Rev Dr Edgar Mayer; Living Grace Toowoomba Church; Date: 02 September 2012
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Revelation 15 – Praying with Elders
When John had a prophetic experience of heaven (it happened as he was “in the Spirit”), he learned something about the church. This is what he saw – (one aspect of the very first vision):
Revelation 4:4: Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and seated on them were twenty-four elders. They were dressed in white and had crowns of gold on their heads.
Revelation 5:8-14: ... the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people. And they sang a new song ... Then ... many angels encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they sang ... Then ... every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, were singing ... and the elders fell down and worshipped.
Have a look at these verses. What are they saying and what do they mean for us today? My sense is that – this morning – we will be on another steep learning curve – (I think) an exciting journey of discovery. My sense is that most of us are not operating according to the truth that is revealed in this vision; therefore miss out on much from God – but not for much longer. Today – this can change.
The basic picture of John’s vision is that twenty-four elders (humans) are the first to surround the throne of God. They form the inner circle – sitting on thrones with crowns of gold on their heads – but then all of the angels and all of creation – (and this includes us) – surround them. We form the outer circles around the throne of God. There is an inner circle (of thrones) and outer circles which means that God has put leadership in place – human leadership – which heads up all of creation. Twenty-four elders have charge over all the people in heaven, all the nations on earth and all of creation. Somehow – (think about this) – according to this vision – there is a leadership structure in place which covers and combines the entire human race into an organic body of people – here and in heaven.
What do these elders do? They are the first to humble themselves before God. Whenever attention is drawn to God, they are the first to lay down their own crowns and fall down before his throne:
Revelation 4:9-11: Whenever the living creatures give glory, honour and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say: “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.”
With this kind of humility – the elders, then, lead all others – all of creation – in worship (Revelation 5:8: “Each one had a harp ...”) and conclude – confirm – the worship of everyone. It is the elders that affirm the final “amen” of the four living creatures:
Revelation 5:8-14: ... the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people. And they sang a new song ... Then ... many angels encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they sang ... Then ... every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, were singing ... The four living creatures said, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshipped.
Another role of the elders is to comfort and explain the works of God to other members of the church:
Revelation 5:4-5: I [John] wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside. Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.”
However, there is more. These elders sit on thrones and have crowns of gold on their heads which means that – in some shape or form – they are exercising authority. It looks like they are co-ruling with God as his junior partners – (God on the big throne and the elders on smaller ones).
According to the Bible, the leaders of God’s people (especially) are invited to the council of God to observe what he is doing and then speak his Word accordingly – exercising the keys of God’s kingdom:
Jeremiah 23:18-22: But which of them has stood in the council of the Lord to see or to hear his word? Who has listened and heard his word? ... But if they had stood in my council, they would have proclaimed my words to my people and would have turned them from their evil ways and from their evil deeds. [See these further references to the council of God: Genesis 1:26; Exodus 15:11; 24:9-10; Deuteronomy 32:8; 1 Kings 22:19-23; Nehemiah 9:6; Psalm 29:1; 89:5-7; 103:19-22; Isaiah 6:1-8; Ezekiel 1; 10; Daniel 7:9-14; Zechariah 3; Job 1:6-12; 15:8; 38:1-7.]
Matthew 16:19: I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will have been loosed in heaven. [I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever will have been bound in heaven, you bind on earth; and whatever will have been loosed in heaven, you loose on earth.]
John 5:19-20: Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, and he will show him even greater works than these, so that you will be amazed.”
Then, the elders – the leaders of God’s people [but not only them] – exercise power by petitioning God in prayer. They speak up for others – repenting on their behalf and pleading mercy for them:
Genesis 18:17-33: Then the Lord said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do? ... Then the Lord said, “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me. If not, I will know.” ... Then Abraham approached him and said: “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? 24 What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing —to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” The Lord said, “If I find fifty righteous people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake.” ... Then he said, “May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak just once more. What if only ten can be found there?” He answered, “For the sake of ten, I will not destroy it.” When the Lord had finished speaking with Abraham, he left, and Abraham returned home.
Exodus 32:9-14: “I have seen these people,” the Lord said to Moses, “and they are a stiff-necked people. Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.” But Moses sought the favour of the Lord his God ... Then the Lord relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.
Nehemiah 1:5-11: Lord, the God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel. I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s family, have committed against you. We have acted very wickedly toward you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses.
Remember the instruction you gave your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations, but if you return to me and obey my commands, then even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my Name.’
They are your servants and your people, whom you redeemed by your great strength and your mighty hand. Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering your name. Give your servant success today by granting him favour in the presence of this man.
Luke 22:31-32: “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”
Luke 23:34: Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” / Acts 7:60: Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.
Last but not least, the elders around God’s throne – the leaders – on the highest level – can make suggestions to God. They can express their hearts to him and God promised to listen:
Isaiah 6:8-13: Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” He said, “Go ... ” [Cf. 1 Kings 22:19-23.]
John 15:7-8: If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
John 15:16: You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit —fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.
2 Samuel 24:10-24: David was conscience-stricken after he had counted the fighting men, and he said to the Lord, “I have sinned greatly in what I have done. Now, Lord, I beg you, take away the guilt of your servant. I have done a very foolish thing.” Before David got up the next morning, the word of the Lord had come to Gad the prophet, David’s seer: “Go and tell David, ‘This is what the Lord says: I am giving you three options. Choose one of them for me to carry out against you.’”
So Gad went to David and said to him, “Shall there come on you three years of famine in your land? Or three months of fleeing from your enemies while they pursue you? Or three days of plague in your land? Now then, think it over and decide how I should answer the one who sent me.”
David said to Gad, “I am in deep distress. Let us fall into the hands of the Lord, for his mercy is great; but do not let me fall into human hands.” So the Lord sent a plague on Israel from that morning until the end of the time designated, and seventy thousand of the people from Dan to Beersheba died ...
When David saw the angel who was striking down the people, he said to the Lord, “I have sinned; I, the shepherd, have done wrong. These are but sheep. What have they done? Let your hand fall on me and my family.”
On that day Gad went to David and said to him, “Go up and build an altar to the Lord on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.” ... David built an altar to the Lord there and sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings. Then the Lord answered his prayer in behalf of the land, and the plague on Israel was stopped.
D.G.S. Dhinakaran: Gifts of the Holy Spirit, Madurai: Word of Christ 2003, p130: I know a servant of God in Madras city, a prophet endowed with the gift of prophecy. He honours leaders of all churches, irrespective of their religious creed. His attitude toward them is always one of humility; so they also like him very much. On one occasion, returning from his tour, he heard that a Catholic priest who really loved him and encouraged him in his ministry was at the point of death and rushed to the hospital. There the priest was lying unconscious; his kith and kin were also in that room. The medical assistants said, “He cannot survive.” But the servant of God did not want to lose him on the face of the earth at that time. He gripped the hand of the unconscious priest and cried bitterly to God: “Lord, please send him back (to me).”
After interceding with this one sentence prayer, the servant of God went away. What happened? After a few seconds, the priest opened his eyes and queried whether that particular servant of God had come there. All, in a chorus said, “Yes!” Then he narrated: “I was standing in the presence of our Lord Jesus in Heaven. When I was completely immersed in the sweetness of the Lord’s presence, suddenly the voice of this particular servant of God reached Heaven. Addressing the Lord, the voice sounded with compassion, ‘Lord, please send him back (to me).’ Jesus, our Lord told me, ‘My son is calling you; you go back’ and I opened my eyes.”
[Cf. Luke 22:30.]
The Bible provides much evidence of humans sharing in God’s power but – coming back to the vision of John in heaven (Revelation 4-5) – what we see here is stunning because it adds a corporate dimension to the authority of leaders. Leaders prevail with God because they present to him the prayers of the saints – the prayers – (the wishes, desires, the heart cries) – of other Christians:
Revelation 5:8: ... the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people.
Revelation 8:3-5: Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all God’s people, on the golden altar in front of the throne. The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of God’s people, went up before God from the angel’s hand. Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and hurled it on the earth; and there came peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning and an earthquake.
What does this mean? God puts leadership in place and he empowers them (with spiritual gifts and positions of authority) but – in a very real sense – many a time – their level of influence cannot rise beyond the prayers of God’s people. Just imagine that they surround God – worship him – fall down before him – but their golden bowls are empty because the church has not been praying. Sometimes churches point fingers at their leaders – judging them for not being anointed – dismissing them for not operating in the power of the Spirit for conversions, miracles and the activation of spiritual gifts – but have the churches been praying? Can the lack of power be traced back to Christians that are not praying – not filling the golden bowls of prayer which leaders offer to God?
I review what we have said so far. According to John’s vision of heaven – God has organized all of creation in circles around his throne whereby the twenty-four elders – humans – occupy the inner circle of authority and leadership – wearing golden crowns and sitting on their own thrones. These elders prevail with God and – to a large extent – their power is directly dependent on a praying church which fills the golden bowls that they are offering to God.
Do you agree with this picture? Does this make sense to you? Then, can I submit to you another stunning observation. If the vision of John is correct, your prayers will not be effective unless you are submitted to the leaders that God has put in place over you. We pray and our prayers are heard by God but – according to the vision of John – at least in some instances (maybe when our prayers reach beyond ourselves and touch citywide and national agendas) – our prayers are not having immediate access to God but are passed on to him by the elders – the spiritual leaders around us – and if we are disconnected from these leaders, our prayers are not reaching God – (at least not with the same strength). Power seems to flow best in the church when there is unity around the leadership which God has put in place. [See also Matthew 18:19-20: “Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”]
This is radical. In an environment of church hopping, doing our own thing, carrying offenses, grassroots independence and believing in our own giftedness we struggle with genuine submission to leadership. Yet, the Bible makes leadership a dominant theme and (consistently) confirms that the prayers and aspirations of God’s people often depend on the support of the right leadership.
The national leader Moses provides the best illustration of this teaching:
Exodus 17:8-16: The Amalekites came and attacked the Israelites at Rephidim. Moses said to Joshua, “Choose some of our men and go out to fight the Amalekites. Tomorrow I will stand on top of the hill with the staff of God in my hands.” So Joshua fought the Amalekites as Moses had ordered, and Moses, Aaron and Hur went to the top of the hill. As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning. When Moses’ hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up—one on one side, one on the other—so that his hands remained steady till sunset. So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword.
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Write this on a scroll as something to be remembered and make sure that Joshua hears it, because I will completely blot out the name of Amalek from under heaven.”
Moses built an altar and called it The Lord is my Banner. He said, “Because hands were lifted up against the throne of the Lord, the Lord will be at war against the Amalekites from generation to generation.”
1 Corinthians 10:1-2: I don’t want you to forget, dear brothers and sisters, about our ancestors in the wilderness long ago. All of them were guided by a cloud that moved ahead of them, and all of them walked through the sea on dry ground. In the cloud and in the sea, all of them were baptized as followers of Moses.
As long as Moses was praying and supporting the aspirations of God’s people, they enjoyed victory and blessings. God had somehow appointed Moses to be a covering – an authorized representative – for his people. We can observe the same in other Bible leaders:
Samuel – 1 Samuel 7:13-17: So the Philistines were subdued and they stopped invading Israel’s territory. Throughout Samuel’s lifetime, the hand of the Lord was against the Philistines. The towns from Ekron to Gath that the Philistines had captured from Israel were restored to Israel, and Israel delivered the neighbouring territory from the hands of the Philistines. And there was peace between Israel and the Amorites.
Samuel continued as Israel’s leader all the days of his life. From year to year he went on a circuit from Bethel to Gilgal to Mizpah, judging Israel in all those places. But he always went back to Ramah, where his home was, and there he also held court for Israel. And he built an altar there to the Lord.
Abraham – Genesis 12:1-3: The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you. I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you.”
Galatians 3:6-9: So also Abraham “believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”
Understand, then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham. Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” So those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.
Adam & Christ – Romans 5:12-21: ... For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ! ... [Take the opportunity to preach Christ.]
Elijah & Elisha – 2 Kings 2:12-13: Elisha saw this and cried out, “My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!” And Elisha saw him no more ... He picked up the cloak that had fallen from Elijah ...
2 Kings 6:17: And Elisha prayed, “Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see.” Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.
John Alley: The Apostolic Revelation, Rockhampton: Peace Publishing 2002, p136: Spiritually, in terms of the dynamic of covering, Elijah himself was the horses and chariots of Israel. That was the anointing. By this grace, great spiritual power flowed through the life of this man so that God could do, through the anointing, what he needed to at that time in the life of Israel ... The assumption we usually make is that the horses and chariots of fire surrounded the city, because the account refers to the hills being full of them. However, the text is specific that the hills were full of “horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha” (2 Kings 6:17). THIS WAS THE ANOINTING! Elisha had received Elijah’s anointing in double portion, and the manifestation or sign of this anointing was the horses and chariots of fire – a sign common to both prophets!
Joseph – Kris Vallotton: Heavy Rain, Ventura: Gospel Light 2010, p51-52: “THERE AROSE ANOTHER KING OVER EGYPT WHO KNEW NOTHING ABOUT JOSEPH. It was he who took shrewd advantage of our race and mistreated our fathers so that they would expose their infants and they would not survive (Acts 7:18-19).
It is important to note that Stephen did not say there arose a king who knew not God and destroyed their race. Rather, he said, “There arose another king over Egypt who knew nothing about Joseph.” Joseph’s personal victories brought him to a position of favour and authority that released a corporate covering over his family ...
Peter – Matthew 16:18-19: And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven ...
Luke 22:31-32: “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”
Paul – Romans 11:13: I am talking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I take pride in my ministry.
Ephesians 3:1-3: For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles – Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly.
[Cf. Acts 20:29: I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock.]
The apostles – Acts 8:14-17: When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to Samaria. When they arrived, they prayed for the new believers there that they might receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit had not yet come on any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.
John – Kris Vallotton: Heavy Rain, Ventura: Gospel Light 2010, p47: Notice that Jesus commissioned John to write seven letters that became the apostolic mandates for seven different churches throughout Asia [book of Revelation]. But did you catch the fact that John was not told to write letters to the natural leaders of those churches? Instead, he was instructed to write the letters to the seven angels of the seven churches! Wow! What we learn from this passage is astonishing; we see that true apostolic ministries have angels assigned to them. These angels are commissioned to carry out the mission directed by a particular apostle’s mandate and metron. The word metron means the realm or boundaries of a leader’s spiritual influence (see Romans 12:3; 2 Corinthians 10:13). In this case, John had authority over seven specific geographic regions, and so he had seven angels assigned to him.
In John’s vision, the twenty-four elders in heaven present the prayers of the church – our prayers – in golden bowls to God. With their leadership in place, our petitions reach God and become powerful. There seems to be a grace on leadership in the church which releases our prayers to God at the right time and provides a spiritual covering for us by their calling and actions.
One pastor writes – John Alley: The Apostolic Revelation, Rockhampton: Peace Publishing 2002, p127-128:
The word ‘covering’ is not new around the church. We have all heard references to spiritual covering, like: - “Who is your spiritual covering?”, “What is your spiritual covering?”, or “You should be under covering,” etc.
Generally this expressed the need for everyone to be a member of a church. The pastor of that church (or the church itself) was seen as your spiritual covering. To say you were ‘under covering’ meant that you ‘belonged’ somewhere in the body of Christ, and by belonging to a specific church this provided you with your bona fides as a Christian. This meant you were not independent, you were submitted and accountable, you had a shepherd (someone who watched over your soul, someone who could presumably correct you if you were deceived or went wrong) and because of that you would be seen as a genuine Christian. Thus you were under ‘covering’.
Covering is in fact a great deal more than that, and largely occupies another dimension entirely. Spiritual covering is actually a power dimension. It is not only accountability; there is actually an objective spiritual protection in good spiritual covering. This is not just the protection of having a pastor who will correct you if you are wrong – although that is a protection. Neither is it just the protection of having relationships in the local church – although that too is a protection. Under true covering, spiritual power is flowing and at work, because something appointed by Christ is in place.
A spiritual covering is a spiritual force field, which helps bring in good things (blessings), and helps keep out bad things (protection). Every believer and all the church is meant to be under the blessing of this ‘force field’, which is the power of the life of Christ.
This life and power is provided by those anointing of Christ that flow through apostles, directly or indirectly.
Do these leaders still exist today? Are there people who have been given authority over us and maybe the city or nation? Do we need to be aligned with them so that blessings flow through them to us and our prayers – under their leadership – reach their uppermost potential?
This is what Heidi Baker (an American missionary with Iris Ministries) experienced:
[From a talk at Morphett Vale Baptist church] ... One time I was in my university many years ago ... I was in this service and I thought that the preacher has lost it ... He said that God was giving him a city ... I said: “God doesn’t give cities.” And suddenly as I was thinking that – I thought that he was a rather arrogant man – what kind of arrogant man says that God is giving him a city – theologically incorrect – the Lord showed up standing behind him with two huge angels – one to the right of the preacher, the other to the left. And the Lord spoke to me and said: “Listen to this man. He is telling the truth.” I was undone ...
Almost twenty years later, I was in the middle of a room with about six or seven thousand people ... I was listening to the preacher and through him I heard this cry – the Lord saying: “That he would give a nation to those who were crying out.” He was looking for people that he could give nations to. I remember just sitting there in the back. And I was unable to stay where I was. I didn’t care about disrupting anything. I literally ran forward – there was no altar call – he had not even got through half his message – and I remember running forward and started screaming in church and I am actually quite shy. I would not normally do something like that. And I pressed in. I lifted up my hand and the man said: “Do you want a nation? Do you want Mozambique? The deaf will hear. The blind will see ... Do you want a nation?” I am screaming without thinking: “Yeeeeees!” Later that man (Randy Clark) said: “I did not believe that I was saying what I was saying. I did not believe what I was doing.” God knew. [It just happened under the guidance of the Spirit.] We only had two churches at that time and now we have seen God’s power from the south to the north and we have seen hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people run to Jesus ...
[From a service at Toronto Airport church] ... Randy Clark suddenly said: “I have to change my message here and speak about the apostolic anointing” ... Well, that word kind of bothered me because I had seen a lot of arrogance surrounding the word ... my little theological brain was ticking – aha ... and suddenly Randy said “apostolic anointing” and God flipped me up on top of my head ... sweet Jesus, thank you that I am wearing trousers ... I am on my head ... What are you doing, God ... I remember this song: Take me and use me, bruise me if need be ... I was on my head and then fell down ... I was literally bruised from head to toe ... God said: Apostolic is upside down. It is the lowest place ... And then Ian Ross comes and says: “Is it okay. Can I pour water down your feet?” He gets a big bottle and pours it down my feet as my legs are in the air and says: “More Lord, more ... ” And God just hits me and I didn’t understand what the water was about ... Ezekiel 47 ... totally immersed in the river of God ... and the coming floods in Mozambique ...
Maybe this is still a little alien to us this morning. Why should there be leaders in place and be given such importance when anyone can pray in Jesus’ name and do their own thing reading the Bible? There is a spiritual principle at work in leadership which is probably spelled out best in the fourth commandment:
Deuteronomy 5:16: Honour your father and your mother, as the Lord your God has commanded you, so that you may live long and that it may go well with you in the land the Lord your God is giving you. [Cf. Exodus 20:12.]
Ephesians 6:2-3: “Honour your father and mother” – which is the first commandment with a promise – “so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”
The basic and most foundational leadership which God has put in place for anyone is their parents. As we respect this leadership – our fathers and mothers – as we honour them, we are positioned right to have our prayers heard and receive spiritual and material blessings: “ ... that you may live long and that it may go well with you in the land the Lord your God is giving you.”
The key to a long life and blessings is honour. This goes for our natural parents but also applies to our spiritual parents – our fathers and mothers in the faith. According to the Bible, the church – all of us – are a family – born again into new relationships: brothers and sisters in Christ with spiritual fathers and mothers representing God the Father to us. Therefore, it makes sense to apply the fourth commandment to the family structure of the church – our relationship with leaders:
Deuteronomy 5:16: Honour your father and your mother, as the Lord your God has commanded you, so that you may live long and that it may go well with you in the land the Lord your God is giving you. [Cf. Exodus 20:12.]
John 1:12-13: Yet to all who did receive Jesus, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
Galatians 3:26: So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. / Galatians 4:6: Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” [Cf. Romans 8:15.] / Luke 11:2: He said to them, “When you pray, say: “Father, ... ”
Matthew 12:50: For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.
John 14:8-14: Jesus answered: “ ... Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son ... / John 14:23: Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.”
Romans 4:16: ... also to those who have the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all. / 1 Corinthians 4:15: Even if you had ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. / Philippians 2:22: But you know that Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel. / 1 Thessalonians 2:11-12: For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory. / 1 Timothy 5:1-2: Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity.
All right – what is now the practical outcome of having elders – spiritual fathers and mothers over us? Know who they are and honour them. If you want them to present your prayers to God (wherever that applies) – if you want their covering (representing you with authority) – if you want to live long – and if you want that it goes well with you in the land – do not take offense, wander away and do your own thing – believing that God and you is all that you need – (this also applies to some independent house churches). You may not always agree with the leadership but you can honour them. In times of turmoil, all of us – we – can make an effort to apologize and forgive each other.
May I also say that church hopping is a limited solution for evading leadership. Beyond the local congregation, there is spiritual leadership in place for the city and city hopping is not as easy as going from one local church to another. By the way, whom has God appointed as leader or leaders for our city – Toowoomba? [There is also the question whether the spiritual leadership over Toowoomba is collegial – (a circle of elders that are equal to each other) – or whether the collegial fellowship is (on a higher level) among leaders who have charge over different cities. What does Revelation 5 suggest?] And who is the spiritual leadership of our nation? If John’s vision of heaven is right – all of creation belongs to one united leadership structure which culminates in the twenty-four elders around the throne of God. Who are our spiritual leaders for Australia – South East Asia – the world? [These considerations have also something to say about the modern debate about church size – mega-church or house church, big church or simple church – and they have something to say about the insistence on relational proximity to authority figures. The one big leadership structure for all of creation includes small churches but also gatherings that express our unity on a wider community level (e.g.: neighbourhood, suburb, city, nation). There are personal relationships with local leaders but also submission to national fathers (and mothers) of the faith.]
The family structure of the church – with the underlying principles of the fourth commandment – gives us more insights in how our relationship may work on a practical level: Fathers (and mothers) do not compete with sons (and daughters) but rejoice in their success. Fathers remain fathers even when sons show great potential around them. They are not threatened by sons or daughters who may exercise greater spiritual gifts (e.g.: prophecy) than they have. Character and maturity (e.g.: wisdom, steadfast love, humility) are more important for family relationships than doing well in spiritual gifts (cf. 1 Corinthians 13).
Kris Vallotton: Heavy Rain, Ventura: Gospel Light 2010: In 1998, my wife, Kathy, and I moved to Redding, California, to launch the Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry. That same year, I was lying on the floor praying one morning when the Lord spoke to me so clearly that it stunned me. He said, “There is a new epoch season emerging in this hour. Much like the Protestant Reformation, there is another reformation coming that will unearth the very foundation of Christianity. This move of the Spirit will absolutely redefine our ideologies and philosophies concerning what the Church is and how she should function.”
I asked him, “What will this transition look like???? He said, “My Church is moving from denominationalism to apostleships.”
I actually had no idea what He was talking about, so I asked Him what the difference was between denominationalism and apostleships. He explained to me that in denominationalism, believers gather around doctrine and divide when they disagree. In apostleships, believers rally around fathers, mothers and families. He said, “I am about to open up the vaults of heaven and reveal depths of My glory that have never before been seen or understood by any living creature.” He explained that this glory was going to be revealed to and through His Church in this new epoch season. Then He stated, “If I pour out new revelation into the wineskin of denominationalism, it will rip the wineskin and the wine will be lost” (see Luke 5:37-39).
The Lord used the term “denominationalism” and not “denominations”. “Ism” denotes an ideology, as in communism, socialism or humanism. These ideologies are built upon distortions of the truth. They are lies sponsored by a diabolical agenda, creating oppression wherever these ideas gain influence. I am personally convinced the “ism” of denominationalism is an evil spirit! And it is every bit as alive in nondenominational churches and some apostolic networks as it is in denominational churches.
It’s easy to see that denominations have grown up through division, being rooted in the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century. We were named Protestants because we were born in a doctrinal protest (the word originally meant “pro-testament” but soon took on the meaning protester), which continues to this day.
Both the Protestant Reformation and the movements that have sprung up from it all emphasize doctrinal agreements above relationship. This priority has created a culture that constantly threatens to divide people at the very core of their bonding point. While many believers admit that damaged relationships and church splits are costly, the denominational mindset leads them to conclude that the way to avoid this is simply to find ways to enforce doctrinal conformity so disagreements can’t arise. Thus, denominationalism also creates a culture that is critical of anyone who thinks outside the box of tradition, and it desperately fears inspiration.
Leaders under this spirit have more faith in the devil’s power to deceive believers than the Holy Spirit’s ability to lead them into all truth. Shepherds in denominationalism resist revelatory thinking because they understand that new ideas spawn disagreements and disagreement attacks the central nervous system of their churches.
I often refer to denominationalism as “divided nations,” in reference to the way this spirit has infected and limited our ability to disciple the nations. We are called to disciple nations, not to divide people (p22-24) ...
For example, we can see this in the denominational approach to terms like “loyalty” and “unity.” In denominationalism, loyalty is often redefined as “agreeing with the leader.” Disagreement is called “disloyalty,” and often “disrespect”. But the truth is that loyalty is actually only tested when we don’t agree (p26) ...
The unity of the Spirit is another great example of a powerful truth that has been reduced to mean that “We should all agree so the world will believe there really is a God.” Viewing the Bible through the lens of denominationalism redefines the unity of the Spirit to mean the unity of the Word (agreement about truth) (p27) ...
In apostleships, the priority of relationships is kept above doctrinal agreements, promoting highly relational core connections. Apostles create covenantal, family relationships, because believers are attached to and through fathers and family, not doctrine. This promotes freedom for people to think creatively, to dream, to envision with God and to experience new depths of the Holy Spirit. This relational security creates an environment that attracts revelation (p30) ...
Denominationalism is a highly developed hen house where leaders receive authority by their performance. They go to seminary, get a degree and become a pastor. The trouble with achievement-based authority is that it creates a performance-driven leadership culture where the most accomplished person is commissioned to lead ... Because this type of leadership is derived through works, anybody who outperforms his or her leader is a threat to the organization ...
On the other hand, apostleships are heir-archies. In heir-archies, leaders are not determined by their ability to perform but by the level of favour they have received from God (Daddy) through their relationship with Him as a son or daughter. In other words, apostolic leaders receive authority not by what they know, but by whom they know. This is what the Bible refers to as “called”-based leadership ...
Finally – another word about the spiritual covering which comes from the fathers and mothers in the faith. In addition to the elders presenting the prayers of the saints to God and acting as representatives of the people with the authority to bless them, there is the inheritance that fathers and mothers can pass on to their children. This is what God promised:
Exodus 20:4-6: ... I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.
In addition to this promise and maybe as a consequence of this promise – it seems that we can pass on spiritual breakthroughs to others that come behind us. Usually with the laying on of hands – we can pass on spiritual gifts to the next generation and others – Romans 1:11: “For I am yearning to see you, that I may impart and share with you some spiritual gift to strengthen and establish you.” 2 Timothy 1:6: “For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands.” [We may also consider that we cannot pass on what we do not have and we may even pass on weaknesses such as hidden sins. However complete we are in God determines the extent of the inheritance and spiritual covering for others.]
In closing, I want to make one more point. Pastor Bill Johnson made the observation that up to now revivals have come in church history but they have not been passed on from one generation to the next which meant that each generation had to labour hard for recovering old breakthroughs. Each generation had to begin again as orphans – without the benefit of spiritual fathers and mothers that knew about revival. Yet, it is so much easier to inherit the grace of revival – spiritual breakthroughs – an outpouring of God’s glory – (call it whatever you like) – than pioneering (once again) unchartered territory.
Here at Living Grace, it took us years of unlearning traditions and gaining fresh understanding of the Bible – it took us years of discomfort and rejection – it took us years of waiting on God in many a wilderness time – before the breakthroughs came: healings, conversions, the gift of tongues, gold dust, the manifest presence of God in worship, etc. Yet, those that come and join the congregation now, they immediately possess everything that we have gained over the years. On their very first day with us – they may sparkle with gold dust, speak in tongues, fall down under the power of God, receive healing and rejoice in God.
Why was pioneering so hard for us and stepping into an inheritance is so easy? I was thinking about this and then it dawned on me: Fathers make the difference. Pioneers have no guidance. They need the discipline of desert experiences so that they learn to handle spiritual power and blessings when they come. There is so much that can go wrong but sons (and daughters) have fathers (and mothers) who teach them how to live responsibly with the presence and power of God in their lives. Fathers can give gentle admonitions and encouragement, point out danger signals before they become a problem, and so on.
Would you not want a spiritual father or mother inherit from them rather than do it the hard way – pioneer for more of God in the unknown (by yourself)? [You can still do this extending the inheritance which you have received.] Have another look at leadership in the church. Honour them so that it may go well with you. Amen.