church/kingdom and church/mission

29 05 2007

i was asked to answer some questions in a methodist fresh expressions research forum. specifically on the role of church/mission and church/kingdom as concepts within methodist fresh expressions. i thought i would repeat my answer here:

hmm… i’m not sure if i’m qualified to speak on methodist fresh expressions as i’m not a methodist myself coming from the reformed tradition. however, i have read wesley’s sermons and believe you might find wisdom in wesley’s seventh sermon entitled ‘the way to the kingdom’. it makes it clear that wesley saw two legs to the kingdom of God, the first being holiness/obedience and the second being happiness/peace in the heart. the way, wesley believed or even insisted, must be repentance and belief in the gospel – indeed he wrote, ‘He [God] would set up his kingdom among men, and reign in the hearts of His people’ and also ‘Wheresoever, therefore, the gospel of Christ is preached, this His “kingdom is nigh at hand”.’ – if this then doesn’t identify church and kingdom in the thought of the wesley brothers then i am not sure what will.

i believe one of the dangers of the fresh expressions movement, and perhaps a way not left open by wesley, is to make a false and potentially devestating separation between the church and the kingdom. it seems to me that fresh expressions rides on a wave that sees evangelicals (with a passion for evangelism proclamation of the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus) and liberals (who embraced Adolf von Harnack’s emphasis upon the social message of the gospel) united in mission. equally those who might like to disrupt this holy harmony might use a radical, and unwarranted, separation between church and the kingdom as a lever to force apart evangelicals and liberals who are discovering common ground.

so to mission and the church, we agree that it is God’s mission, which the church is invited to participate in. this is in keeping with the methodist doctrine of prevenient grace but the goal is that God would reign (establish his kingdom) in the hearts of his people, the consequences of which are social holiness. without either of these, repentance or social holiness, the gospel of Jesus proclaimed by Wesley would be incomplete. i think, therefore, the church is both an agent of and result of mission in its most complete sense. the question ‘does “church do” mission or “mission do” church?’ then is answered,’yes, both, and’. but the challenge then is what shape our church should take if its task is to “make disciples” and disciples are to be both church and do mission. both of which are corporate and individual endeavours as the holy community the trinity reveals.

i suspect that we may have failed in our mandate to make disciples because we saw mission as something done by a select group within the church rather than the aim of the entire church. surely discipleship is best expressed not by cerebral creeds and formulas but by active engagement in theological mission. rather than thinking we must do mission to get people through the doors then we must do discipleship, surely we would do better to see mission as something we are calling people to whilst being engaged in ourselves? i am convinced that this is the meaning of the Christian life to meet with God and one another as we respond to God’s call to join His mission in the world.


In Defense of the Gospel of Peace: an evangelical anti-war view

22 03 2007

‘In Defense of the Gospel of Peace: An Evangelical Anti-War View’  – And it is about time too. We’ve hand the name of conservative evangelicalism dragged through the mud by preachers of hate and violence. We’ve almost sacrificed every shred of credibility we have. All because we conformed to the political norm, we capitulated to an ideology, rather than seeking to remain faithful to Scripture.

On the moral failure of modernism

26 02 2007

Below are my comments upon William Rees-Mogg’s recent article in The Times (26/02/07) entitled ‘Religion isn’t the sickness. It’s the cure’.

In an eminent display of apologetics, William Rees-Mogg establishes the indispensability of Judeo-Christian faith in preserving and forming the moral character of our nation. Attacking scientific and philosophical attempts to replace Christianity as the moral foundation of our nation, he rightly observes, ‘science was unable to produce a science-based morality for society’.  

20th century attempts from within the scientific community to produce a complete and coherent moral philosophy have failed. If you do not believe me, review the philosophical wreckages of the 20th century; Hitler’s social darwinism, Marx’s materialist ethics, Nietzsche’s moral relativism. In their wake, we are left with a chasm currently filled with a mix of materialism, scientism, and political correctness.   

The social project resulting from the enlightenment has had devastating consequences on the social identity of this country. It seems clear that broken homes, the neglect of children, widespread drug abuse, alcoholism, youth gangs, abuse of the elderly, rampant consumerism, obesity, terrorism, the inner-city ghettos, and materialism are all the marks of a global society in decline.  

It is too late for many in our society who are beholden to false gods of consumerism and materialism, bereft without points of moral reference, and victims of society’s moral chaos. I feel truly sorry for those broken lives; and fearful for those who continue to wander lost and alone in this moral wilderness.  

My suspicion is that it is too late to turn back the clock; that our global society is in collapse. And in the face of this all we can do is a form a community able to resist this social decay, by seeking a coherent exposition of scripture, a closer fellowship, a more faithful witness, Spirit-filled  worship and humble service.

Pilgrimage of Faith

7 09 2006

I was reading interface this afternoon a website designed to promote dialogue between Christian faith and contemporary culture and I was struck by a debate about the Pilgrimage of Faith. For those of you who are not Methodist, Pilgrimage of Faith is the debate about different Christian people’s attitudes towards homosexuality. I have copied my observations about the pilgrimage of faith below:

Christians of all persuasions are struggling with this journey of faith discovery and we are held together on this journey not by a shared understanding of our destination but by our love for one another. As an evangelical this love leads me to recognise that the division of the church is a greater sin than homosexuality. I recognise liberal Christians feel that the church not recognising homosexuality as an integral part of human nature is equally sinful but continue to seek the unity of the church. However, this means that both conservative and liberal Christians must live within a wounded church.Living within a wounded church is a painful experience it is also an opportunity for growth in humility and discipleship. I hope that whether we are liberal or conservative we can treat those we meet with love and learn from them as they seek to discover what it means to follow the living Lord Jesus.

I wonder what you think about being part of a wounded church? How has your church managed differences over opinions of homosexuality? Can the church bless lifelong homosexual partnerships? Can the church remain indifferent to such an integral part of a persons identity as sexuality? What can we say about homosexuality from the Bible? Are we too focused on issues of sexuality and too unresponsive towards issues of justice?

dead to this world… serious consequences?

17 08 2006

In a recent email dialogue on Romans 12:1-5 I was asked to clarify what I mean’t when I wrote that to claim ‘yourself as dead to this world and alive to Christ seems to me to have some serious consequences for proving the will of God in all things’. The following email is my reply-

Dear Gary,

I feel these verses are most pertinent to the issue of baptism- in baptism we are making are effectively dying to the principalities and powers of the world to rise set free from the powers of this world secure in our salvation in Jesus Christ. It was this conviction that gave the martyrs in church history the courage to follow Jesus even to death on the cross at the hands of the domination system (for them the Roman Empire). I believe that the act of baptism is an act of civil disobedience in it we are transferring our loyalty from temporal rulers to the Jesus Christ and his coming kingdom.

If this is a true and accurate interpretation of Scripture then we are required to witness to the ‘now and the not yet’ of the kingdom through opposing even rebelling against unjust asylum laws, tariffs imposed on imports, war-mongering (and the whole myth of redemptive violence), the list goes on. However, such a subversive agenda may have serious consequences for Christians around the globe. I cannot give my loyalty to any so called ‘Christendom’ because it remains out of sync with the upside-down Kingdom of God described in the beatitudes.

So far, I have globalised and pushed my interpretation of scripture to the extreme to make clear my meaning. I still believe that there is much work to do through living counter-cultural lives. I believe that any rebellion starts in someone’s home through standing up for the sanctity of marriage, buying fairly traded goods, campaigning against war as a legitimate means to an end, and all manner of personal holiness issues such as not spending money frivolously, watching pornography, bullying the slightly odd dude in the workplace, getting drunk etc.

Moreover, there are serious charismatic issues- for example, taking serious the fight against spiritual principalities and powers manifest in systems which dehumanise us like the workplace, legal system, tax system, political system. But not only manifest in these systems, also in peoples homes where they have flirted with the occult, had an incestuous relationship, allowed the seeds of marital discord to take root, or sibling rivalries to develop. We also need to recognise that even some Christians find themselves in spiritual bondage to consumerism (greed), pornography, domestic violence, certain forms of feminism and masculine, let alone non-Christians who may have to overcome these challenges on the road to faith.

At baptism, I was given a glimpse of the new kingdom God was calling me to become a part of but the rabbit hole goes deeper than I realise and I daily discover new challenges for the church to overcome. In truth if I knew how hard some of this Christian living would be I may not have started down this road but I know now that to live with the reality of God in my life is to see the world as it really is and that is far better than to live with scales over my eyes.

Anyway, I guess I understand that the church is called to live on fundamentally different principles to the rest of the world afterall for Christians ‘to live is Christ to die is gain’ and because of this we are always going to be resident aliens. I hope that you will still happy to call me brother after reading this and I pray every blessing for you and your family.

Yours in Christ,

I’m sure I have missed much out that you could add- please do!

Christian Community

12 08 2006

For many years now I have known the value of Christian Community. As an early teenager I can remember vividly the sense of acceptance from people of all ages which I found on a church weekend away when those aged 5 to 95 talked and ate and learned and played together. I remember thinking that if that is a flavour of what heaven is like I wanted it!
My initial studies at Cliff College under Bill Davies enhanced my appreciation of what Christian Community could be – warts and all- even further, for this was a safe environment for people to deal with their issues and let the masks slip off in order to be broken and restored by God for returning to the workplace.
The approach to Christian Community taken by Keith Green and his wife Melody in the early 1970s was a challenge to me as they invited new converts to share their home to be nurtured and encouraged.
My reflections over recent years have led me to believe that holiness is central to the Christian life of discipleship. The accountability found in the old methodist class meetings (surely a deep expression of community) where they indeed confessed their sins and found freedom and encouragement together, is still talked of today but rarely put into practice in the local church. It remains my hope that such a level of Christian discipleship can be found by people today for the value of a trusting community is paramount for people to walk closer to God, and to each other, as they seek to become more like Jesus. My prayer is that the church, in one form or another, will provide the setting for people to experience Christian Community thus moving towards holiness of life, and as a by product providing people with a taste of the fellowship of heaven.

By John Hogarth