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.

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Searching for Truth

16 03 2007

In this world of competing stories, of human identity, of success and failure, of love and loss, of  meaning and meaningless – what might it mean to live according to the truths of scripture, to be faithful, to love truly, to glimpse God and understand ourselves in his light, power and glory?  

Sometimes, I am overwhelmed by the cares of this world, life and death, justice and injustice, success and failure – but then I am reminded that God’s justice is complete, that the Father sees into the hearts of men and women, that the mercy of God works in the unseen depths of the soul as much as in the actions of humanity. 

It is easy to lose your way in the midst of competing stories, judging one to be true and another false on the basis of how things seem to be on outward perception and according to worldly standards – the rich seem to be washed righteous by their money, the beautiful by their good looks, the intelligent by their understanding, and the charming by their smooth words. 

So, how does a follower of Christ discern between the outward appearance and the soul, the will and the work?  

A humble obedience, to the community of salvation, to the testimony of the Holy Spirit within and to the Word of God is necessary for discerning the truth in a world of claim and counter claim. If you want to understand the world, if you seek wisdom, then cultivate your spiritual life. For it is only when your heart beats in time with the heart of the Father, when you follow in the footsteps of the Son, and live trusting in the power of the Holy Spirit that you will understand the world in all its created glory, all its rebellion, all its anticipation of redemption.  

“When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me. And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.

John 15:26-27