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NoCompromiseLast week  someone asked me where I thought it would all end? All these adaptations the church seems to be making to culture. We used to get hung up on keeping Sunday special, but who is bothered anymore? It was only 20 years ago that the Church of England allowed women priests, but who can deny that women bishops will shortly follow? Right now, much ado is being made about gay marriage, but won’t that also seem like an outdated scruple in years to come. Isn’t the trend basically one of distinctives gradually eroded away?  And all those conservative Christians who have fought so hard, won’t they just watch their children accommodate themselves to the very compromises they so feared?

Trouble is… that predictive model is based on the very thing that is shifting most fundamentally. It’s based on the idea of ‘Christian Britain’ and a church that can expect (and demand!) the state to be at least Christian-ish.  But it seems plain to me that this is the one thing that’s really changing. Or rather, this is the reality that’s most obviously being revealed in all the other changes. The culture is not Christian-ish.  It’s not even Christian-ish-ish.  The church doesn’t have the political voice it wants to have. And shouting louder is not helping.  It’s basically communicating peripheral issues as our central message (that’s what’s being heard anyway).

But what if we extrapolate from the real change that’s occurring – the realization that the Christian vision of work/rest, men/women, sex and sexuality really isn’t the world’s?  What then?  Maybe then we’d see church as the place where true rest is enjoyed, true gender relations modeled and true  enjoyment of singleness and marriage nurtured. And we’ll see the world as a place that almost must find the way of Christ baffling and wrong.

If we follow that trajectory then, yes, we’ll have to accept persecution as part of the deal. But I’m pretty sure we all signed up to that at the outset, and, on the upside, it means that we’re not at all destined to ever-increasing compromise. Nor are we doomed to fight all our battles for peripheral issues like sex.  In fact we  might actually find our churches modelling a counter-culture more distinctive than ever.  Meanwhile, those who focus the battle on Westminster may find that they are being just as defined by the culture as ‘the compromisers’ (even if negatively).

I’m no kind of culture-vulture and I couldn’t spot a political trend if it tap-danced on my face. But it seems to me that whatever trajectory we’re on, it does not need to end in a loss of Christian distinctives. Instead in might be the birth of some real distinctives. What’s more it may help us re-assign resources to the true front line – the church – as we re-centre ourselves on our true mission – proclaiming Jesus.

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unitarian worshipContinued from here

In his book, “Worship, Community and the Triune God of Grace”, James Torrance sums up much of the teaching we’re considering, especially as he highlights the difference between Unitarian and Trinitarian worship.

Unitarian and Trinitarian Worship

According to Torrance these are the two broad models of worship.  Unitarian worship is not necessarily that offered by Unitarians – most often it simply reflects the functionally monadic doctrine of God latent in our congregations.  Worship on this model sees only two parties – the LORD who is simply the recipient of worship; and the human worshipper (or congregation) who may be divinely enabled and empowered but who, nonetheless, is wholly responsible for performing the worship.

As against this, Trinitarian worship recognizes that God the Father has set forth God the Son to be the True High Priest who, by God the Spirit, offers to the Father that which He demands.  Worship is therefore not the efforts of humanity in approaching God but a participation in Christ’s perfect worship of the Father, graciously offered through the Spirit.

This, in turn, leads to different accounts of intimacy.  On the Unitarian model, intimacy is an ideal to be reached (if only we can raise our moral and mystical games).  We are external to God and must figure out how to approach Him in an acceptable way.  The only priesthood here is our priesthood.  The only offering involved is our offering.  The only intercession is our intercession.  And if we get all these things right, then, perhaps, we will attain to a measure of intimacy.

On the Trinitarian model, adoption into the life of God through the Son and by the Spirit is the incomparable intimacy which guarantees true and acceptable worship.  The order is thus reversed. Worship does not bring us near to God.  Rather ‘the blood of Christ’ has brought us near (Ephesians 2:13) that ‘through Him we… have access to the Father by one Spirit.’ (Ephesians 2:18).  Blood-bought intimacy with God is the beginning of true worship – not an added bonus when the mood is right.

The Perfect and Eternal Priesthood of Christ guarantees our acceptable worship before the Father.  Therefore we’re always late to worship. We’re always joining something that is already under way. We begin our worship in the embrace of the divine love – our worship is merely God’s appointed means of experiencing such intimacy.

How then do we worship?

When we think of “intimacy with God”, what do we picture?  Probably we’re thinking of a private experience.  But in the Bible our intimacy with the Father, through the Son and by the Spirit is expressed corporately.  In community we reflect the Triune life to which we have been called.  As a community we are Christ’s Body and Bride.  A merely private intimacy with God is a rejection of the terms on which we have been offered fellowship.  It’s true that worship of God is 24/7 (Romans 12:1ff).  And it’s true that I am continually ‘one with Christ’, whether by myself or with others. But consider the marriage analogy.  I may be ‘one with my wife’ even when we’re separated by oceans.  Yet our experience of intimacy comes with setting aside times and places.  So it is with our experience of intimacy – the Scriptures envisage corporate fellowship with God, as we gather.

The Gathering

Acts 2:42 gives four characteristic marks of the post-Pentecost church: the Apostle’s teaching, the fellowship (koinonia), the breaking of bread and prayer.

Firstly, the Word is set forth. This is essential.  The Spirit brings us Christ through the Word since, as Calvin would say, Christ comes clothed in His promises.  There is no unmediated or self-generated approach to God.  It is of the essence of grace that God approaches us at His initiative and by His appointed means.  In the Bible, Christ is offered to us freely in words of promise.  God has ordained that ‘faith comes by hearing’ (Romans 10:17), thus the Bible must be at the absolute centre.  There ought not to be any meeting without the Word. When Luther wrote ‘Concerning the Order of Public Worship’ he advised: ‘Let everything be done so that the Word may have free course… We can spare everything except the Word.  Again we profit by nothing as much as by the Word.’

‘The fellowship’ is an objective, Spirit-created, communion to which believers are to be ‘devoted’.  This fellowship subsists in the organic union we share as the Body of Christ.  In it we are given various gifts and roles for our mutual edification and mission to the world (cf 1 Cor 12-14).  To be devoted to this involves the exercise of gifts in ministering to one another (cf Romans 12:4-8) and practical, costly service (eg 1 John 3:17-18).

‘The breaking of bread’ we take to be sacramental (hence the).  Along with the preached Word, the dispensing of the sacraments was taken by reformers as the other defining mark of a true Church.  Christ has given us Himself in this supper through ‘visible words’ (Augustine’s phrase).  Via these, we ‘feed on Christ in our hearts by faith, with thanksgiving’ (Cranmer’s phrase).  This sacrament is communal by its very nature – uniting us with Christ and each other.  It ought to be a genuine high point in our gatherings though always attended by the Word, by clear teaching on its purpose, and eaten in peaceable fellowship with all (1 Corinthians 11:17-22).

Corporate prayer is an essential part of worship.  The prayer Jesus taught His disciples was corporate – ‘Our Father’.  The Spirit equips the Bride to call on her Husband ‘Come’ (Revelation 22:17).  Prayer is an activity of the Church and one that expresses our complete dependence on, and devotion to, the Lord.  Our intimacy with God could not be more evident than when the Father sends the Spirit of His Son into our hearts “who calls out ‘Abba, Father’” (Galatians 4:6).  All kinds of prayers should therefore be made in our services – prayers of praise (Revelation 5:9-14), of thanksgiving (Ephesians 5:20), of confession (Nehemiah 9) and of supplication (1 Timothy 2:1ff).

Conclusion

Right worship is possible only on the basis of our intimate union with Christ, under-written by His blood and sealed by His Spirit.  Intimacy should not be held out as the goal of Christian worship but the ground.  Our experience of intimacy with the Triune God comes as we appreciate that which is already ours in Christ.

Grace, therefore, is the very atmosphere of Christian worship since Christ, our great High Priest, has already performed the perfect service to God.  Even worship is a gift that comes from on high – not a work to be generated by us. We receive the benefits of His priestly worship through faith-union with Him, and we experience, understand and deepen that union especially in corporate worship.

The Communion of Father, Son and Spirit is known most fully in the communion of His people.  This happens as the Spirit works through word and sacrament, through a communal lifting of our hearts in prayer and through mutual encouragement, to awaken us to Christ’s presence in and with us.  As we grasp and appreciate Him we know our exalted position, caught up in the intimate life of God Himself.

 

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TEP-PodcastCover-1024x1024The church has been sent as God’s missionary organisation to the world. What does that mean for church? What does it mean for evangelism?

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Ephesians Sit Walk Stand

A Sermon on Ephesians 4:1-16

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The Christian life is a down-hill WALK.

It’s also a battle, we’ll see that in chapter 6. There are forces to STAND against. But we STAND because we hold the high ground.  And if you hold the high ground, you don’t need to advance, you don’t need to retreat, you don’t need to go anywhere. You just STAND in the strength of Jesus.

But this is the Christian life: First SIT at God’s right hand in Christ. Understand all that we have.  Then WALK out into the world and, all the while, be prepared to STAND against the enemy’s schemes.  But notice this: NOTHING in the Christian life is about uphill struggle. NOTHING.

There is a WALK out into the world. There is a STAND to take against spiritual powers. But there’s never a climb.  Jesus has climbed. He’s the only one.  We sit, we walk, we stand, we never climb. We are already on top of the world.  We have gone to heaven already, in Christ.  We have the fullness of God.  And now, what’s life about?

What’s the essence of this WALK? What’s the goal of this wonderful gospel?

In a word: CHURCH…

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communityLeon preached a corker tonight at Emmanuel, Plymouth.

From Psalm 84 he answered the question, Why isn’t church more exciting?

We’re the only source of life for this dying world.

We’re the only place where people can meet with God.

We’re the only place where the broken and hurt can find healing and refuge.

We’re the only place on earth where God lives.

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God’s Mission Strategy: The Church

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Introduction

I wonder if any of you said this sentence this week:

I wish we could have a jubilee weekend every year.

I said that this week, did you?

I even heard one person from this church, who shall remain nameless,

We should have a jubilee weekend every week.

Three day working weeks, what do you think about that?  As far-fetched as that sounds, the Bible’s got an even bigger holiday to imagine: What about a whole year of Jubilee celebrations?

In the Bible “the Jubilee” lasts all year.  Did you know jubilee originated in the Bible.  In the Old Testament, every 50 years they had a Jubilee celebration – and it lasted all year.

But the Bible’s Jubilee is very different to our Jubilee celebrations.  In the Bible, Jubilee is very much about the commoners, not the royals.  It’s very much about the underprivileged.  The Bible’s Jubilee was for the poor, the oppressed, the enslaved and the indebted.  It was a massive levelling of wealth and privilege.

You’re thinking, what’s that got to do with Nehemiah 5?  It’s got everything to do with Nehemiah 5.  Let me explain…

Every 50 years, Jubilee was proclaimed and all debts were cancelled, all slaves were freed, all accumulated wealth was redistributed, everyone returned to their ancestral home and they all take the whole year off.

Leviticus 25 says this:

Count off 49 years… Then have the trumpet sounded everywhere on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the Day of Atonement sound the trumpet throughout your land.  10 Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you; each one of you is to return to his family property and each to his own clan. 11 The fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you; do not sow and do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the untended vines. 12 For it is a jubilee and is to be holy for you; eat only what is taken directly from the fields.

13 “‘In this Year of Jubilee everyone is to return to his own property.  (Leviticus 25:10-13)

There’s plenty more in Leviticus 25 but let me summarize.  In the Year of Jubilee all debts are cancelled; all slaves are freed; all accumulated wealth is redistributed; everyone returns to their homeland.  And notice where it all begins?  It all begins with the Day of Atonement.

If you understand the Day of Atonement, you’ll understand Jubilee.  And if you understand Jubilee, you’ll understand Nehemiah 5….

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I wrote this two years ago in response to the views of an influential minister who I respect greatly.  I haven’t kept up with the minister’s views on this subject and he might be saying different things now so I’ve removed reference to him specifically.  But I think the issue is still very much out there in the evangelical ether, so I’ll address the issue more generally…

I long for church communities that are Christ-centred, grace-filled, all-of-life and intentionally missional.  I love ministers and ministries that emphasize these things.  But let me raise one caution.  It’s common in such circles to affirm church as an on-going family life and to deny that church is an event.

I can understand, to some extent, why language of “event” grates on people.  It can seem like an ungodly waste of resources to turn Sunday morning into a grand performance.  So true.  I’ve heard people speak in hushed tones about some gold standard of sermon preparation – an hour in the study for every minute in the pulpit.  Yowsers!  If that’s the cost of gathering around word and sacrament then I can well understand the desire to re-balance the expenditure of resources.

But there’s something deeper to discuss than the re-allocation of resources or the degree of formality to our meetings.  What I want to establish is the absolute necessity of the event for the life of church.  Church is not just family, it is also an event and irreducibly so.  I’ll say it that starkly because I know how popular it is to speak of church as ongoing-missional-community in opposition to chuch as event.

Church has its being in becoming.  It ever becomes what it is as it hears God’s word.  In this way church is the community called out (ekklesia) to listen to its risen Lord in the proclamation of word and sacrament.  This is the centre of the life of the community.

Let me just take one Scriptural example from Paul.  We are one body because we all share in the one bread (1 Cor 10:17). That is pretty stunning language – and it’s very ‘eventist’.  Here is a consummation of one-body-ness in which we become what we are. The event and the on-going life of the body are inter-dependent.

Think of marriage.  The covenant reality is that husband and wife are one flesh.  But there is an event in which they become one flesh (if you were Presbyterian you might even call it covenant renewal!).

It’s commanded in Scripture (cf 1 Cor 7) and it takes time and effort and a measure of ritual and it’s irreducibly an event.  Of course the degree of ritual and cost and time-expenditure will vary according to many factors.  But to imagine I can think of an ongoing covenant life without also thinking about the one-flesh event is a big danger in marriage.

And, by parallel, church life needs to be maintained by consciously enjoyed, anticipated and ritualised “events” in our church life together.  We can’t do without them.  And however much it’s necessary to speak of day-in, day-out community life we dare not lose language of event either.  The old reformed ecclesiologies speak of gathering around word and sacrament.  They didn’t forget that we were family, but they did highlight that there were foundational “events” at the centre of church life.

So we say Yes to shared life, Yes to Christ-centred community.  But the way in which our community is “centred” around Christ takes a certain form.  The centre is an actual, concrete centre around which we orient ourselves.  As Christ’s community therefore we order ourselves around the place where Christ is given to us. And He is given to us supremely in word and sacrament.

Therefore we must maintain language of “event”.  As we do so we are upholding two related concerns:

1) We are communities of grace.

Christians keen to ditch “event” language are usually big on “grace.”  They commonly reject rituals in the name of gospel grace.  But I would urge caution here.  If we want to be communities of grace we need to orient ourselves around where Christ is given to us, not primarily around what Christ would have us do.  To be a community of grace requires us to centre on events.

2) We are communities of proclamation.

Where we honour the “event” of Church, we honour “proclamation”.  While our community life preaches to the world (John 13:35; 17:21) I’d want to co-ordinate this to a centre of verbal proclamation that constitutes and re-constitutes the community.

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I’m well aware that many who reject the word “event” bang a big and important drum for “grace” and “proclamation”.  But I want to say, “grace” and “proclamation” requires “events.”  We must never lose our centre.

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A friend of mine is very supportive of my ministry but is passionately opposed to parachurch organisations.  He makes many different arguments, but here’s an argument that might persuade me (though I haven’t heard him make it)…

If a local church rented advertising space on the side of a bus, what slogans do you think it would run with?

Anything like “Not Gay, Ex-Gay, Post-Gay and Proud.  Get over it”?

I’m not saying they’re wrong. I think the reification of ‘sexuality’ as an unchanging marker of personal identity deeply undermines our humanity.  I think the elimination of choice (such that one in unable to be ex-anything) is akin to Islam’s apostasy laws!  I think the ad’s censorship betrays the deep intolerance of many so-called liberals.

But, but, but, when those behind the ads say that the controversy was a God-send, I have to wonder whether they’re mission lines up with mine (which I hope is Christ’s!).

INTERVIEWER: You couldn’t buy this level of publicity, now that it’s been banned…

REV LYNDA ROSE: We couldn’t, one has to wonder whether God is not perhaps active in this. It wasn’t our intention to provoke this situation… The publicity is obviously good.  (From Channel 4 News)

Lynda, maybe the publicity’s good for you.  Speaking as an evangelist, let me tell you it aint so good from where I’m sitting!

And it just  makes me wonder, who gets to be a spokesperson for Christianity in the world?  The church, right?  But when does the church lose it’s voice and get drowned out by interest groups?  Certainly the media can’t tell these things apart – and I can’t blame them for it.

It seems to me that our public face needs to be a lot more aligned to both Head and body!  Otherwise local churches (and parachurch evangelists!) are going to have to pick up the pieces.

You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was placarded as crucified. (Galatians 3:1)

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Part one

Part two

Part three

Final Thoughts

If we are going to read the vast amount of material around this debate (some initial suggestions below), could I make a small plea for love and patience?  I find myself all too easily irritated by some who talk as if everybody in the ‘Western’ church is mesmerised by rampant individualism or when people dismiss the 19th century missionaries as colonial cronies who were mindlessly imposing Western culture as if it were essential to the gospel.  Conversely, I get irritated by those who assume that their own cultural expression of the church is ‘clearly’ the one that everybody should convert to as soon as they turn to Jesus.  I mention these things because there is no point in any of us getting lost in these side-issues of style [as I too often have done] but rather it is vital for us to get to the real substantive issues of how the global church family of the LORD Jesus Christ can enjoy fellowship together in His Name, supporting one another in genuine love and generosity.  How can we bring our Muslim friends to the liberating power and family of the LORD Jesus in the local church?

Another little plea… Throughout this debate there are many attempts to cite the examples of Jesus and the apostles with respect to the temple/synagogue in the New Testament.  We can’t really go into all of these references in this article, but it might be worth exercising care, caution and consideration about these references.  In these debates diametrically opposed conclusions are drawn from the exact same incidents!  Perhaps it is worth remembering that the temple was not a ‘pagan religion’ but the God-given but temporary centre of the Church community for 1500 years.  It was the centre of the system of law that was designed to prepare the church for the birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension of the LORD Jesus Christ, prophesied by the Law and the Prophets.  In a connected way, the local synagogues were centres for studying and living out the Law and the Prophets, not only in Israel but across the surrounding nations.  Yes, as we go on through the book of Acts and then on into the 1st and 2nd century developments we see that division opening up between ‘church and ‘synagogue’ as many Jewish people rejected the Jewish Messiah and began to formulate a new religious identity in distinction from Him.

We should be careful about drawing too simplistic or hasty parallels between a 1st century synagogue and a 21st century mosque or temple.  There are surely lessons to learn, but not all connections and parallels are legitimate, in my own opinion.

Further Reading:

John Travis on the C-scale and the C5 model.

 

John & Anna Travis on the assumptions behind the C-scale

 

Rebecca Lewis explaining some of the Biblical ideas behind the Insider Movement

 

Interesting article even if some of the earlier parts are dealing with other cultural issues in America –

 

Bill Nikides paper is stimulating –   Bill argues that the whole Insider Movement is not a work of the Spirit but a product of missiological theories developed in Western mission agencies.

 

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Part one

Part two

We’ve examined the C-Scale as proposed by John Travis.  Let’s now think through C2-C5 on the scale.

It is quite likely that many of us are aiming for a church community in our own situations that is around the C3-C4 style, but what about the C5 category?  That is where this debate becomes more heated.  The Insider Movement is the general heading to describe all that is going on under [mostly] the C5 heading: people remain “inside” their existing religious community but believe in Jesus.

Rebecca Lewis provides the following definition of the Insider Movement – “An ‘insider movement’ is any movement to faith in Christ where (a) the gospel flows through pre-existing communities and social networks, and where (b) believing families, as valid expressions of the Body of Christ, remain inside their socio-religious communities, retaining their identity as members of that community while living under the Lordship of Jesus Christ and the authority of the Bible.”

The issues orbit around the extent to which a person can be described as “living under the Lordship of Jesus Christ and the authority of the Bible” if they remain as a Muslim with the mosque as the centre of their community life, accepting the Quran as having religious authority and Muhammad as a prophet.  Can this be acceptable as a temporary stage on the way to the formation of a more Biblical church community or could a person or a group of people remain in a C5 situation as a valid expression of the church?  Is C5 nothing more than a stage of enquiry about the LORD Jesus Christ or could it be genuinely described as “a Jesus-centred community”?

John Travis, in the original article, acknowledged that the C5 position may only ever be a transitional form, but since then there are plenty who argue that it is a valid form of church and that it is a way that Islam itself could be ‘reformed’ from within!  Yes, it is a very large vision… but is it built on an unstable foundation?

To cut to the chase: could we see the Quran as a perhaps partially revealed word from God or that Muhammad is in some sense a prophet sent from God?  Is it possible to hold to the gospel without holding to the deity of Jesus?  These are fairly ideas that are heard within the Insider Movement which create genuine concern for the wider church.

For this reason not everyone is happy about the C5 situation and on BiblicalMissiology.com Georges Houssney has provided a lengthy analysis of some of the problems –  Note especially the long and fascinating discussion forum at the conclusion of his paper.

The Biblical Missiology website has many resources and discussions that point out problems and criticisms with the Insider Movement approach to mission.

“The writings and practices of Insiders demonstrate a number of presuppositions that they seem to agree on. Generally, Insiders tend to have a positive view of Islam, Muhammad and the Qur’an. Many believe that Muhammad is some sort of prophet from God, that the Qur’an is at least a partially inspired word from God that points to Jesus, and that Islamic culture is not contradictory to the biblical message. Therefore, they do not invite Muslims out of Islam (they would call this “extraction”). Rather, they ask Muslims to follow Jesus while remaining Muslim and participating in Islamic religious practices such as prayer in mosques, reading the Qur’an, and fasting during the month of Ramadan.” [Georges Houssney].

Bill Nikides argues that the problems come from Western mission agencies trying to make C5 seem to be a legitimate expression of church when it simply is not.  We can all understand and work for C3 and C4 style churches that are culturally connected to the local culture and work carefully not to confuse the truth of Christ with specific cultural forms, BUT in a desire to deal with the perceived cultural difficulties that Islam has with ‘Christianity’ the attempt to see C5 as a valid form of church is unsustainable.  “The rationale for adopting C5 (cultural barriers) would also suggest C3- C4, a move that removes the threat of a slide into syncretism. Insisting on C5 when C3- C4 are plausible alternatives indicates theological deficiency. Whatever C3-C4 possibly surrender in terms of community acceptance is more than made up for by greater biblical and theological soundness.”

Perhaps the most positive conclusion Bill provides is to see C5 as a movement of Muslims who are beginning to seek for and develop a real hunger for the Living LORD Jesus – “Messianic Islam might in fact best be seen as a seeker movement. Classified as such, we can see C5 communities as an excellent springboard for biblical C3-C4 movements.”

Rev. Bassam M. Madany rejoices in the incredible awakening to Jesus that is happening across North Africa, but is very concerned about the whole concept of the ‘Insider Movement’ as it is promoted by Western mission agencies.   [NOTE: this website has many articles from the Arabic Christians who are committed to witnessing in dangerous situations using far more traditional models of outreach and church planting.]

For what it is worth, my own view is closer to Bill Nikides, but whatever view we take of this, it is vital that we think about how we can genuinely support the local churches around the Islamic world.  Mission is not an academic subject but the simple fact of the life of the local church.  When we try to disconnect mission from the local church then we do tend to fall into serious problems.

In the final post we will consider some final thoughts and further reading…

The Insider Movement 4 – Paul Blackham

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This article by Paul Blackham is continued from here.

Before we examine various approaches to church and culture, let’s acknowledge a key fact: becoming a follower of Jesus is a deeply social matter.  The LORD Jesus does not save mere individuals but saves His Church.  Too often we might talk about someone making various decisions in their heart/head about Jesus, but we might forget that in the Bible the key issue is about their membership of the community of the LORD Jesus Christ, becoming members of His Body.  The forms that His Body might take in all the different contexts and cultures of the world is gloriously and marvellously diverse, so a person must never feel that they are an isolated soul.  The formation of local church communities is how evangelism happens.

One further introductory point.  Advocates of the “Insider Movement” are aware that this is not always the most helpful label as it tends to give the impression of something only for those “in the know” or something not entirely ‘above board’.  Therefore, there has been an effort to change the vocabulary to emphasise that it is all about the LORD Jesus Christ.  There has been an attempt to focus on the goal of making disciples of Jesus as the primary goal.  This is somewhat helpful, but again it is not always clear how it fits with the Biblical vision of the local church.

Let’s begin with John Travis’ seminal article as he argued for a way of understanding how Muslims were believing in Jesus but remaining as Muslims.  He provided a scale that helps to analyse different ways in which a person might join the church as they turn to Jesus.  The scale runs from C1 to C6, where C1 is a ‘Western’ style church with ‘Western’ languages and C6 describes mostly isolated people who are secretly trying to trust/follow Jesus whilst remaining entirely within their religion/culture.

The whole original article by John Travis is essential reading if we are going to really understand what this is all about.

As we go through this list, it might be helpful to think about it in terms of the church plants and emerging church situations that you might have personal experience of.  Many of the same issues that face a Jesus community in Tehran will also be relevant in Manchester.  Each of these C-ratings describes a church situation that has different levels of integration into a local culture.

C1 – A Christian church that is like an island in the local culture, where worship is in a language foreign to the local population, where the music, songs and styles within the church reflect the culture of another nation.  So we might imagine an English speaking parish church in an Arabic city, where English is spoken and English hymns, clothes and cultural styles are adopted.  I seem to remember Michael Palin coming across a church like that in his Sahara adventures.

C2 – The same as C1 but the local Church uses the language of the local population.

C3 – A Christian Church that uses the local language and culture, but is careful to reject the aspects of local culture that might have religious associations.  So, dress, music and traditions from the local church are all embraced, but if any of those things are tied into the local religions [whether Islam, Hinduism etc] then they are excluded.  In terms of Islam, a conscious attempt is made not to keep Ramadan and food rules.  In addition, the mosque is rejected as the communal centre in favour of the Church community.  In a C3 context the followers will normally call themselves ‘Christian’, but they do not necessarily meet in a distinctively ‘Christian’ building.

C4 – The church will retain those aspects of the religious tradition that fit in with or are permitted by the Bible, but these religious traditions and forms are now understood in terms of the LORD Jesus Christ and His Way.  So, for example, a Muslim background believer might be most comfortable with prostrating in prayer or using a prayer mat: that same style of praying is retained in the church, but now the prayer is to the Father through Jesus in the power of the Spirit.  The religious forms might remain, but the people no longer see themselves as “Muslim” or “Buddhist” etc.  In addition, the church might keep the food laws [rejecting pork and alcohol] and use Islamic words/phrases.  Often the people in this kind of local church might not call themselves ‘Christians’ due to the political and historical associations with this specific term and might instead use terms like “followers of Jesus”.  However, the Muslim community would recognise that this church is not a Muslim community.

[NOTE: in point of fact, some of the “religious traditions” may be more in harmony with the Bible than the supposedly ‘Christian’ forms: think of how little attention is given to body posture in some forms of Christianity, but how often it is noted in the Bible.  Speaking personally, my wife and I have been involved in planning a church plant that quite deliberately makes provision for Muslims and Muslim background believers to use prayer mats].

C5 – It is harder to think in terms of a local church community when we get to C5 because the Muslims in this category are described as following Jesus whilst remaining within the Muslim communities.  They would reject the title ‘Christian’, not only for the reasons in C4 but also because “becoming a Christian” might be seen as treason against their local religious community.  In an Islamic context, these people would continue to be legally/socially/politically within the Muslim community – [NOTE: given the intense legal/political difficulties that many Muslims have in terms of changing their religious designation, there are many obvious pressures to explain this].  Yes, those aspects of Islam that are understood to be clearly against the Bible might be rejected, but in practice this is not always the case.  They are involved in life at the mosque, continuing to pray traditional Islamic prayers and keeping the fast, along with all the other aspects of mosque life that their neighbours follow.  As other Muslims become aware that they are committed to the LORD Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, so they might be seen as no longer “true Muslims” and can then be rejected by the local Muslim community.  It is claimed that there have been examples when so many local Muslims are C5 believers in Jesus that a kind of C5 mosque is established.

C6 – This describes the situation of believers who are isolated by such extreme hostility and persecution that they remain as secret believers within their local community.  They may even have no fellowship with any other believers in Jesus, so know nothing of membership of a church family, but more often they may have limited fellowship with small groups of other secret believers.

Now, of course, there may be all kinds of initial comments to make about this analysis, not least that it doesn’t really address how Christ transforms a local culture and it is not at all clear how C5 relates to the church [understood as the fellowship of the followers of Jesus, with leaders appointed to teach the Bible and disciple the church family].   It provides only a snap-shot at a moment in time of the work of the Spirit in a given situation.  Probably all of us can see how C1 and C6 can only be stages that must develop into something more if the Church is to find a vital, Biblical expression.  Many of us pray that in 100 years time we will find culturally vibrant churches all across the Islamic world where the Way of Jesus has found expression perhaps in forms and styles that perhaps we can’t quite imagine today – in a C3-C4 range.  The churches of the LORD Jesus, all across the world, do tend to produce new and exciting cultural forms over time: think of the variety of styles of music, dress and architecture that have emerged over time in the different cultures of the world.

Surely, from a Biblical perspective, we want to be thinking more deeply about Christ transforming all cultures rather than conformity to any culture.

Speaking personally as a British person with more than a passing interest in the ancient druidic religion of northern Europe, I am very aware that Mediterranean and Asian cultural forms of worship were imposed on my ancestors together with a North African form of the doctrine of the Trinity, articulated by the Egyptian Athanasius.  Even after more than a thousand years, we are still processing and dealing with those cultural issues: how can we retain the Biblical truth in Jesus whilst transforming, rejecting or re-affirming the cultural forms and styles that have had such a massive impact on Europe.  Yet, whatever cultural issues we European barbarians have had to deal with we always think back with deep gratitude to those Mediterranean and Asian missionaries who planted local churches among us so long ago.

However, the C-scale does provide a way of thinking about this moment in the way that people are turning to Jesus in especially Muslim majority nations.  The C-scale helps us to think through what is happening in terms of religion/culture in a situation.

In the next post we’ll think further about the C-scale and in particular C-5/6 – “the Insider Movement”…

The Insider Movement 3 – Paul Blackham

The Insider Movement 4 – Paul Blackham

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In the recent discussion about Bible translation (here, here and here), several people have contacted me with questions and thoughts that are strictly not about the translation issue but about another issue that is often referred to as the “Insider Movement”.  It is important to divide this away from the translation questions because there is no necessary connection between the two – see “Clarifying some misconceptions”.

Any of us involved in evangelism and church planting will be aware of the range of issues that confront us when a person begins to follow Jesus.  How much of their existing life and culture needs to be immediately changed?  Do they need to dress differently, speak differently, socialise differently?  Some British and American Christians of earlier generations tended to insist on a much more holistic change when a person began to follow Jesus, encouraging a total rejection of all kinds of ‘worldly’ culture and friendships, but now we tend to encourage new believers to retain much of their existing lifestyle and social circle.

These issues did not seem so pressing in previous generations of the European and American cultures because the boundaries between ‘church’ and ‘world’ might have seemed more easily understood.  However, nowadays we find that we are having to go back to basics and think about British culture as an example of front-line cross-cultural mission whereby becoming a Christian has complex cultural implications.

These issues of cultural and religious boundaries have been much more obvious in ‘foreign missionary’ situations for decades.  How does a person move from being a Hindu, with all the dress, food, family traditions and cultural markers that go with that, to being a member of a Church community as a follower of Jesus?  What needs to change and what is retained?  What is transformed by the LORD Jesus and what simply needs to be rejected?

For many years we have become familiar with the idea of “contextualisation” whereby the teaching of the Bible is expressed in forms that are meaningful and relevant to a target group.  This does not mean that the teaching needs to be made any easier to deal with or more acceptable, but that the true meaning of the Bible’s teaching is made clear by speaking it in a specific local context.  So, Tim Keller spends so much time making sure that the secular, metropolitan New Yorkers feel and understand the hard-hitting nature of the Way of the LORD Jesus.  He contextualises the gospel in that he tries to make sure it is clearly heard, but he does not try to make it more acceptable by compromising the message.  In that same way, we are all aware how, when we speak to our Muslim friends, we try to make sure to clearly explain how Jesus was not conceived through sexual union between the Father and Mary; how the Trinity is one God; how following Jesus is a holistic life of discipleship; how Abraham and the ancient prophets were all trusting in the Promised Messiah; how the Cross is the centre of our salvation etc etc.  Our goal is not to make these truths ‘acceptable’ or ‘credible’ to our Muslim friends but to make sure that we have clearly, lovingly and faithfully explained the truth in Jesus.

Throughout the Islamic world there are local churches teaching the Bible and bearing witness to the One God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit; explaining the Trinity, the Cross and the Way of Jesus.  At the moment the Holy Spirit is doing an amazing work as the local churches in these places are being heard as never before.  In one sense all the Western missiological agencies and theorists are mere spectators as the Holy Spirit works through His living church on the ground across the world.  If we are able to supply any needs that the local churches ask for then it is a great privilege for us, but we all, whether we see ourselves as specialists or not, need to remember that the churches throughout the Islamic world have centuries of experience and wisdom.  Our brothers and sisters in these local churches know better than any of us what the key issues are and how to set these in the proper context.

However, what if the principles of contextualisation are extended further and further until the issues of faith, worship and discipleship are happening within the Muslim community?  Could these realities be so grasped by a Muslim that they could remain inside the Islamic community and also be faithful to the truth in Jesus?  Is it possible to be a member of a local church whilst remaining a Muslim inside the Muslim community?  Or is it even necessary to be part of anything other than the Muslim community?  Is it even necessary to hold onto the whole idea of a distinctive, visible community of Christ’s followers, with appointed leaders meeting for Bible teaching and the Lord’s Supper?

These are the sorts of questions the “Insider Movement” seeks to raise and address.

The Insider Movement 2 – Paul Blackham

The Insider Movement 3 – Paul Blackham

The Insider Movement 4 – Paul Blackham

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Check out this definition of the church’s mission.

‘The Church’s commission, which is the foundation of its freedom, consists in this: in Christ’s stead, and so in the service of his own Word and work, to deliver to all people, through preaching and sacrament, the message of the free grace of God.’

That’s it.  That’s the mission of the church.  Proclamation.

Now, without cheating, see if you can guess where this comes from.  And when.

Any guesses?

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Well maybe you think these are the words of some one-eyed fundamentalist, divorced from any pressing social or political needs.  Perhaps you think this definition represent a cowardly retreat from the social and political realities of the day?

Well the year was 1934, the place was Germany and this is article 6 of the Barmen Declaration – the document that founded the German Confessing Church.

And into that context, this determination to view the church’s mission simply as gospel proclamation proved to be the most provocative political challenge possible.  This is precisely because it refuses to engage with the world on its own terms.  The Nazis are confronted because the Confessing Church occupies itself with its one true Fuhrer (Christ), its one true Reich (God’s Kingdom) and its one true commission: delivering ‘the message of the free grace of God’.  Far from creating an ‘ecclesiastical ghetto’ for the Confessing Christians, this single-minded determination to let the Gospel set the agenda for the Church brings it into its most significant contact with the surrounding culture.

Barmen is profoundly political.  But it is so by refusing any other agenda but the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Nothing could be more explosive.

A few years later, Karl Barth (who authored Barmen) was back in his native Switzerland.  (Interestingly it was his lectures on preaching that were the last straw for the Nazis, the Gestapo bursting in and forcibly deporting him.  Apparently his last words to his students on the train platform was the admonition: “Exegesis, exegesis, exegesis!”)  Anway, a young pastor from Brandenburg wrote to him in distress.  He had been sacked after preaching against Mein Kampf from the pulpit.  The pastor expected sympathy.  Instead Barth replied that the pastor had made a “decisive mistake”:

Your job, when you stand in the pulpit, is to again make well the sick church of Germany.  That can be done only by the Word alone.  You are to serve that Word and no other.  But you can’t do that if you seize on Mein Kampf… Was it not a shame, each minute that you wasted with this book instead of reading the Bible?   (William Willimon, Conversations with Barth on Preaching, p248-249)

Interesting huh?

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Those two things aren’t the same you know.  But often we forget that.  Especially as we try to live in community.  I mean, think about it – what helps our Christian communities function?

Surely we get along because we all play nice, right?  Empowered by the gospel of course.  We have to add that caveat.  But now that it’s added we settle down to the real glue for any community: being nice.  When people are nice, communities flourish.  When people are not nice communities fall apart.  This is obvious.

Just look at Colossians 3:12

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.

Yep.  See?  Be nice.  Be nice and everyone will get along.  Cover over all that nastiness with sweetness.  Or polite reserve.  Or effusive flattery.  Whatever you do, don’t be nasty.  The minute someone’s nasty, it’s over.

Really?

Well that would be the case if we were a part of any natural community.  What did Jesus say?  Pagans love those who love them.  (Matt 5:46-47).  You don’t need the Holy Spirit to do that.  You don’t need the supernatural grace of God.  You don’t need a new heart of flesh to be nice.

So what’s going to mark supernatural communities?

Look at how Colossians 3 continues…

Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.  (Col 3:13)

Natural communities don’t have this.  At the first hint of nastiness, natural community fractures.  But for Christians nastiness is an opportunity.  Here’s where we truly show ourselves to be the people of Jesus.  We forgive.

Many people think nastiness ends Christian community.  The gospel says nastiness is where Christian community begins.

What about blogging?  A million blogs can be nice.  It doesn’t make them Christian.  Now may Jesus deliver us from nasty Christian blogs.  Please Lord!  But niceness is not the cure.  Many may think they have a Christian blog because everyone is nice.  That doesn’t make it Christian.  It’s Christian if Christ is the glue.  It’s Christian if Christ in us answers nastiness for the sake of Christ and in the way of Christ.

We wouldn’t dream of getting right with our Father without going through the Mediator.  We wouldn’t dream of being nice enough for Him.  But we always assume that when we turn to family relations, the Mediator is surplus to requirements.  We imagine that we need Jesus for God but we need niceness for our brother.   How many Christian books on marriage, for instance, trumpet “communication” as the key to a good marriage!  But that’s just a gospel of works for community living.  No we need Jesus for God and neighbour.  Because we’re not nice.  We’re just not.  And communities that run on niceness haven’t begun to be Christian.   Inject some nastiness, then we’ll see if they’re Christian.

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Here I spoke about trinitarian marriages.

Here I spoke about trinitarian families.

Here I spoke about trinitarian churches.

In each case it’s about differently aged/gendered/gifted people taking on different roles but united in love and common purpose.  I spoke about the heresies of arianism, modalism and tritheism which they could fall into.

But I’m just aware that these models of how community should be are Law.   Law is holy, righteous and good.  Law describes the good life – the life of the truly Righteous One.  But there is no power in Law to be able to effect what it describes.

We can day-dream about a truly Athanasian marriage/family/congregation.  And we can bemoan a Sabellian one.  But we can’t create one by simply defining the Original, despising the counterfeits and trying harder.

Which is why, when the Scriptures describe trinitarian community, they centre on something that I, in my descriptions, left out.  Christ’s cross.

So think of Romans 14 and 15 – a wonderful passage on crunchy community – unity with distinctions upheld by gracious deference to the other.  But at the heart of it all is the cross (14:9,15; 15:3,7) which creates such community.

Or think of 1 Corinthians 11-14.  We begin with Father-Son unity (11:3); we continue with the expression of this unity in marriage (11:3ff); we see it play out in the body (12 and 14) and in chapter 13 we see it all held together by love.  That’s fantastic.  But what have I missed out?  The Lord’s Supper – 11:20-34.  This community is not created by trying hard to imitate the trinity.  It is created by the cross as experienced in the sacrament.  The one loaf creates the one body – a body in which the weak and despised are received and knit together.

So anyway, just a thought that brings me back to some earlier posts:

Triune glory is cruciform glory

Participating in God means participating in the cross

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think you can become a triune community by trying to be a triune community.  Or can you?

Right now I’m thinking that a community created by and centred on the cross will be a triune community.  Descriptions of true triune community can diagnose problems in our communities.   But they can’t solve them.

Which means maybe I should just put away my fancy diagrams and preach Christ and Him crucified.

What do you think?

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What is church like?

Is it a jacuzzi?

Cosy? Relaxing?  A chance for you and your nearest and dearest to recharge the batteries?

Or is it…

A waterfall?

Scary?  Exciting?  Expansive?  Never safe?

Or is it… and here’s my new word for the week…

A jacuzzerfall

Here we see the blessings of our close fellowship in Christ flowing out and blessing the whole world.

9But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. 11 Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. 12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.  (1 Peter 2:9-12)

This is what church is like – a jacuzzerfall.  (Now go and use the word this week)

And here’s my little sermon on the subjectText here.

Afterthought:  Of course God also is a jacuzzerfall, but that’s a whole other post…

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The bluefish himself – the blogger who needs no introduction!  I so appreciate Dave’s heart for Christ-centred, grace-filled biblical theology.  Here is a brilliant example of it…

Read Exodus 18

Exodus 18 is a wonderful passage in this “greatest prophecy of the cross” (Blackham). So unspeakably wonderful that most seem to skip over it,, straight to the fireworks and commandments of Sinai. Spurgeon passed it by and seemingly so have many others.

Here for a moment the action stops and its time for some administration.

YOU NEED TO HEAR OF JESUS 18v1-12

V1. Jethro. Midianite. An Abrahamite, not not an inheritor, an outsider with some Christian connections.  V1. There has been a global event. Do you fight like Amalek? Melt like Canaan? Or come and find out how this small ethnic group overthrew a superpower? V2-6. He comes with GERSHOM and ELIEZER. Their names prophesy the story of God’s salvation.  V7. Met with a friendly welcome. Like Jesus’ welcome, and so too his disciples love one another – the anti-narcissm that Jesus makes possible.

But Jethro hasn’t just come for conversation, he wants to find out what’s the LORD is doing, and Moses is the man to tell him. V8. Moses tells all that the LORD had done – how the LORD had delivered them. It’s Theology! It’s talk about God and what he has done. It’s good to talk Theology. Christians are a people who love to talk about Jesus who is God. Moses loves to speak of Jesus’ rescue of his people. Notice what Jethro didn’t hear. It wasn’t a message about Jethro’s needs or Jethro’s sins. Moses told what the LORD had done.

Adam Crozier was Chief Exec of the Football Association.: “What was interesting when I arrived was how little time people spent talking about football.” As for Moses, Jesus should be our subject. For Moses it must be like telling the story of Wilberforce ending the slave trade, but on a greater scale, with greater significance. Deliverance of Israel from Egypt is only a picture, painted on the canvas of international politics of a greater deliverance… God the Father sent his Son into the world to set us free from our slavery to sin, in the process displaying his love and his justice to his creation. This is what He has done. How should we respond to such news?

V9, V10, Jethro REJOICES for all the good that the LORD had done, and blessed the LORD. God’s people are a singing people, and Jethro joins the choir, pointing away from himself to the LORD. V11. Jethro says: Now I know that the LORD is greater than all gods…A true Christian confession, turning from idols at Narcissus’ pool to the LORD.

V7-12. BURNT OFFERING IN THE TENT. 1st picture – the story Moses has told a Passover Lamb and passing through the Sea of Reeds. 2nd picture – The burnt offering. Hardly normal life for us!?

The next book of the Bible, Leviticus, explains it.. A burnt offering isn’t part of the normal pattern of our lives, but we can consider and understand it. This comes with much help from Andrew Bonar’s Geneva Commentary on Leviticus:

1. Male animal without blemish – We’re all stained by the rebellion of our first parents, Adam & Eve, and by our own rebellion against God. All humanity is marred and corrupted – not necessarily as bad as we might be, but marred in every part, opposed + unwilling to turn back to God. An unblemished sacrifice dies in the place of the guilty.

2. Before the LORD – Sacrifice given to God, because God has a problem. His anger must be turned asider, or we perish.

3. Leans on it – Jethro identifies himself with this substitute – it represents him. Neil Armstrong represented us all as he took a giant leap for mankind 40 years ago – “we went to the moon”. Jethro leans on “It will be accepted in my place”. But can the blood of an animal take away sin?

4. It is killed – The life is laid down, helpless. Death is horrible, it is the curse of sin – “you will surely die”. The LORD leans on the animal to bring death. Everyone will see the warm crimson blood, its life taken away.

5. Blood is spread – Bonar: “the life being taken away the sinners naked soul is exhibited.” – This is what the offerer deserves.

6. Cut up and burned up – God’s favour creates, his wrath de-creates – and the animal is taken apart. This is appropriate. We try to justify and play down our sin, but God sees it for what it is and rightly responds. His enemies deserve destruction. The consuming fire of his holiness consumes the offering

7. A pleasing aroma – We find here the meaning of the cross of Jesus. The Father sends the Son, in a plan formulated in the heart of God before creation to satisfy wrath and secure his favour. He looks on at the completed event and takes delight in it.

We do not offer a burnt offering because Jesus has already offered himself as the perfect sacrifice, once for all time for us, guaranteeing the abundant unwavering favour of God forever!

So anyway, Jethro hears about Jesus, responds with joy and becomes a friend of God. Good story, but not the end of the story.  This Gentile has a contribution to make to the people of God.  This will set the stage for the giving of the law and the viewing of the Tabernacle.

WE NEED LOOK LIKE JESUS 18v13-27

God sent 60 people to Egypt. He brings out over 2 million out. Massive increase! Problem, one man can’t lead 2 million on his own… The early church had the same challenge as they grew rapidly from 120 people to 10,000. The principles they use seem to derive from what we find here as do those in the letters to Timothy & Titus about leaders. Useful for us!

Moses brings God’s saving word to the people in every matter, like Jesus representing them before God. Jethro states the obvious (v18): you’ll burn out soon. You can’t do it alone – it can’t orbit round one person, no personality cult, no burn out. Think of the body working together.

We’re made like the Triune God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Our God is not just one person, but One God in Three Persons, The Triune God, The Trinity. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit don’t vote on what do to, they do the Father’s will, and he enacts his will by his Word, Jesus, in the power of the Holy Spirit. There are roles and order. Those who know Jesus are to look like him together.

Jethro tells Moses to find, v21, TRUSTWORTHY men to be made, v25, HEADS over people. Two words capture the gist of what is said here.

Why Trustworthy Heads? These are men like Christ to whom the Father gave all authority, knowing that he would be the Trustworthy Head of the church.

  • The Father knows his Son will not usurp him, he is trustworthy. Those entrusted with service in the church don’t use it overthrow others. And those who show themselves trustworthy, before being given a role, find that trustworthiness recognised.
  • The Father entrusts his Son with the church – he doesn’t abuse her, he cherishes and nourishes her.  Trust is given not to be abused but exercised.

God’s plan doesn’t just rescue people alone, he creates a people – the church. A family on mission like God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit – the ultimate missionary family. The family on earth lives an orderly life, just as our God is orderly, whether in the church, in the home, in the workplace. A people who look like their God.

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I long for church communities that are Christ-centred, grace-filled, all-of-life and intentionally missional.  I love the vision that Tim Chester casts for this and have benefited massively from the resources he’s offered the wider church in this direction (see these superb talks for instance).

Let me raise one issue though – it’s an issue that generated some good discussion on Tim’s blog and I hope it will generate some more here – perhaps from Tim but from any others too.

Tim was writing about the imbalance of resources that many churches pour into “the Sunday morning event”.   Very true.  I’ve heard people speak in hushed tones about some gold standard of sermon preparation – an hour in the study for every minute in the pulpit.  Yowsers!  If that’s the cost of gathering around word and sacrament then I can well understand the desire to re-balance the expenditure of resources.

But there’s something deeper to discuss than the re-allocation of resources or the degree of formality to our meetings.  What I want to establish is the absolute necessity of the event for the life of church.  Church is not just family, it is also an event and irreducibly so.  I’ll say it that starkly because I know how popular it is to speak of church as ongoing-missional-community in opposition to chuch as event.

In our discussions, Tim said this:

Church is not an event, but a Christ-centred community of people with a shared life.

I disagree.  I’d say say church is also an event and irreducibly so.

Church has its being in becoming.  It ever becomes what it is as it hears God’s word.  In this way church is the community called out (ekklesia) to listen to its risen Lord in the proclamation of word and sacrament.  This is the centre of the life of the community.

Let me just take one Scriptural example from Paul.  We are one body because we all share in the one bread (1 Cor 10:17). That is pretty stunning language – and it’s very ‘eventist’.  Here is a consummation of one-body-ness in which we become what we are. The event and the on-going life of the body are inter-dependent.

Think of marriage.  The covenant reality is that husband and wife are one flesh.  But there is an event in which they become one flesh (if you were Presbyterian you might even call it covenant renewal!).

It’s commanded in Scripture (cf 1 Cor 7) and it takes time and effort and a measure of ritual and it’s irreducibly an event.  Of course the degree of ritual and cost and time-expenditure will vary according to many factors.  But to imagine I can think of an ongoing covenant life without also thinking about the one-flesh event is a big danger in marriage.

And, by parallel, church life needs to be maintained by consciously enjoyed and anticipated and ritualised “events” in our church life together.  We can’t do without them.  And however much it’s necessary to speak of day-in, day-out community life we dare not lose language of event either.  The old reformed ecclesiologies speak of gathering around word and sacrament.  They didn’t forget that we were family, but they did highlight that there were foundational “events” at the centre of church life.

So we say Yes to shared life, Yes to Christ-centred community.  But the way in which our community is “centred” around Christ takes a certain form.  The centre is an actual, concrete centre around which we orient ourselves.  As Christ’s community therefore we order ourselves around the place where Christ is given to us. And He is given to us supremely in word and sacrament.

Tim speaks of the community life of church in these terms:

There is nowhere else when grace is experienced. There is nowhere else where God is present by his Spirit.

I’d say that in word and sacrament there are certain promises attached of God’s special presence by His Spirit.  I think therefore the language of ‘event’ needs to be held onto.

And primarily I think it needs to be maintained for the sake of up-holding two other concerns:

1) We are communities of grace.  Tim is huge on this and I’ve been very blessed by his insights on this (e.g.).  But if we want to be communities of grace we need to orient ourselves around where Christ is given to us, not primarily around what Christ would have us do.

2) We are communities of proclamation.  Where we honour the “event” of Church, we honour “proclamation”.  While our community life preaches to the world (John 13:35; 17:21) I’d want to co-ordinate this to a centre of verbal proclamation that constitutes and re-constitutes the community.

I’m very well aware that Tim and his churches manage to preserve what I’m seeking to preserve a thousand times better than I ever will.  But I just wanted to raise a flag for the absolute importance of “event” in church life.  I hope you can see why.

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