I was chatting with a guy at a Dallas hotel who informed me that the church across the busy freeway had just gone to five services. “They had to” he said, “in order to accommodate their 25% annual growth.” While my friend was waiting for my “wow,” I was wondering if God measured success with the same yardstick we do. In light of Jesus’ comments about broad and narrow paths, I wouldn’t think numbers alone should be our benchmark. Can we build the city whose architect is God, using our standards of measurement and our tools? What were the apostles using as a plumb line?
Once upon a time there was an apprentice who was handed a board by the journeyman carpenter and instructed to produce 100 boards exactly like it. Eager to please, the zealous apprentice laid the original on top of the board to be cut and struck his line. He made his cut and produced his first board. He then used it to mark the cut for the third. He followed this procedure for each subsequent cut. When the journeyman came to see how his apprentice had done, he was not pleased. He asked where the original board was. The journeyman picked up the template and compared it to the last board that was cut. He showed him how setting aside the original pattern had resulted in a slow accumulation of error. The consequence was that much time and materials had been spent cutting 98 boards that could not be used.
Why is Christianity being increasingly marginalized in modern culture? The reason (we devout ones often tell ourselves) is that men are by nature hardened, depraved, or unelected—probably all three. While I see an element of truth to this, I don’t think it’s the whole story. I believe that substituting numbers and dollars for the transformation of human lives has resulted in our accumulated error. We must now call this normal lest we delegitimize our own existence. In other words, each subsequent board cut over the centuries became a tradition sanctified by time and practice. Institutions perpetuate themselves by comparing themselves to their own traditions, not by comparing themselves to the original early church example. Such a comparison would raise many questions. I believe there are many yet-to-be-saved persons who keep Christianity at bay because the last board looks so different than the first.
To insure that our boards look like the original, I am proposing to the small groups I participate in that we read and meditate on the New Testament narrative, retaining it as our standard. I am proposing we learn to read this story in a new way—not to merely add to our base of Bible knowledge, but such a way that we allow its light to search our hearts and become our own internal standard of measure.
Today’s passage reminds us to not forsake our own assembling together. The writer tells us we are to encourage and stimulate each other toward love and good deeds. I don’t know if you caught that, but Pastor and his sermons were not mentioned. The writer presumes that saints have the capacity, in themselves, to stimulate each other. Welcome to community—the original pattern.
Christ is in us. We are in Christ. This is why Jesus is actually present where two or three are gathered in His name. Leaders who grasp this simple devotion to Christ will go far in honoring the original pattern and ultimately serve to facilitate the type of growth that fits within the narrow gate.
Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it. (Matthew 7:13-14)
Father, I believe You desire to pour out Your new wine—from us—your vessels. I believe You desire to see us even exceed the good works You did while on earth. Just as in Cana, I believe You have saved the best wine for these last days. As we revisit the New Testament and search out the ancient markers, please show us how to be transformed and to transform our institutions into communities—family units where new wine can be better received, retained, and served up to the called and thirsty souls who surround us. Let it be.