Church 14-26 is inspired by a further verse:
That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings.
To know Jesus Christ personally is transformative, but many Christians in churches in Western culture today seem little transformed. Many believers are on anti-depressants, and those who are not depressed do not know how to help those who are. The divorce rate is little different inside the church and outside it. The New Testament promises inner joy in the harshest circumstances, yet many believers are unhappy even though our culture enjoys plentiful freedom under the law, and there is no risk of famine. Jesus Christ gave up his life for us; we should be as ready as suicide bombers to give up everything for God, except with love in our hearts. Unfortunately many churchgoers just come to a weekly service, and hardly think about God at other times. Some backslide. Others remain believers but give up on church. There is more self-sacrificial love in gang culture or drug culture than in many churches: if you rang somebody chosen at random from your congregation and asked them to come and sit with you for a night because you felt like doing serious harm to yourself, how many would? The likelihood of making Jews jealous of our communal love (Romans 11:11) is not large.
For Christians, the source of joy is Jesus; their joy comes from knowing him, from experiencing his love and radiating it back to him and to others. Knowing Jesus better comes from believing in him and letting him put your old self to death (spiritually speaking). Pain comes from the inner battle between your old self and your new Christ-like self. The old, sinful self is to be put to death, yet it wants to live as desperately as a bird struggling in your hand. It will never die completely until your present physical body dies but, the less it kicks, the less it comes between you and Jesus, and the more joy you will have in him. Christians should see themselves as holy people who nevertheless commit sins. We must not deny that we sin (1 John 1:8-10), but we must think of our core identity as “holy one”, not “sinful one”. It is very important that we understand our identity in Christ.
Not the least remarkable thing about church is that a group of people who might have little in common, in worldly terms – people who might not normally even like each other – become closer than the closest family. A group of Christians should see themselves as a family: believers are brothers and sisters adopted by God our father, and the church is God’s household. Family and adoption are key metaphors for church in the New Testament. (Monasticism was an attempt to create an extended family community in Christ, but it precludes marriage and it either became polluted by the world, or failed to engage with it as believers should: John 17:16-18.)
The group character of a congregation of Christians should come to mirror the character of Jesus Christ, just as it is his body in that location. Today, the character of a congregation today often ends up mirroring the character of its pastor or vicar. The participatory model of Church 14-26 meetings is intimate and challenging – like Jesus – and allows its group dynamics to mould the group to His personality, and help them express it.
In the description of gatherings in 1 Corinthians 14, pastoral discussion is not mentioned; the aim is to make the group more powerfully aware of the living presence and headship of Jesus Christ. When discussing any group member’s personal troubles, in contrast, the aim is to bring Christ more fully into the life of one individual. A group must be open to pastoral discussions, but these should take place before or after the 14-26 interaction or at another time.
Church 14-26 has been partly inspired by two books by Frank Viola, Reimagining Church (2008) and Finding Organic Church (2009). There is ultimately no prescription, only description – and that inadequate, for the church manifests the life of Jesus Christ, a life whose richness exceeds human eloquence to describe and transcends any set of rules.