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A Nicodemus Moment

A number of years ago I was invited to share with a group of pastors, teachers, and leaders for a two-day retreat.

On the last day of the retreat, I was asked to share some snapshots of Christ-centered community from my own experience.

I told the story of one such community. This body of believers discovered Jesus Christ in the depths and learned to love one another through thick or thin.

They also learned how to have New Testament-styled church meetings where every member functioned, sharing the riches of Christ through their various gifts . . . all without a facilitator present.

Their gatherings and their community life was under the headship of Jesus Christ.

One of my closing comments was that this group of believers had discovered that Christ was alive enough to be the head of His own church, not in rhetoric, but in reality.

They certainly had their share of problems and issues — as was the case with every church in the first century. But they also discovered how to find the Lord in the midst of them.

The examples I gave of the work of the Holy Spirit in this group were stunning. And they made a tremendous impact on my own life and ministry, all these years later.

When I finished, there were two reactions in the room.

One was amazement. Some of the leaders had never seen or heard anything like what I described. So they quizzed me with questions privately afterwards.

I was highly impressed with those particular people. Why? Because of their hunger for the Lord. In talking to these people, they were quite insightful and discerning.

The other group didn’t quite understand what I was talking about. They had no context for it, so they politely listened and then went on to other things, never asking a question.

One gentlemen in the room was both a professor and a pastor. After hearing me rehearse story after story about the amazing things happened — can can still happen — when a group of Christians discovers how to live by the indwelling life of Christ together, he shared his opinion with the group.

In effect, he said, “what you’ve just described is a sociological reality called group form dynamics.”

Jaws began to drop throughout the room.

This man just heard the living testimony of Jesus Christ through His body, and his response was, “you’re describing a sociological reality.”

Here was a leader in the Christian world, a pastor of a very large denomination and a professor, and that’s what he heard.

My response was simple. I talked to him as though I were speaking to an atheist. I said, “I believe that Jesus Christ exists and that He’s real. I also believe that He lives in His people, and when they learn to live by His life, they can express Him in remarkable ways, shaming principalities and powers in other realms. That’s what this group of simple Christians had discovered.”

The conversation then moved on to other things.

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FRANK VIOLA has helped thousands of people around the world to deepen their relationship with Jesus Christ and enter into a more vibrant and authentic experience of church. His mission is to help serious followers of Jesus know their Lord more deeply, gain fresh perspectives on old or ignored subjects, and make the Bible come alive. Viola has written many books on these themes, including God's Favorite Place on Earth and From Eternity to Here. His blog, Beyond Evangelical, is rated as one of the most popular in Christian circles today.