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.


Amazing Grace – a must see!

24 03 2007

I encourage everyone to make sure they attend Amazing Grace it is a fantastic film. It portrays the relationships between William Wilberforce, John Newton (author of the hymn Amazing Grace), and William Pitt (the Prime Minister). It shows the extraordinary pressure Wilberforce felt when deciding between entering the ministry and serving Christ through politics.  

Pitt felt that the Wilberforce’s evangelical faith would damage his political prospects, but it was Newton who convinced Wilberforce that he must serve God in politics (making William Wilberforce a man to be reckoned with). Wilberforce was not a political pragmatist, blowing with the winds of expediency, but a man of great faith and principle, driven by God to bring about the abolition of slavery in the United Kingdom.

I was taken by one fantastic quote by John Newton (played by Albert Finney):

‘I know two great things:

one that I am a great sinner

and two that Christ is a great Saviour’

And that is wisdom indeed!

Reflections on Encountering Church, the recent Christian Research UK findings, and one change I would like to make to the United Reformed Church.

29 09 2006

According to the recent church census carried out by Dr Peter Brierley the United Reformed Church is losing church members at a higher rate than any other denomination in the United Kingdom. The Overall rate of decline is at 15% whilst the Catholic Church declines at 14% and evangelical churches decline at just 9%. The good news is that this is an improvement on the last figures which revealed that 65% of churches are in decline and only 21% of churches were growing now only 50% of churches are in decline and around 36% of churches are growing. However, I take the Rev Dr David Peel’s point that using such reasoning in 1880 regarding the rise of horse drawn transport would have suggested that by 1920 London would have been buried in under a foot of horse manure![1]

It is nevertheless a serious issue but it is not the be-all-and-end-all we may still remain confident in God who has sustained his church for the past two thousand years. It also cannot be denied that Christianity worldwide is growing phenomenally. However, these facts should give us cause for some serious reflection on our life and witness:

I am concerned that we have in the words of Richard Church, ‘no theology of conversion’. This is not a plea for an evangelical interpretation of conversion. It is an observation that we find it difficult to articulate the change that occurs in a person when they accept the Father’s forgiveness, commit to following to Jesus Christ, and surrender to the power of the Holy Spirit. The gospel is not primarily about life after death it is about beginning life again today. Indeed, I believe Christian Aid got it right (in more ways than one) when they said ‘we believe in life before death’.

The URC is good at working for social action and justice but it is weak at the task of evangelism, sharing the gospel of God’s love and salvation with those yet to believe. In Christendom culture the church could assume basic knowledge of the Bible and Christian beliefs, in our post-Christendom world we can assume no such basic understanding. I do not believe that we should ignore social initiatives or direct money away from these projects into evangelistic events rather we should invest in church ventures that combine these aspects of Christian faith.

The task of evangelism must no longer be seen as the responsibility of a few within the church the ‘ecclesiola in ecclesia’ (church within a church). Evangelism must be seen as the responsibility of the whole community to make evident the reason for the hope that they have in Christ (1 Peter 3:15). This is not simply an intellectual discipline but a practical, emotional, and communal practice.

It is clear that Christian faith concerns the whole person not the autonomous individual but a person with relationships, friends and family. We must be aware that to confess faith in Jesus Christ can sometimes mean a person disassociating from existing communities and sub-cultures or being shunned by their existing network of friends. It is imperative therefore that the Christian fellowship be prepared to take responsibility for such radical change in lifestyle.[2]

In our settled so-called ‘Christendom’ we had little need for apostolic, prophetic, or evangelistic offices in the church. This is reflected in our ministerial appointments; often ministers are people called to pastoral and teaching ministries (a model we find in the pastoral epistles) rather than apostolic, prophetic or evangelistic ministries (found in the earlier epistles such as Ephesians). We need to appoint more apostles, prophets, or evangelists to restore, mentor, and encourage these ministries within our local churches.

[1] Peel D, Encountering Church (London: United Reformed Church, 2006), p.8
[2] Kallenberg BJ, Live to Tell; Evangelism for a Postmodern Age (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2002), p.32

(here’s something I wrote today- let me know what you think- its not polished it is very URC but I think the insights can be applied elsewhere)