Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Lost in Time and Space

I have a hand-written cross-reference near the opening verses of Ezekiel 1 referring to the baptism of Jesus. Jesus was about 30 years old, and, like Ezekiel, here he was by a river, among "exiles" in the sense that they were still out-of-place in their land (under Roman control) and out-of-joint with God. Like Jeremiah, Ezekiel is asked to act out several of his lessons and sermons. But like Daniel, Ezekiel’s writings take on an apocalyptic, other-worldly character.

For instance, in the opening verses of Ezekiel 1, we find Ezekiel at a particular place at a particular time: 30th year; 5th day, 4th month, by the river. But then something happened that rendered Ezekiel “lost in time and space.” The heavens are opened and he sees visions of God. He is transported in his mind and spirit beyond where his feet are fixed, so that he can see and describe wonderful and amazing things to these poor exiles. We find something similar when Paul is caught up to “the third heaven” (2 Cor 12:2) and yet cannot put into words the things that he experiences. John, exiled on the island of Patmos, in a real (terrible) place in a real time (Revelation 1:9,10) is transported by vision to report on scenes from beyond time and place. We struggle with their descriptions, because words fail to portray what we have not yet experienced, and yet it is good for us to puzzle over these things, if only to remind us that this is not all there is.

It is good and gracious of God to take those whose lives are fixed in time and space, and through them to reveal to us “things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and which have not entered the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who love Him” (1 Cor 2:9). But it is better that God has sent One who was forever beyond time and space, to be born of a woman in a barn, and to die like a criminal on a cross – the eternal Son of God now not lost, but nailed in time and space, so that we who are but sinful creatures can know and worship the One and True and Living God forever.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Church's View of Discipleship

Acts 11:26and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.
  • not all disciples were known as Christians, but all Christians were disciples

Nominal Christianity (Christianity in name only) is dead.
1.   This is true in at least three senses: Christians in name only are really not Christians at all, and so are spiritually dead
2.   Our culture has lost patience and respect with this kind of “casual” Christianity, which is betrayed by the shallowness of its beliefs and commitments, and by the absence of life change.
3.   It is dead in that it has no spiritual power associated with it. It has institutions and patterns which have created a kind of Christian sub-culture, but it is dead and dying, and such churches are drying up and closing down.

Discipleship Christianity is alive and well

1.   These Christians are related primarily to Christ, and secondarily to a local church.
a.   It is Christianity; not church-ianity
b.   Their Christianity is personal, a real relationship with a living person.
2.   These followers of Jesus are consistently seeking how to live Jesus’ life in every arena of their lives.
a.   It is not Sabbath or Sunday Christianity; it is everyday
b.   Their Christianity is universal, pervasive
3.   These disciples accept responsibility for representing Jesus to their families, friends and associates; and they accept the consequences
a.   They do not rely on pastors, missionaries, or churches to take care of their Christ-representation
b.   Their Christianity is missional, persecutional

The Shape of New Covenant Discipleship

Old Covenant righteousness was law-oriented. Doubtless, there were some, perhaps many, who lived under the OC who had God-given faith and a measure of the Spirit. But righteousness was measured by full compliance with all the Law’s demands. Even Moses, the initial leader under the OC, failed to fully comply.

The blessing of a long, full and fruitful life in the land of promise was tied to compliance. While some complied in part, and were blessed in part, no one fully complied with the detail of the law. No one under the Old Covenant was perfectly faithful. The followers were no better than their leaders.

New Covenant righteousness is not less law-oriented, but goes deeper, and includes full compliance not only with the letter of the Law, but also the thoughts and intents of the heart. Jesus is the Righteous One, the Faithful One, the Only One to fulfill the demands of God’s righteousness.

New Covenant discipleship is not an effort to behave better, but to follow Jesus as fully as possible, to have his character stamped on our hearts, so that we resemble him. NC discipleship is not primarily performance-oriented, and it certainly is not a superficial conformity to a set of rules for appeance’ sake. It is transformational, as the Spirit of promise establishes ownership and control in our lives, including our minds, our affections, and our will.

New Covenant discipleship is representative. As I am fully and completely represented before God by Christ, I in turn seek to fully and completely represent Christ in the world.

New Covenant disciples have:
·      A new Captain under a gracious administration
·      A new identity and a blood-bought fellowship

·      A new mission that cannot be measured in dollars, or numbers, or status

·      A new worldview that drastically changes the definitions

Church Renewal: Seeking an Accurate Description

Notes on our Studies and Discussions:
Our Bible Study in Ephesians 4 has led us to consider the four functional gifts to the Church. We have also used a comparative tool that distinguishes between Missional, Evangelical, and Institutional Churches. These are discussion notes, and have not been fully adopted or implemented by our church family at this time.

Ephesians 4 and the Four Functional Gifts: Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, and Pastor/Teachers
My observations in this area do not relate to our church alone, but rather to American Evangelicalism in general. As a result, it will be all the harder for our local congregation to walk a different, more Biblical path.
A. To be Apostolic means that, as followers of the living Christ, we live changed lives, and we live to see lives changed, fully engaged in an expanding mission of boldly representing Jesus in word and deed.
If we are not Apostolic, then what are we? It seems that we have been embraced by a comfortable Christianity that enjoys relaxing in the arms of our culture. So long as the culture does not become too offensive in its amorality, and so long as Christians do not become too offensive in their faith, we get along just fine. This is clearly not the approach of the Apostles in the Book of Acts. We  have traded confronting the unbelieving world with Accommodation, which means "to make oneself at home with".
We must find what it means to be less at home in the world, and more at home with God.

B. To be Prophetic means that the Word of God is the dynamic and powerful instrument of the Spirit of God, being truthfully applied to both public and private issues of contemporary life
If we are not Prophetic, then what are we? It seems that we are Patterned, constrained by both recent tradition, and by recent trends. We are taught to read and interpret Scripture according to these patterns rather than according to the illuminating direction of the Spirit.
We must be more honest in our handling of the Word of God, and be ready to question areas where our lives and church do not fit easily with the words of Scripture. Our attention to Scripture must be accompanied by greater prayerfulness.

C. To be Evangelistic means to intently listen to the questions that unbelievers are asking, and then to honestly present visually and verbally an answer that clearly presents Jesus as "the Way, the Truth, and the Life." We need to understand that evangelism is not just an individual activity, but is also a congregational activity.
If we are not Evangelistic, then what are we? We seem to have an attitude of inferiority and a posture of defensiveness, so that if we are to share the Gospel with anyone, they must find a way to penetrate our walls behind which we hide with the Gospel. Instead of practicing Evangelism, we practice Evasion.
In Live to Tell, Kallenberg says that evangelism is not merely persuading someone to accept certain facts, but rather to invite him/her to enter into a new way of life with a new set of people using a unique language with allegiance to a new Lord. Evangelism then, is a process whereby people are invited to begin a journey of observing, discovering and knowing what Jesus and following Jesus is about. My criticism of Kallenberg is that he adopts the reversed “belonging precedes believing” approach of many experimental churches. Conversion, that “turning from” former saviors and gods, and “turning to” God-in-Christ, is essential for belonging to the Body of Christ. But he makes the point well our evangelism cannot be evasive.

D. To be Pastor/Teacher means to be involved in the care of souls and the equipping of believers to be involved in the cause of Christ as followers of Christ who are growing in their understanding and obedience.
If we are not Tending/Training, then what are we? Actually, this is the area where we do the best. And yet we often are more concerned with caring for people's feelings than caring for people's souls. And we tend to be satisfied to impart Biblical information rather than to train for service and engagement with the world. Pastor/Teacher is easily replaced by People-Pleaser/Therapist.

On Another Front, but related to church change:
Problem terms:
worship - usually referring to Sunday at 11, and sometimes specifically of the song time; and yet worship is to be a lifestyle. We should not use the word "worship" exclusively in relation to praise music or the 11 o'clock service.
service - referring to a gathering of people, but communicating the idea that some person(s) who are active will be "serving" those who are passive. I like the words "congregate", which has the idea of gathering a flock; and "assembly", which means to bring together for a common purpose.
church - usually referring to the building; but the church is the people, and God's house is not made of bricks. We should avoid using the word "church" in relation to the building. So even our sign at the corner of our property that includes the word "church" is somewhat misleading.
member – the New Testament uses the term “member” as those who have been placed into the Body of Christ by the Holy Spirit. I would like to see us use a different term to denote “partnership” or “fellowship” in the local body of believers instead of the word “membership.” I think that using the Biblical term “member” in an additional way robs it of some of its Biblical force.
community - used both of the community of believers, and the surrounding town(s). We should take care in using the word "community" in two ways, and so probably not in relation to our church family. Of course, most every word has a dual meaning, such as "family" and "body".
Baptist - used to identify our history in this town, and to associate with a particular tradition, with both its strengths and weaknesses. It has a negative heritage of both Arminianism and legalism.