FOCUS: Mt 28:18 - 20, Heb 12:20 - 24, Eph 1:3 - 14 & 17 - 23 with 4:9 - 16 on the nature and purpose of the church, thus its gospel-based global discipleship mission/mandate. The olive branch principle of Rom 11:11 - 32 and Abraham as Father of the Faithful. The foundational life setting of Ac 2:22 - 47 etc and church/body life in community: gospel proclamation, conversion, initiation & sacraments, teaching, fellowship, worship, outreach, healing brokenness in the community & missionary engagement. Church organisation and operations. The body vision (cf. Eph 1:17 - 23 and 1 Cor 12:12 - 31 etc), unity, synergy & diversity; controversy & handling of issues & discipline challenges through the truth in love. The global call to repentance [in light of Ac 17:16 - 34, the resurrection, The Set Day and the call to turn from ignorance, error and wrong], discipleship, reformation/ transformation, blessing through the seed of Abraham. The truth in love, purity, & power challenge, vs. ambition, divisiveness, sectarianism, heresy, apostasy and cults. The burden of the history of Christendom & the need for reformation of church, community and culture. Gospel, culture and transformation of communities in C21. Envisioning our role as the Caribbean church and people. Issues of the day that are relevant to this challenge, and strategies in light of Ac 17 and Eph 4:9 – 24 etc, for addressing them.
The church: what, why, how
The body concept: unity and service amidst diversity and the truth in love, purity and power challenge
The church: living (and serving God and people) in the community as disciples & witnesses of the gospel
The church: living (and serving God and people) in the world as disciples & witnesses of the gospel
The burden of history: local/global reformation/transformation challenges and the church in the Caribbean
Towards a strategic missionary vision for the church & peoples of the Caribbean
FOR DISCUSSION AND ASSIGNMENTS
INTRODUCTION: Hebrews 12 gives us a magnificent, poetic vision of the church, in the context of comparing the two covenants by figuratively contrasting Mt Horeb with Mt Zion:
Heb 12:18 . . . you have not come to something that can be touched, to a burning fire and darkness and gloom and a whirlwind 19 and the blast of a trumpet and a voice uttering words such that those who heard begged to hear no more. 20 For they could not bear what was commanded: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned.”
21 In fact, the scene was so terrifying that Moses said, “I shudder with fear.”
22 But you have come to Mount Zion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the assembly 23 and congregation of the firstborn, who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous, who have been made perfect, 24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks of something better than Abel’s does . . . [NET]The vision is awesome, but by itself hardly answers to the questions we may have on the church: what is it? why is it? how is it? What should we do in response?
Those questions provide the focus for this unit.
A good place to begin in trying to understand the church is with its Great Commission, given by the Lord of the Church, the risen Saviour:
Mt 28:18 Then Jesus came up and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Similarly, we may observe the operational form of the same mandate as summarised by Paul, who in the same epistle had earlier noted that "God put all things under Christ’s feet, and he gave him to the church as head over all things. 23 Now the church is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all" (Eph 1:22 - 23, NET):
Eph 4:4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you too were called to the one hope of your calling, 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.As a further element, Paul explained the significance of the Eucharist, thusly:
7 But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of the gift of Christ.
8 Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high he captured captives; he gave gifts to men.”
9 Now what is the meaning of “he ascended,” except that he also descended to the lower regions, namely, the earth?
10 He, the very one who descended, is also the one who ascended above all the heavens, in order to fill all things.
11 It was he who gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, that is, to build up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God – a mature person, attaining to the measure of Christ’s full stature.
14 So we are no longer to be children, tossed back and forth by waves and carried about by every wind of teaching by the trickery of people who craftily carry out their deceitful schemes. 15 But practicing the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Christ, who is the head.
16 From him the whole body grows, fitted and held together through every supporting ligament. As each one does its part, the body grows in love. [NET]
1 Cor 10: 1 For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters [--> NET, here, adds "sisters" as implied], that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea, 2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, 3 and all ate the same spiritual food, 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they were all drinking from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ . . . .
15 I am speaking to thoughtful people. Consider what I say. 16 Is not the cup of blessing that we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread that we break a sharing in the body of Christ? 17 Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all share the one bread.[NET]
Similarly, in challenging the Roman Christians to purity of life, he explains baptism in water thusly:
Rom 6: 3Are you ignorant of the fact that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?Peter adds:
4We were buried therefore with Him by the baptism into death, so that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious [power] of the Father, so we too might [habitually] live and behave in newness of life. 5For if we have become one with Him by sharing a death like His, we shall also be [one with Him in sharing] His resurrection [by a new life lived for God].
6We know that our old (unrenewed) self was nailed to the cross with Him in order that [our] body [which is the instrument] of sin might be made ineffective and inactive for evil, that we might no longer be the slaves of sin. [AMP]
1 Pet 2:4 As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, 5 you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 For it stands in Scripture:
“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone,
a cornerstone chosen and precious,
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame” . . . .
9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people . . . [ESV]Last, but not least, Paul observes to the Philippians (proud citizens of a Roman colony):
Phil 3:20 . . . our citizenship is in heaven – and we also await a savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform these humble bodies of ours into the likeness of his glorious body by means of that power by which he is able to subject all things to himself. [NET]From these (and in light of other insights), we may now summarise an overview of what the church is, why it exists and how it works:
1 --> The church is variously compared to a city, a temple building built up from "living stones," a family, or even branches in an olive tree or a grape vine, etc. All of these point to a pattern of unity and diversity that gives rise to a living, organised working whole that is more than the simple sum of the individual parts. However, the main metaphor seems to be that the church is the blood-bought, redeemed body of the risen Christ (who is its exalted Head), which expresses his life and purposes in the world, through the truth in love, purity and power, by the work of the indwelling, upwelling and overflowing Spirit.
2 --> Thus, the church acts as a distinct covenant people among the nations; one that bears witness to and carries forward Christ's mandate and mission as the prophesied Messiah and Redeemer who came to us -- Jew and Gentile alike -- in love:
- descending as incarnate Son of God,
- serving, rescuing, enlightening & liberating through the Spirit as the prophesied anointed Messiah,
- dying for our sins as redeeming Lamb of God who bore our iniquities and by whose stripes we are healed,
- rising as triumphant Lord, and
- ascending and pouring out his Spirit that he might fill all things with his glory.
- Who, has promised that he shall return in Glory to culminate history
3 --> Accordingly, it has a global mandate of witness to the gospel of the prophesied, crucified, risen and exalted messiah, and of Spirit-empowered gracious transforming service that works to fill all things with Christ's glory and blessing. We are those who have tasted and seen that the Lord is good.
4 --> The church therefore calls all people everywhere to repentance and trust in God in the face of the risen Christ, which brings us to the new birth that transforms our lives by the indwelling and upwelling, overflowing Spirit and the word of God that is like pure mother's milk for a new-born child.
5 --> The Holy Spirit of Christ thus energises a life of discipleship and renewal by the truth of the Word of God, lived out in love and purity, leading to gifted service to Christ and to people made by God in his image, marred though this be by our sinful rebellion and fallen condition.
6 --> In this context, the sacrament (or, ordinance) of water baptism is an act of covenant that seals our commitment to walk in that new life, dramatically acting out our confession that we -- individually and as a community:
- have died in union with Christ so that we have died to the dominion of sin under the "Pharaoh" who rules the system of the world, so too
- that under our new "Moses," we have passed through the Red Sea of separation and liberation from slavery in "Egypt," and
- we have risen to walk in a new life of the truth in love, purity and power,
- looking forward to our ultimate redemption through the general resurrection from the dead at the end of days.
7 --> Similarly, the Lord's Supper is a regular celebration of our covenantal status, as we regularly remember him who died for us and was broken for us, purchasing our redemption, and then rose and was exalted. He, who is coming again. Also,
- we see that we share the common fellowship of the meal, drinking from one cup and eating from one bread as one body,
- so we understand that we are inseparably united with Christ and one another in love and truth, purity and power. Where, too
- that cup and loaf that we jointly participate in reminds us that we are one body, united through Christ even amidst our diversity. And,
- as we so discern the Lord's body, we reflect that we must live up to our baptismal vows to walk in a new life as individuals and with one another, seeking his forgiveness and renewal.
The case of the churches in Jerusalem, and in Antioch and Athens provide particularly helpful life-situation examples.
- Just so, we also remember his death, his blood shed for our redemption, his broken body and stripes by which we may be made whole and his victorious, vindicating resurrection as Lord, until he comes in glory.
8 --> We see that the church is also one united fellowship by the common indwelling Spirit, local and global, militant and triumphant. That is, in any locality, we are members one of another in Christ, and of the global church on the ground in the world; the church militant. We are "dual citizens," emissaries of the eternal kingdom in the midst of the nations. So also, those who have gone ahead are the church triumphant, so we have hope. For, as Paul reminds us:
1 Thess 4: 13 Now we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve like the rest who have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, so also we believe that God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep as Christians.15 For we tell you this by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will surely not go ahead of those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a shout of command, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be suddenly caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.And so we will always be with the Lord. [NET]9 --> Operationally,
i: at times of crisis in communities and nations triggered by our sinful rebellion [these seem to be almost perpetual these days . . . ],
ii: Christ sends his church-planting, culture-reforming missionaries and other leading servants of God into a community, with the gospel.
iii: These servants of the gospel proclaim the message of salvation and transformation through penitent faith in Christ, in the power and demonstration of the Spirit; calling us to repentance, renewal, revival and reformation.
iv: They call us to and nurture us in discipleship and transformational service as Spirit-gifted members of the body of Christ, through the renewing Spirit and regularly drinking deeply of the pure nourishing milk of the Word of God.
v: Baptism in water is the public step of commitment, and the regular participation in the fellowship of the saints and in the celebration of the eucharist serves as a regular renewal of our vow to walk worthily of the vocation to which we have been called.
vi: As we respond to this nurture and emerge in our areas of service we begin regular participation in the teaching, fellowship, worship and prayer, witness, outreach and compassionate service of the church. Thus, the influence and impact of the gospel "naturally" pervades our lives, and begins to spread out in our families, communities, schools, businesses, arts, media, culture, nations and civilisations.
vii: Already, we can see how "all things" would be gradually filled with Christ!
viii: However, not all men will welcome the truth, and some among us would pervert the truth and lead us astray. So, genuine shepherds of God's flock must warn and guard us, equipping us to recognise deception and trickery and avoid them. And, in times of controversy and opposition or persecution, they set the example of loving faithfulness to the gospel truth once for all entrusted to the saints.
ix: Even in the midst of opposition and attempted subversion, as we each grow up in Grace and in service though the truth in love, the whole body grows up into him who is its Head in all things, Christ.
x: And, one day, He shall return in glory and power with the Saints, fully establishing the eternal kingdom of God.
Athens, because it shows how the gospel comes to communities in the midst of their blind groping for God as at pivotal times -- times of kairos -- God sends his church planting missionaries. It shows how such spokesmen for God work to break through the strongholds of deception that hold us fast-bound in sins, leading to the gradual permeation of the gospel and the people of God in the culture.
Even, when -- apart from small and unpromising beginnings -- the message is laughed out of court and dismissed as foolishness. In Athens' case, quite literally.
(And, of course, this ironically inverts the sophists' understanding that at the pivotal moment, it is powerfully persuasive, clever rhetoric that seizes the moment and hits the nail hard on the head is the key tool for breakthrough. Paul's counter: "we have rejected shameful hidden deeds, not behaving with deceptiveness or distorting the word of God, but by open proclamation of the truth we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience before God." [2 Cor 4:2.])
Antioch, because it shows how the church's missionary mandate breaks through social, cultural, racial and religious barriers, to call out a people to God in the midst of the life of a great city. Because, it shows how in the life of that church, it is important to visibly act in unity with the established people of God at large. Because, it shows the importance of finding the right mentors for emerging leadership, and to seek such new leaders out wherever they are to be found. Because, it shows the power of collegial leadership that works in a team across all barriers. Because, it shows the impact of such leadership and solid teaching, then how as a new generation of leaders arises and is multiplied, the church grows in numbers, in service and in vision. Because, it shows the church reaching out to the suffering as a part of its mission. And, not least, because it shows how a church reaches full institutional maturity when it in turn is sending out and supporting missionaries under the global calling -- and did so within the ambit of only a few years. (Indeed, from the time of strengthening under the teaching ministry of Saul of Tarsus to the time of sending out its first church planting mission, it took just about one year.)
Jerusalem, of course, because it is the first church, and the mother and prototype of all churches.
So, let us pause and -- again - hear the story of that church as told by Luke in summary, from this new angle; starting from the point in Peter's sermon -- the very first Christian sermon -- where he said:
Acts 2: 22 “Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man clearly attested to you by God with powerful deeds, wonders, and miraculous signs that God performed among you through him, just as you yourselves know – 23 this man, who was handed over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you executed by nailing him to a cross at the hands of Gentiles. 24 But God raised him up, having released him from the pains of death, because it was not possible for him to be held in its power . . . .
32 This Jesus God raised up, and we are all witnesses of it. 33 So then, exalted to the right hand of God, and having received the promise of the Holy Spirit from the Father, he has poured out what you both see and hear. 34 For David did not ascend into heaven, but he himself says,
‘The Lord said to my lord,
“Sit at my right hand
35 until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.”’
36 Therefore let all the house of Israel know beyond a doubt that God has made this Jesus whom you crucified both Lord and Christ.”
37 Now when they heard this, they were acutely distressed and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “What should we do, brothers?”
38 Peter said to them,
“Repent, and each one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and your children, and for all who are far away, as many as the Lord our God will call to himself.”
40 With many other words he testified and exhorted them saying, “Save yourselves from this perverse generation!”
41So those who accepted his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand people were added.
42 They were devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
43 Reverential awe came over everyone, and many wonders and miraculous signs came about by the apostles. 44 All who believed were together and held everything in common, 45 and they began selling their property and possessions and distributing the proceeds to everyone, as anyone had need. 46 Every day they continued to gather together by common consent in the temple courts, breaking bread from house to house, sharing their food with glad and humble hearts, 47 praising God and having the good will of all the people.
And the Lord was adding to their number every day those who were being saved. [NET]We here see the exact pattern of life and service set in motion by responding to the gospel call that was summarised above.
This is the standard, the yardstick for the true church, showing
a: why it is -- God's programme of redemption in Christ,
b: what it is -- the redeemed, Spirit-indwelt people of God and the functioning, mutually supporting body of Christ here on earth that bears witness to the Messiah and brings salvation and transformation though the gospel to all men, and
c: how it is -- the community within the community that (in response to the gospel lives and works as the body of Christ through the gospel truth in love, purity and power flowing from the indwelling, upwelling, overflowing Spirit) works to fill all things with Christ.
Our challenge, then, is how to measure up.
unity and service amidst diversity and
the truth in love, purity and power challenge
Paul observes in Eph 1: "the church is his [i.e. Christ's] body . . . ," and in 1 Cor 12:28: "you are Christ’s body, and each of you is a member of it." This is clearly a primary conceptual metaphor for understanding the church.
In 1 Cor 12, Paul explains a good part of why:
1 Cor 12:14 . . . the body is not a single member, but many. 15 If the foot says, “Since I am not a hand, I am not part of the body,” it does not lose its membership in the body because of that. 16 And if the ear says, “Since I am not an eye, I am not part of the body,” it does not lose its membership in the body because of that. 17 If the whole body were an eye, what part would do the hearing? If the whole were an ear, what part would exercise the sense of smell? 18 But as a matter of fact, God has placed each of the members in the body just as he decided. 19 If they were all the same member, where would the body be?
In short there is a unity amidst diversity and the very diversity that some may want to use to dismiss others (or some may even see as making themselves of little or no value . . . ) is in fact highly functional and valuable. A whole person has feet, hands, ears, eyes and ears! (NB: This has a fairly obvious application to racism or social prejudice, etc. that unfortunately still needs to be heeded in some quarters.)
Paul then continues:
1 Cor 12: 20 So now there are many members, but one body. 21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I do not need you,” nor in turn can the head say to the foot, “I do not need you.” 22 On the contrary, those members that seem to be weaker are essential, 23 and those members we consider less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our unpresentable members are clothed with dignity, 24 but our presentable members do not need this. Instead, God has blended together the body, giving greater honor to the lesser member, 25 so that there may be no division in the body, but the members may have mutual concern for one another. 26 If one member suffers, everyone suffers with it. If a member is honored, all rejoice with it.
Here, we see that diverse functions, less visible functions and even less presentable functions are all important, or even vital. For instance, our hearts and lungs are not exactly highly presentable organs -- the mere sight of such organs in action may well trigger delicate stomachs (such as mine . . . ) into most unpleasant action! -- but, for good reason it is precisely these organs that are termed "vital."
Just so, when the Corinthians were enthusiastic over Apollos' polished eloquence and were dismissive of Paul's relative plain-spokenness, they erred. Likewise, if someone lacked a particular high profile gift, that was no sign that the person with a less "prestigious" or less flashy gift was a second class Christian (or even, not a 'real" Christian at all).
All of this, sadly, is still unfortunately directly relevant to specific cases today. (For instance those holding to several of the more contentious views on the controversial gift, speaking in tongues, would be well advised to reconsider their views carefully; once they imply that either (a) some people are second class Christians for not having it, or else for implying (b) that any who claim to have such a gift can be dismissed as suffering pathological psychological states or even as being under demonic influence.)
However, there is a more positive side to this: once we see that the church works by unity amidst diversity, we can learn to value the individual, and to value the contributions of even the humblest or "oddest" among us.
That also means that we have to learn teamwork, and how to handle the differences that inevitably come from diversity and individuality.
But, if the Organisational theorists are right, once we can positively harness diversity and positively manage conflicts, the resulting teamwork dramatically boosts creativity and problem solving ability. That is, an overemphasis on conformity to the desires and views of the most prestigious, the most persuasive or powerful -- or, even the most "sensitive" and cantankerous -- is a formula for failure to be aware of and think seriously about the full set of relevant factors in the face of kairos, leading to bad decisions.
This is why Paul emphasises "practicing the truth in love" [Eph 4:15], which leads to a balanced emphasis on love, truth, purity and power in our service.
If we genuinely respect one another, and are committed to seeking and living by the truth, in the purity and power of the Spirit who lives in, wells up and overflows in power through us -- all of us -- then we will be far more likely to harness diversity and different views to see how to find the best, most robust way forward, than to follow clever deceitful words and schemes, or explode in rage, hostility and polarisation. Or, for that matter, to withdraw into a resentful, loaded and poisonously cold silence.
Paul's counsel to the Colossians -- this, coming from a man who plainly struggled at times to bridle his temper (so, these are hard-won lessons from "a man of like passions" as we are) -- is a classic:
Col 3:12 . . . as the elect of God, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with a heart of mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if someone happens to have a complaint against anyone else.But, sometimes, counsels of wisdom fail, and we have to deal with willful divisiveness or other sinful behaviour. What can or should we do?
Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also forgive others.
14 And to all these virtues add love, which is the perfect bond.
15 Let the peace of Christ be in control in your heart (for you were in fact called as one body to this peace), and be thankful.
16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and exhorting one another with all wisdom, singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, all with grace in your hearts to God.
17 And whatever you do in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. [NET]
In his Epistle to the Galatians, Paul gave some general principles that build on Jesus' counsel to seek reconciliation, then to bring in intercessory witnesses, then to bring the matter before the body:
Gal 6: 1 Brothers and sisters, [here NET includes "sisters" as implied in the original] if a person is discovered in some sin, you who are spiritual restore such a person in a spirit of gentleness.The intervention should be to seek reconciliation and restoration, in a context of mutual respect, humility and gentleness. All parties involved need to keep a weather eye out for their own motives and weaknesses, i.e. if we lash out in rage, or if we simply feed our own weaknesses, that is not going to help. As those seeking to help, we should be willing to help one another with our burdens. But also, since we each have a job to do or load to carry, we must be aware of our own attitudes and efforts.
Pay close attention to yourselves, so that you are not tempted too.
2 Carry one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.
3 For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.
4 Let each one examine his own work. Then he can take pride in himself and not compare himself with someone else. 5 For each one will carry his own load. [NET]
Also, we must be willing to realise that we may see a need for the sort of sustained effort envisioned in the twelve-step type recovery programme.
First, life- dominating, character- and life- wrecking sins, addictions and/or habits typically require a crisis intervention to lead to a spiritual-moral breaking and breakthrough. Next, such an initial phase of recovery then should lead to an onward organised, scheduled programme of sustained counselling, mentoring and support joined to supervised spiritual disciplines, towards rebuilding a life and returning to effective service. The premise here, is that one who is walking in step with the Spirit will not be focussing on or fulfilling the lusts of the flesh or the lusts of the eyes or living by the pride that are the characteristic features of worldliness. (Cf Gal 5:13 - 26 and 1 Jn 2:15 - 17.)
Jesus' counsel highlights a case where there is an implied breach of relationship:
Matt 18: 15 “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault when the two of you are alone. If he listens to you, you have regained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others with you, so that at the testimony of two or three witnesses every matter may be established. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. If he refuses to listen to the church, treat him like a Gentile or a tax collector. [NET]
The first principle is gentle correction and confidentiality -- trying to make a scene and humiliate the sinning brother or spreading stories behind his back is simply a way of getting revenge. That misses the whole point.
If the quiet word of correction is taken, all is well. But if not, we have a second mile to carry the burden.
Bring intercessory witnesses, who obviously should be sufficiently mature and confidential (no gossips need apply . . . ) that a positive resolution based on wise counsel, is likely. Of course, in some cases, there is mutual fault. Also, in other cases, there is little hope of a quiet word from you working (or someone may simply be overawed), so going with someone else to begin with in such a case is a reasonable step.
One who insists on being strong in the wrong, needs to face the counsel of the congregation. And if that is not enough, then such a person has cut him or her self off from the fellowship. (But note, at no point does Jesus ever suggest that Gentiles and tax collectors should be treated with disrespect or disdain or the classic cut-eye and cold shoulder, just they were proverbial cases of those in profound alienation from God and his people. People we need to pray for and reach out to, but in light of that status of sinful alienation from God.)
In short, diversity, properly harnessed, is a source of strength, but to draw out that strength, we need to draw on a more profound unity and mutual respect through the principle that in Christ we are members of a common body with diverse, mutually supportive functions. So also, we need to balance the truth in love, purity and power to do so, especially when clashes or failings emerge.
as disciples & witnesses of the gospel
As "[Christ's] body, the fullness of him who fills all in all" (Eph 1:23), we the church and we its members are to live, bear witness and serve Christ in our communities, in the flow of the Spirit, so that from our inmost being "[there] will flow rivers of living water." (Jn 7:38.)
This is a challenge, given that we too face the moral hazard of being all too human, and are in God's recovery programme ourselves.
I think it was C S Lewis who spoke of the church as simultaneously being a hospital and an army. The irony, of course, is that modern armies usually operate hospitals for the wounded, but seldom must they call on the wounded to do the fighting, much less to run the treatment programmes. So, we are forced to ask: do we have a situation where the lunatics are trying to run the asylum?
That's when the church becomes like the world around, which is suffering from exactly that problem.
(Ever wondered why so many obviously good and demonstrably feasible and desirable ideas for vitally needed improvements in our communities and institutions (including churches) so often -- in some cases "always" -- seem to linger, unimplemented and may even be treated with disregard or disdain and contempt? The reason is, that the lunatics ARE running the asylum.)
Does it now seem more clear as to why we each need a spiritual rebirth, and the indwelling and empowering of the Spirit, who wells up from within and flows forth with wisdom, power, truth, love and purity to transform our lives, institutions (including our churches) and communities?
If that is not happening, and if those who move into positions of leadership in family, church, school, businesses, media houses, think-tanks, etc etc are not characteristically full and overflowing with the Spirit, then the lunatics are indeed running the asylum.
The disastrous results of that sort of folly are all too readily predictable.
James is devastating:
James 3: 1 Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.
2 For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. 3 If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. 4 Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs.
5 So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.
How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire!
6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life,1 and set on fire by hell. . . . .
13 Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. 15 This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. [ESV, nb: insertion of "brothers and sisters" in v. 1, cf. NET, raises questions of shifting the meaning here materially. This is not a case where it is simply "implied." Different views are possible on women as pastoring teachers, but that has to be thought through biblically and worked out explicitly. (Grudem in his Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), pp. 937 - 944, is a good point to start from.]
Our newspaper headlines show that the problems James here highlights are also, sadly, all too familiar all around us, and they litter the pages of history of the church, community, and civilisation alike.
Devilish conflagrations triggered by divisiveness, envy and selfish ambition have happened, over and over again, and we are so often so mad that we refuse to learn from history, even our own prior experience of disaster. (The idea that fools learn from experience, sadly, is too often far too optimistic.)
Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount -- yes, two thousand years ago in his most famous speech -- laid out the solution, which will still work if we will but heed it:
Mt 7: 1 “Do not judge so that you will not be judged.The idea here, likely, is that we have an old fashioned saw-pit in action that makes planks from logs by using a two-man saw:
2 For by the standard you judge you will be judged, and the measure you use will be the measure you receive.
3 Why do you see the speck in your brother’s eye, but fail to see the beam of wood in your own? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye,’ while there is a beam in your own? 5 You hypocrite! First remove the beam from your own eye, and then you can see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
6 Do not give what is holy to dogs or throw your pearls before pigs; otherwise they will trample them under their feet and turn around and tear you to pieces. [NET]
|A saw-pit in Zambia. Observe the positions of the top and bottom sawyers, |
and so who is more likely to get sawdust in the eyes. Then consider the
possibilities for scheming, conflict and projection of blame for problems.
(Wiki, CCA, source: Amanit Phalloides of Namwianga Mission)
To move on beyond the lunatic running the asylum problem, the top sawyer first has to take the plank out of his own eye; which will teach him a lot about dealing with such problems. (And in particular, he will have learned new lessons about the perils of ambition and promotion, and maybe, greed and exploitation of others in junior positions.)
Then, as someone further along in recovery, he can respond with empathy and effective, sound counsel to help the junior sawyer struggling down in the dusty pit.
Paul provides a useful perspective in some of the opening words of 2 Cor:
2 Cor 1: 3 Blessed is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles so that we may be able to comfort those experiencing any trouble with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 5 For just as the sufferings of Christ overflow toward us, so also our comfort through Christ overflows to you . . . [NET]Our own experience of rescue and recovery through the intervention of God, and of the the comfort that comes to us in our troubles, equips us to help others in their own troubles. So, the struggles of our own recovery amidst our life, study, career and service experiences, once transformed through the gracious intervention of God, are important tools in our own helping service. This is particularly true of counselling and recovery work, but in fact the principle of serving in light of insights garnered through our own experiences is quite general.
Hence, too, the pricking point of Jesus' sharp observation that lead's up to Luke's presentation of the same parable:
Lk 6: 39 He also told them a parable:
Thus, the saw-pit, plank- in- the- eye principle extends to the whole work of growing as disciples and working to nurture other disciples in Christ and reach out to the wider community. (It also helps us take a very different view on the notorious "those hypocrites!" problem, especially where that charge is flung in our faces by the lunatics who are running -- and, maybe, ruining -- the asylums in the wider community and who are in reality only angrily fending off their only hope for real help. [Being top sawyer is a relatively lucrative, respectable and comfortable position, after all. And, who wants to be told that he has a plank or two in his eyes? Especially, when that is quite true.])40 “Someone who is blind cannot lead another who is blind, can he? Won’t they both fall into a pit? A disciple is not greater than his teacher, but everyone when fully trained will be like his teacher.
41 Why do you see the speck in your brother’s eye, but fail to see the beam of wood in your own? 42 How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me remove the speck from your eye,’ while you yourself don’t see the beam in your own? You hypocrite! First remove the beam from your own eye, and then you can see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye . . . " [NET (NB: Not only is it plain that we often deal with summaries of messages in the NT, but it is likely that Jesus gave such parables and quite similar messages on several occasions, so it is not surprising that the various summary reports of these teachings will have diverse details.)]
That means that the recovery model is central to effective Christian service in the church, in the community and in the wider culture and civilisation of which we are a part. So, let us again reflect on Paul:
1 Cor 6: 9 Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! The sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, passive homosexual partners, practicing homosexuals, 10 thieves, the greedy, drunkards, the verbally abusive, and swindlers will not inherit the kingdom of God. 11 Some of you once lived this way. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.Discipleship is in large part about repentant trust in God and empowerment that renews our lives and transforms us, equipping us as servants who make a difference in our churches and communities. With ourselves as "case study no. 1." Yes, we are "[t]he sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, passive homosexual partners, practicing homosexuals, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, the verbally abusive, and swindlers," now in transformational recovery under Dr Jesus' rescue and recovery programme, working in us through the power of the indwelling, upwelling Spirit and the cleansing and nourishing power of the pure milk of the Word of God.
It really works, as we demonstrate as case studies and eye-witnesses.
And, we therefore humbly come to you as cracked but mended pots:
2 Cor 4:5 For we do not proclaim ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said “Let light shine out of darkness,” is the one who shined in our hearts to give us the light of the glorious knowledge of God in the face of Christ.Thus also, we see the natural flow of the four R's of reformation as the Spirit flows in our hearts and wells up and flows out to the community and culture to fill it with Christ:
7 But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that the extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. [NET]
R1: Repentance: True revivals start here. As we repent, we "put off [our] old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires . . . [and will] be made new in the attitude of [our] minds . . . put[ting] on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness." [Eph. 4:18, 20 - 24.]
R2: Renewal: this is the living out of repentance as we learn and live by the light of God’s word and the power of God’s Spirit. "Don't let the world squeeze you into its mould. Instead, be transformed from within by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is." [cf. Rom 12:1 - 2]
R3: Revival, proper: the pouring out of God's Spirit in times of refreshing. Thus, we receive anointed power from God to walk in good works in the face of a deceived, corrupt world. "In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people," so we are called to "Repent . . . and turn to God, so that [our] sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord."
R4: Reformation: the transformation of a community, its institutions and culture under the impact of the Lordship of Jesus as those who surrender to him fill their lives and ways with his fulness. Of course, this threatens those who draw pleasure and power from sin (or even make their living from it), so revivals will also face persecution.
The issue that now surfaces is that of organisation.
Organisation can of course be a dead, stifling and destructive power game. But, it is equally true that life is extremely organised and that our God is a God of order. As, Creation all around us testifies; starting with every cell in our bodies.
In addition, we need to mobilise essentially every person in our churches for rescue, recovery and growth in discipleship, and to develop in his or her own calling to serve as a valid member of the body of Christ, at home, in the church, at school, at work and in the community and culture. That is going to require planning, organisation, oversight and management, strategic direction and corporate governance, using tested, sound and biblically valid models that allow the free, well ordered and powerful flow of the Spirit and the Word.
The history of the church tells us this is not particularly easy to do, but it can be done with several approaches. As usual, such approaches all have their pros and cons, and we can do a serious comparative difficulties exercise to look at the various models. (NB: Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology has a very useful chapter on "Church Government" [Ch 47 (1994 Edn.), pp. 904 - 947] that would well repay close study and reflection on our own thought, traditions and practices in its light.)
My own approach here is to bring up again the suggested model that came up in the last unit, and then to make a few observations on it as a start-point for discussions:
a --> The basic pattern of organisation is the so-called project team or matrix structure, with an emphasis on a set of small groups that work as project teams or work groups that carry forward the operational ministry of the church.
b --> In effect (and in light of the previous unit) the whole church structure can be seen as a network of cell groups -- ministry teams, nurture cells and outreach cells -- with support structures and governance mechanisms.
c --> The keystone ministry team is the Oversight Team/Presbytery, with two sub-teams: an Eldership & Pastoral Team and a Board of Governance and Daiconate. Here, the senior elder/"pastor," the other elders, the deacons in charge of specific administrative and relief functions etc, as well as general representatives elected by the congregation as deacons- at- large sit together in what is the church's board of governance.
d --> Not shown is the general meeting or solemn assembly of members, which has final legal responsibility for decisions under the law. (Churches will need to be organised in light of relevant corporate law.) In particular, this makes the board of governance accountable and blocks it from being a one-man show or a self-perpetuating clique; especially if there is a team of senior and subordinate full-time pastors. At this level, the legally binding corporate articles of association and bylaws will serve as a church constitution.
(NB: Such a constitution should incorporate a creedal statement of faith and a declaration of adherence to biblical, historic, apostolic, New Testament principles that delineate "the faith delivered once for all to the saints." (Jude v. 3.) The creedal statement of faith should be attached as an integral schedule. Cf here, here and here. Also, given the chaos caused by the "unchangeable" laws of the Medes and Persians and the known history of merely human traditions creeping in and undermining the purity of the core Christian faith, specific provisions should be made for amendments and for more general repentance, renewal and reform in light of the historic challenges and sins of the church. Core Christian commitments should be in an "entrenched" clause that should only be subject to change based on a consensus vote by the membership (typically, at least a 3/4 or 4/5 majority). If the church is part of a network, one of the terms of the network's covenant should similarly entrench the historic core of "the faith delivered once for all to the saints." In other words, a change to that historic core by a congregation will signal its separation from the network, and if the network as a whole chooses to walk away from the historic faith it will have to make such a move as a formal, collective, publicly notified and duly voted decision. Candidate members should be instructed in the core teachings of the faith and their biblical roots, and in baptism should acknowledge their assent to the historic, Apostolic, New Testament faith. Leaders at all levels should be required to sign to the core creedal commitment as a condition of office [e.g. the Nicene creed], and those at church governance levels should sign to the constitution of the local congregation and the network; which, recall, should have explicit provisions for amendment and renewal. These should be kept on file by the Church Secretary. [These multiple lines of defense are set up to allow a godly remnant to preserve the core, whilst allowing room for renewal, historically one of the toughest balance challenges facing the church. The by-laws of both the local congregation and the network should also have in them a whistleblower protection provision and an arrangement for independent investigation and adjudication of serious charges.])
e --> Some may dispute the use of "presbytery" in so broad a manner as above. I therefore here cite Bittlinger, to give my reasons (without binding others to agree, this is mainly a matter of terminology after all). I note of course that there are various views, but the following seems to be a particularly well-rounded analysis in light of the background. The basic idea behind Bittlinger's analysis is that Paul evidently adapted familiar forms from the general pattern of Mediterranean culture to the needs of the oversight of the churches; which, is inherently highly likely:
According to Acts 20:17, Paul summoned elders [--> πρεσβυτέρους, presbyterous: "elders"] from Ephesus to Miletus. When he addressed them, he said (vs. 28): 'The Holy Spirit has made you bishops.' [ --> επισκόπους, episkopous, literally over + see-ers, i.e. overseers] The elders are omitted entirely in Philippians 1:1, and only the bishops (plural) and deacons [--> διακόνοις, diakonois, lit. servants, e.g. waiters at the table (cf. Ac 6 - 7) etc] are mentioned, just as in [I Timothy 3:1 - 13] . . .f --> The day to day operations of the church's work are to be co-ordinated through an administration team, to which are attached an office, a fund raising manager for major projects and as appropriate consultants [e.g. for special tasks, or just simply someone to look after PCs and office equipment etc] working with the church.
Chrysostom's answer to why the elders are not mentioned in Philippians 1:1 is that they 'were formerly called bishops and deacons of Christ, and the bishops were called elders. That is why many bishops still write today [i.e. in John Chrysostom's time]: to the co-elder or to the co-deacon.' Chrysostom is arguing from the style of the letters written by the bishops of those days. When a bishop wrote to a presbyter, the salutation was 'Dear co-presbyter'; when he wrote to a deacon is was 'Dear Co-deacon.' In other words, the bishop was reminding himself that these three ministries were originally combined in one, that of the presbyter . . . .
In certain Greek towns (for example Sparta and towns in the Doric colonies; it was different in Athens), a council of elders existed as the highest board of authority, the gerousia. (This word might be translated [into Attic style Greek] as 'presbytery'.) This board of elders elected (in part from the ranks of its members) 'bishops' [i.e. episkopous, overseers] and 'deacons' (servants) for the various tasks. A similar situation prevailed in the west, in Carthage and Rome, for example . . . .
Whereas the Greek gerousia and the Roman Senate supplemented their members from the old and noble families, the board of elders of a Jewish synagogue were elected by the congregation. This board of elders also called [i.e. to office] a 'bishop' for each synagogue (the archisynagogos [the ruler of the synagogue] . . . ) and servants of the synagogue ('deacons') . . . .
Though we cannot be finally certain, it seems likely, on the basis of 1 Timothy 5:17 and parallels in [then] contemporary history, that the elders were the ones who were responsible for the local Christian congregation. The names 'bishop' and 'deacon' were then designated for special functions . . . [Bittlinger, Arnold, Gifts and Ministries (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1974), pp. 33 - 34. Remarks in square brackets added for clarity.]
g --> Similarly, reference/consulting elders, visiting ministries and ministry ambassadors sent out by the church, report to or co-ordinate with the board of governance. (This would include for instance a church planting missionary team sent out overseas. The parallel to the case of Paul's missionary company and the church at Antioch should be obvious.)
h --> Ministry team leaders themselves form one or more ministry teams, and report to the administrative team. These are the leadership of the ministering arms or units of the church, of various types. A list of typical suggested ministry areas is provided. (Life restoration comes first, as it addresses reaching out to those who have made shipwreck of their lives, e.g. addictions, prison, etc.)
i --> It is through the ministry arms that members of the church are mobilised for body life, fellowship, nurture, training, and service based on their gifts and developing abilities and calling and through which fresh leadership is continually being developed. Of course, outreach to the marginalised, hurting and desperate are a significant part of that work. (The particular church in view as an example has a major life rescue and reconstruction focus, with implications for deliverance from addictive bondages and resulting damage.)
j --> Project teams, long-term work groups/units, regular ministry groups, nurture cells, outreach cells, special event coordinating teams etc are all to be found here. These will draw on the resources and efforts provided by the members, partners and resource people of the church and its friends.
k --> Of course, on a week by week basis, the general members, families, partners, visitors and friends of the church will be able to meet together as an assembly for worship, prayer, the exposition of the word, study, training, administration of the sacraments, etc.
l --> The church's treasurer (one of the deacons) has special responsibility for the last block, perhaps with assistants as necessary: resource allocation, budgeting and accounting. This fulfills the key stewardship responsibility over resources.
m --> Within this context, ministry and service that flows out into the community can function in an organised way that is flexible and mobilises the full membership in service.
Again, these are suggestions for discussion and flexible informed adaptation, not unchangeable rules cast in stone.
The Great Commission makes it clear that the church is the world's first consciously global organisation and movement:
Mt 28:18 . . . [Jesus:] “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” [NET]Since this mandate is global and by implication multi-generational, it involves us too. Yes, we the Christians and churches of the Caribbean.
So, as we explore the doctrine of the church, we need to think about cross-cultural church planting as an integral part of the church's mandate, life and service in the world. The planting at Antioch is therefore an excellent first case to study, as Luke laid it out as a key example (and because it is here that the model for cross-cultural church planting Paul followed was plainly hammered out):
Ac 11: 19 Now those who had been scattered because of the persecution that took place over Stephen [cf. Ac 6 - 7, then 8:1 - 4] went as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, speaking the message to no one but Jews.We can trace a pattern:
20 But there were some men from Cyprus and Cyrene among them who came to Antioch and began to speak to the Greeks too, proclaiming the good news of the Lord Jesus. 21 The hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord. 22 A report about them came to the attention of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. 23 When he came and saw the grace of God, he rejoiced and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with devoted hearts, 24 because he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith, and a significant number of people were brought to the Lord. 25 Then Barnabas departed for Tarsus to look for Saul, 26 and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught a significant number of people. Now it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called Christians.
27 At that time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. 28 One of them, named Agabus, got up and predicted by the Spirit that a severe famine was about to come over the whole inhabited world. (This took place during the reign of Claudius.) 29 So the disciples, each in accordance with his financial ability, decided to send relief to the brothers living in Judea. 30 They did so, sending their financial aid to the elders by Barnabas and Saul . . . .
12: 25 So Barnabas and Saul returned [from] Jerusalem when they had completed their mission, bringing along with them John Mark.
13:1 Now there were these prophets and teachers in the church at Antioch: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius the Cyrenian, Manaen (a close friend of Herod the tetrarch from childhood) and Saul. 2 While they were serving the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” 3 Then, after they had fasted1 and prayed and placed their hands on them, they sent them off.
4 So Barnabas and Saul, sent out by the Holy Spirit, went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus.note 5 When they arrived in Salamis, they began to proclaim the word of God in the Jewish synagogues. (Now they also had John as their assistant.) . . . . 13 Then Paul and his companions put out to sea from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia, but John left them and returned to Jerusalem . . . .
14: 21 After they had proclaimed the good news in that city and made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, to Iconium, and to Antioch. 22 They strengthened the souls of the disciples and encouraged them to continue in the faith, saying, “We must enter the kingdom of God through many persecutions.” 23 When they had appointed elders for them in the various churches, with prayer and fasting they entrusted them to the protection of the Lord in whom they had believed. 24 Then they passed through Pisidia and came into Pamphylia, 25 and when they had spoken the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia. 26 From there they sailed back to Antioch, where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work they had now completed. 27 When they arrived and gathered the church together, they reported all the things God had done with them, and that he had opened a door of faith for the Gentiles. 28 So they spent considerable time with the disciples . . . .
15: 30 [After the controversy over Gentile conversion that required Paul and Barnabas to go to Jerusalem to hold a council with the Jerusalem leadership] they went down to Antioch, and after gathering the entire group together, they delivered the letter [summing up its results]. 31 When they read it aloud, the people rejoiced at its encouragement. 32 Both Judas and Silas, who were prophets themselves, encouraged and strengthened the brothers with a long speech. 33 After they had spent some time there, they were sent off in peace by the brothers to those who had sent them . . . 35 But Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch, teaching and proclaiming (along with many others) the word of the Lord.
36 After some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let’s return and visit the brothers in every town where we proclaimed the word of the Lord to see how they are doing.” [NET]
1 --> Within four years of the likely date of founding, there was an established leadership circle of "prophets and teachers," with a very broad background, e.g. Simeon called "the black," was probably just that, a black African. Manaen, of course seems to have been raised with Herod Antipas (ruler of Galilee), "the tetrarch."
2 --> By the time the apostles [cf. Ac 14:14] had returned from their missionary tour, and the Jerusalem Council of c 49 AD, Ac 14:35 records how "Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch, teaching and proclaiming (along with many others)." That is, the leadership core was multiplying, which in turn multiplied the work.
3 --> The leadership of the church in Antioch, plainly, operated on a team basis, similar to the one at Jerusalem.
4 -->We should also observe a pattern of waves of growth and development that are associated with fresh waves of innovative leadership: the initial waves of Jews turning to Jesus, then when the "men from Cyprus and Cyrene" came and spoke to them, "a great number [of Greeks] who believed turned to the Lord." Next, we see that when Barnabas came to investigate and encouraged the new church in its innovative departure of reaching out to previously unreached people groups, "a significant number of people were brought to the Lord." Then, he sought out Saul, and together they "met with the church and taught a significant number of people," further strengthening the church.
5 --> This is exactly the pattern of nurturing leadership that we see underscored in Eph 4 as a growth dynamic driven by the Risen Christ's gifts to the church of anointed ministers:
Eph 4:10 He [Jesus], the very one who descended, is also the one who ascended above all the heavens, in order to fill all things. 11 It was he who gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, that is, to build up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God – a mature person, attaining to the measure of Christ’s full stature. 14 So we are no longer to be children, tossed back and forth by waves and carried about by every wind of teaching by the trickery of people who craftily carry out their deceitful schemes. 15 But practicing the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Christ, who is the head. 16 From him the whole body grows, fitted and held together through every supporting ligament. As each one does its part, the body grows in love. [NET]
6 --> This means that it is incumbent on us to expect to see such ministries in the church, and to receive them, so organising the church's operations that we make the best use of such gifts given to us for our development. (Hence, the above suggestions on possibilities for organising the local congregation around a nurturing leadership core and small functional groups or cells designed to mobilise people for action. We must never allow ourselves to be lured into thinking that the large group and/or the building it assembles in for worship, reading of the scriptures and their expounding, is the "real" church. The "stones" of the real church are "living stones," not dead ones of rock or concrete.)
7 --> That raises a bit of a side-debate that is a potential source of trouble: do the ministries that head the Eph 4 list, apostles and prophets, continue down to today?
i: One pivotal issue is the function of prophets and apostles in the writing of scripture, which is authoritative in the life and work of both believers and the churches. However, we must note that not all prophets wrote scriptures in the OT, not all of the apostles wrote scripture in the NT, and that one of the two most prolific NT writers, Luke, was not an apostle.8 --> But also, we should not make the mistake of thinking that the people holding office in the church of who are carrying out the functions of the four or five enabling ministries of Eph 4 are the "ministers."
ii: Similarly, not only did Peter evidently work with Mark (and Silvanus) in the development of the Gospel and his epistles, and possibly with others, but so did Paul.
iii: So, scripture-writing is not a necessary function of being an apostle, and others than apostles and prophets have either significantly aided in the composition of scripture (the technical name is amanuensis), but also in the case of Luke, functioned as principal author of recognised scripture.
iv: That means the issue of the closure of the canon of Scripture is a separate question; and as there are no good reasons to infer that additional scripture has been written or is required, we plainly have "that which is sufficient for life and godliness" [Cf 2 Peter 1:1 - 4] in the OT and NT.
v: So, if someone or some august body or individual today cuts across the scriptures that we have received, having been preserved and passed down to us at horrific cost by brave men and women of God, we have separate reason to conclude that such behaviour is highly questionable and quite probably fraudulent and heretical. That includes cases where such an individual or group:
- offers books that are alleged to be authentic inspired scripture (perhaps, allegedly "suppressed" by Constantine etc), or
- accuses the acknowledged scriptures of being willfully corrupted as a body and offers a new revelation as alleged "corrections" and extensions (whether allegedly vouchsafed by "the angel Gabriel" or not) or
- claims to discover and translate additional scripture (whether on hidden golden plates dug up from a mound and requiring special spectacles to translate them or not), or
- puts forth writings or oral instructions or pictures and diagrams or artifacts (including especially the details of the construction of the Great Pyramid at Giza or tomb wall paintings) that function as claimed or implied prophecies tantamount to -- or the "original" sources of -- scripture (even in the guise of being novels or movies based on "FACT" or on study of the Scriptures), or
- issues edicts from a claimed seat of authority or council that we must obey as though they were scripture, or
- offers new or longstanding commentaries and interpretations or teachings and rules or by-laws etc. that in fact or in principle are to be treated as though they were scripture and/or must control how we understand and apply the scriptures,
- or the like [ --> all of the above are based on the actions of specific movements across time and down to today . . . ], etc.
vi: If we compare the ministry that is not in dispute as continuing down to today, teacher, we will see that learning and circumstances, the leading of God by his indwelling, upwelling and overflowing Spirit and linked maturation as a Christian can allow someone to prayerfully and studiously stand under the scriptures and so speak or write or instruct as to give guidance that is patently inspired by God and useful for the people of God today. Of course we are to search the scriptures for ourselves and test what is said, to hold to the good and abstain from the very appearance of evil. But, what is sound will commend itself to us.
vii: Likewise, we can easily see how godly leaders can give wise counsel and make sound, biblically balanced decisions, being prayerfully guided by the same indwelling, upwelling and overflowing Spirit. Similarly, just as the Bereans of Ac 17:10 - 12, we each have a duty of testing what is suggested or decided, then to respond to the gospel in light of its evident truth.
viii: But, both of these cases show that the same Spirit who inspired the scriptures and the same scriptures that have guided the people of God for centuries, are still there. So, we can therefore see that there is no good reason why someone standing in the Biblical tradition and under the scriptures may not be directly inspired by God to prayerfully intercede and to see circumstances from God's perspective, giving us visionary guidance and counsel that helps us understand and discern the signs of our times and what we should do in an hour of decision.
ix: That is, there is a limited sense in which from time to time we still need -- and arguably still have -- prophets in the churches and communities. When, for all their flaws and peculiarities, a Martin Luther or a Martin Luther King stand up to correct us, we would be well advised to listen and consider carefully indeed. Just, one fears that it is ever so easy for a false voice to abuse the power of rhetoric or the prestige of titles and of office to demand undue obedience and usurp the authority that properly belongs only to God. So, let us determine to follow Paul: "Do not extinguish the Spirit. Do not treat prophecies with contempt. But examine all things; hold fast to what is good. Stay away from every form of evil." (1 Thess 5:19 - 22.)
x: The question of contemporary apostles, of course is an even more explosive issue; especially in the light of an undeniable history of horrible abuse of a claimed apostolic office that is written all over the history of Christian civilisation. (And, we also have the less headlined but nonetheless all too real problem of abuse of other offices that though they did not claim such august titles as "Apostle," did in fact operate in much the same "lording it over" fashion as we are warned against. For instance, "Evangelist" was horrifically abused in a case of my knowledge, and there are many cases where "Pastor," "Elder," and "Deacon" or even "Ordained Minister" and far humbler titles have been similarly abused.)
xi: Perhaps, the best I can suggest is, first, that we have undeniably continued to have pioneering, church-planting, church and community reforming missionary leaders across the centuries. (For instance, in the past 250 years, the significance of John Wesley's work has starkly stood out.)
xii: Similarly, we can observe that a Latin-derived term that is related to many of the key ideas in "apostle" -- Missionary -- is not as loaded a term. An interesting historical precedent is Missionary Bishop. "Consultant Elder" and "Ministry Ambassador" or the like might also allow legitimate church renewing or outreach functions to advance without getting into unduly hot waters.
xiii: Similarly, our understanding of "apostle" in the NT must be shaped by the fact that we can identify perhaps fifteen to seventeen named or implied C1 apostles -- the original twelve, Matthias, Barnabas and Paul [Ac 14:14], James --one of the "pillars" of the Jerusalem church, and Silas come to mind. Also, in 2 Cor 11:13 we read of: "false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ." But, plainly, if there was a definite and strictly limited list of members of "The College of Apostles," no one not on the list could "credibly" claim membership.
xiv: This suggests that a broader understanding of "apostle" is legitimate, where in the secondary sense it means in effect pioneering, Christ-sent church planting and reforming missionary leader. I would submit, however, that a more functional and less loaded title is appropriate for such leaders today, such as Missionary Leader or the like. (Especially, where that title does not carry with it a monarchical, "one ruler per territory" implication.)
xv: What we definitely do not need is super-overseers who become in effect princes and tyrants over the people of God, which, sadly, can happen under ANY office or even by informal influence, prestige and power. Even pretended humility can be a cover for such abuse. So, let us all tremble and seek the guidance of the purifying Spirit.
9 --> We should instead understand that these are just that: enabling ministries that allow and equip us to find and grow into our calling and gifting in the body so that "[a]s each one does its part, the body grows in love." For, every truly converted believer is called into Christian service and is gifted by the Spirit who lives within and wells up then overflows in power for that.
10 --> Since this cuts across deeply entrenched misunderstandings due to the way many churches have operated for many centuries, such a correction has to be emphasised over and over and over again, and repeatedly demonstrated on the ground.
11 --> The nurture cell is probably the best tool for initially consolidating Christian commitment and mobilising disciples for service as functioning members of the body of Christ; starting on the small scale of a small group.
12 --> Then, those involved can be encouraged to move into existing or new ministry teams -- perhaps, first on an exploratory basis -- to carry out particular areas of service they find themselves drawn to. Organised street witness is probably a good place to begin such, e.g. the street outreach ideas and techniques of Open Air Campaigners are well worth exploring. (Cf here and here.)
13 --> Likewise, given the equally strong tendency to split life up into isolated "sacred/spiritual" and "secular"/ day to day compartments, it needs to be hammered home, again and again by repeated declaration and by multiple demonstrated examples (especially of "ordinary" believers), that Jesus "ascended above all the heavens, in order to fill all things."
14 --> Where also, from Eph 1:23: "the church is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all" and yet again from 1 Cor 12:27, "you are Christ’s body, and each of you is a member of it." All of life is to be filled with Christ, by his grace through the truth in love, purity and power conveyed to and through us by the Spirit who indwells, up-wells, fills and overflows.
15 --> Paul immediately draws this body life and service pattern out into a pathway for life renewal and culture transformation:
Eph 4: 17 So I say this, and insist in the Lord, that you no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking.16 --> In short, as the church is planted in a new community and as people begin to grow in discipleship -- thus in love, truth, purity and the overflowing power of the Spirit -- the culture, gradually and naturally will be softened in heart and conscience and enlightened in mind. Thus, at first almost imperceptibly, it will begin to change.
18 They are darkened in their understanding, being alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardness of their hearts. 19 Because they are callous, they have given themselves over to indecency for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness.
20 But you did not learn about Christ like this, 21 if indeed you heard about him and were taught in him, just as the truth is in Jesus. 22 You were taught with reference to your former way of life to lay aside the old man who is being corrupted in accordance with deceitful desires, 23 to be renewed in the spirit of your mind, 24 and to put on the new man who has been created in God’s image – in righteousness and holiness that comes from truth.
25 Therefore, having laid aside falsehood, each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members of one another.
26 Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on the cause of your anger. 27 Do not give the devil an opportunity. 28 The one who steals must steal no longer; rather he must labor, doing good with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with the one who has need. 29 You must let no unwholesome word come out of your mouth, but only what is beneficial for the building up of the one in need, that it may give grace to those who hear. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 You must put away every kind of bitterness, anger, wrath, quarreling, and evil, slanderous talk. 32 Instead, be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ also forgave you.
5: 1 Therefore, be1 imitators of God as dearly loved children 2 and live in love, just as Christ also loved us and gave himself for us, a sacrificial and fragrant offering to God. 3 But among you there must not be either sexual immorality, impurity of any kind, or greed, as these are not fitting for the saints. 4 Neither should there be vulgar speech, foolish talk, or coarse jesting – all of which are out of character – but rather thanksgiving.note 5 For you can be confident of this one thing: that no person who is immoral, impure, or greedy (such a person is an idolater) has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.
6 Let nobody deceive you with empty words, for because of these things God’s wrath comes on the sons of disobedience.
7 Therefore do not be partakers with them, 8 for you were at one time darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of the light – 9 for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness, and truth – 10 trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. 11 Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. 12 For the things they do in secret are shameful even to mention. 13 But all things being exposed by the light are made evident. 14 For everything made evident is light, and for this reason it says:
“Awake, O sleeper!
Rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you!”
15 Therefore be very careful how you live – not as unwise but as wise, 16 taking advantage of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17 For this reason do not be foolish, but be wise by understanding what the Lord’s will is. [NET]
17 --> Reformation leading to transformation and blessing under Christ has begun. The four R's agenda is at work: repentance, renewal, revival, reformation.
18 --> So also, through the spreading of the gospel to the nations, the promised blessing of Abraham, through the seed of Abraham -- and carried forward by the indwelling, up-welling and overflowing Spirit (thus also the cleansing and enlightening function of the Word of God) -- is also coming to the nations:
Gal 3: 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us (because it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”) 14 in order that in Christ Jesus [-> the promised seed of Abraham] the blessing of Abraham would come to the Gentiles, so that we could receive the promise of the Spirit by faith . . . [NET]19 --> Clearly, reformation and resulting God-blessed, Word-guided, Spirit-empowered transformation are an integral part of the church's mandate. Indeed, in the Great Commission, we read how we are expected to be " teaching [the nations] to obey everything I have commanded you." [Mt 28:20.]
20 --> Does this mean that we are to take up the sword in the name of the gospel and conquer the nations, "converting" them at sword-point? Obviously, not. Jesus rebuked Peter when he thought to strike with the sword in the name of the Messiah, and when Pilate challenged him, Jesus replied:
Jn 18:“My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my servants would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish authorities. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.”
37 Then Pilate said, “So you are a king!”
Jesus replied, “You say that I am a king. For this reason I was born, and for this reason I came into the world – to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” [NET]
21 --> To this declaration of the church's real authority -- the self-evident power of the truth in the Word of God backed up by the Spirit of God, Pilate's sad and utterly revealing dismissive answer was: “What is truth?” [v. 38b] And, to compound this sin, he did not stop to listen to an answer or ponder that The Truth Himself stood there before him.
22 --> Just so, we see that those who are of the lie, or of the world and of the flesh and the devil [Eph 2:1 - 3], too often, will rise up in demonically stirred up rage-driven reaction to the spreading of the gospel. Slander and accusation then too often give way to mobs and to kangaroo courts, thence also beatings or whippings, gaol, torture and even murder.
23 --> Such hoggish-spiritedness [cf. Mt 7:6] reveals to one and all, just what unholy spirit animates such a reaction to the gospel. Jesus' counsel regarding such still stands: "Do not give what is holy to dogs or throw your pearls before pigs; otherwise they will trample them under their feet and turn around and tear you to pieces." [Mt 7:6, NET. The riots in Acts 19 and 21 - 22 as well as the abusive Council and assassination schemes in ch 23 are unfortunately apt cases in point.]
24 --> As a consequence, as the gospel goes forth in the world as a witness to all nations, it goes out amidst the chaos caused by sin, and it not only leads to renewal and reformation but also to the vilest and most vicious or even outright violent and murderous opposition. (Cf the significance of this in Unit 11, on the culmination of all things.)
25 --> Unfortunately, as the influence of the gospel in a community grows, history teaches us that some who are selfishly ambitious will attach themselves to or seek to influence the church to promote their agendas. Some members and leaders of the "visible church" also, may find their thinking similarly warped, and this can lead to a destructive perversion of the role and function of the church as teacher and movement of godly prophetic leadership calling for repentance and reformation. Especially where this becomes wedded to undue institutional or community influence this can lead to horrific abuse.
26 --> Indeed, beyond a certain point, the integrity of the visible church is compromised and apostasy has set in, which requires reformation of the church itself. This leads to the need to distinguish legitimate and true churches from illegitimate and pseudo- Christian churches. We have a duty to stand in unity with the former, but a duty to correct and where necessary expose and have nothing to do with the latter. We may adapt a useful diagram by Grudem who, leading up to it observes ". . . there are 'true churches' and 'false churches' . . . a further distinction must be made: there are more pure and less pure churches." [Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), p. 873.] Adapting:
27 --> Grudem has also given a list of twelve indicative marks of purity that we should ponder as we examine ourselves first then also the movements we may have to deal with historically or in the current era:
1. Biblical doctrine (or right preaching of the Word)28 --> One of the saddest aspects of this challenge is that, even many hundreds of years after abuses have happened, the fact of abuse will be cast in the teeth of Christians to try to blunt effective Christian life, service and witness today. Such will also be used to stir up a mind-closing, heart-hardening anger that closes out the gospel.
2. Proper use of the sacraments (or ordinances)
3. Right use of church discipline
4. Genuine worship
5. Effective prayer
6. Effective witness
7. Effective fellowship
8. Biblical church government
9. Spiritual power in ministry
10. Personal holiness of life among members [including leaders!]
11. Care for the poor [and oppressed or hurting]
12. Love for Christ [Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), p. 874]
29 --> Compounding this, movements that act under the false colours of science, reason, enlightenment and progress etc. will then propose new "reformations" of church, society and civilisation that are patently destructive and even suicidal.
30 --> In response to such agendas (which we can see all around us), we must indeed face the sins of Christendom, but we must also call for a balanced appreciation of the contribution of the Christian faith to reformation and progress, and to even the rise of science. We will also need to carry out serious worldview level analyses of various movements and stand up clearly and firmly in the marketplace of ideas and agendas and respond firmly in light of the warrant for the gospel and its power to bring salvation and transformation through being energised by the Spirit and as expressed in the word of God.
(NB: Cf Unit 2 above and Unit 9 following. So also, we need to call attention to the core foundation of the church, the gospel as the Truth of God who came among us in love to redeem and rescue us, and its warrant, cf. Unit 1 above. So, the issue is not who can list real and imagined sins and make harsh polarising debate points, but what is the truth and what is our duty to it as finite, fallible, fallen/morally struggling and too often ill-willed human beings who live in a world that so evidently is a Creation by the good and upright God. From this, the call to genuine discipleship follows, cf. Unit 10 following.)
Obviously, these concerns do not just belong to the new "mission field", but to our own churches in our own region. Therefore, let us briefly reflect on:
and the church in the Caribbean
One of the challenges the church faces in the Caribbean is that the church, conquest, colonialism and slavery all arrived with the European voyages of exploration and settlement of five hundred years ago. Then, once sugar was established as the economic foundation of the region, plantation-based slavery dominated our culture. So, as a direct challenge, the church in our region has had to address the lingering taint of the sins of Christendom.
Even when, some 250 years later, we had the arrival of the dissenter/evangelical movements through men like George Liele and Moses Baker [black Christian leaders from the North American colonies of England and key founders of the "native" Baptist churches of Jamaica], the question of slavery still lingered. At least, the dissenters -- especially in the anglophone sub-region and in the United Kingdom -- were strongly associated with the anti-slavery movements for abolition of the trade and then emancipation of the slaves. And while the various factors that contributed to the eventual victory of the campaigns can be debated back and forth, it is a positive thing that men and women, black and white, stood up shoulder to shoulder, Bibles in hand, to say "No!" to what was then a dominant and massively abusive system in our world.
So also, we can see that the church has a history of on the one hand being tainted by problems in the civilisation (some speak of "baptising the culture") and on the other -- through courageously prophetic (and often misunderstood, derided or even persecuted) leadership, much of it "lay," it has contributed to positive changes. This directly means that the challenge of reformation within the church automatically extends into the wider community, such that the two cannot be separated.
Accordingly, we may consider again (in brief) an overview of some major challenges facing the church in our region, in light of the above analysis of the four R's of reformation:
As we observe our region form this perspective, what leaps out is that it is the need of the churches and partly Christianised peoples of the region for reformation that has created the spiritual vacuum into which the de-Christianising movements from the North and the Islamising ones from the East have been drawn.
What is not directly evident (but is crucial), is that in turn it is the impurities and breakdowns of the churches of Europe and North America over the past 200 - 300 years that have led in turn to the rise of credibility for various post- and anti- Christian movements, such as the ideologisation of science and its use as a banner for aggressive materialism. Going back to the 600's and 700's AD, likewise, it was the breakdowns and contentions in the churches of the Roman and Byzantine eras and in the fringe areas beyond, that led to the rise of Islam and to the disaffection of especially the Christianised peoples of Syria and Egypt which allowed a much easier rise to domination of the Middle East by the forces of Islam.
In short the issue of the purity of the churches and that of their positive influence on the surrounding community and culture is not a minor one.
Failure in this area can have serious implications that leave damaging consequences on the ground for centuries.
That said, for all its flaws and sins, the northern Reformation of five hundred years ago that began in Germany has had many positive impacts, equally for centuries. So also, the ongoing Christian reformation of the South -- largely tracing to the long term impacts of the Missionary movements of the past several centuries -- is a major trend for the future. (Hence, the urgent need for training sound leadership for that era ahead.)
Moreover, given our geographical and cultural location as a region, the peoples and churches of the Caribbean can play a significant role in the church's global missionary mandate. For, we bridge East and West, North and South, with many of us having ancestral roots from the belt from West Africa to Java and Japan that is called the 10/40 Window. Our other main ruts and affinities tie us to the lands of the north that are currently undergoing a major disaffection from the Christian faith.
So, we need to awaken to our potential in the global mission of the church; to which we may even more briefly turn.
Given our challenges, our location and our potential, a serious renewal and reformation movement of the Caribbean church and peoples would have significant potential for creating a viable and globally exportable discipleship and positive cultural transformation model for the church in the wider world. In addition, using similar estimation methods to the Chinese church's Back to Jerusalem vision, we easily have potential to field a Missionary effort of 8,000 as a "tithe" on our "reasonable" full time worker-equivalent potential of 1% of active Christians:
Here, the three triangles strategy sees the Caribbean as having two zones, the Afro- and Asio- Caribbean triangles to the North and West and to the South East respectively. We thus have people who descend from the peoples of the 10/40 Window and who through the gospel have across our painful history found redemption, renewal and empowerment. We thus can bridge North and South, East and West, and have a particular potential in the 10/40 Window, where we do not carry with us the taint of being associated with the history of colonial domination. (We were, after all, the first zone of European colonialisation, not the colonisers.)
We bear witness to what the gospel can do, and we are therefore in a position to reach out, to the North, and to the East.
The potential impact of a global missionary effort on that scope is to be seen in light of the scale of Paul's Missionary Company, which changed the course of history for the world. For, the number of the workers involved probably did not exceed 100 altogether, about one Century or a light Company. Similarly, in the 1840's just 100 former slave Jamaican Baptists went to West Africa as Missionaries and had considerable impact.
We are talking here about maybe eighty companies of similar size, or -- again comparing in terms of the scale of military units: a reinforced Legion or a light Division. Do-able.
So, why can't we do it again, but this time with the power of the global Internet behind us? (Cf. the MVAT Kit here.)
FOR DISCUSSION AND ASSIGNMENTS