I wish to introduce you to one last disease. This particular illness doesn’t inflict entire churches. Those who are at risk are typically young males who are ambitious to serve God. The disease? Apostleitis.
Apostleitis is the unrealistic desire to become an apostle. Those who suffer from this disease have no idea what the apostolic call involves, for if they did, they would never dream of wanting such a call.
The apostolic calling is a death sentence. It’s one of the worse things to befall an individual. See 1 Corinthians 4:9-13; 2 Corinthians 1:8-10; 4:1-12; 6:3-10; 11:1-12:10. One of the best treatments for those who are plagued by this disease is to read a book entitled, The Release of the Spirit by Watchman Nee. That volume has a rather high cure rate for healing this illness. The book is made up of talks that Nee had with young apostolic workers who he was training.
It’s far wiser to prevent an illness than to cure one after contracting it. What follows, therefore, are three ingredients for building a healthy immune system. Each outlines a long term regimen for good health.
* Eating the right food. The church must learn how to draw its life and energy from nothing but Jesus Christ, John 6:57. If a church doesn’t know how to do this, it will not survive. It must learn to nourish itself with those things which are invisible and intangible. In addition, it must receive a balanced meal. The riches of Christ are infinite in scope. If a church partakes of only one or two aspects of Him, it will become undernourished and deformed.
* Regular exercise. Nourishing oneself with spiritual food is not enough. The church must share its spiritual food with its members. That is, the members must function in the meetings. They must learn to partake of Christ individually and together, and then impart His life to the other members in the gathering. Such spiritual functioning is the life-blood of a church.
Christians in the West have been so conditioned to be passive that they don’t know how to function in a meeting where there is no human officiation. Like Pavlov’s dog, many (if not most) believers have been conditioned to be quiet and watch someone else minister.
God has provided a remedy for this. He has set some in the church to equip the saints for the work of spiritual ministry and to bring the church unto full stature. Properly conceived, these equipping ministries teach the church how to build itself up in love. Ephesians 4:11-16.
* Obtain a health practitioner. In the first century, itinerant workers were given to the church by God to show the Lord’s people how to draw their supply from Christ. They existed to help churches spot those spiritual maladies to which they were blinded. They also showed them how to ward off spiritual disease. If a church was suffering from a sickness, they treated it.
All of Paul’s epistles, for example, were provoked by church problems. Like a fine surgeon, Paul’s letters were the Divine instruments by which God effected their healing. Christian workers, therefore, are servants to the Body of Christ. They function as health-care practitioners, acting as nurses, doctors, nutritionists, and sometimes surgeons. (Paul actually uses the metaphor of a nurse to describe his function in the life of the churches he served.) 1 Thessalonians 2:7.
Understanding church pathology is vital for the sustained health of an organic church. Yet there’s also the danger of becoming a spiritual hypochondriac. Continuous introspection is a sign of sickness. It prevents action. So don’t make a ritual out of checking for spiritual disease. The paralysis of self-analysis can end up killing a church also.
If you belong to a non-traditional church, I recommend that the members come together once a year or so to take its temperature, check its pulse, and detect its vital signs. In this way, this chapter will be translated from bloodless theory into practical help . . . help that just may save the life of your church.