and choices (even from God) in terms of meeting places, to work out a particular divine outcome. But these things must not be taken as universal truth but rather as contextual prophetic directives or even unique logistical considerations.
All in all, church must have leadership, common doctrine and must be able to gather. And where church can’t meet, then we must realize that we are living in extra ordinary times (like this current pandemic which has led to nation-states to institute a lockdown). It is in such times that we must consider and restate the values of the New Covenant, that empower the church to continue to thrive, even in the midst of crisis and limitation.
Let us restate the foundational values of the New Covenant (NC) that must hold the life of the church together, in the current moment of the lockdown where we are unable to have physical fellowship and gatherings:
1. The Spirituality of Direct Access
Eph 2:18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. NIV
19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. NIV
Unlike the OC of law, which was characterized by representative spirituality via the agency of the Levites and the High Priests, a born-again, Spirit filled believer has direct access to God, any and every time. The very heart of the Cross is not only to cleans us from sin, but it is also to remove any hindrance in relationship between God and His people. We can lift up our hands from our homes and worship God. We can flood the heavens with prayers and petitions every time. We may be locked down in terms of movement and physical gatherings, but we have full access and permission to engage our God. The word “access” used in Eph. 2:18 is both a legal and relational word. As a legal word, it defines the right of approach granted to someone by a king or a senior political official. As a relational word, it means “to bring near”. The believer has full legal authority and relational access to have direct union with God.
2. Internalized Faith
Heb 8:10 This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. NIV
Our belief system and faith are no longer based on external or cosmetic elements but on a transactional and contemplative experience of our hearts and minds. The law is no longer written on stone tablets (it is no longer “institutionalized”). We may not be having “meetings” but spiritual transactions have not stopped (we must just ensure that good, holy and godly transactions of the Holy Spirit are taking place in our hearts, not destructive transactions of Darkness). The Holy Spirit continues to write and define us within, and He is working in harmony with the doctrine He is establishing in the church.
3. The Altar of the Human Heart
In the OC, worship was expressed from an external-physical altar. In the NC, the altar is the human heart.
22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience. NIV
Col 3:16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. NIV
Not only does the Holy Spirit transact with us in our hearts, to impart divine life, but we also express our worship to God from within our hearts. The song of our heart does not wait for Sunday morning or whatever other day during which our church gathers. But that song echoes before God day and night, empowered by the Holy Spirit.
Ps 45:1 My heart is stirred by a noble theme as I recite my verses for the king… NIV
Let us not be paralyzed by the conditions of life around us but let us allow the Lord to stir our hearts towards a noble theme of the Kingdom of God. The word “stirred” in Ps. 45:1 means to “gush and to overflow”. The word “theme” means “a word, a matter, a speech or a cause”. As the Lord stirs our hearts, we break out in worship and in speech – we worship Him and flood the human environment with a different prophetic narrative.
4. The Principle of the Human Temple
1 Cor 3:16 Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you? NIV
2 Cor 6:16 For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.” NIV
Rom 12:1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God — this is your spiritual act of worship. NIV
In the OC, the place of worship was a physical temple. In the NC, we (redeemed humans) are the place of worship. Our very lives are the living sacrifice (Rom. 12:1) – i.e. we are the song of the Lord. The song is not simply the lyrics on the screen or on the hymn book on Sunday morning – it is the redemptive narrative of our very lives. Not only so, the Lord indwells us as His temple. We no longer point at the temple but we are the temple that provides a spiritual context for a sacrifice of life that is offered to God as we willingly obey Him right in the midst of our human experiences.
2 Cor 2:15 For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. 16 To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. NIV
We are the temple, the altar and the sacrifice – the Lord receives us daily, as we walk with Him, as a sweet aroma and a fragrance of life. In the midst of the smell of fear, hopelessness and death, we must release a different and beautiful scent.
5. Decentralized Worship
Heb 13:15 Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise — the fruit of lips that confess his name. NIV
Ps 103:22 Praise the Lord, all his works everywhere in his dominion. NIV
1 Tim 2:8 I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or disputing. NIV
We no longer must engage an annual physical pilgrimage to a physical place of worship. We can worship God anywhere! We can worship God in our homes! We are no longer confined to a physical place or by a physical calendar.
9 But now that you know God — or rather are known by God — how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? 10 You are observing special days and months and seasons and years! 11 I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you. NIV
6. The Priesthood of all Believers
9 And they sang a new song: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals,
because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. 10 You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.” NIV
We are no longer confined to a limited representative spirituality. We are redeemed not to be spectators in the process of ministering before God. We are now all called as ministers and ambassadors of the New Covenant. We are serving as priests under our High Priest, Jesus Christ. We can all worship, pray and witness for the Lord Jesus Christ. The work of the Lord can therefore not be stopped or hindered by the current lockdown.
7. Spiritual Formation
And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into His likeness from ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit (2 Cor. 3:18).
The NC is not merely driven by the need for weekly activities, it is driven by the goal of producing a people who share a common image of Christ. Value in the NC is not determined by the amount and scope of ministry activities but by transforming lives. Activities only serve as platforms for the church to be trans-formed in Christ. The word “transformed” used in 2 Cor. 3:18 is the biological word metamorphosis, which describes the change of the condition of a thing, the process of changing from one form to another. The word describes a process where one is formed into something that they were not before (spiritual formation). That means that our upbringing and historical origins (no matter how disadvantaged they may have been) have no power to determine who we can be in Christ in the future. It means that Christ is now our new historical origin, determining our potential for the future. The trigger for this spiritual formation is in beholding Christ (the revelation of Christ), it is not in mere routines of ministry. In the OC, there was a lot of activity which however did not produce the image of Christ in the heart of the worshiper (Heb. 9:9). The lockdown must help to revive a contemplative culture in the church, for us to behold the Lord, to put aside the things of the flesh and step into the fullness of His life (Eph. 4:13, Eph. 4:22-24). In the stillness of the activities of life, we must hear the trans-formative voice of the Lord within. As believers, we can sometimes be familiar with hearing the operational voice of the Spirit telling us the ministry things we need to do in this world, but we are not always tuned in the trans-formative voice that tells us who we need to be in Christ. The trans-formative voice of the Spirit fulfills and completes the creation process of God in our lives, which we lost at the Fall and which has been restored through Christ (1 Cor. 15:45-49). If we engage the trans-formative voice of God in our hearts, we will come out of this lockdown a different people. And if we continue in this powerful spiritual process, we shall surely become a powerful church. Let us note this – the world is not simply waiting for a people who will do great things; the world is waiting for a people who can be the transmission of the image of Christ in the earth (a people who can be the “great things”)! What the world has lost is not activities and programs, it is the image of its Creator!
Implications of the Foundational Values of the New Covenant
In conclusion, these values of the NC have the following implications for the church:
- As stated earlier, these values and positions do not undermine the need for leadership, doctrine and gatherings in the church. On the contrary, we need leaders to equip us so we can be more competent and fluent in the noble goals of the NC.
- Leaders and churches must refuse the temptation to run as Old Covenant priests who do everything for the people. They must be careful not to reduce the NC believer into a spectator. In this sense, the current lockdown is not necessarily “limiting”, but it provides believers with a golden opportunity to exercise their faith under the guidance and directives of their elders.
- Equally, pastors must refuse the temptation to derive their value out of ungodly dependence by the saints. Pastors must equip and empower the saints (Eph. 4:11-13). The fruit of an empowered believer is what determines true value of church leadership.
- Leaders and churches really exist to promote and advance these New Covenant values which were established by the Lord through the Cross. When the church functions like an Old Covenant ministry, not only is she undermining the work of the Cross, she is acting in direct contradiction to the values of the Cross.
- When the church re-groups post the novel coronavirus pandemic and when she is able to gather, she must do so upon these NC foundations – this must therefore inform the philosophy of ministry.
- The fact that the believer is baptized in the Holy Spirit and is called to be a priest unto God must not lead to lawlessness, rebellion and chaos, it must produce an even more obedient, submissive and powerful church that functions as a community under the government of the Spirit and Word of Christ.
Pastor – LivingStones Agency
Visionary Leader – Kingdom Humanity Fellowship