Christ and the World

This is stunning…..

Subversive Preaching in a Postmodern World – A Targum based on Colossians 1:15-20 by Brian J Walsh

In an image-saturated world,

a world of ubiquitous corporate logos

permeating your consciousness,

a world of dehydrated and captive imaginations

in which we are too numbed, satiated and co-opted,

to be able to dream of life otherwise.

A world in which the empire of global economic affluence

has achieved the monopoloy of our imaginations;

in this world,

Christ is the image of the invisible God.

In this world,

driven by images with a vengeance,

Christ is the image par excellence;

the image above all other images,

the image that is not a facade,

the image that is not trying to sell you anything,

the image that refuses to co-opt you.

Continue reading “Christ and the World”

Preachers as Watchmen of the Night

For all the negative diatribe spoken about preaching in our day, we must realise that it isn’t new, nor are preachers to lose heart.

Preachers mustn’t pander to so-called “short attention spans” of our high definition, graphics saturated age. Preachers are not to make the message more palatable by joke telling, or attempting to give a biblical text the wiff of relevancy by surrounding it on all sides about the wondrous examples you are experiencing that make your point so perfectly!

Night-Watchman

Not a bit of it.  Preachers are the messengers.  Messengers of God.  Angels.  Prophets.  Watchmen (or women – I don’t buy Complimentarianism).  Jeremiah was commanded to “Tell them what I tell you to tell them…”  Likewise Ezekiel, literally, “Open your mouth and eat what I give you…”  And so Moses, the prophets, John the Baptist, Peter, Paul and others.

They were messengers of the One who himself is the Message, the Word.  Jesus doesn’t bring the message, because He is the Message, in a way that everyone else isn’t:  We preach Christ and Him crucified.  We preach the whole counsel of God.  The whole Bible for the whole person in the whole world the whole time!

We do not select, pick and choose, cut and paste, add to or ignore.  We don’t embellish with cute stories, nice pictures, snazzy powerpoint (God deliver us from this banality)!  We preach with utmost courage because all of it is God’s Word and all the world is God’s.

Preachers are thus Watchmen.  A watchman does not fall asleep when everyone else is asleep.  A watchman stays awake, alert to danger, alert to mischief.  Alert to everything that may or may not be going on.  And when danger comes, and it will for the devil does indeed prowl around like a roaring lion – looking for people to devour – it is the duty of the watchman to raise the alarm, to fend off the danger, to proclaim a Redeemer who has conquered the lion.

The watchman must eat the book, even when people do not even think the watchman is necessary.  Even if they think they can do it without the watchman, lulled into a false sense of security, they do not eat the book, the nibble the edges, the palatable bits, the familiar bits, ignoring the wideness and vastness of God’s Word, whilst consuming the familiar, embellished as it is with the odd joke and tired story.

The Bible has enough material of its own for us to use, without our trivial attempts to make it palatable.  It is already relevant; it is already palatable.  We need to eat it and simply be faithful proclaimers among God’s people, faithfully declaring the Word of the Lord in all its beauty and glory and majesty, in all praise and inexpressible joy, with tears and hearts open to a God who heals and saves.

So, watchmen, stay awake.  Stay alert.  Be faithful.  Preach the whole word.  It is literally a matter of life and death.

What We Need

“It is not a new theology we need so much as a renovated theology, in which orthodoxy is deepened against itself, and not pared away.

It is a new touch with our mind and, conscience on the moral nerve of the old faith.  We have had many new theologies in the last hundred years.  Theological enterprise has been turning them out freely.  But the vein of liberalism, which thus followed on the old Orthodoxy, has been worked out for the preacher’s purpose.

It is now exhausted of religious ore.  The spring has given out (to change the image), and the stream runs thin, and whispers softly among little pebbles, though once it roared among great boulders now left behind in the hills.

It is not sermons we need, but a Gospel, which sermons are killing.

forsyth-preaching-redeemed

We need to go behind and beneath all our common thought and talk.  What we require is not a race of more powerful preachers, but that which makes their capital – a new Gospel which is yet the old, the old moralised, and replaced in the conscience, and in the public conscience, from which it has been removed.

We need that the Gospel we offer be moralised at the centre from the Cross, and not rationalised at the surface by thin science.

We need that more people should be asking, “What must I do to be saved?” rather than “What should I rationally believe?”

We need power more than truth.

We need a new sense of the living God as the God whose eternal Redemption is as relevant and needful to this age’s conscience as to the first.

It is not a ministry we need, but a Gospel, which makes both ministry and Church.  The Church will not furnish the ministers the age requires unless it provides them with a Gospel which they will never get from the age, but only from the Bible for the age.

But it is from a Bible searched by regenerates for a Gospel, and not exploited for sermons by preachers anxious to succeed with the public.  It may be best to preach to the sinners and to the saints and never mind at present the public, who feel neither.

If we do that well the public will respect us.  If we think of the world, let us think chiefly of the world as the arena of an eternal Redemption, and not of a professional success, or of a social revolution.”

P. T. Forsyth, The Church and the Sacramentsp.20-21 (Lectures delivered in 1917)

Flower

Re-animating the Scandal of the Cross

This July day-conference looks very tasty indeed!

With thanks to Robin Parry over at Theological Scribbles for flagging this up.

The flyer for this one day event can be seen here.

It is a day conference on Saturday 19th July 2014 9.30am-4.30pm, hosted by Ian Stackhouse, minister at Millmead Baptist Church, Guildford in Surrey.  Ian is the one who alerted my attention towards P. T. Forsyth, a pastor-theologian  who has featured somewhat on this blog, and I think Robin is absolutely right to call Ian a “modern-day pastor-theologian after the fashion of P. T. Forsyth.”

The conference has come about as the result of a co-authored publication (Ian Stackhouse and Oliver Crisp):

Text Message: The Centrality of Scripture in Preaching Text Message

The main speaker for the event is Dave Hansen, friend of Ian and author of ‘The Art of Pastoring‘ a very helpful book to anyone in pastoral ministry and one I 95% enjoyed (maybe I could corner Mr Hansen and discuss my “5% quibble” with him)!

In any case, here’s the blurb on the flyer:

“Squarely in the middle of the Good News stands the cross, a life-giving, polemical, theological symbol, necessary to truly Christian preaching. However, we live in a day in which the cross has become, for many inside and outside of the church, an inert, commonplace token. To preach it effectively today, we need to re-animate the scandal that it was in New Testament times. In so doing, we release its power to offend, save, renew, and realign our lives with the call of Christ.”

 

 

Killing the Pulpit

preaching-the-good-snoozePeter Taylor Forsyth refers to the Sacrament of the Word as the distinctly Protestant Sacrament that invests the pulpit with dignity.

In an 1885 sermon, he bemoaned the tendency of his age to depreciate the power of the spoken word.

He cites fellow preachers who bemoan their Sunday Sacramental duty, contemptuously attending to Sundays when they would rather be about their so-called “practical” work during the week!

And then he says this……

“And we are constantly pressed with the demand for short sermons.  I believe myself that short sermons are mostly themselves too long.  The man whose preaching is simply tolerated has no right to preach as long as ten minutes.  The man whose preaching is welcomed has no right to be as short as twenty.

We listen gladly to political speeches of an hour [and in our day we could add TV and cinema], and the reason is that we have an interest, amounting to a passion for the subject.  Let us have enough knowledge of the subject of religion [Christianity] as to choose only competent men for ministers, and let it be so real and passionate to us that we take pleasure in what our prophet or expositor has to say for an hour if he likes.

I don’t hint that all sermons should be an hour long.  But I do think short sermons are killing the pulpit and sending the people to the altar or platform.”

P.T.Forsyth, 1885 sermon entitled ‘The Pulpit and the Age’ in Jason Goroncy’s collection of Forsyth sermons entitled ‘Descending on Humanity and Intervening in History’ pg.134

The reason this caught my attention was the reference to the limited attention spans of (1885) Christians who hear preaching regularly.  Current educational methods espouse a whole range of styles that are designed to engage the weary listener and to keep them engaged [we genuinely do live in a short attention-span age and I think it is because of the celebrated fact of our information-saturation age].  Preaching has had a bad rap because it is now common parlance that preaching is nothing more than a monologue by a moron to mutes.  When preaching is the merely lame passing on of information, of facts, of “truths”, then we will reap a harvest of chaff and weed.

Bad preaching by a bad preacher to spiritual infants may make that crass statement true, but genuine biblical preaching, with a man or woman filled with the Spirit of God, after seriously engaging study and prayer, wrestling with the Word of the text for the people of God, a people who should come willing and expectant, is going to be alive with prophetic power enough to raise the dead.  Preaching is not about mere information, but confrontation and transformation; not information but wisdom.  Not good ideas for nice people, but God’s salvation plan for redeemed rebels.  Preaching is the sword that pierces our hearts too!

There is no place for boring sermons by boring preachers to bored people.  But there will always be a place for sermons preached by men and women called and equipped by God to preach the Word of God in a manner that is at once insightful, challenging, piercing and winsome, that the Church may be built up into the glorious likeness of Christ.

 

To Ministers & Preachers (pt3)

On October 20th 1909, P. T. Forsyth delivered an ordination address based on John 17:6,

“I manifested thy name unto the men whom Thou gavest Me out of the world: Thine they were, and Thou gavest them to Me.“

The sermon is very short and broken down into three parts, The Property, The Gift, The Use.

We conclude with part three….

forsyth1

“I Have Manifested Thy Name to Them.”

What a charge – to be the living man on whom men depend for the living God!  The people say to you as Minister, what Philip said to Jesus, “Show us the Father” (John 14:8).

“I have manifested Thy name.”  That means nature, and nature means presence and action – not truths about God but God Himself in action.  It is not the Fatherhood of God you have to preach but God the Father.  You do not have to preach about God to people, you must preach God into people.  So true preaching is not telling people, but acting on people, making people.

No amount of telling will ever convince people of the Father; it has to be lived into them.  Therefore yours must be a personal ministry.  When the personal God revealed Himself, it was in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ; and when Christ is preached it is by men, by a soul.  You cannot reveal the Holy One by talking about holiness.  “That is true,” says someone, “You can only reveal the Holy One by being holy.”  But he knows little of himself who can say that.  If we cannot preach the Holy God except by being holy, who can preach him?

The holiness that fits you to preach about the Holy is not your personal sanctity and conduct, but your evident communion with the Holy Christ.  It is a life faith you want more than a life conduct.

Why!  Paul addressed such Churches as his by the name of Saints!  Churches in which the grossest sins were evident.  They were not saints by conduct but by faith.

Your goodness is not equal to your task as a minister but your faith must be.  You must realise that “My grace is sufficient for you” (2 Cor 12:9).  So it is!  Not even your faith is sufficient, but only His grace, for you have to reveal Christ as Christ revealed, in this sense, that in both cases it is the soul that tells.  But there is this difference:  He revealed God to us by the resources of His own soul, while you cannot do it from the resources of your soul but only from His.  Nobody was for Him what He is for you with God.

The greatest thing you can give any man is your God and your Saviour.  The reason why some ministers are valuable for other things than preaching, even valuable in spite of their preaching, is that they preach about God, and about Christ; they do not preach Christ.  They are only messengers, not Sacraments.

A favourite type of preaching today is to analyse your soul; it is subjective, psychological preaching.  It is weak, it is exhausting, it is dangerous.  Analyse the Gospel in reference to the soul.  You are a minister of the Word, not of the soul.

And that Word will be selective.  There is real truth in the doctrine of election.  You will not appeal to all alike.  To try to do so is to make your Gospel colourless.  There will be some whom you will not touch.  On the other hand, there may be some given to you whom others have never touched.

If your Church were smaller, it might be more powerful.  If you could shed off people as Christ did, you might be stronger, like Gideon’s host.  Christ alone has the promise and reversion of all men, and He only at the last.  At first, all forsook him and fled.

You have but a corner of the vineyard, and cannot appeal to all men.  Humility then is better equipment than ambition, even the ambition of doing much good.  And remember as a last word:  in the Christian ministry, all self-seeking is fatal.

 

*** With gratitude to Jason Goroncy in his excellent book containing published and unpublished sermons by Forsyth, the one I am posting (in three parts, part one here, part two here) is previously unpublished (p.352-355), and I whole-heartedly commend the book, as I have already done in a previous post, not least for an outstanding introduction (worth the book money alone)!

To Ministers & Preachers (pt2)

On October 20th 1909, P. T. Forsyth delivered an ordination address based on John 17:6,

“I manifested thy name unto the men whom Thou gavest Me out of the world: Thine they were, and Thou gavest them to Me.“

The sermon is very short and broken down into three parts, The Property, The Gift, The Use.

We continue with part two….

 

blueforsyth-5

 

“Thou Gavest Them to Me.”

Your ordination is an act and gift of God.  He is putting His people into your hands.  He does not so much give you a position as a trust.  He puts His Church in your care.

But it is also true that He entrusts this Church with you.  If they treat you ill, it will affect your whole life, and just the same if they treat you well.  A Minister is very much what his first Church makes him.  But let them remember this, that to treat you well they must treat your Gospel better than you.

Therefore it is not popularity you must think about first.  Do not crave morbidly for your people’s love.  Craving does not bring it, and often arrests it.  Do not beg for sympathy.

Think of your Church from the other point of view, as a trust from God to whom you must be faithful in it.  This flock is committed to you by God.  You do not simply take each other but, as in true marriage, God has given you to each other.  This is really a marriage ceremony.  You are being married to the Church.

This will comfort you when you are doubting if you should be at this work.  Say to yourself, “Thou hast given them to me, the responsibility is Thine.”  Da quod jubes et jube quod vis (“Give what you command, and command what you give,” St Augustine, Confessions 10.29.40).  I am not worthy.  Yes that is true, but what is that to thee, follow thou Me!

Of course you are not worthy to preach the Gospel; none of us is worthy.  But then your people are not worthy to hear it.  If it depended on worth, there would be neither preachers nor listeners.  The worth is where the power is, in Christ and God, who does not give us according to our deserts.

Lest you be overwhelmed with the greatness of your task, remember no Church is given to any man without the Saviour of the Church and of Him.  After all, it is Christ’s Church more than yours.  He is the real Pastor of every real Church, and the Bishop of its Minister.  You are but His curate.

[Next] the use of gift.

 

With gratitude to Jason Goroncy in his excellent book containing published and unpublished sermons by Forsyth, the one I am posting (in three parts, part one here) is previously unpublished (p.352-355), and I whole-heartedly commend the book, as I have already done in a previous post, not least for an outstanding introduction (worth the book money alone)!

To Ministers & Preachers (pt1)

On October 20th 1909, P. T. Forsyth delivered an ordination address based on John 17:6,

I manifested thy name unto the men whom Thou gavest Me out of the world: Thine they were, and Thou gavest them to Me.

The sermon is very short and broken down into three parts, The Property, The Gift, The Use.

jason-goroncy-2013Below is part one (The Property), and over Easter I will blog the other two parts.  With gratitude to Jason Goroncy in his excellent book containing published and unpublished sermons by Forsyth, the one I am posting is a previously unpublished one (p.352-355), and I whole-heartedly commend the book, as I have already done in a previous post, not least for an outstanding introduction (worth the book money alone)!

 

forsyth on wallEnough of Gralefrit!  Here’s Forsyth….

‘Thine They Were.’

These are God’s people.  Christ’s people, not yours.  You say they are “my people!”  Yes, but only because they are the people of God.

To begin with, they cost Him more than they will ever cost you.  If ever they are trying, and if ever they tax your patience, remember that.  And if ever you feel unequal to your task, remember that they are more His than yours, because they cost Him more.  Your Church . . . . is the Church of the living God, bought by Christ’s most precious blood.

You will see then that the Church is composed of those who are His people in a very different sense than, for instance, “the earth is the Lord’s” (Ps 24:1).  The Spirit of the Lord fills and moves His creation, but what made the Church, and fills and moves it, is His Holy Spirit, something far more intimate to God than the power and order of creation, something dearer, something greater.

All men are God’s as part of His creation; they are His offspring.  But there is something greater, diviner, than humanity; it is the Church of God.  The Church of God is the finest product of humanity; it is the greatest thing in the universe.  And this is so because it was produced by God in His Son and Holy Spirit.

The Church is His own as no nation is, no society, no family.  The Church is His as His Son is His – His in His Son.  He is not as a part of creation, but as a new creation in Jesus Christ.  If in Love He created the world, in much more love did He create the Church.  It was in might and beauty He created the world; it was in Holy love He created the Church.  It is His as nothing else in the world is.  It is the Church of His Son, and His Son is more to Him than all the world.

I speak of the Church of course, as God sees it; God who sees the end from the beginning.  You also must learn to see your Church like that; not as a man sees it but as God redeemed it, and as God trusts it, and bears with it, and feeds it, and serves it, and waits for it while it grows to the mature man in Jesus Christ.

I have spoken of the property.  I now come to speak of the gift….

Application Consternation

goldencalfFor years I have been concerned with the way people approach the text of the Bible, not in order to merely read it, not in order to be immersed in its world, not to stay awhile and chew the cud, so to speak, not to observe the text and the context, but that great Golden Calf of many Bible study groups:  Application.

Maybe you’ve had a conversation along these lines:  “It’s all very well reading the text together and asking questions, but how do we apply it?  Tell us what to do?”  This is idolatrous short-hand for, “How can I systemise the text so that the Holy Spirit has no room to move or speak; how can I order my life so that there’s no mystery and disorder?  How can I remain in control?  How can you reaffirm my belief that I am the centre of all things and not Christ?  TELL ME HOW TO APPLY THE TEXT!!”  Maybe that’s one reason why Life Application Study Bibles are so popular, I’m sure people read the “applications” under the text and not the text!!  These Bibles can be helpful, but their great danger is in treating the Bible like a one-level-only game of Pac-Man, once you’ve ‘done it’, you’ve done it!  And where’s the fun in that?  Where’s the life?  Where’s the Holy Spirit?

Application, as is often understood, is a way to be in control of the text, to flatten it and to take out the colour.  I actually believe in application.  We all should, but when the clamour for application precedes exegesis and hermeneutics, when application is the code-word for control and order, when application is the buzz-word for mediocrity and sentimentality, when application is the starting point of our engagement with Scripture, preachers of this world need to stand up and be counted!

preachingI was so grateful today to finally get my copy of Darrel W. Johnson’s book The Glory of Preaching – Participating in God’s Transformation of the World.  In chapter 7, entitled Walking the Sermon into Everyday Life – Implication and Application, he begins by writing, “I want now to do what I can to lift a horrible burden off preachers.  It is the burden of “applying the text” to the everyday life of the listeners.  Yes, we can, and we should, try to help people understand the text’s radical implications.  But applying the text is not the preachers responsibility” (p.158).

Even though this sounds contradictory, even to much teaching on homiletics, it isn’t.  He suggests application is simply too mechanistic, too modernistic, too humanistic (i.e. anthropocentric).  He says the pressure to apply is a modernist pressure not a biblical pressure.  Quoting William Willimon, he suggests that the “subtext” of so much of this must-apply preaching is, “You are gods unto yourselves.  Through this insight, this set of principles, this well applied idea, you can save yourselves by yourselves.”  Rather than application then, he argues for the implication of the text.  Implication is more relational, more empowering.

I think this is a very healthy distinction.  It isn’t pedantic semantics.  When we apply, we make something happen, we do it, we’re in charge.  But under the Living Word of God, by the Holy Spirit who speaks through the text, we imply the text.  To imply the text requires greater biblical literacy, it guards against entrenched views, it keeps the Word living and active.  Implication requires trust.  Application when used badly, requires no trust, just the satisfaction that now that verse has been applied, you can move on to other things.

God’s Word doesn’t just inform.  God’s Word performs.  From the preacher, through the text, to the listeners, in all manner of ways.

A Growing Church

growth1 Cor 3:1-15; Col 2:19 and John 15:8,16

I distinctly remember it was Jesus who said, “I will build My church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it!” (Matthew 16:18).

Even so, we live in a global business age of organisation, efficiency and profit, and there are thousands of books on growth.  If you are more organised, more efficient and more profitable, you will grow….but only if you stick to our new-fangled formula!

The Western church has been swallowing this bitter idolatrous pill for decades.  We’ve put down our Bibles, and picked up secular ideas and initiatives – why?  church numbers are declining, people are leaving the church, pews and seats are becoming empty, coffers are down, bills are up, and then someone said, “Hang on a minute, if we just branded ourselves like Nike, or glamorised ourselves like L’Oreal, or popularised ourselves like celebrities, we too can achieve what they achieve!  And should the gates of hell get too close, we’ll just sloganeer them out of town with a TV ad campaign!

What does it mean to be a growing church in this context?  In fact, what does it mean to be a growing church and be faithful?  Can the Church ever be faithful and successful?  Can we do sexy marketing, or shall we just stick with cheesy slogans to do with babies and mangers, bunnies and daffodils?  easter bunnyHow can we claim to proclaim something better, something the world needs, something unknown and un-buyable?  Can the church compete with a world that clamours for everything but Christ and him crucified?

Can we ever be faithful and successful?  What does it mean to be a Growing Church?

I’ve had experience in small and largish churches in my twenty three years as a follower of Jesus.  At various times I’ve loved the many and at others I’ve loved the few.  I suspect we would all love to see our own churches grow.  But I bet most of us have some particular and peculiar idea of what we expect when we think about a “growing church.”

And almost all of us have been shaped by growth as defined apart from the Gospel.

During the post-war decades, the church did not refuse the idolatrous impostor of superficial techniques for church growth.  The Evangelical mission mistook discipleship for cloning!  We made precious converts to Christ in our image, not His!

It was especially the decades of the 60’s-90’s that witnessed the meteoric rise of growth techniques apart from covenantal faithfulness to Christ.  Even before the ancient Israelites entered the Promised Land, God reminded them that any “success” they would have would be because of His grace and gift.  They had to remain utterly dependent upon God – not the result of their own efforts, expertise, skill or technique.  It was God.  Later, Jesus would say “Apart from Me, you can do nothing.”

Jesus understands the depravity and severity of our sinful nature.  We distort everything through our distorted desires. Love distorted for lust. Faith distorted for safety. Ministry distorted for egotistical self-promotion.  Marital sex distorted for a sickening free-for-all pornography culture.  A potty culture for a potty-mouthed people. That’s sin.

And even when the saving grace of God breaks in through the Gospel proclamation of Jesus Christ, we still get pulled and pushed by our old desires, but now we apply that to the Gospel and to church.  Unaware of what we are really doing, we get tempted to pursue non-gospel goals using unbiblical motives.

We cry out “Where are you God?” when we suffer because we haven’t understood that Jesus is with us and in us and around us in our suffering.  And the One who is near is thought to be far; the One who is present is thought to be absent.  So we conclude: “God must be far; God must be absent.  This Christian thing doesn’t work too well, so now I too will take myself far from “the church”; I too will absent myself from Christ.  I will find other gods.”

We become forgetful of such earth-shattering verses as, “My grace is sufficient for you, my grace is perfected in your weakness” (2 Cor 12:9).  quote-at-bottom-god-is-nothing-more-than-an-exalted-father-sigmund-freud-230062There is only one god that failed here, and it is often the one we imagined (we are so Freudian), because our imaginations had not seen the glory of the Living God revealed in Scripture and in Jesus Christ.

So how we view God must not based on our expectations (ha! as if we know!!), but on God’s revelation in the Scriptures.  In several surveys conducted before 1993 on preaching within contemporary evangelical churches (documented by David Wells in No Place for Truth or Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology, p.223), less than half were shown to be explicitly biblical and only 19% were grounded in or related in any way to the nature, character and purposes of God.  Less that half were biblically deficient!  This is a scandal that should outrage us (holy outrage of course – but let’s be outraged in moderation, less than 50% should do it)!!

One of my favourite NT scholars is Professor Anthony Thiselton, he similarly comments on this in his brilliant study of the Apostle Paul when he says, “Much preaching today consists of anecdotes about human life, Paul’s preaching was mainly about God, Christ and the Holy Spirit.   Perhaps this is why we miss some of the sheer excitement of the Gospel.”  He’s right!  Ever heard the derogatory remark, “He’s so heavenly minded he’s of no earthly use!”?  What manure!  We need more heavenly minded people!  Even our own cultural proverbs stand in opposition to the Gospel (see Colossians 3:1-4).

And all these observations and trends influence how we got where we are and why we are here and in large measure, what to do about it.  Fellow Baptist minister Ian Stackhouse of Guildford Baptist Church, in his Gospel-Driven Church (p.108), says that much in church life, especially preaching, is based in ignorance of the Gospel and thus simply consists of communicating vision and motivation – both of which are driven  by a concern for success.”  Ian’s friend and fellow pastor Dave Hansen told him, “The church is there for Gospel proclamation.  thinsoupPreaching my ideas and visions for the church is cheap leadership and is not preaching – it is thin soup!”  Wowzers!

The Gospel is the vision and the idea is the Gospel.  When the post-war church in large chunks, not everywhere of course, but when the church bought into the values of secular gimmickry and the thin soup of its mission and purpose, the damage was done.

A growing church, or a fruitful church (both are biblical), is an organic community, like a farmer, not a business man; like a shepherd, not a politician.  It is organic not mechanical (think industrial revolution); it is Spirit-led not organisational (think big-business).seed emerging

Holding on to the Gospel, in gift and grace, is very, very hard.  It requires self-awareness of the Old Adam; it requires faith and trust in the New Adam Jesus Christ;   It requires the eyes of faith to see what God is doing; and it requires the boldest of people to join in with Him; to get out the boat; to look up; to obey Jesus.

When we secularise the sacred or forsake faithfulness; when we grab but don’t give; when we preach ourselves not Christ, then we have abandoned being the church.  This is what Eugene Peterson calls ‘whoring after other gods’ and I’m sure he got that from the many passages on idolatry in the Bible!

As usual, he goes even further, “The biblical fact is that there are no successful churches.  There are instead, communities of sinners, gathered before God, week after week, in towns and villages around the world.  The HS gathers them and does his work in them.  In these communities of sinners, one of the sinners is called the paster (ahem!), and given a designated responsibility in the community.  The pastors responsibility is to keep the community attentive to God.  It is this responsibility that is being abandoned in spades” (Working the Angles, p.2).

Apart from Me you can do nothing.  One plants, another waters, God gives growth!

The church that looks for quick results in the seed-planting of well-doing will be disappointed.  If we want potatoes for dinner tomorrow, we don’t plant the seeds today!  There are long stretches of darkness and invisibility and silence that separate planting and harvest.  During the stretches of waiting there is cultivating and weeding and nurturing and the planting of still more seeds.

“My ways are not your ways, declares the Lord!”  The Western Church doesn’t need new ways and good ideas, it needs the Old Ways and God’s revealed idea.  The Ways of the Lord.  The Way of Jesus.  “I am the Way” Jesus said, it is narrow I know, but it is my Way.  It is marked with suffering and persecution, I know, but it is my Way.  It will lead to the Cross.  Your Old Adam must die, but the New Adam will rise in You.  Adam will die.  Christ will rise.  You will live.  Knowing this Way, the ways of the Lord in life, death and resurrection, is the business of the Church.

milewideI am much less interested in church as numerical growth, but in spiritual depth.  Growth of just one person in Christ.  That’s success.  That’s fruit.  That’s Gospel grace and gift.  My experience of mission work in several African countries confirmed what many have said about the African Church that it is a mile wide and an inch deep.  Although that’s by-and-large true, I think it very unfair to limit this observation to Africa.   Consider the impact of a church that is an inch wide and a mile deep!

Baptist theologian Paul Fiddes, Principal of Regent’s Park College in Oxford University reminds us that the Christian community is not the wish fulfillment dream of any individual who envisions a community according to his own ideals.  The sooner we are disillusioned by the unhappy and ugly aspects of any community the better.  Why?  because by sheer grace God will not permit us to live even for a brief period in a dream world.   Why?  because living in illusions (a product of our distorted desire), makes us into accusers of others when they seem to fall short of our own imagined aims.  The church is not a human ideal that we must realise, but is a gift of God (Fiddes, Under the Rule of Christ, p. 11-12).

A bunch of sinners, gathered in gift and grace under the proclamation of the Gospel, learning together what it means to be “on the Way of Jesus”.  Stumbling, but being helped back up.  Turning round only to discover Jesus really is the Way, the Truth and the Life.  You may want to leave too!  But where shall you go?  Only Jesus has the words of eternal life – you know that already!

Being fed up with people, only to realise that these people are saved, sanctified and deeply loved by a God of miracles – big enough miracles to even save sinners like you and me.  Now that’s Gospel power!

A growing church exists in grace and gift, is shaped by the Gospel to grow everyone in Christ-likeness, as we gather week by week.  In season and out of season.  In sickness and in health, ’til death us do eternally join!  Church is the enactment of our marriage vows to God.  We are His bride.

No gimmicks.  No secularism.  No formula.  No techniques.  No cheap Gospel.

Just sinners, watered by the preaching of the Gospel, planted in good soil by God’s Word, and grown slowly and securely by God Himself.

the-sowerFaithfulness in the soil where darkness turns to light.

Faithfulness in the water, where the flood becomes the baptism of our salvation.

Faithfulness in growth by the Word, whereby we live in joy with the great mystery: Christ in you, the hope of glory.

Amen.

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