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.


To the United Reformed Church

17 10 2006

I think we are at a stage nationally where we will have to close church buildings, move congregations and focus resources. I know to some that sounds callous but we are getting to the point where our current model of ministry won’t work- we simply don’t have the money or ministers and to carry on as we are will be impossible within the next ten years. It is no good to have a mentality of maintenance for decline; it is time we took the bull by the horns cut the ministers, projects, or church buildings that are a dead weight around our necks and resourced innovative new initiatives, church plants, and flagship congregations.

It is time we sought visionary leaders rather than the church management- our ministers are not called to serve churches they are called to serve God and ordination recognises this call. It is this fact that makes ministry a vocation rather than a job! It is time we learnt to release and support ministers for mission rather than insisting they do ministry- ‘the way it has always been done’. We should recognise that missiology drives ecclesiology not the other way around i.e. the church is the motor for mission not the destination of mission.

I am a believer in ecumenism, but not ecumenical partnership driven by falling numbers and closing congregations. It has to be a mission orientated ecumenism; it is my belief that this is far more about organic, grass roots projects than organisational union. The most successful ecumenical initiatives have not been formed institutionally, but they have developed through cooperation for mission. In every case, they involve people giving up the desire to insist people come to our church and start thinking about our church (Catholics, Protestants, and Pentecostals) going to them.

The west, in the twenty-first century, has to be one of the most challenging times in which to be in Christian ministry. I know it has been said before that the church is in decline and young man there is no guarantee that you will be in ministry in twenty years time etc. etc. It is my belief that this is now true unless ministers are released to mission led ministry and unless ministers have the ability to meet the demands of mission led ministry then they may not be in ministry in twenty years time. I know there will be those who accuse me of negativity, of despair, of pedalling self-fulfilling prophecies but believe me that is not my intention. I am just convinced that the church will live on and the fact that God is still calling people in the ministry of the URC is proof that the church will live on but whether it will be called the United Reformed Church or have the same structures of the URC is in doubt.

I want to finish this with a final plea to ministers and to churches please be mission minded, serve without expecting reward, love those who seem unlovely, and seek the Kingdom above all.

The Emerging Church Manifesto

7 10 2006

Well I’ve always been scared of being considered moderate so heres to saying good bye to the chances of that happening!

It is time to cut the froth, the coffee and candles, turn off the Apple Macs, and grasp the serious theological vision of thinkers such as Lesslie Newbigin and Stanley Hauerwas. We are living in an alien culture and social order, and we have given in to worshipping the false god of technological, capitalist, democratic government. It is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain the lie that to be ‘in the world’ means we must participate fully in a western democratic society, in its technological developments, in its financial structures (and the often dubious benefits of those structures), and in its politics.

In Christendom, we entered into a pact with secular society (a kin to buying horses from Egypt or yoking oneself with the unbeliever) and we are living with that legacy. It was a bit like a suzerainty treaty and the state was our suzerain, meaning the state always had the upper hand (and led us around by the nose). For a long time this compromise worked for the church, we established schools, built hospitals, we were highly thought of in society, our bishops represented us in the House of Lords and the common man was expected to attend ‘worship’. The problem is that after 1500 years, the Local Education Authority no longer feels the need for our input education, the Local Health Authority manages our hospitals, and people don’t want or have to attend church. It is clear now that our social order is governed by principles opposed to those of Jesus Christ.

It is so distressing to see that the church has lost so much influence in society and yet I am glad that the compromises we made are out in the open. I am pleased because we now have the opportunity to build a church that is more faithful to its Lord. However, we may have to start from scratch because the established ‘church’ or ‘churches’ remain fatally compromised both financially, legally, and politically. I also think that this time is going to be far more difficult than it was the last time because we have to compete against the schools and hospitals the secular state annexed and corrupted. However, we were part of the glue that held society together and without the religious sponsorship social order will continue to decline and the government will get increasingly prescriptive.

In contrast to this approach, the Christian community will not be ruled by force but by commitment to participation within a common life together. It is from this closer communion that we will establish hospitals and schools that will compete with secular institutions. In a Christian hospital, you will not be offered an abortion but alternative support and care, not that people have to accept this they are welcome to go elsewhere. In a Christian hospital, you will not be offered the right to assisted euthanasia but better palliative care to enable you to die with dignity (nor will it be necessary to prolong your life using technology when you feel it is your time to go home). In Christian schools, we will not give spiritual development apart from practical disciplines and education, instead we will teach that although science suggests that the world is evolving due to the ‘survival of the fittest’ our faith teaches us to care for the poor and the weak.

In short, we will provide hospitals that minister holistically to whole people rather than distinguishing falsely between the body and the spirit. The emerging church will provide schools that teach children about the material and spiritual world in which we live (the future church will not be deceived by dualistic notions). It will no longer be said that the ‘emperor rules in time and Christ in eternity’ because the Christ’s kingdom will be now and not yet.

One last comment, as I sit back and reflect upon this manifesto for the emerging church it occurs to me that the state will not like the church of the future, we should expect persecution but worse than persecution we should expect to meet our Constantine… we must be clear we have learnt our lesson- the only suzerain we need is our Lord Jesus Christ. So let us renew our covenant with God and never make the same mistake again.

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)

Something cutting edge from the heart of Methodism

14 09 2006

I’m having an amazing time here at Methodist Church House. I’ve just had a really great conversation with Jonathon Green of the Sanctuary, at Methodist Central Hall. I’m really impressed with his vision and ideas for building the Christian community in the centre of London. He is open to people from a vast number of traditions although he comes from an Evangelical Charismatic background originally. His diversity of experience and approach to uncompromising openness is really inspiring (may be my heart is softening to some emerging church practitioners).

I am really pleased I picked up the phone today, so often a call just depresses me or turns me off the whole fresh expressions thing (sorry Graham and co if your reading this) but this was different. I look forward to meeting up with Jonathon in October and I’ll let you know how it goes. For now, I recommend you either visit the website or drop by Jonathon’s blog to check out whats happening.

Every blessing,