The day after tomorrow: a reflection on the Church — Bryan Innes

Bryan Innes has been using the time of lockdown to read about the early Church and reflect on the present Church and where it might be the day after tomorrow

The Day After Tomorrow is the title of a Hollywood disaster film of the early 2000s. We may believe that the day after tomorrow will not change! But what about the week after tomorrow, or the month after tomorrow or even the year after tomorrow?

Once the coronavirus has run its course, how will it have affected society, business and in particular, the worldwide Body of Christ?

Nearer to home what will the effect be in South Africa? Indications from some quarters are that this virus may run for a much longer time than was originally thought.

I love the Body of Christ in all its richness and diversity. When you study history, you will find that there has never been anything to compare with the Church as a community from every tongue, tribe and nation. But when the church was young (book of Acts) it did not look anything like the Church does today!

The early Church’s impact on the whole Roman Empire was incredible To be a Christian in the early days meant to change to a radical new lifestyle, even at the cost of one’s life. The underground house church in China may be for us a current example of what the Acts Church was like.

Perhaps we should look again at what the Acts Church did not have and what it did have. Read about an example of the Acts Church at the end of the article.

But what about the present situation in the Church in South Africa? The state is currently dictating to the Body of Christ what it may and may not do. Now, under Level 3 regulations, meetings of a maximum of 50 people are allowed irrespective of the size and facilities of the buildings of a local congregation. One size does not fit all!

Some shops in malls have a formula based on their square meter size as to how many people can be in the shop at any one time. Because of the different sizes of church buildings would this not be a better way to go? For example, the church I attend has three separate locations which could easily handle more than 50 people if youth and preschool are counted separately.

The regulations concerning these meetings are such that some congregations have chosen not to start Sunday services again but to continue with online communication with their members. Many congregations, especially in rural areas, do not have this choice of online communication.

My personal view is that many members are going to find the new experience very artificial and not to their liking. While the state is doing its best in a very difficult situation of the coronavirus it is impossible to regulate and make laws around relationships for the very diverse Body of Christ. We are finding out the importance of relationships. Surely the state should engage leaders in the Body of Christ to set up the way forward for itself?

So what does the future hold for the Body of Christ in South Africa? I believe it is a time of great opportunity. If the Church will accept this and wait on the Holy Spirit for guidance this great opportunity will become a reality and the Church will once again impact society like at its beginning.

Recently I attended a prayer meeting outside the church building with everybody staying in their motor cars. Speakers were used by the leader and I am sure the words went beyond the boundary of the property. Passersby stopped to listen. Another church had a drive-by communion service and a time for praying for needs while keeping the right distance apart.

What have I learned from this enforced stay at home during lockdown?
I am 80 years old and have been in congregational leadership in various churches for over 40 years. At present I am a member of a local congregation and I live in a retirement village in Bloemfontein, waiting on the Lord to retire! My lessons learned are:

  1. It has been a time to examine my own life as a believer — to spend more time in prayer, Bible study and research. Also, it’s a time to watch more Christian programmes on television and receive anointed teaching from great Bible teachers. To use my time as productively as possible. I am preparing for the next season of my life. But life has slowed down. Wonderful!
  2. There has been plenty of time to share with my wife and for us to share together about the future, doing things together and relating to family (children and grandchildren) via Skype, Whatsapp, Zoom, etc. But it is not the same as face-to-face! I am really missing my family and friends.
  3. For some of you (myself included) a family member or close friend has died, and it has not been possible to meet with family and attend the funeral service. A very sad experience. Many similar tragedies are happening all the time.
  4. The effect of the lockdown on society — for example, in the retirement village where I live, about 40% of residents are single people and loneliness and having nobody to relate to are big issues. In the townships all over SA the lockdown has made it hard for many folk to get access to basic needs and food. Social distancing, transport, and school issues have become major problems. What about a family of six — dad and mom, with two kids attending primary school and two grandparents in the same home? Single-parent families have a much bigger problem looking after children even if they are fortunate to work from home!
  5. The economic effect as households lose their income completely or in part. How thankful we should be to have any kind of income. The poor in the nation have become poorer and there are many more people who need financial help.
  6. A wonderful effort by the state, the private sector and individuals to supply those in need with basic necessities and food parcels. Church congregations are playing their part to help in whatever way possible. We also salute medical personnel and frontline workers who are doing incredible, caring work — even at risk to themselves.
  7. The greed of some people to exploit any opportunity, even stealing food parcels.
  8. Sadly, ongoing corruption and the black market in alcohol and cigarettes.
  9. Problems like gender-based violence and additcions have been brought out into the open through this virus.

What should change in the Body of Christ?

Here are my thoughts:

  1. A renewed focus on the practical needs of society in South Africa, e.g. Health, wealth (job training and creation), family breakdown (gender-based violence) and uplifting the poor. Christians must go to society and not expect society to come to your church building.
  2. Private homes should become the focus of Christian activities as it was for the first 250 years after Christ’s resurrection. (Read the book of Acts).
  3. The fivefold ministry based on character and anointing will function like never before to equip and release every congregation member for the work of ministry!
  4. The priesthood of all believers will become the norm, with personal gifts and ministries being revealed for the benefit of all (1 Cor. 12:7, 11).
  5. Existing and future church buildings will become “multipurpose” in function to serve the needs of their communities, e.g. soup kitchen, pre-school and after school supervision, evening classes in line with the practical needs of society (par 3 above), meetings for exams, prize giving, parent meetings, health issues, family transformation classes. Of course congregations will use the building at weekends and during the week.
  6. There are many good reasons to take a fresh look at the role of private homes as the meeting places of the church, formed into networks, and even linked to existing church congregations.

Closing thoughts

Is the Body of Christ having the impact on society that it should?

For at least the last 40 years in books and articles have been written — and more lately comments have been posted on the internet and social media — on the state of the Body of Christ in the world today. In some parts of the world the Church is expanding and impacting its home nations.

A famous philosopher of days gone by said: “Those who don’t know their history are bound to repeat it”. Much in the worldwide Church has basically stayed the same for centuries. There has also been an introduction of practices which were not there at the very beginning. To illustrate see below the contents page of a book written in 1935 called When the Church Was Young by Rev E Loosely with the sub-title When the church was young it did not look anything like the church does today.

Since 1935 the Church has changed even more. In this process what it means to be a Christian and how to live the Christian life has changed as well.

Contents
Publisher’s Note
Foreword
Part I
When the Church Was Young, It Had:
No Buildings ……………………………………………………………………. 1
No Denominations ………………………………………………………….. 15
No Fixed Organization …………………………………………………….. 25
No New Testament …………………………………………………………. 31
No Vocabulary of Its Own ……………………………………………….. 39
No Dogmatic System ……………………………………………………….. 45
No Sabbath Rest
(in the Gentile World) ……………………………………………………… 51

Part II
But It Did Possess:

An Experience …………………………………………………………………. 59
A Store of Teaching from Christ……………………………………….. 71
A Gospel ………………………………………………………………………….. 75

The Church of Acts did not have modern benefits such as fast travel, the printed page, a complete Bible in many languages, instant communication. Yet in a few short years it “invaded” the Roman Empire and regions beyond. With all its relative advantages, today’s Church seems incapable of finishing the command of Jesus to make disciples of every nation.

The Acts Church did have some vital things that today’s Church has, in general, lost — a powerful Gospel presentation, the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit and wonderful local communities of believers, as described in the publisher’s postscript below from the 1935 book:

Publisher’s Post Script
In reading Rev. Loosley’s book we were struck with one thing that was more or less left out. When the church was young, she had one other thing to give. And no other movement or religion had ever given anything even remotely similar to this.
What was this new and wondrous element of the church when young? She had herself to give. When a man met Christ – when the church was young – he was awed at the riches he received in having an indwelling Lord. Then he came into the community of believers and was awed again. The wonder of the daily fellowship, the care, the protection and “community” of the church … brand new creation … was a totally new experience for mankind. Saved men were a different species and they had a habitat to live in that was unique to that species. No one had ever known anything like the church … the community of the redeemed. Here was the other great magnetism of the church when she was young. Herself!
Today the Church is not young, and the one thing she so rarely gives is the indescribable, unattainable joy of living inside her invisible walls in the fellowship of Christ, in the midst of other brothers and sisters. It is high time she rediscovered the glory of herself, her beauty, her magnetism. A world looked on the community of the believer in ancient times and was utterly befuddled, mystified, awed – and a little bit curious – about the believers’ way of living so knit together with others, their joy at always being together, and their total fraternity in their daily living. This was her greatest attraction to onlookers. It is high time she began to get back this divine element which makes her so beautiful and draws men spellbound to her … and thence to her Lord.

What an indictment on the modern Body of Christ and its one-hour service on a Sunday morning with no follow-up and no accountability and no real relationships among members.

Once the effects of this terrible virus have left us, will the “day after tomorrow” be just the same or will the Bride again begin to make herself ready for the coming of her Bridegroom, Jesus Christ? The Holy Spirit has the answer.

3 Comments

  1. An excellent article Bryan. You have done much research on the Church and if more Christians felt the way you do – we would have a louder voice! All i can say is that God is rich in mercy and knows our hearts – but are we ready to meet Him?
    Gods grace upon you and Wendy. Kind regards

  2. A necessary and excellent study. Very relevant and practical. Let’s learn and put what we learn from the New Testament church into practice. Thank you!

  3. Yes , and thank you Bryan. A one hour service on Sunday and that’s that, well said. But few seem to spot the great omission, without which onward decline will be the order of the day. The fact is that the Churches have stopped teaching the Word; preachings you can have as many as want, 24-7 if you include tv, but solid Bible based teaching you have to dig for. And you need to have the Holy Spirit with you or you won’t find. True Biblical literacy is perhaps lower than it has ever been. The Bible, the Word of God, is truly alive, but if you don’t read it, and most importantly, know how to read it, you will never know.
    So what do we need ? Less preaching, more teaching and prayer that the Holy Spirit will place in the Body of Christ a deep thirst for the truth of His Word. Nothing less will do.