It is certainly noticeable how we are impacted by the fashions and trends in thought and practice current in our society. Just focus on two things to illustrate and challenge our thinking. First the popular emphasis on life as a journey, mankind coming of age, developing, growing, maturing enough to sort out the many problems facing the nations; climate change would be an obvious example. Governments are ceaselessly tinkering with economics, education, indeed, every department they can in order to facilitate improvement of life as they see it. Secondly, there is a quest to discover new things. In the commercial and entertainment realms so important to people today, the appetite for the latest gadget, new fashion style and the most recent rising ‘star’ in music or movies is voracious. This drive seems to be insatiable. If these things are in the world around about us, is a similar mindset and tendency pervading the churches? We can say that it is, at least in some. The idea of a ‘coming of age’ in twenty first century man is certainly mirrored in the often rather arrogant notion that the churches of to day are really getting the job done among the nations.
The fads and winds of doctrines so readily accepted by many churches and then discarded a few years later when they prove ineffective only to be replaced by another technique seems to reflect a world ever seeking the latest way to be more effective and content. A good few years ago a pastor asked me to listen to a series of messages in which a prominent church leader was giving his testimony. He was visiting the UK a great deal and was a delightfully engaging person in style and delivery as he spoke. I think there were at least three messages in which he unfolded his story; it had all the marks of a journey of discovery. The impression that came indelibly as I listened was that even yet he had not come to a place where he was thoroughly rooted and grounded in Christ. It seems that his journey had involved getting ‘into’ the evangelical faith; he had given his heart to Jesus. However, a little while later he had experienced a discontent and sought the baptism in the Spirit and he got ‘into’ the Spirit, after a while this proved to be unsatisfying and he got ‘into’ the gifts of the Spirit, prophesy in particular. It seemed, that about every three years he made these shifts and moves and there were, up to that point in his life at least four or five such and still he had not really found the Rock. It is true that at times the inspired writers of the New Testament do mention the idea of spiritual growth and life as a journey of pilgrimage but references are not as common as you would think. When made they are always based on things fixed, accomplished and permanent.
Jesus speaks of “every branch in Me,” (John 15v2) the little word “in” possesses the content of being thoroughly fixed, joined and one with Him. From this fixed state growth and fruitfulness are to be expected. Paul seldom writes in language of growth and journey, but when he does he does not mean growth into spiritual life but growth that rises from being fixed in Christ and what He has done. In both Colossians (2v19) and Ephesians (4v15) he is thinking in terms of maturing growth but we must take note that he only mentions this having established that each person is in Christ, rooted and grounded in Him, not growing and journeying into Him but established in Who He is and in His work and not their own works. A simple definition of Paul’s doctrine could be contained in two words at the heart of his complete understanding; they are “in Christ.” For Paul the baptism in the Holy Spirit is that by which God baptizes us “into Christ.” Peter writes that we should “grow up to salvation” (1Peter 2v2) but this is after we have been “born again of the living and abiding word of God.” (1v23) Should we be considering seriously that the reason for the constant search for new church growth techniques, for becoming an effective Christian, together with the vulnerability to every latest wind of doctrine passing through the churches and the instability of so many seeking for some new word from God is the direct result of the fact that people have not found “the ground wherein, sure, my soul’s anchor may remain?” Yes, that is a line from an old Charles Wesley hymn that begins exultantly, “Now, I have found the ground wherein…” Truly, what a day it is when we come to a thorough rest in Christ, what the Wesley’s called “the full assurance of faith.” It is certain that preachers and teachers can only bring people to the place where they are themselves.
This is a challenging thought; if the ministers are not settled in Christ they are unlikely to bring people to Him as Head and fountain of all spiritual life. Jesus said that His whole intention in going to the cross was that, “where I am, there you shall be also.” (John 14v3) Taking that verse in its context Jesus is not speaking of geography, of going to heaven when we die, but of living where He Himself lives, that is, in the Father for He says clearly that “No one comes to the Father except through Me.” These words in John’s gospel chapter fourteen are the beginning of Jesus’ most profound teaching to His apostles which formed the bedrock of their understanding of the Holy Spirit and His ministry throughout the history of the church. Take careful note of the repetitious little word “in.” Over and over again throughout these chapters Jesus uses it, and bearing in mind that the usual meaning of this Greek preposition is not to be confused with ideas of traveling into something or traveling away from it, or being above or underneath or alongside it, but rather to be set in the heart of it and being at rest there, we should consider carefully where we really are. When the Spirit was to come to the apostles, Jesus specified that at that day, (undoubtedly the day of Pentecost) He would be in them, they would know that “I am in my Father and you in Me and I in you.” (John 14v20) This would not be simply positional for they would know it experientially. No wonder the words of Jesus concerning the vine and the branches occur in chapter fifteen and not before, He had said that they would be established in Him by the Spirit and He in them first for there is no way that spiritual growth and fruitfulness can occur save that the vine is rooted in the ground and the branches are abiding well fixed and joined to the stock into which the vinedresser has grafted them.
Taking all this in its context and applying it simply and carefully Christ calls Himself the True Vine, (remember that Israel, the nation had been God’s vine but had failed to bear fruit Jer 2v21) so we ought to ask, what was the ground in which Jesus was planted? He has told us already, “I am in the Father,” He lived in the Father’s love and will and did the works He had showed Him to do and finished them too. He lived rooted and grounded in His Father and drew all sustenance from Him and now the Father who is the vinedresser has grafted us into His Son, that we should share the life that comes from Him through His Son by the Holy Spirit. Jesus says that it is inevitable that those abiding in Him will pray in His will and bear fruit. (John 15v7&8) Perhaps a sabbatical of three months could be given to ministers in some churches during which they could meditate prayerfully and long in John’s gospel chapters thirteen through seventeen, it is certain that it would aid them to become better rooted, grounded and settled in Christ themselves and their service would be with greater assurance and power bringing blessing to the congregations.