Looking For the City Which Has Foundations, Whose Builder and
Maker is God.
By Jack Gray
As a young Christian, as a medical student, and in over thirteen years
of medical missionary work in the
then Belgian Congo (now Zaire), followed by many years of lay Christian
service, I have to admit, with
shame, that I never really seriously thought about the question, "What
is the Church?" I simply accepted
the status quo. Having been brought up in a Christian home with parents
who were Baptist in conviction,
I had no qualms, after coming to a personal experience of Christ and being
baptised, about joining and
becoming a member of our local Baptist church. To that church and some
of the dear people in it, I owe
very much. Particularly do I acknowledge my spiritual indebtedness to
a young pastor, who by his utterly
dedicated life and by his friendship and encouragement, provided a strong
stimulus, in my teenage years,
to be wholehearted for the Lord.
A Baptist, and a very loyal one, I remained for many years, but when we
left the mission field and took a
General Practice in the north of England, there was no local Baptist church,
and I became very happily
involved in a Methodist congregation. When we came to New Zealand in 1965,
Margaret and I made
contact with fellow Baptists and worshipped, when possible, in Baptist
churches. However, in the
Hokianga area where I worked, I again became involved with a Methodist
work along with some links
with local Anglicans, all without losing my Baptist allegiance.
When we moved to Wellsford in 1972, it was natural for us to join up with
the local Baptist church. At
this time I was suffering from quite distressing depression, and it was
at a very low point that I had a lifechanging
encounter with God, which initiated in me an intense hunger to know Him
in a new and deeper
way. This insatiable desire to enter into a truly intimate relationship
with the Father led me to an open
attitude to the charismatic renewal, which was prominent in New Zealand
during those years. I found
myself involved too in lay preaching, not only in the local Baptist church,
but also in the Church of
Christ, Methodist, Presbyterian and Open Brethren situations. Some of
my fellow Baptists were not
sympathetic to charismatic things, and they thought me disloyal by involving
myself with these other
churches. This ultimately led us to leave the Baptist church along with
a few others.
It was at this time that that question, "What is the Church?"
first began to exercise me. We started a small
home-group meeting at that point, and this group was to continue and develop
over some eight or nine
years. At first it consisted only of those who had left the Baptist congregation,
but gradually it became a
very open group, to which people of varying denominational loyalties came
along. Its central focus was in
the Scriptures, and in ministry to and encouragement of each other.
By August 1976, after much and long heart searching, I had become convinced
that I should actively
seek baptism in the Holy Spirit, and on an unforgettable winter evening
in a farm kitchen at Awanui in
the far north, two dear friends prayed with and for me, and the blessing
fell. I received an overwhelming
outpouring of the love of God, and was released into praising Him in a
flow of heavenly language. Some
months later Margaret had a similar blessing at a charismatic conference.
Others in the home group too
had entered this dimension. During this time our source of spiritual food
and meaningful fellowship was
this gathering of Christians around the Lord and His word in our homes.
Out of religious habit and a
sense of duty we continued to attend church on Sundays, but I became more
and more disillusioned and
frustrated by the lifelessness of the services we were attending in the
Church of Christ. In the Methodist-
Presbyterian congregation there were a number of charismatic believers
who met on a Sunday evening,
and we occasionally joined them.
Around this time I was being invited quite frequently to minister in the
Open Brethren fellowship, and
one of the elders came to ask me what it was that had happened in my life,
as they were aware of a new
note and power in my messages. I told him of my experience of Spirit baptism,
and how it had been the
gateway for me into a new dimension of Christian living. A little later
I was invited to join the three
Brethren elders in a weekly early morning prayer time. These became very
precious and fruitful
occasions, when we waited on the Lord together, and also shared what we
had been hearing from Him in
our private devotions. After some months of such fellowship, the elders
asked me if I would be prepared
to join them in the leadership of the congregation, but I did not feel
then that this would be right for me.
I had reservations about the Brethren denomination and some of its emphases,
and Margaret also was
not happy to become identified with it. I agreed however to continue meeting
for prayer and sharing in
that early morning time.
Over all this time it seemed that my reading was supernaturally guided.
Books came in front of me
exactly tailored to my current spiritual searching and needs. In that
initial desperation of hunger for God,
I picked up A.W. Tozer's "The Pursuit of God." It could have
been written specifically for me! Other
books which profoundly influenced me over this period were:
1) Watchman Nee's "What Shall This Man Do?", a book which had
lain neglected on my shelves for
many years. I had tried in vain to get into it previously. Now it became
alive for me, and his chapters on
the Church stirred the first truly eager longings for "the city which
has foundations, whose builder and
maker is God."
2) Howard Snyder's seminal book, " The Problem of Wineskins."
This stimulated me into thinking about Church in a new way.
3) "Brethren Hang Loose" by Robert C. Girard was another volume
that stirred me up to see that there
had to be a better way for Church than what we had hitherto experienced.
4 ) Juan Carlos Ortiz' exciting book, "Disciple" was another
earthquake shock to my ecclesiological
5) "Brethren Hang Together", a second volume by Robert Girard,
recording the pilgrimage of a whole
congregation, which led them out of their previous conservative traditions,
and even out of their church
buildings into simple gatherings in homes, was a further push along the
To summarise the progress to this point, I would say,
1) I had come to a new realisation of the priority of knowing God.
2) My baptism in the Spirit had opened the gate into new, exciting dimensions
in Christian living, and a
realisation of the availability of the spiritual gifts. I found myself
being released from spiritual inhibitions
into a refreshing freedom of worship and praise to God. I also felt a
greater confidence in ministering to
and praying with people in the context of my medical practice, as well
as in home group situations.
3) I had begun a search for a manifestation of Church that would reflect
what I read in the New
Testament about it.
With the benefit of hindsight, I would see that in our informal home group
we had been experiencing
something much nearer to New Testament Church life than anything that
I had experienced in formal
traditional church of any denomination. This gathering had no name. It
owed no allegiance to any
particular denomination. People attended simply because they wanted to.
Its focus was the Lord Jesus
and the Scriptures. In it the needs of folk in the group were met as we
began to share our lives and
problems with one another, praying for each other and supporting one another
in practical ways. No
collections of money were needed or made. No religious buildings were
required. Homes were our
meeting places. We had no designated or official leadership. We saw people
grow in the knowledge and
love of the Lord, and we loved one another.
Despite all this, I still had difficulties in freeing myself from thinking
of church in terms of Sunday
activities and of a specific local congregation. In the Brethren fellowship
we began to experience a
moving of the Holy Spirit. There were conversions through the personal
witness of a number of people,
and there were baptisms. Numbers attending the services grew, and there
was a freeing up of worship. I
was again invited to join the eldership of this church, and this time,
after much thought and prayer, I felt
it right to accept, a decision which was confirmed to me by the Lord in
a remarkable way both before
and after the acceptance. The other elders were open to moving into fresh
expressions of church life as
we were directed by the Lord, and we felt free of any denominational pressure.
The life and direction of
the fellowship were flowing out from our shared times of prayer and waiting
on the Lord. They were
At this stage also we had some memorable meetings in which a number of
the evangelical churches in the
town joined, and it was evident that the Lord was directing us towards
unity in Him. But we did not hear
or act upon the message of the Spirit, and the denominational groups again
withdrew to the security of
their own back yards. In the Brethren fellowship too, over the following
year or so, it became evident that
all was not well. There was a core group of older and established members
of the fellowship who became
increasingly resentful of the encroachment of charismatic forms of worship,
and felt threatened by the
new Christians, who had no intention of conforming to traditional Brethren
patterns. It eventually
became apparent that the way through the situation was, for those of us
who desired to keep going with
the Lord wherever He led us, to leave this church and start a home church.
Our desire really was to have
a church with the characteristics of the home group which I have earlier
Of course the decision to do this was not reached without much heart-searching
and prayer, but it was
with rejoicing that, in February 1982 we began our house church with a
group of approximately thirty five
adults. We did not advertise our existence, but in the first nine months
of its life the Lord added
numbers of people to us, and there were at least ten baptisms. There was
a manifest presence of the
Lord in our gatherings, and I felt we were getting somewhere near the
kind of church life described in 1
Corinthians 14:26-33. One of the original elders of the Brethren fellowship
had withdrawn from our
early morning prayer time before the formation of the home church, and
he remained with the Brethren,
but the other three of us continued to meet and assumed leadership of
the new house church, but in a
very low key way.
It was a time in New Zealand when independent charismatic fellowships
were springing up all over the
land, and the pattern seemed to be that they progressed from gathering
in homes to renting halls for their
Sunday worship. We had contact with a number of fellowships who had done
this, and without, I now
believe, clear direction from the Lord we followed the pattern and moved
from house gathering to
publicly advertised meetings in the local High School hall. We also invited
a number of men to come
and we had a formal ordination of elders in November 1982. Again, with
the benefit of hindsight, I
would say that this is where we began to veer off the straight road towards
New Testament-type church. It
all took place very gradually, almost imperceptibly, but by the end of
1984 I knew something was amiss.
As numbers in the fellowship had grown, administration occupied more of
our time as elders and the
undergirding of prayer in times of waiting on the Lord and seeking direction
from Him, was no longer as
strong as it had been. Also we had formed links with a group of fellowships
of similar constitution and I
sensed the first hint of a new denominationalism subtly insinuating itself.
I was very concerned when a
man, from whom we had received much guidance and counsel, became a member
of an association of
Pentecostal churches virtually as a representative of this "stream"
of which we were thought to be a part.
At the end of 1985, after rereading " Brethren Hang Together",
I became convinced that we had made an
error in becoming a public church, and that we should revert to being
literally what we had first
envisioned, a house church. I proposed to the other elders a plan for
dividing the congregation into three
such regional house congregations. There was not unanimous enthusiasm
for this in the leadership, but
the plan was presented to the fellowship. A number of folks greeted it
with joy and with a sense that it
was the direction of the Spirit, but again there were others who were
reluctant for change. As a kind of
compromise, it was agreed that we should meet in regional groups on one
Sunday in the month, and that
the situation be reviewed at a congregational camp some four months later.
Thus it was that two rural
based groups began again meeting in homes, but the town group continued
to use the School hall.
At the fellowship camp in April 1986 the issue was not discussed, but
such was the enthusiasm of the two
country groups for their house gathering, that we slipped into a pattern
of three Sundays out of four in
the regional groups. It would be true to say that the elders were not
unitedly happy about this, and
tensions began to surface.
In the regional group to which I belonged, the Lord spoke to us right
at the beginning about a new kind
of church life, which would only be obtained as we laid down the old way
and came in emptiness to the
Lord to be taught afresh. Our meetings did not follow any set pattern.
We did not plan for anyone to
lead worship or teach, but simply came together and looked to the Lord
to lead us into what He desired.
No two gatherings were the same. Our most significant times were when
we sat together in silence before
the Lord, sometimes for up to half-an-hour before various people spoke
out what they felt the Lord was
saying. Generally it was something simple, direct and practical, leading
us on in dependence on our
Head. We came to feel that we were moving on to something special, which
the Lord had for us, if only
we would look to and follow Him.
Around this time, again I believe by God's guidance, I had discovered
the writings of T. Austin-Sparks, a
man who had deep and prophetic insights into the true nature of the Church.
What this man wrote rang
as truth in my spirit. The Church is a heavenly creation, an organism
with life from above and not an
organisation or institution of man. Strong longings stirred within me
to know how to enter into such an
experience of Church. I felt less and less in tune with what was happening
in the fellowship, of which I
was still an elder.
It was while I was struggling and agonising over these things that there
came a decisive, clear and
unmistakable word from the Lord. It all began to happen on the morning
of Tuesday October 28, 1986.
I had just returned home from an early morning prayer meeting, after which
I had been asked to
minister at the combined Fellowship meeting the following Sunday. I had
replied that I did not feel able
to do this because I was working through some critical questions in my
own life. I walked into my study
and began to cry out to the Lord for guidance.
On my desk lay my Bible, open at the second chapter of Hebrews and verses
17-18 spoke to me. "He
had to be made like His brethren in every respect, so that He might become
a merciful and faithful High
Priest in the service of God to make atonement for the sins of the people.
For, because He Himself has
suffered and been tempted, He is able to help those who are tempted."
I called out to Him and said,
"Lord I am in a critical test about this matter of Church. I need
your help. Please show me Your way."
Almost at once I knew the Holy Spirit had begun to speak. His first word
was a question. "What was the
fiercest temptation that Jesus suffered?" In thought my reply was
that it was in the garden of Gethsemane.
There all His temptations climaxed in the bitterest of all assaults of
Satan so that He sweated great drops
of blood, and in His agony cried, "Father, if it be possible let
this cup pass from me." This intensest
pressure of temptation ever known was put on Him to by-pass the Cross.
But, deep in His spirit, He
knew that His mission would only be fulfilled through death, and that
death on the Cross, for only
through that would come resurrection and exaltation and salvation for
men. With his prayer, "Not my
will but Thine be done", He accepted the way of the Cross, and the
victory was won, but at what cost!
Then I remembered Peter, remonstrating with Jesus, when the Lord had spoken
of going to Jerusalem to
suffer, to be killed and to rise again. "God forbid, Lord, this shall
never happen to you." I noted his lovely
language of devotion. "God forbid, Lord." It was so spiritual.
But Jesus cut right through that with His,
"Get behind me Satan! You are a hindrance to me, for you are not
on the side of God, but of men."
The way of Jesus, I saw, was the way of the Cross. We had perhaps understood
that fairly well in relation
to salvation and also to being identified with the death of Christ in
our personal lives as taught in Romans
6, but we had not understood it in relation to church life as we currently
I felt the Spirit say that church life as I had known it was to go to
the Cross, to die, totally expire and be
buried. Then, and only then would God give us new resurrection life, which
He so desires us to have.
There would be no new wine church life until the old had completely run
out. I saw that our fiercest
temptation also concerns this going to the Cross. We will protest, like
Peter, very religiously and very
spiritually, "God forbid, Lord, that will never happen to our church
or our fellowship. Put our beloved
programs and projects to the Cross; do to death our wonderful charismatic
services; let our music and
drama groups die, and our teaching times expire? Never! Don't you know,
Lord, they are all for You?"
And I heard the Lord say, "Get behind me. You are a hindrance to
Praise God! Our Lord Jesus resisted and overcame that fiercest temptation
and "for the joy that was set
before Him, endured the Cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the
right hand of the throne of
God." (Hebrews 12:2) "Are you willing", I felt the Lord
to be saying, "as a Fellowship to endure the
Cross? Would you be prepared to have all the old way die, all of it? Are
you willing to put it to death,
however painful that might be, and however precious some things are to
your religious flesh? Are you
prepared to endure the shame?" I thought then of the shame to which
the Lord was subjected; His lovely
hands pierced, His brow torn, His body exposed before all eyes, dying
like a common criminal, while the
Jewish religious leaders taunted Him. "He saved others. He cannot
save himself. He trusted in God that
He would deliver him. Let Him deliver him if He delight in him."
I could hear the talk, the criticism, the
sneers, particularly of religious people and leaders, if we were indeed
willing to let the Fellowship as we
then knew it, to die and be put in the grave. "We told you so! These
groups never last, and to think that
they claimed to have got it all together! Look at them now, and think
of all the scattered, abandoned
sheep!" Yes, there would be a shame to endure. But what lay beyond
the Cross, with its pain and its
shame? New life! Resurrection life! Joy! Pentecost!
The final scripture that the Spirit put in my mind that memorable morning
was, "Except a corn of wheat
fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone, but if it die, it will
bring forth much fruit." (John 12:24)
It was an awesome experience. I knew beyond a shadow of doubt that, in
answer to my cry, the Lord had
spoken to me, and that He had laid before me a clear choice. I was trembling
and weeping with the
power of the emotions which the revelation had stirred in me. My inward
struggling and tension ceased,
for now I knew what we had to do. Immediately I went and shared what had
happened with Margaret,
and together we experienced the lifting of the burden and the joy of seeing
clearly the way ahead, at least
the first steps of it. We knew it meant the laying down of my role as
an elder in the Fellowship, and our
withdrawing from organised church to wait on the Lord for further light
on the way.
The next step was to share with the leading elder of the Fellowship, and
that I did on the same day. His
comment was that the revelation might be for me, but that it did not apply
to the Fellowship. I asked him if he thought I should tell the members
of our local group, and to this he replied that if it was in my heart
to do so I should do that.
The following morning, just as we wakened, Margaret said to me, "Do
you know what is going round in
my head?" "No." "It is that song, 'We are standing
on holy ground'. I said, "Yes, I do believe that we are
standing on holy ground. Let's look up the scriptures about that."
We then read the two passages which
refer to standing on holy ground. The first in Exodus 3:1-10, where Moses
receives his call to deliver his
people. God says to him, "I have indeed seen the misery of My people
in Egypt. I have heard them
crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their
suffering." Much of the church
is in such Egyptian bondage. Later that day I read Exodus 1:14 and saw
its relevance to many church
situations. So, the call of God on the holy ground is to be heralds and
forerunners out from the Egyptian
bondage of the church.
The second passage is in Joshua 5:13-15. This time the holy ground was
the place of the call of Joshua to
submit totally to the Lordship of the Captain of the hosts of the Lord,
there on the threshold of the
Promised Land. The other element of the holy ground then, was to do with
entering the Promised Land
under the captaincy of the Lord.
That evening we met with our local house congregation, some twenty of
us, and I shared what I felt the
Lord had shown us. Knowing the implications of this, I was unsure of the
reactions from the group. I felt
it was not a thing we should discuss off the tops of our heads, but that
we should all take it before the
Lord and seek Him for direction. There was a warm response from the group,
and agreement that we
should not, at that moment, make it a matter for discussion. However,
a young man spoke up and said
that his wife had had a similar experience to mine the previous evening,
and had so strongly felt the Lord
speak to her that she had taken paper and pencil to write it down. "I
think she should share with us what
she wrote." he said. She produced three bits of paper from her pocket
and read to us the following:
My children will you listen, will you hear My voice?
Stand before Me and make your choice.
Will you follow the world's way or follow My own?
Will you build your kingdoms or establish My throne?
For I set before you a path few have trod,
and this leads to the very feet of God.
I set before you a way unknown.
Take this way and make it your own.
In Me delight, find your pleasure in Me.
My way is light and life and truth.
My way depends not on your situation.
I have provided, and it is up to you to take this provision.
Follow Me, and you will walk in newness of life.
My ways are not your ways. If they were I would not be God.
My ways are far greater than what you could imagine.
They extend far further, far wider than you can take in.
I need your whole heart, your whole strength, your entirety.
Hold nothing back and you will receive in totalness.
My children I love you.
Set your feet in My steps.
Dedicate yourselves totally to Me,
and I will establish what I have begun."
When she had finished reading a deep hush and sense of God's presence
came upon us. We stood up
together and linking hands we prayed. One of those who prayed was another
young man, who used
words very close to a verbatim quotation of Isaiah 62:3, "You shall
be a crown of beauty in the hand of
the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God." This had been
a scripture which had come alive
for me some time before, and I felt it to be a prophetic prayer of confirmation.
We parted agreeing to
abandon all meetings for a month and each to seek God for further direction.
Next morning, while I was shaving, I felt the Lord begin to speak to me
again in the same unmistakable
way which I had so recently experienced. He asked me, "Do you remember
the verse in John 3 about the
wind?" "Yes, Lord, I know it well. 'The wind bloweth where it
listeth, thou hearest the sound thereof but
canst not tell whence it cometh or whither it goeth; so is every one that
is born of the Spirit." "Now", said
the Lord, "What do you think that means?" "It is talking
about the Holy Spirit who is like the wind. I
have heard some good sermons on that topic." "Is that really
what it is about?" asked the Lord. "Say it
again!" So, I did and when I came to the phrase, "So is every
one who is born of the Spirit", I suddenly
saw! Whatever is born of the Spirit of God will be like the wind. I saw
that the organised church as I
knew it is not like the wind. It is visible, knowable, definable. It can
be boxed in. The church born of the
Spirit would not be like that. It would have no hierarchy, no buildings,
no human organisational
structure. It would be powerful, like the wind, and its effects would
be evident, but you would never be
able to coop it up inside a fence or wall. As an example of the contrast,
the Lord caused me to think of
the church in China, first in the missionary era, when it had all the
features of institutional church. This
institution was all dismantled and destroyed by the communists, because
they could see it and define it,
and so get a handle on it. God, however, had sown the seeds of another
kind of church, non-institutional,
not owning real estate, meeting in homes. This born-of the-Spirit church
had flourished even throughout
the years of antagonism from the communist regime. The communists were
unable to get hold of it and
destroy it, and the number of believers had steadily multiplied. It was
like the wind. Excitedly I went and
shared this fresh word with Margaret and another friend who was living
on our property. As I was
speaking with them, the young lady who had given the prophecy the previous
evening arrived to visit our
friend, who left to go and see her. Later she told us that Maryanne had
come to say that she had had
more from the Lord which she had not told us then. He had also spoken
to her about John 3:8 about the
wind! She then related a similar revelation to the one the Lord had just
The next step was to meet with all my fellow elders of the Fellowship,
and to share with them what the
Lord had revealed to us. Margaret was with me when I spoke with them.
The response we met
disappointed and grieved us. We had evidently come to a cross-roads, and
the rest of the leadership were
not going to take the path we had felt called to. After walking so closely
with these brothers over a
number of years, I found this quite difficult to cope with. After we got
home I drove off to a quiet spot,
where on previous occasions of crisis I had had rendezvous with the Lord,
and read a passage from the
little book, "I Talk Back To The Devil" by A.W. Tozer, a passage
which had also spoken to me before in
another critical stage of my Christian experience. Here it is: "Now
Lord, if I do the things I know I
should do, and if I say what I know in my heart I should say, I will be
in trouble with people and groups -
- there is no other way! Not only will I be in trouble for taking my stand
in faith and honesty, but I will
certainly be in a situation where I will be seriously tempted of the devil.
Almighty Lord, I accept this with
my eyes open. I know the facts and I know what may happen, but I accept
it. I will not run. I will not
hide. I will not crawl under a rug -- and I know that when I am weak,
then I am strong. So, I do not let
anyone praise me, and I try not to pay attention to those who would blame
me. This is how I have
learned to stand for Christ and all that He is to His own." Strengthened
by these words and by the
reading of the first chapter of the prophet Jeremiah, I came home.
These days marked the greatest transition of my life as a Christian, a
beginning of the dying out to church
as I had known it, to allow God to reveal Church as He would have it.
That death has not been sudden
and clean, but slow, sometimes painful and progressive. The religious
habits of a lifetime and the mindset
of years do not expire easily. The months that followed were not easy,
but we constantly received
encouragement from the Lord in various remarkable ways, and over the past
three and a half years we
have been coming to a new understanding and experience of the Body of
Christ. What we perceive as
yet dimly, and what we are experiencing encourages us not to look back,
but to press on. The things we
are learning I will share in a future chapter.
10M/66 Avonleigh Rd.
Tel. 649 8171831
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