Talking ’bout a reformation

Talking ’bout a reformation

One of the things that I have enjoyed about doing the Arrow Leadership program are the number of ideas that bubble around in the back of my head in the weeks and months following one of the week long residential conferences.

Last week Senior Pastor from Barrabool Hills Baptist church, Graham Clarke, made the assertion, that we are on the edge of a second reformation.

This kind of talk is not new. In the late nineties a German church-growth researcher, Christian Schwarz, put forward the idea that we are in the era of a third reformation. He asserted that the first reformation took place in the 16th century when Martin Luther fought for the rediscovery of salvation by faith, the centrality of grace and of Scripture. He said the second reformation was around the 18th century when personal intimacy with God was rediscovered. In his view the third reformation is a reformation of structure, or how we actually do church.

I believe Schwarz got it wrong.

Many different books have been published about how to “do church” in a bigger, healthier or more missional way, and many models from successful churches have been studied and copied. So far this conversation has been largely focused on the shape and form of the local congregation. I would like to humbly suggest that in focusing on the form and structure of church we have been asking the wrong questions.

If the first reformation was the rediscovery of the priesthood of all believers, and the second was the rediscovery of intimacy with God and that each of us can have gifts of the spirit, I believe the third reformation is about the rediscovery that each one of us has a ministry.

For many years we in the church have been seeing mission primarily as about conversion to the Christian faith and getting them into the Sunday service. This was a natural result of the dominant modernist paradigm of the 20th century.

As we find ourselves in a post modern world, I want to suggest that this vision of mission is too small and holds the majority of people back from discovering their true vocation. Rather than simply converting people to Christianity, our Mission is the extension of the  Kingdom of God, a task that is much broader and more complex, and calls for the full engagement of all of Jesus’s followers.

When Jesus commanded us to “Seek first the Kingdom of God”, he was setting a radical new agenda. Theologian Stanly Grenz wrote that the Kingdom of God “consists in doing the will of God (Matt 6:10; 7:21-23), and it demands a radical decision (13:44-46).” As Grenz emphasises, the Kingdom of God is not about intellectual assent or attendance at a Sunday service, it requires the radical life decision to actually pursue the agenda of Jesus Christ with your whole life.

At the heart of the Christian faith is an understanding that this world was created by God, and was good, but something happened. We too were created by God, but in a special way the human spirit was created in His image.  The tear of self interest, of sin, entered the story and  cut at the heart of a world that was once right but is now right no longer.

We are now, each one of us, in the business of repairing the tear. We see this call to redemptive mission as Jesus appears before his disciples in the upper room in John 20:21 and says “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”

We are called to go to the world in the same way Jesus went to the world. Jesus actually uses the language of us taking up our cross five times in the gospels: Twice in Matthew, once in Mark and twice in Luke.

N.T. Wright says that

“The Christian vocation is to be in prayer, in the spirit, at the place where the world is in pain, and as we embrace that vocation, we discover it to be the way of following Christ, shaped according to his messianic vocation to the cross, with arms outstretched, holding on simultaneously to the pain of the world and the love of God.”

Whether you are an artist, a business person, parent, a factory worker or a scientist, our vocation is to be involved in the great project of redemption at the point of pain that God has you.

Wright points out,

“The gospel of Jesus points us and indeed urges us to be at the leading edge of the whole culture, articulating in story and music and art and philosophy and education and poetry and politics and theology and even, heaven help us, biblical studies, a worldview that will mount a historically rooted Christian challenge to both modernity and postmodernity, leading the way into the post-postmodern world with joy and humor and gentleness and good judgement and true wisdom. I believe we face the question: If not now, then when? And if we are grasped by this vision, we may also hear the question: If not us, then who?”

A Kingdom focus calls us out of our churches and into the world. We are called to bring our faith back into the messy, dirty, confusing, tragic, hopeless, lost, scary places.

John Stott wrote

“The followers of Jesus are to be different. Different from both the nominal church and the secular world, different from both the religious and the irreligious. The Sermon on the Mount is the most complete delineation anywhere in the New Testament of the Christian value-system, ethical standard, religious devotion, attitude to money, ambition, life-style and network of relationships –  all of which are the total opposite of the non-Christian world. The Sermon presents life in the kingdom of God, a fully human life indeed but lived out under the divine rule.”

Archbishop of San Salvador and martyr, Oscar Romero said

“I’m going to speak to you simply as a pastor, as one who, together with his people, has been learning the beautiful but harsh truth that the Christian faith does not cut us off from the world but immerses us in it; the church is not a fortress set apart from the city. The church follows Jesus, who lived, worked, struggled, and died in the midst of a city, in the polis.”

Our faith does not separate us from the world but places us at the very heart of the deepest pain. It is in this context that we find the purpose of our lives.

Wright says

“You are called prayerfully to discern where in your discipline the human project is showing signs of exile and humbly and boldly, act symbolically in ways that declare the powers have been defeated, the Kingdom has come in Jesus the Jewish Messiah, the new way of being human has been unveiled; and to be prepared to tell the story that explains what these symbols are all about.”

It is this understanding of the Christian Vocation that has been missing from our ecclesiology. We have been so busy wrestling with how to do church that we forgot that our job was to bring the redemption of Jesus Christ and his Kingdom to a hurting world.

The problem with an ecclesiology that makes the Sunday service the “main game” is that there is simply not enough roles for everyone to be productively engaged in. There are only so many people you need to run a worship service, or even a bible study.
We need the local church, but it’s job is to strengthen us for the real work: bringing the agenda of  the Kingdom of God to a world desperately looking for hope.

Ephesians 4:11 makes it clear that some people are called to a particular kind of ministry to enable the life of this congregation.

The Apostle was to live on the frontiers, bringing the Kingdom to new places in new and unexpected ways. In their wake they left fledgling groups of Christians who were bringing the Kingdom of God into their particular context.

The Prophet was to speak God’s word into this moment, not only to the church but also to the world. It was their job to highlight the places of darkness where the Kingdom of God was still to permeate.

The Evangelist had the joyful task of inviting people into God’s Kingdom by introducing them to Jesus.

The Pastor/Teachers were to carry the weight of responsibility for those in their care. They were to walk alongside their flock, loving them, helping them discover their vocation and equipping them to fulfill it.

In most English translations of the Bible, it appears that the gifts of Pastor and Teacher are separate, but in the original language it is clear that they are related, which makes sense. A pastor who can’t teach produces dependency and a teacher who doesn’t care produces alienation.

These gifts are still sorely needed in the church today, however our paradigm of church has reduced their effectiveness and missed the whole point of what Paul was trying to communicate.

Paul says the purpose of the gifts was “to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.“

The purpose of the Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist and Pastor/Teacher was to release the body of Christ into the world as mature disciples of Jesus. In this picture of church, each and every one of us has a ministry and our brothers and sisters in the body of Christ are to encourage us to fulfill it.

I believe that it is the deep and real discovery of this truth which will bring about the third (or second depending on your view of church history) reformation.

2 thoughts on “Talking ’bout a reformation

  1. Meanwhile there are now more Christians in the world than ever before, both in total numbers and as a percentage of the human population.

    There are more Bibles, more Christian literature of all kinds including tracts and comic books, more Christian churches, more Chiristian schools and universities, more christian radio and TV stations, more christian dVD’s and CD’s, more Christian blogs and website, more Christian missionaries etc etc

    And yet the world is becoming more and more insane everyday. And indeed some of the most powerful leading edge vectors of this now universal insanity are right-wing or so called ‘conservative” Christians. Look at the so called religion promoted by all of the candidates for the Republican Presidential nomination.

    1. I’m interested in your stats re percentages… Any source reference? It would be useful data to have.

      I think I agree with most of what you are saying.

I'd love to hear what you think...

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