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A talk given this morning to the Sussex Gospel Partnership:

Adopted into God’s Life-Giving Ministry2 Corinthians

POWERPOINT

SCRIPT

AUDIO

[audio http://www.christthetruth.org.uk/Mission2Corinthians.mp3]

CH SPURGEON: Do try, as far as you can, to make the very way in which you speak minister to the great end you have in view. Preach, for instance, as you would plead if you were standing before a judge, and begging for the life of a friend, or as if you were appealing to the Queen herself on behalf of someone very dear to you. Use such a tone in pleading with sinners as you would use if a gibbet were erected in this room, and you were to be hanged on it unless you could persuade the person in authority to release you. That is the sort of earnestness you need in pleading with men as ambassadors for God. (The Soul Winner)

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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 Right now, much ado is being made about gay marriage, but won’t that also seem like an outdated scruple in years to come.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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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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Recently I was asked what I knew about evangelistic treasure hunts. Not much was the answer. I’d read a couple of blogs here and there, but for those completely new to it, here’s a short video of practitioners from the States:

Here’s what I like…

1. They want to “take it to the streets”.

2. They believe in the universal love of God and want to express it.

3. They see people as “treasure.”

4. They want to care for whole people, not just save souls.

5. They want to be sensitive to the Spirit’s work in mission.

I affirm all these values.  But for these very reasons I want to question the practice of treasure hunting- and I mean genuinely to “question” it. I’m a newcomer to this and in no position to dismiss it. But here are some initial thoughts that explore the foundations of the church’s mission.  If this starts a dialogue about it, then good and I’m more than willing to be educated about these things… But I wonder whether treasure hunting in practice ends up undermining all the positives listed above.

1. They want to “take it to the streets”.

I’m all for taking the gospel to the streets (see links at the bottom of this post). But that’s the issue: what exactly are we taking to the streets?  What is the mission of the church?  Put it another way: For what purpose is the church sent into the world?

(Notice that this question is different to “What are all the things the body of Christ gets up to, week by week?” The church is involved in many activities, but asking why it has been sent into the world is a significantly different question.)

My expanded thoughts on the church’s mission can be found here and here but for now let me draw your attention to 2 Corinthians 4 and 5 and especially…

We do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. (2 Cor 4:5)

Essentially, the mission of the church is not “service” in the abstract, with proclamation fitting underneath (see diagram).  And it’s not “service” on one hand and “proclamation” on the other (the context in 2 Cor. 4-5 makes that clear).  Mission is proclamation – setting forth the truth plainly (v2), with “service” fitting underneath.

Scrivener_what_is_our_mission-pic

Proclamation is the umbrella activity – everything else fits explicitly under the preaching of Christ as Lord.  If this is the case then the footing on which you engage the world matters.  And the footing ought to be proclamation.

In 1 Corinthians 1-2, Paul is adamant that preaching the weak-looking cross is the way forward. He contrasts it with the demands of the Greeks (for wisdom) and the Jews (for miracles) and he insists that preaching is how we engage.

In the past I’ve taken flak when arguing against “wisdom-first” mission (i.e. evidentialist apologetics).  Now, in the interests of offending all people equally, let me argue against “power-first” mission too.  As we’ll see, I’m not against wisdom or power in the cruciform sense – but I think there’s an explicit order and a context for these things…

2. They believe in the universal love of God and want to express it.

This is a brilliant value to hold.  The trouble is the practice of treasure hunting looks like it undermines that value. One of the distinctive features of treasure hunting is going after the few and passing by the many.  The beauty of open air is that it’s the one form of evangelism that seeks to be as indiscriminate as God’s own evangelistic purpose.  He has placed us where we are so that all people might find him (Acts 17:26-27). Therefore a way of evangelism (i.e. open air) that seeks to reach a locality as a locality is a wonderful reflection of God’s universal love.  If you want to reflect God’s universal love, I’d recommend open air over treasure hunting which is unnecessarily particular.

3. They see people as “treasure.”

This is nice, and a great reflection of the true meaning of Matthew 13:44-46 – we are the treasure and we need to be found.  Of course the other word – “hunt” – is not so nice.  But maybe the hunted don’t mind?

My reservation here is something that also applies to open air, but I think the whole set-up of treasure hunts amplifies the danger: non-Christians are not marks to hit, or scalps to win.  We’re not interested in “gaining converts” but in offering Christ.  If you ask me, the writing up of targets sets up the whole enterprise in a questionable way. Far better to speak from a fullness than to need responses.  It’s not about you achieving your witnessing goals, but about you emptying yourself for your hearers.  There seems a very great danger of commodifying your listeners with treasure hunts.

4. They want to care for whole people, not just save souls.

Full disclosure – I’m not from charismatic circles.  The churches I grew up in were as dogmatically anti-charismatic as they were anti-liberal.  For years I thought evangelicals were defined by what we didn’t believe in: we weren’t liberal and we weren’t charo’s. That’s my background.  And yet, very often when I’m doing open air evangelism I’ve ended up praying for someone in need – whether for physical or emotional healing or for God to come through in some situation or other.  I don’t consider myself “gifted” to heal in any charismatic sense, but I’ve prayed for it often enough. Everyone street evangelist I know ends up praying for people – for healings, for “breakthroughs” in personal situations, for whatever. You can’t offer Christ without talking to people in need, and you can’t be a Christian without wanting to help those people.

I love that treasure hunters pray for folks on the streets – I do it too.  But I have great reservations about encountering folk in order to tick off clues, and about leading with ‘power’, when Paul tells me to lead with the word of the cross (see points 1 and 5).

5. They want to be sensitive to the Spirit’s work in mission.

This is wonderful. The prayerful preparation involved in Treasure Hunting is great.  May we all learn from it.  Also cultivating a moment-by-moment dependence on the Spirit’s leading throughout our evangelism is priceless.  “Spirit, help me… Open his/her eyes” is my constant prayer in open air work.  But let’s ask: what is the work of the Spirit?

I fear that too often we make an equation between the Spirit and what Enlightenment people think of as “the supernatural“. Since modern people (Christians included it seems) have booted God “upstairs”, we consider this world as a “natural” realm of cause and effect. But then Christians come along and say “Yes, but there’s also another realm over and above called “the supernatural” and it’s all about un-natural, unexpected stuff happening.”   And so essentially Christians agree with the naturalists about the basic structure of reality, we just insist that cause and effect aint all there is – there’s also freaky stuff.

What will evangelism look like then?  Well, we’ll want to introduce unbelievers to this other realm.  And so “the miraculous” seems a perfectly appropriate way in. Trouble is, the Spirit is not so much the Spirit of “the supernatural”, He’s the Spirit of Christ.  The way the realm of the Spirit breaks into this world is in the Anointed One.  Heaven meets earth in Jesus and every meeting we try to arrange between unbelievers and God needs to reflect that.

In 1 Corinthians 1 Paul has rejected the tactic of giving “Jews” the “miraculous signs” they demand. He thinks that will undermine his message. Nonetheless in chapter 2 he says he wants his evangelism to demonstrate the Spirit’s power (v4).  Ok great. What form will that demonstration take?  It’s not in wise and persuasive words and it’s not in miraculous “powers”. It’s in preaching the cross (2:2).  There the Spirit shines His light with almighty power (1:18). There is the meeting of heaven and earth.  And Paul says, it’s very possible to distract non-Christians from that centre.  It’s very possible to empty the cross of its power (1:17).

Lest we ever do that, let’s determine to know nothing except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. He is the whole focus of the Spirit’s work.  Let us then, as Spirit-filled, Spirit-dependent witnesses, make  Christ and His work our focus.  That is truly Spirit-ual evangelism.

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Here are some older posts on how I try to share Christ publicly…

First Contact Evangelism Seminar

Open Air Preaching with Wesley and Whitefield

Open Air Preaching

Open Air Ideas

Open Air Doesn’t Have To Be Flashy

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I really very badly want to share this music. I want to share it with everyone who is willing to hear. And that is because I have fallen in love with this music.

She then describes a low time in which she encountered Handel’s piano music. It sparked her “personal state of wonder. It hit a really deep chord within me.”

“…So that’s how I got addicted to this music…”

Now the world must know! And no matter how foolish she feels, her passion carries her out to the world.

“I ended up with so many diverse reactions. It really made me happy because so many different responses to one and the same piece, to me that feels like it’s really great music.”

The most beautiful moment in performance art is when I can convey my state of wonder at exactly the same moment that you are open to hear it.

Then she plays. (Of course she plays, how perverse to merely talk about the music without offering it to us!).  And notice, it’s slow moving in a minor key, then an urgent recapitulation and then a glorious shift into the major key.  I wonder why that works?

“Next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world.” ― Martin Luther

What do we learn about evangelism from this?  Discuss.

 

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people together arrow

Catch-up:

Session 1

Session 2

Session 3

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321-GO!

Session 4: GOING WITH THE MISSIONARY GOD

Session 4 Handout

Session 4 Audio

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God is a Community on Mission… and so are we! John 20:21-23

Outgoing-ness not so much a decision or act – a way of life.

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Not Simply Sent… We Join Him In His Outgoing Life  Matthew 28:18-20; Heb 13:13

If God is outgoing, what does it mean to be godly?

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Mission is a community thing  John 13:34-35.

What kind of community reaches the world?
Why should this be so?

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We Help Each Other  1 Peter 2:9-12; 4:10-11

What does it mean for church to be a priesthood?

What is the significance of our different gifts within the priesthood?

Remember 1 Peter 3:15 – All are called to use words when the time is right!

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A Sentence Up Your Sleeve…

“That’s what I love about my church…”

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QUESTIONS

1. Sometimes it feels like God is up in heaven and wants us to go out and bring people in. How does this teaching challenge that thinking?

2. How does your community think of your church? (Do you want those thoughts to change?)
How does your church think of your community? (Do you want those thoughts to change?)

3. How can the life of church be more invitational? How can you be more invitational?

4. How would you complete that sentence “That’s what I love about my church…”? How might you naturally talk about your church family with friends?

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adam-eveAre you imagining it right now?

What was Adam’s work according to Genesis 2?

Well verse 15 says he was rested in the garden to serve it and keep it.  What’s that going to look like?

Well we’re all thinking of hoes and ploughs and honest labour and thank God for Genesis 2 and the Protestant work ethic etc, etc,.

Now clearly there’s a time and a place for all of that and certainly Adam is made a co-creator with the LORD, a co-gardener too (v5).  None of what follows should be read as anti-physical labour or anything of the sort.  But probably our picture of Adam’s garden work is massively distorted by the fall.

Just for starters, we probably imagined him clothed.  And we probably imagined him sweating.  (cf Gen 3:17-19).  It’s actually very hard to disentangle our thinking from the all-pervasive effects of the fall.  But let’s try to do it…

According to what we read in Genesis 2, what does Adam actually do in his pre-fallen state?  He preaches (v19-20).  He doesn’t just talk to the animals, he names them.  Not at a distance but all the animals are brought to him to find their true identity.  As head of the old creation, Adam graciously speaks their true Adam-determined identities into existence.  And in this pre-fallen state, they simply receive his verdict and are constituted as who they are by his powerful word.  By his effective speech-act he declares who they really are – he preaches to the whole creation (cf Mark 16:15).

You could even say that all Adam does in his pre-fall work is preach.  He preaches to all creation and then ‘dies’ for his bride!

Through his words in Genesis 2, creation is brought under his feet.  Through his silence in Genesis 3, creation unravels.

People often talk about God’s creation agenda in a way that divorces it from His redemptive agenda.  They talk of His cultural mandate in a way that divorces it from the great commission.  But right from the beginning proclamation is at the very heart of all God’s ways and works.

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What does the phrase “Jesus is Lord” mean? And how does it relate to evangelism?

Sometimes, when I hear about the Lordship of Jesus, I fear I could easily swap the phrase “Jesus is Lord” for “God is big” and there’d be no material change in the meaning.

So go and ‘do evangelism’ because God is big.  And He says so…  Remember Who’s Boss!

Of course I caricature.

But what does ‘Jesus is Lord’ mean?  And how does His Lordship relate to evangelism.

Well first of all, “Jesus is Lord” literally means “‘Yahweh-to-the-rescue’ is Yahweh”.  Which is a statement worth meditating on!  Yahweh-to-the-rescue is Yahweh!

And now meditate on its implications for evangelism!  To abbreviate the above (at the risk of causing misunderstanding): Our God is Jesus who is Rescuer.  Therefore the Lordship of Jesus and His saving passion are not two different things.  And obedience to this Lordship is not so much to be submissive to an edict as to be swept up into this passion.

Second of all, it means the true God of Israel and the true Lord of the universe is Jesus.

Therefore if you hadn’t already seen it, you need to go back and read the Old Testament properly (ie in the way it was intended).  And also, if you haven’t already, you need to revisit your notion of God.  He is entirely Jesus shaped.  That Nazarene who bled for me is Lord.  Not some ancient explosion or some foreign god.  Not even some familiar theistic god of popular understanding.  And certainly not little old me.  No if we’re going to talk about God, let’s talk about Jesus.  He is Lord.  This will mean very different gospel conversations to the regular “Let’s first agree there’s a Higher-Power” chats.

Thirdly it means that the universe I’m in and the universe my friend is in is Christ’s universe.

Imagine you and your friend have been teleported into the tabernacle (and no-one’s said “Oi, goy, get outta here!”).  But you’re surrounded by goats and bulls being slaughtered and priests with special clothes and holy spaces specially demarcated and furniture arranged just so.  Imagine you lived there.  Imagine you’d never lived anywhere else.

Your friend couldn’t help but be fascinated by some aspect of the tabernacle.  Perhaps she’s besotted by the 12 precious stones in the high priest’s breastpiece.  Or the cherubim woven into the curtain.  Or the fire burning on the altar.  It’ll be something.  And she’ll no doubt have some ridiculous notions about what these things are all about.  But whatever you talk about with your friend you’re actually in a gospel presentation.  And the very terms of your discussion and the raw materials of her values, hopes and fears are derived from that gospel.

If you didn’t know how to “have a gospel conversation” in that environment it could only be because you yourself hadn’t grasped the gospel meaning of the tabernacle.  You’d need to study the Scriptures more, understand the gospel more.  In short you’d need to see how the whole tabernacle proclaims “Jesus is Lord.”

Well you know the application.  We do live in a gospel presentation (Psalm 19; Rom 10:17ff; Col 1:23).  And if we don’t know how to bring a conversation about a bullying boss or a wayward teenager or ongoing depression or state education or economic inequality or marital troubles or politics or mid-life crises around to the gospel then we need to take the Lordship of Jesus more seriously.  We need to go back to the Scriptures and in His Light to see again.

I used to think evangelism was inserting trite presentations into trivial conversations.  But ‘Jesus is Lord’ changes all of that.  Jesus is not a foreign intruder into a conversation that’s about something else.  He is the One who makes sense of it all.

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Reading Acts 14 and 15 this morning. The interplay of mission, theology and grace really struck me.

Paul and Barnabas go throughout Iconium, Lystra, Derbe, Pisidia, Pamphylia and Perga, preaching “the word of God’s grace” (14:3); “the gospel” (v7); “good news” (v15); “the gospel” (v21); “the word” (v25).  When they return to Antioch they call the church together for a mission report: “they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles.” (v27)  Everyone’s thrilled.

But… you knew the next chapter had to begin with a but… “But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.”  (Acts 15:1)

Familiar pattern eh?  Good news of great joy is preached to all the people.  But the people of God are the biggest obstacle to the good news.

Paul and Barnabas are incensed and trace the rot right back to Jerusalem.  When they get there some believers of the sect of the Pharisees repeat the heresy “It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses.” (v5)

Here’s my question: How long would these Judaizers have remained preaching their false gospel if it wasn’t for the missionary activity of Paul and Barnabas?  The Gentiles come in and force the Jewish believers to rethink what it means to be saved and belong to God’s people.  It stirs things up.

Now it’s true that once the matter is raised in Jerusalem, the council is quick to denounce this theology as “a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear.” (v10)  But before the agitation of missionary activity and new converts, it was a yoke they all seemed to be tolerating.  Legalism had become a comfortable yoke while-ever they remained ‘at home.’

But once the disciples saw the good news spreading and giving life they saw their anti-gospel living in a new light.  When they saw the nations rejoicing in the Lord – even these unwashed Gentiles – they were forced to see the radical simplicity of the Lord’s salvation.  In the light of a life-giving gospel their life-sapping theology was seen for the legalism it had always been.

Here’s an application that springs to mind… the best way to fight slave-making legalism within the church is to preach the life-giving gospel outside the church.  When those who are far from God come in, only the true gospel can cope.  The law can never handle the mess of radical conversions.  Evangelistic churches need to be gracious churches.  In this way theology is refined in the fires of mission.

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If we get God wrong, then we’ll get our mission and our motivation wrong too.

If God is a needy Individual, mission will look a certain way.

But what if God is Father, eternally and outgoingly loving His Son by the Spirit…?

Seminar Audio

Slides

Notes

 

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On Saturday a friend told me he could never be much of a witness in the workplace because… (notice where his thinking begins)… if he entered into debate, he’d only end up losing the arguments.  I, on the other hand, would (he imagined) wipe the floor with their non-Christian reasoning and establish the unassailable right-ness of Christian truth.  And… (at this point the details became hazy)… somehow his work colleagues would then bow to the superior intellectual credibility of the gospel, and… I dunno… become Christians?

Yeah, at that point the fantasy goes completely bonkers.  But the opening assumptions are powerful.  And they shape the way we think about evangelism.  Essentially “being a witness” at work means – in the popular Christian imagination – being able to “hold your own” in discussions of stem-cell research and providing a Christian response to Euro-zone debt.  Or at least it means being able to bridge seamlessly from discussions of popular culture to gospel truths.  And, frankly, few people are up to that.  I’m not really up to that and I’m paid to be.

But here are some things I told my friend…

What if the goal is not to win the arguments in the workplace?  What if the goal is to be the kind of work colleague who others would open up to in a crisis?  Because, let’s face it, the person who’s good at winning arguments aint always the person you’d confide in when your life’s falling apart. In fact, scratch that.  They almost never are!

I think that’s a vital and fundamental change that needs to happen in our thinking.  The key characteristic of “a good witness” needs to be someone who hurting people can confide in.  Once we’re thinking in those categories, evangelism in the workplace becomes a different beast.

Now the aim is to be a person who’s known as a Christian, who seems to have something different about them, who loves people, who has an integrity, an openness, a pastoral heart and who has something different to say.  Note – it’s not that they have to be contrary, nor that they have to be “right”, nor that they have to be heard, just that when they do speak, they seem to come from a different angle than the ‘wisdom of the world.’  In other words – our aim in being a witness in the workplace is… wait for it… to be a Christian.

This is not to make being a witness easy.  It’s not (because being a Christian isn’t easy).  But hopefully it simplifies our aims.  And now, if you want some strategies for offering distinctive speech as a Christian, how about sitting down and thinking about how you’d finish these introductory sentences…

“Yeah, that’s what I love about Jesus.  He’s constantly…”

“To be honest, that’s why I’m a Christian.  What really appealed was…”

“We thought about that at my church last Sunday.  There’s this story in the bible where…”

“Actually my church is really different like that.  When such and such happened, they responded…”

“When I suffered X, the one thing that got me through was…”

If you can’t finish off those sentences, the issue is not that you’re a bad evangelist.  If you can’t finish those sentences it’s because you’ve forgotten what you have in Jesus.  And together with a Christian friend or two, perhaps you need to remind one another.  Being able to finish those sentences will do your Christian life the world of good.  And, by the by, it will also help your witness.

The mouth speaks what the heart is full of. (Matthew 12:34)

 

 

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Ok, so Christians and evangelism.  Is everyone supposed to look like this guy?

Or do we send those few nut-jobs out on the street so that we can get on with the the kumbaya’s, the marshmallows, and “building the kingdom” (insert meaning here).

Well let’s see if Trinitarian theology can help.  Worth a shot eh?

The Ultimate community-on-mission is God who is a multi-Personal union moving outwards.  Two things are important here.  First, mission is not just one of the things God does.  His ek-centric (outgoing) life is His very way of being.  Second, the Three do not take on identical roles but Each depends on the Others in order to corporately perform the work.

So now, we are swept up into mission as the Spirit unites us to the One Sent from the Father.  “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” (John 20:21)  We will also share these two characteristics.

First, mission is not just one of the things the church does.  We are sent ones commissioned by the Sent One.  We are created by mission and for mission.

But 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.  (1 Pet 2:9)

It’s not that church, from time to time, decides to act in a missionary way.  It is missionary, that is its nature.  So when we became Christians we joined an evangelistic organisation.  If we’re in the body we need to know that the body is heading somewhere.  It’s always going to the nations to disciple them.  You cannot ‘buy into’ Christ without ‘buying into’ evangelism.  The Christian’s life and being is now oriented towards this mission.  There is not ‘love’ or ‘unity’ as well as ‘mission.’  But rather there is love and unity in mission.

You can put this truth two ways – and they both need emphasis: The church is missionary when it’s being itself.  And the church is being itself when it’s being missionary.  There are acts to be embarked upon, that’s true.  But first we need to understand our being.  Being comes first.

But as we contemplate our missionary being we need to consider the importance of roles.

Later in Peter’s letter he speaks about two broad categories of gifting – speakers and servers (1 Pet 4:10ff).  And he implores them to get on with their particular giftings.

And that’s great.  It’s so unfortunate when people think of ‘evangelism’ simply in terms of the guy in the picture!  And it’s tragic when  giftings aren’t recognized and encouraged.  We want diversity and we certainly don’t want to cram people into the same moulds.  So Peter speaks of different giftings – ‘speakers’ and ‘servers’.  But let’s not imagine that he has thereby set forth completely different spheres of operation!  That wouldn’t be a very good model of the Trinity.

No, think of the diakonos kind of serving spoken of here (which most basically means table-serving, ie hospitality gifts).  And think of combining this with the speaking gifts?  What if the differently gifted church members collaborated in the missionary task – good food and hospitality and those good with words are liberally sprinkled around the place – what a powerful gospel work!

At such evangelistic dinner parties it is very true that some are performing quite different functions to others.  But they are all being thoroughly missionary.  It’s a unified diversity and it’s going somewhere – to the nations!

If we get our trinitarian styled mission communities wrong…

The Tritheist church will have the speakers heading off by themselves and the servers serving a quite different agenda.  Some churches will be missionary, others not.  Some parachurch organisations will do evangelism for the church, some will do social outreach for the church, etc, etc, but there’ll be no unity on mission.

The Arian church will laud the noble few who do the real missionary work  (i.e. street preaching etc…)  Everyone will feel inferior to the gifted few.  (But perhaps also grateful that it’s not them).

The Modalist church will forget giftings altogether and fit everyone into the same mould.  Mostly, servers will feel inferior to speakers and bring them up to speed will involve making everyone stand on a soap-box.

How do you get a healthily Athanasian church?  I dunno.  Keep teaching 1 Peter?  But what will happen when we speak and believe the gospel is that the properly trinitarian church will allow particular giftings to flourish in the service of our one missionary being.

This is an edited re-post from two years ago.  It was prompted by this and this.  And I wrote some more about this back here.

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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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Delighted by God Audio

Ron Frost – The Freedom of a Christian
Click here to listen (and here to download).
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Glen Scrivener – Mission: Medieval and Modern
Click here to listen (and here to download).
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Peter Mead – Glorious Gospel Ground Zero
Click here to listen (and here to download).

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Other Cor Deo Resources including Galatians Sermon Series and Last Year’s Conference…
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Jesus:

Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.  If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?  And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?  Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.  (Matthew 5:46-48)

The life of God is a life of loving that which is other than God.  Pagans love in a conditional way.  Pagans simply value what is valuable.  God’s perfection is like light shining into darkness – it goes beyond itself to bless that which is other.  Divine perfection is about creating value, by valuing the unworthy.

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Luther:

[The theologian of glory] learns from Aristotle that the object of the will is the good and the good is worthy to be loved, while the evil, on the other hand, is worthy of hate….

The love of God does not find, but creates, that which is pleasing to it. The love of man comes into being through that which is pleasing to it…

[Yet] rather than seeking its own good, the love of God flows forth and bestows good. Therefore sinners are attractive because they are loved; they are not loved because they are attractive… This is the love of the cross, born of the cross, which turns in the direction where it does not find good which it may enjoy, but where it may confer good upon the bad and needy person.  (Heidelberg Disputation)

The philosopher’s god is just like pagans – responding to value.  The God of the Cross flows forth, bestowing value.

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Piper:

[God] loves His glory infinitely. This is the same as saying: He loves himself infinitely. Or: He Himself is uppermost in His own affections. A moment’s reflection reveals the inexorable justice of this fact. God would be unrighteous (just as we would) if He valued anything more than what is supremely valuable. But He Himself is supremely valuable. If He did not take infinite delight in the worth of His own glory, He would be unrighteous. For it is right to take delight in a person in proportion to the excellence of that person’s glory…

…If God should turn away from Himself as the Source of infinite joy, He would cease to be God. He would deny the infinite worth of His own glory. He would imply that there is something more valuable outside Himself. He would commit idolatry. (Desiring God, p42, 47)

Nope.  If He really is a “Source” then turning outside Himself to the other would be the very expression of His deity.

Piper defends the self-absorbed God on the grounds that our rules don’t apply to God.  It’s wrong for us to seek ourselves, it’s only right for God to seek himself.  The trouble is Piper has already applied our rules to God at the decisive point.  He has defined God’s glory the way the pagans do (valuing what is valuable).

But that is the point at which “our rules don’t apply”.  Our love responds to value. His cruciform love (“love to the loveless shown”) creates value.  God differs from us not in displaying a justified self-absorption.  He differs from us in that He alone is truly self-giving!  His grace is His divine glory.

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At which point, surely Piper is on the wrong side of Luther’s “theology of glory / theology of the cross” divide?

 

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When Jesus came, stooped, served, suffered, was shamed, bled and died – that was not a departure from His divine glory.  He wasn’t taking a holiday from being God.  That was the expression of His glory. The cross is the most God-life thing imaginable.  Because God’s life is a life of outgoing, outpouring, sacrificial, life-giving love.

Think of the cross.  Bring to mind that bloodied corpse with His arms outstretched to the world:  This is what is looks like to be God.  What is the highest heights of Godness, the deepest depths of deity?  Look to the Cross.  Look to the God who pours Himself out. His own life-blood is flowing from His veins.  And He does it for you.

The real God bleeds for His enemies.  The real God gives His life even to death.  The real God loves us more than His own life.  And when Jesus dies on the cross THEREFORE, God the Father exalts Him and says “THAT!!!  Look at the crucified One.  That’s what it means to be God.”

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Sermon audio

Sermon text

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“God’s Cause” from the Valley of Vision:

SOVEREIGN Father,

Your cause, not my own, engages my heart,
and I appeal to you with greatest freedom
to set up your kingdom in every place where Satan reigns;
Glorify your Son and I shall rejoice,
for to bring honour to His name is my sole desire.
I adore you that He is God,
and long that others should know Him, feel him and rejoice in Him
that all men might love and praise him,
that he might have all glory from the intelligent world!
Let sinners be brought to Jesus for your dear name sake!

To our eye everything respecting the conversion of others
is as dark as midnight,
But you can accomplish great things;
the cause is yours,
and it is to your glory that men should be saved.
Lord, use me as you would,
do with me what you would;
but promote your cause,
let your kingdom come,
let your blessed interest be advanced in this world!
Oh that great numbers might be brought to Jesus!
let me see that glorious day,
and give me to grasp for multitudes of souls;
let me be willing to die to that end;
and while I live let me labour for you
to the utmost of my strength,
spending time profitably in this work,
both in health and in weakness.
It is your cause and kingdom I long for, not my own.

Sovereign Father, answer my request!
In Jesus Name
AMEN

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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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