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Sunday, 30 December 2012

Restoration Legacy 5

I hope all you readers of my blog had a great Christmas! I managed to, and kept on writing my dissertation in between - I am now well over the word count and will need to be doing some serious pruning! But better doing that than padding!! Taking a short break to write a few more thoughts on the legacy of the restoration movement (just a couple more posts should do it for now).

  • freedom in worship - this has got to be one of the most precious things it contributed as far as I am concerned! I know that others not directly involved in the restoration movement also contributed, but  events like the Dales Bible Weeks paved the way for many. The encouragement to be free, passionate, spontaneous and wholehearted in worship, being released to break out in dancing and shouting as well as singing, being responsive both in exuberant praise as well as the deepest, most moving worship where you felt caught up into heaven at times. It was the sense of God's presence and the openness and freedom to be led by the Spirit that was the first thing that struck me when I started attending meetings of these churches. I thank God that I have now been part of building a church that puts such value on freedom in worship and experiencing the manifest presence of God in our gatherings together. 
  • challenging religiosity - there is a universe of difference between religion and relationship with God, between religion and life in the Spirit, between religion and the gospel of grace. Others might have understood this but I learned it within this movement and it was a key feature for me. It took someone outside the movement to help me realise the welcome informality in our leadership and our meetings, in contrast to the stuffy, religious institutionalism that many endured. But it was not just that - at its best, men like Bryn Jones demonstrated a genuine but relaxed and real, down to earth spirituality; you could walk in the Spirit and enjoy friendship with God without getting all religious and stuffy or superspirtual about it. It took me a while to learn it and it is easy to slip back into religion if you're not careful but this is legacy of great value that I am intent on holding on to. 

Friday, 21 December 2012

Restoration Legacy 4

Dissertation demands has meant that I have not been able to post over the last week (nearly there - 10,000 words of first draft written!). In fewer words, a couple of other things that I think are a positive legacy (though with on-going need to review our understanding and practice concerning them) of the restoration movement:
  • apostles and prophets - some writers would say that the recovery of these ministries to the church is the single biggest legacy of the movement. Maybe. Certainly many churches are now far more likely to identify with an apostolic leader than a denomination; and where this is a relationship with an apostolic father rather than exact agreement over points of doctrine that is a good thing. And although I have argued on this blog for the recognition of various expressions and measures of the apostolic gift within the church, I am grateful to God for the few men who heard from heaven, and were faithful to proclaim a message and follow a God-given commission (at great cost at times) that changed the whole culture of the church in this country. 
  • everyone a minister - getting away from the one man show, and the local pastor doing everything, was a vitally important advance. The belief in empowering every member of the church so that we could function as a body and release people's gifting is an important aim (even though we didn't always manage it). One reservation though. Often this resulted in everyone wanting to be a leader  or to 'have a ministry' in the church. That became a problem  And one reason is that we were too focused on church - the meetings especially - and not the kingdom. I am learning to recognise that most people's giftings and callings relate to what they do in the world - and that needs to be recognised, valued and celebrated as spiritual ministry and leadership. 

Friday, 14 December 2012

Restoration Legacy 3

Two more:
  • discipleship - when breaking new ground or re-digging old wells, as the restoration movement did, you make mistakes. But you also discover treasure. And if we react to the mistakes we can miss the treasure. Discipleship - being accountable to one another and being open to have brothers and sisters confront and challenge you and 'speak into your life' - was an antidote to the independence and individualism that dogged the evangelical world and especially the pentecostal-charismatic church. I still believe that discipleship is absolutely central to community life and personal maturity, but I find now that I think of it as much less about addressing people's weaknesses and more about drawing out people's strengths. 
  • authority - this was the one people reacted against most! For me, it is still vitally important and again challenges the independence in much of the church, where 'everyone does as he sees fit.' However, as I have argued repeatedly on this blog I feel that we did not realise sufficiently the countercultural nature of authority in the different kingdom. We copied the hierarchical type of authority in the world and it inevitably at times became heavy-handed and abusive, opening the way for bullies and autocrats. Those in authority must always be able to be challenged and appealed to, and authority is given to empower and liberate others.It should rarely have to be asserted; our freely chosen submission to authority is the real issue - glad submission to spiritual leadership that we see the grace and anointing of God upon. Now that's a treasure that many people still miss.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Restoration Legacy 2

A few more suggestions as to good aspects of the legacy of the restoration movement:
  • church as community - although we may not always have made this work successfully in practice, and there were others before and since who grasped this truth more fully perhaps, a key value of what was first called the house church movement was that church is not buildings or meetings and certainly not a religious institution or organisation. Church is an organic and charismatic community. Perhaps parts of the emerging, or organic, church movement are taking this further now. 
  • commitment - following on from the above, I'd say that there was a real value about committed relationships. For community to work we had to be loyal and committed. Church was not a club that we could drift in and out of as it suited us. Of course this has great potential to be abused and was at times, but as a value and ideal I think it's a treasure we should hold on to, and at times I feel the lack of it now is a great loss. But also now I see more clearly that such commitment must be freely chosen and come from revelation, not control or manipulation. 

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Restoration Legacy 1

I said in my last post that I wanted to reflect on the legacy of the restoration movement - the treasure we got from it and that we take with us on our journey as a pilgrim church (realising God has other things to add to us still). I have been party inspired to do this as I write a dissertation on the restoration movement, but that writing also prevents me from blogging as much as I'd like! So I will try to do many brief ones rather than a few long ones. So here's a quick starter:
  • new wineskins of church - speaking for the UK, the new churches have helped change the face of at least the evangelical and charismatic wing of the church; denominations, based around doctrine and church polity, are far less important than they were. More churches are much more based around relationship to apostolic (not always using that term) leaders and their teams, even when outwardly part of a denomination. Relational and charismatic connections,  rather than denominational allegiance, are what count now. 
  • denominationalism and the pilgrim church - it didn't just contribute to a lessening of the importance of denominations but, at its best, challenged the spirit of denominationalism. By that I mean the spirit of the settler as opposed to the pilgrim. The settler builds a structure around 1-2 areas of truth, instead of moving forward on the journey recognising that 'God has yet more light to break forth from his Word'. Sadly some restorationists have also settled around their doctrine and practices but, at its best, it encouraged the pilgrim's openness to new things. 

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Freedom and the Family

Just briefly interrupting my reflection on restoration to post a quote. I was teaching this morning at my local church on 'the nature and value of freedom.' (You can listen to it here if you are interested). At the end of it I read a quite lengthy quote by Hanley Moule (an Anglican bishop from the early twentieth century). It related to the theme of freedom and the family which we have been looking at as a church. Someone found it really helpful and asked me to post it. Some of its language is perhaps a little dated but the point is clear and continually valid and, indeed, vital:

'You are placed amidst the delightful liberties and resources of your Father's home, without grudging and without doubt. But you are placed there not simply to enjoy, but to use; not only to be free, but to have the privilege of contributing to the freedom around you. 'You are free, but as a child of the Father, and as a member of the family. And such freedom would be only the harsh parody of itself if it were not a freedom, to love, to be loyal, to serve, to share. Your rights are given you as bright implements to promote the highest right. You are saved to be serviceable; you are saved to build up other lives. And not all things are serviceable. And not all things build up the lives of others. 'So live out the noble freedom of freely fulfilled mutual duty. Let no one seek his own, but everyone another.""  (H.C.G.Moule) 

Restoration - Movement and Message 2

Continuing with my thoughts on the restoration movement and message, I should perhaps make clear that I think the movement has had its day but that its essential message is still vital and powerful. The movement is now part of recent church history, but the message of kingdom now, of God's transformation of the world through his kingdom community, of anticipating the new creation in the here and now, of bringing heaven to earth etc. is still very relevant. And I am finding expressions of it in fresh ways and from unexpected sources - as diverse as biblical scholar and theologian, N.T.Wright, and pentecostal-charismatic leader, Bill Johnson. I will try to say more about this message and its vitality in future posts.

Here let me say a little more about its history. To say something is now part of history is not to devalue it. It does not mean that we just put it in the dustbin, or a museum, or a mausoleum. What is part of our history is part of the journey that we are still on, and valuing our past helps us to embrace our future. The church is essentially a pilgrim community, a family on a journey. We should keep hold of and take with us on that journey the lessons learned, the revelation granted, the good adjustments made. And then continue moving forward, being open to the next things that God wants to teach us. We should also be willing to shed the things that were just part of the cultural packaging of the recovered truths, the now old wineskins, and the man-made stuff that we mistook for God's work as well as the things that we just got plain wrong. Of course separating the packaging from the actual treasure is not always easy as there is often disagreement among fellow-travellers. And human flaws always get mixed in with the genuinely spiritual thing that God was doing, and its not always easy to separate in retrospect. But it's still worth the effort to think through what we count as the treasure we take with us on our journey as well as what we perceive to be the new lessons God is teaching us now.

I hope in the next couple of posts to suggest what I think contributes to the legacy left behind by the restoration movement, and the treasures that I think we should carry with us into the future.

Friday, 7 December 2012

Restoration - Movement and Message 1

In the last couple of posts I have mentioned restorationism and the restoration movement. I realise that some of my readers may well not understand what I mean by this (though many will). So let me try to explain.

The restoration movement (originally called the house church movement, though those house churches were later referred to as 'new churches' and most recently as apostolic networks) had its roots, I think, in the 1950s with a small group of men, like Arthur Wallis, from a Brethren background who came under the influence of the Pentecostals, having been baptised in the Spirit. With a strong non-denominational spirit and outlook, and some reservations about Pentecostalism, they began exploring what a New Testament model of church should look like. They also had discussions about revival, the kingdom of God and the end times (eschatology).

Some of them also interacted with the charismatic movement in the 1960s, though, contrary to how some think, this movement did not grow out of the charismatic movement (there was mutual influence between the two), but had its own distinct history. The distinction from the charismatic movement became increasingly clear as charismatics or renewalists were happy to see a renewal of the historic denominational churches and institutions; whereas restorationists wanted to see the structures of church restored to the New Testament ideal - new wineskins for the new wine of the pentecostal-charismatic experience. It has been well argued that, in large part, the house church movement grew out of a combination of Brethren ecclesiology (about the structure and function of church life) and Pentecostal experience.

This movement really began to flourish from the early 1970s onwards and another key figure, Bryn Jones  emerged. Bryn was from a much more Pentecostal background than Arthur Wallis but also committed to non-denominationalism. In key meetings called by Arthur, there was more discussion about eschatology (beliefs about the end times), the kingdom and particularly the role of Israel. From these, there emerged a far more positive view of the end-times than the largely doom and gloom, escapist eschatology that many of these men had grown up with among the Pentecostals and Brethren. They placed a greater emphasis on the teaching of kingdom here and now, of positively influencing and transforming this world, rather than escaping from it. The word restoration came not only to refer to the restoration of the church, or to God restoring lost truths to his church, but to the restoration of all things (Acts 3:21). It was about God's ultimate purpose and that involved the transformation of the world. It was this message of the kingdom that gripped me as young man in the 1980s, and I have come to believe that this movement's eschatology was and is ultimately of greater significance than its ecclesiology. I shall share more about why over the weekend, as well as indicating other things that I think are the legacy of this movement and indicate some sources for further study for those interested. If anyone wants to challenge me on my perspective/interpretation of the history please feel free. Questions also welcomed.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

A Little More on a Different Kingdom

Before going on to reflect on the restoration movement, I want to just say a little more about why I've called this blog 'Different Kingdom' (I also did a preaching series on this in our church about 18 months ago on the sermon on the mount, and called it 'A different kingdom.'). Actually this is relevant to what I've learned from restorationism.

Central to the message of restoration was the belief that God's kingdom was not just something we got into when we went to heaven, or in some future millennial age, but that the kingdom had already come, it was here and now, heaven had broken in upon earth when Jesus came. And that like a seed that grew secretly into a tree that eventually filled the world, or like yeast within dough, the influence of the kingdom was now permeating our world. This vision of a world transformed through God's good rule, of heaven coming to earth, has gripped me since I first heard it.

But now I wish that I had understood more about the nature of this kingdom earlier. It was very easy for such a positive view of God's kingdom filling the earth to become triumphalist and about wielding power and influence in exactly the same way as the world does. God's kingdom became just another 'empire' among the world's. We would 'get the victory over' Islam, communism, humanism etc. and 'take this land' for Jesus. We're on the winning side and the rest are just losers.

Over the last two years I feel I have started to come into a much deeper understanding of the counter-cultural nature of this kingdom - it is completely different from the empires of this world. And the ways of this kingdom are so totally and radically different from the ways of this world. At its heart is a cross; a slain lamb is on the throne. Because the ways of this kingdom are servanthood and sacrifice, of lives laid down, of turned cheeks, of loved enemies, of evil returned with good, of selfless love, of a life not taken but given, of the power of meekness and the strength of real humility. Really understanding this has begin to revolutionise my thinking. I still believe God's kingdom is going to fill the earth - but through a people who follow the way of its king, the way of selfless, serving, sacrificial love.

Monday, 3 December 2012

A Personal Reflection

As a result of reading and study for a dissertation I am writing to complete an MA, I have been looking at the history of the restoration movement in the UK (more on this to follow over the next few posts where I will explain for those not sure what I mean by this; and perhaps explain the subject of my dissertation). Although there is much that is a blessing from this retrospective reading and I consider the message central to this movement to have been genuinely from God, I have to confess that part of it has made for depressing reading.

Many mistakes were made; and although this does not take away from the fact that great things were also achieved  and we are all grateful to the grace of God that he uses flawed people otherwise we'd all be counted out, this must not be an excuse for failing to reflect on and learn from those mistakes, even when it is difficult to face them.

It all connected with what I have been thinking recently: most of the mistakes relate to two things. Firstly, the tendency to be too prescriptive and to mis-read the NT in a flat and fundamentalist way so that flexible patterns became rigid prescriptions, and our way of doing things becomes the only way of doing things (couple this with an unwillingness at times to learn from others and it becomes a big problem). Secondly, although I think that the issue of spiritual authority was an  important aspect of the message and recovery of truth, there was not sufficient recognition of the counter-cultural, 'different kingdom' dimension to this authority,  so that it often degenerated into a hierarchical  this-worldly understanding and exercise of authority.

That said, while I am working on the dissertation over the next few weeks, I will post (probably not as often as usual) some reflections on my experiences as part of this movement, celebrating the great things as well as being open to learn what I think were mistakes (and I will remain open to be challenged and corrected in my perspectives by readers).

The importance of unlearning

Frustratingly I did not get to blog this weekend as I would have liked. So to be going on with here is a quote from a book recommended by my friend Mark Lawrence. It is a book on leadership by Frank Barrett and it's called Yes to the Mess: Surprising Leadership Lessons from Jazz;
'Often the first step to gaining the new insight necessary for innovation is to unlearn. There is a human tendency, especially in established organizations, to rely upon well-worn routines and familiar rules. Over time, the way things are usually done becomes sacred and unquestioned. These routines are blocks to learning.'
This has been true for us on our journey. It has  not been about abandoning fundamental truths but has involved important shifts in perspective and understanding that can be challenging. But such 'unlearning' is essential if we are going to be pilgrims ready to move into new land, rather than settlers who make the safe and familiar sacred.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

So...where does this leave us?

Having discussed principles and patterns of leadership and taken a fresh look at Ephesians 4 ministries over recent weeks, where does it leave us in terms of the pattern that is emerging for us at Community Church Huddersfield where I lead the leadership team.

Well we have (or are beginning to see emerge) a combination of different types of leaders contributing to the leadership and government of the church - pastoral, strategic and operational leaders. The titles and labels we might use are not important; it is about getting the right people with the right gift into the right roles. (For some roles especially, there are other factors beside gift, e.g. respect and credibility among the people, experience, etc). We are learning the dance of leadership (see earlier posts) together and we are prepared for it to get a little messy and experimental. There is a senior leader (me at the moment) who seeks to give the lead in choreographing this dance, but largely works it out with people as we go along rather than just imposing a plan, and it's essential he understands that his role, with all the leaders, is to be releasing and empowering of others. There is leadership (and authority for the responsibility) but there is not hierarchy.

As for apostolic input: we are open to drawing from different apostolic, prophetic and other ministries across the body of Christ as the Holy Spirit connects us. But there is one apostolic ministry who we look to and have relationship with more strongly than others. He is not 'over' us as this is not a hierarchical relationship; but there is genuine relational accountability that avoids the danger of autonomy. The relationship is based on mutual respect and honour, combined with honesty and openness that can allow for frank and challenging discussion. We increasingly want to see his input and relationship being not just with the leaders but with the church, as much as is practically possible. He will bring his gift to bear in helping us realise the different gifts we need to equip us.

Above all, we are trying to focus on the fact that church is primarily a family, not an army or a company. All leadership and authority is seen in that context and so is about nurturing, empowering and the passing on of an inheritance. And genuine love and authentic relationship are to be at the heart of all leadership.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Apostles and Church Government (2)

I believe that the apostolic gift brings to the church a strong sense of the heavenly and supernatural realm, and of our kingdom mandate and mission to bring heaven to earth. It carries a strong sense of the presence and power of God. As I have indicated, I believe that it is possible for a number of people to have a measure of this gift in the church, but that there are some who are called to be apostles.

As such they not only have a sense of heaven's agenda but they have an awareness of heavenly strategy to achieve the mission. They are people of revelation and strategy - they are both stewards and administrators of the gospel (Eph.3:5,9). They are pioneers, not just in the sense of planting churches (a common misconception), but in terms of breaking open territory (geographical, cultural, situational, relational) for a culture of heaven to come in, and only in this sense are they 'first' (1 Cor.12:28) and not in terms of hierarchy or rank. In relation to the church, they are architects (1 Cor.3:10) - visionaries and strategists - and fathers (1 Cor.4:15) - drawing churches and/or ministries together, influencing the culture of church/teams and passing on an inheritance of revelation to others (I have come to see fatherhood as key to understanding the role of apostles). Together with prophets, they bring stability and strength to God's house; they are foundations (Eph.2:20)

As such they will have a charismatic authority according to their grace gifting, but it does not require them to have a governmental authority to every church they influence. Even when they do contribute to the government of a local church, it is (as a father to the family) in a relational context and with an empowering spirit, and the nature of how it is exercised changes as the church grows and local leadership becomes more established. Indeed, because all apostles have something to add to the body - all are ours (1 Cor.3:21-22) - a church may well draw upon a number of them, though I feel it is likely there will be a primary one and who that is may change at different stages of the church's journey (1 Cor.3:5-6). I am suggesting this as an outline of a possible pattern which I feel does not violate principles.

Monday, 26 November 2012

Apostles and Church Government (1)

In relation to leadership of the church, I have posted over the last few weeks about using the Bible to 1) identify essential principles and 2) as guidance for fluid and flexible patterns of leadership that we adapt to different contexts and stages of our journey, and not for 3) justifying inflexible prescriptive practices. I have also recently posted about taking a new look at Ephesians 4 (five-fold) ministries on that basis and argued against any hint of hierarchy but instead for mutual service through diversity of gift.

Bearing this in mind, I want to say something about apostles and the government of the local church. I suggested that a church needed to be characterised by all five of the gifts, and that there may well be people who have a measure of apostolic gift in the church without them being apostles or without it implying they have any governmental position.

However, I do also believe that there will be people who carry the apostolic gift to such a measure that they are apostles, and they may have an input to a number of local churches and a wider ministry. I believe that God has been restoring such a ministry (along with prophets) as a key ingredient for the building of his church; but I also believe that we were too quick to get prescriptive about how apostles should function, and it was too often related to hierarchy and a wrong view of authority.

I don't intend to reflect too much on the nature of the apostolic ministry here and have just realised this will need a second post (I aim to keep these posts short as seed-thoughts rather than treatises). But here let me say something about their relationship to the local church, and I am thinking in terms of a possible pattern, not a definitive prescription. Some apostolic ministries will be governmental (not all in my opinion) and that means they contribute to the leadership of the church in terms of direction and decision-making; but that leadership must be through relationship and be non-hierarchical. Think fathers and family, not generals and army, and not managing director and company.

One of the key things about fathers is that they want to empower their children, not control them or even just direct them. They want them to grow up and become independent (in a good sense) while still choosing to maintain and value relationship with them. And the  nature of fatherhood changes as the children grow.

Enough for now. One more post about this tomorrow (hopefully) and then an explanation of where this leaves us in the local church I help lead.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Monologue or Conversation?

I am really enjoying blogging. It has been good for me in helping to shape my thoughts during a period of perspective shift. My hope is that it is also helping those who are part of the church family I help lead at Community Church Huddersfield to get a little clearer on what I have been trying to communicate and lead us into.And I am pleased if it has got other readers interested and stimulated their thinking, even if they arrive at different conclusions to me.

However, there is a danger that it is just my monologue. It is me telling everyone what I think. And for a long time now, and especially in recent months, I have believed in the importance of learning through conversation. I believe powerful things can happen when people of sincere faith talk openly and frankly together with a desire to learn more about God's ways and be led by the Spirit (see Malachi 3:16 and Acts 15).

Christian, and Christian leaders especially, have too often indulged in monologue, and stifled healthy debate. Preaching and instruction certainly have their place, and we should learn when it is time to be quiet and just listen to those we can learn from. But we can also learn through conversation and dialogue. Blogging can either encourage the monologue and the culture of the opinionated; or it can stimulate conversation.

I want to encourage the latter. So can I encourage my readers to feel free and confident to comment - a question, an observation or a constructive criticism? Such will help and add to my thinking and determine future posts. I am learning through this process and I want to learn through you.

Friday, 23 November 2012

Ephesians 4 Ministry - A Fresh Look (4)

I have been arguing for what some might call a more 'democratic' view of the gifts listed in Ephesians 4. If that just means non-hierarchical then fine; but I would avoid the term as it suggests something of this world's political systems and we are the people of God's different kingdom. I am just wanting to discourage the use of the pedestal, and encourage mutual service and the recognition of all measures of gift.

However, I would also want to be clear that I think it is nevertheless vitally important to recognise when people do have the measure of a gift to the point that we would call them an apostle,a prophet etc (some call these 'offices' but I find that a clumsy and archaic term). The names and the labels are not the important thing, but the functions and roles are essential for the equipping and perfecting of the church, and the people who fulfill them should be honoured.

For us to recognise different types of gift, and the different measures and spheres in which they operate, there needs to be a culture of humility - knowing what we are not - honour - recognising and celebrating what others are - honesty and love, so that we can work this out in context of a strong community/family (see Romans 12 for insights on this). Working out what it means for church to be family is the key to the function and the release of these and all gifts and callings.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Ephesians 4 Ministries - A Fresh Look (3)

Finally continuing with some reflections on ministry and leadership.

I mentioned in my last post on Ephesians 4 ministries that we might find measures of each of the gifts (v.11) across a church community, a local church. Some readers may have been fine with that until I mentioned the apostolic gift. In my own church history, we have so magnified this gift as a governmental 'position', surrounded it with a unreasonable aura and put apostles on pedestals for the unreachable, charismatic few. By doing so, we possibly ended up with a distorted perspective and even a damaging practice.

A little anecdote then; recently I received an email from a young man in the church who expressed that he felt he had an apostolic gift. My response is telling. In the past, I would have been worried that I might have to let this guy down gradually and gently as I helped him to realise he may well not be able to reach such dizzying heights. In fact, this time I thanked God and encouraged him because I thought he might well have a measure of that gift; in his case he does have a strong awareness of the heavenly, supernatural realm which I think is one mark of the apostolic gift and something we need more of. It does not mean he is necessarily going to become an apostle in the sense of a pioneer and builder of churches, a father to other ministry gifts and churches or a steward of the mysteries of the gospel (though he might). But we should nevertheless make space for and honour the measure and aspects of this gift that people in the local church have.

I say this not to dishonour those who are apostles (for they are vitally important) but to de-mystify the gift and de-pedestal the person, and thereby re-focus on the dimension of ministry and the perspective of church life and mission that this gift area brings to the body.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Olson on Christian Humanism

Just a brief departure from my reflections on leadership and Ephesians 4. I read this article, loved it and wanted to share it. It is also a departure from my usual attempt to keep the posts short - but it's worth it! It is taken from the final part of a series on 'Christian humanism' on the blog of Roger E. Olson (see my blog list to the side of this post). This passage provides a basis for something I strongly and happily believe - we are to live differently from this world, but not look down on this world; we are to have a positive view of humanity, but recognise it is only by the work of God's grace within that we can share in his glory, which is 'man fully alive' i.e. becoming who we were truly created to be. This means living the way of a kingdom that is radically different from the values of this present world order, but which is actually an invitation to be truly human through the grace and glory of God's new world order.

"The incarnation lies at the very root of Christian humanism; Jesus’ humanity is displayed as true humanity—humanity in union with God. Humanity freed from corruption; pristine and more—transformed by the energies of God. The image and likeness of God being restored and made whole, liberated from bondage to sin and decay and corruption. This is what Greek church father Irenaeus meant by “The glory of God is man fully alive.” Humanity fully alive is seen in Jesus; through our union with him we can experience a partial restoration of our humanity, humanity healed and restored. That’s deification. Not that we become God or gods but that we become truly human through the gift of God’s grace imparting his own life to us. That’s the gospel: that we can be more than forgiven; we can be transformed, deified, humanized, made whole.
The original plan of God was for the church to be God’s new humanity in the world. Marxists have dreamed about a new humanity through revolution. Others have hoped for a new humanity to emerge through education and technology. Those dreams have failed; the majority of people in today’s world, living in the aftermath of the “genocidal century” that was supposed to have been the “Christian century,” have given up hope for a new humanity. The challenge facing Christians is to recover that hope through the church and show the world that humanity is not a disease on the face of the earth but the glory of God—when made fully alive through Jesus Christ.
That is what I mean by Christian humanism, my friends. Not taking fallen, weak, sinful humanity and exalting it to replace God. Not making idols out of ourselves as we are. Rather, Christian humanism is exalting the man Jesus, who was also God, as the model of true humanity and living out the promise that he came to give—that we all might also be like him in his humanity—satisfying God by being glorified by God through the Spirit of Jesus in the church.
My assertion is that when we allow God to do his work in us by renewing and restoring the divine image as it was in Jesus, God is being satisfied. We are blessing God, making God happy, if you will, making God sigh with deep satisfaction, making God dance, not by achieving something on our own or doing something apart from his will and power and without his gifts, but by cooperating with his grace, allowing it to transform us into his new humanity.
Now, before concluding, I want to make something else clear about Christian humanism. It’s not just we, God’s people, who possess God’s truth, beauty and goodness as if God and his gifts were our private possessions. To be sure, we know God more fully through Jesus Christ, but even he is not our private possession. We are simply ones who volunteer to be citizens of God’s new city, the new humanity God is growing through the incarnation and the giving of the Holy Spirit. We’re the vanguard, if you will, but not the owners of God’s kingdom. God’s grace and the Holy Spirit are at work in the world outside the church as well as in it and sometimes more obviously there. God is at work wherever truth, beauty and goodness are found. Especially evangelical Christians have a habit of building walls between ourselves and the world of culture; Christian humanism reminds us that God loves humanity and has never left himself without a witness among people. The image of God in humanity has never been obliterated and God’s common grace is everywhere at work even where God is denied."
Roger E. Olson 

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Ephesians 4 Ministries - A Fresh Look (2)

We have seen that the Eph.4:11 gifts point to the need for diversity in ministry for the church to reach maturity, and they are each given to serve and build up the body. I have found that people in the church connect with and even carry some measure of 1-2 of the gifts more than others. Some love the clear and structured thinking of the teacher, and are themselves wired that way. Others love the profound and soaring vision and unpredictable spontaneity of the prophet (I am dealing a little in stereotypes here as there are wide varieties of each of these gift, but bear with me for now) and they relate to that perspective and approach.

In fact, I've come to think that we should expect to find these 'gifts' to some degree or measure across a church community: you will have people who tend to the prophetic and others more pastoral, evangelistic, apostolic or with a teaching emphasis. We give the name apostle, prophet, teacher etc. to those who clearly carry one of these gifts to such a measure that we can see there is a calling and gifting in them to help equip the body in that dimension. And that need not have anything to do with a leadership role, or a governmental role. It is about gift and ministry (serving the body) not leadership or governmental authority. That's a separate issue (which I will look at with specific attention to the apostle soon).

The value of this pattern - a valid way of looking at it but not one that I want to be prescriptive about and which may work out differently in different settings, and as our understanding develops - is that it stops us from looking at people in 'positions' up above us or outside of us (though it is wise to draw upon gifts in the wider body and not just our local church) but instead liberates us to look for, to honour and to release the gifting that is among us as a church community, without all the complications of position and authority that have muddied the waters in the past. It discourages hierarchy and encourages diversity and mutual service. Let's start to honour the pastoral, teaching, evangelistic  prophetic and, yes, even the apostolic gifting that is among us!

Here's a diagram I used to teach on this recently. Of course, Jesus is our model for all these ministries.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Ephesians 4 Ministries - A Fresh Look (1)

This is going to take more than one post. But let me make a start. It's worth repeating that I am convinced that God has been restoring these gifts (in Ephesians 4:11) to his church over the past 40 years, but I also feel that groups can be too prescriptive about them, and how they should function.

The first thing to point out is that although we use the term 'ministries' for apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, the passage does not do that. It refers to them as gifts (v.9). In fact, they are to prepare, equip or perfect everyone in the church for the work of ministry (v.12). As I am arguing for a less prescriptive approach to the NT, I won't fuss about this; but we must be careful, because the whole idea of having a 'ministry' has become tangled up with getting a position, a recognised leadership role, even a title. And this totally misses the point of the principle here. These gifts are to equip and empower everyone to do the work of ministry/service. They are not superstar 'ministries' for the church to admire; they are to equip the body, not impress it. If we could translate the the word for ministry (diakonia) as we should - service - so that these 'ministries' are seen as servants (along with all in the church), that might help.

Another relevant principle here is that of diversity. It seems to me that one of the key thrusts of this about the church, the body of Christ, coming to maturity, to the fullness of the stature of Christ (vv.11-13). A mark of maturity is balance, to be well-proportioned, to be whole and complete (v.16). Therefore, diversity is required for maturity. These gifts are not to do with positions or leadership roles in the church. (They may or may not be in leadership; I suggest we should take government and leadership out of the equation.) They are to do with the diverse gifts, perspectives and strengths that the different people bring: prophets help the church to be more prophetic, pastors help it to be more pastoral, evangelists, more evangelistic etc. If one is more dominant it's like a colour TV where one colour only is getting through  - the picture is all red, or all green for example.

When we begin to look again at this passage being not about positions but perspectives that each gift brings to bear on the church and its service, we can perhaps make room for a new pattern of how they work in the church to emerge. More on this in my next post, I hope.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Scripture, the Spirit and Restored Truth

Last week I was suggesting that we look at authority and church leadership from an understanding of the Bible that allows for a creative and open space for us to work out together how it can operate within parameters set by New Testament (NT) principles. If we keep Jesus as the central subject of Scripture, and then its big story and big themes in the foreground, we are better placed to understand those principles and then free to develop, adapt and change the patterns of government and leadership according to different contexts, demands, and the leading of the Spirit at any  point on our journey as a church family.

That last clause indicates another key factor in working out truth and spiritual principles - the corporate leading of the Spirit: understanding what the Spirit is saying to the church at any one time (Rev.2:7). We cannot understand Scripture without the Spirit (1 Cor.2:13-14) and without him, the letter of scripture kills! (2 Cor.3:6). Now working out what the Spirit is saying to the church requires that we are in dialogue with others in the body of Christ and not just retreating into our own little groups thinking we understand it all. And we will have to learn how to disagree agreeably!

But along with many others I believe that in recent years, one of the things that the Spirit has been speaking about and restoring to the church relates to the equipping 'ministries' set out in Ephesians 4:11-13; and especially, to apostles and prophets. (There are some commentators who believe that the restoration of these two 'ministries' has been the key factor in what has been called 'the restorationist movement' of the last 40 years, and that this has helped changed the face of Christianity in the UK.) 

The problem is that groups which recognised this came up with some very clear-cut and defined ways of understanding how these 'ministries' work in a NT-church - with different groups coming up with different patterns (One of the problems is that if we take a prescriptive approach to the NT, then we end up with lots of different prescriptions each claiming to be the right one!). Tomorrow, I hope to use the principles and patterns approach (as opposed to the prescriptive approach) to look at the Ephesian 4 gifts afresh.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

At the Centre - Bible or Jesus?

Crucial to us understanding the Bible rightly (on anything) is to know Christ. Because the Bible is all about him.

Before blogging any more about how to interpret the Bible, or how we use it to understand leadership etc., let me point you to something someone else has written. Now and again you stumble across something that so resonates with where you're at on your own spiritual journey. This is one of those, written by a Christian blogger I have recently begun to read and enjoy.

My journey is not exactly the same as his as I would  not have considered myself as part of a institutional religion or the professional theological Academy. But it is possible to be part of a genuinely spiritual, grassroots 'movement' and yet make the same mistakes, when we put the Bible and our understanding of it - our doctrine - at the centre, instead of a living relationship with Jesus. (I speak for myself only and not for anyone else who's been part of that movement).

It's much longer than my own posts, so make yourself a coffee, or pour yourself a whisky, and enjoy - its worth the time taken to read David Flowers on Christ the Center - The Journey from Religion to Relationship.

Friday, 9 November 2012

Using the Bible - Creative or Conforming

Briefly today: I think what I am doing here in relation to using the Bible to understand patterns of leadership and church government (and I will try to do more on this next week) is illustrative of how we are to use Scripture ('all Scripture is God-breathed and useful...'2 Tim.3:16) under the new covenant. Although there are boundaries for belief (doctrine) and behaviour (ethics), those boundaries are determined by the trajectories set in motion by New Testament principles (I will write more on this soon). Within those boundaries, and then through our God-given minds and imaginations, and our relationship with the Holy Spirit and one another, we are liberated to be creative in working out our practices and the implications of the principles. This is so much better than trying to replicate a prescribed pattern, or conform to a rigid code. The very dynamic of Scripture and Spirit sets us free to work things out together, to join in a creative dance, not slavishly follow a marching band. Just a thought.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Bible and Leadership - Patterns and Principles

I have been suggesting that the Bible provides us with fluid and flexible patterns for church structure and leadership that can change and develop according to the culture the church is in, but that there are principles to do with the identity, nature and function of the church that must not be violated  in doing so. Time for some examples.

By nature the church is to be an organic and charismatic community so if we build church in such a way that it becomes an institutional organisation then I think we are beginning to violate principles (There are a lot of terms there that need unpacking but the general point is valid). Given the radical changes in the new covenant, such as the priesthood of all believers, any development which creates a divide between supposed clergy and laity, with vestments, titles etc. is a violation of principles. As is the development of hierarchical leadership, or the politicisation of the church if it gets embroiled with State power, as it first did under the emperor Constantine. 

In contrast, there are ways of ordering local church communities and their leadership for which the New Testament practice is instructive but not prescriptive, partly because of its cultural location. So exactly what we call leaders is not paramount. What are called elders in the NT provide pastoral leadership.  But there are other kinds of leadership and the diverse gifting/perspectives they bring - and Ephesians 4 is vitally important here - are needed to equip the church. Exactly how they work within and toward the churches is not prescribed. The idea of an apostle being 'in charge' of the churches and 'over' the elders in their churches in perpetuity is not prescribed and cannot be justified from the NT: it was much more a case of apostles and elders working in partnership that seems to be the pattern, only requiring a more authoritative approach when things were going wrong. This will be worth exploring more. 

Some worry that such a flexible or loose approach is too vague, but trying to replicate early church, first century practices is much more problematic. And is a faulty way of understanding biblical revelation. With on-going dialogue between Christians, and openness to the Holy Spirit to lead us, this approach of developing patterns without violating principles is a good and valid one.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Bible and Leadership - Gnats and Camels.

Start with the Bible's big story - from creation to new creation - and its central subject and character - Jesus - and its big themes, e.g. the kingdom of God, the gospel of grace, heaven coming to earth, God dwelling among people, God revealed as Father, redemption (freedom), restoration etc. Let those shape your thinking and practice and you are in a far better place to understand specific texts of Scripture which people - often with a genuine desire to be 'faithful to the Word' - actually use to perpetuate structures and models of leadership that are restrictive and archaic. We end up holding on to early church patterns and practices that were actually attempts to work out in its first century cultural context what it meant to be church community, many of them borrowed from its Jewish roots.

The church is of course one of those big themes and chief actors in God's redemption story; it is God's chosen and called out people, those who had been transformed from slaves to sons, living as a covenant community in an always alien and often hostile environment, as a prophetic sign pointing to God's new order that has broken in on the world. As long as we do not violate essential principles to do with the identity and nature of this community e.g. its organic and charismatic nature, the priesthood of all believers in the new covenant, its identity as the family of God, its function as a body with all contributing their spiritual gifts, the serving and empowering nature of its leadership, its destiny to reflect the fullness of Christ etc. then we are free to develop patterns of leadership appropriate to the cultural context we are in (as long as they are true to the different kingdom in its cross-centred spirit of service).

Sadly we have often strained at gnats and swallowed camels. We have strained at gnats of biblical exegesis of passages in order to insist our practice or model is the true biblical one, and totally missed the point of what the church is all about by dividing over the ensuing arguments. Tomorrow, I will get a little more specific on what patterns might violate principles and what things were mainly culturally determined.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

The Bible and Leadership

Back to blogging at last! And really wanting to continue to say more about new patterns of leadership and authority. Conversations and dialogues that I have been engaged in over the last couple of weeks have helped to stimulate and focus my thinking. I am hoping the next few posts will help those of us in our local church community to understand more about the perspective shift that is taking place for us in this whole area of leadership and church government. But I welcome constructive comments from any readers of this blog that will help us get clearer - I am committed to learning through conversation.

When approaching the subject of authority and leadership (indeed, any subject) as people who believe the Bible is inspired and authoritative Scripture, we must take seriously what it has to say. But we must also take seriously what is involved in reading Scripture. For example, we must recognise that the Bible is written as the stories of communities in historical contexts, not just as a finished list of dogmatic propositions; that we have to understand the cultural contexts of those communities and discern the principles and truths in their stories; we then have to understand how those principles and truths are worked out in our cultural contexts; we need to see the big story of Scripture and how its big themes and central subject - Jesus - affect our understanding of specific texts; and  we must acknowledge our own cultural and religious assumptions that we bring to the biblical texts as we read them, and be open to them being challenged; most of all, we must recognise our need for the Holy Spirit  to open the Scriptures to us as he leads us into all truth; and that we protect ourselves from subjectivism in this, by staying in conversation with other members of the body of Christ, including those who come from totally different perspectives.

Always remember that it is possible to diligently study Scriptures and yet totally miss the point! (John 5:39-40)

Over the next few posts, I hope to show that when we look at Scripture taking the above considerations into account, we do not end up with a prescribed model never to be departed from, but we are liberated into flexible and fluid patterns which nevertheless can give fresh expression in our contemporary context to the radical principles of God's different kingdom.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Rhythms of Grace

On Friday evening I was getting ready to write a new blog post, when I felt a tug from the Holy Spirit to stop. I was going to continue with some thoughts on dancing as a picture of leadership and church community; but I felt the Spirit say to me that it is possible to do so much thinking, discussing, reading, strategising, (and blogging!) about such things so that it becomes just another method. And that however we 'do church' or are church in this  new season, God wants for it to come from real and authentic relationship with him, and spiritual revelation from him. 'Unless the Lord builds the house, we will all labour in vain.' The new things that God wants to do in this season must come not just from new concepts or models, but from a deepening relationship with him. It's understanding that this dance does not start with us mapping out the steps but with letting the music of the Spirit penetrate into our souls. The dance flows from the music getting into you. This involves resting in Christ, and then walking in the Spirit in everyday life. He says to us:

'Come to me. Get away with me and...I'll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me - watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly.'  (Matthew 11, The Message)

So this might mean more or less blogging. I don't know. He's setting the tempo. And I'm dancing to his tune.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Let's Dance Like This!

Here is a video of a dance that my friend, Tony Campbell, drew to my attention. It shows brilliantly the need for both individual gifting/expression and synchronicity if we are to create a beautiful dance. Different people take the lead at different times and no-one is the superstar. They are working together and honouring one another as well as each using their gift. This is how I want the church to dance! What do you think?

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Leadership and Dancing

I implied in my last post that any model of authority and leadership for the church should be rooted in a revelation of God as Trinity. And that historically the Trinity was pictured as a kind of 'dance' of 'mutually self-giving love.' I have been thinking of how an understanding of this concept of 'dancing' might affect how leadership works in practice. Here are some initial thoughts:
  • leaders do not expect others to 'orbit around' them but move in such a way as to release others into their expression of gift and personality; 
  • leaders release creativity, freedom and self-expression but in such a way that they contribute to the beauty and symmetry of the dance of community;
  • in the kind of dance I envisage, there is no 'prima ballerina' who is the focus of attention but the focus is on the beauty of the whole dance;
  • within the beauty of the whole, different individuals may come to the forefront at different times but nobody hogs the limelight or tries to upstage the rest of the group;
  • there will have been a choreographer, or a team of choreographers, and they will themselves be part of the dance, but anyone watching is not aware of that - just of the amazing artistry of the group (this is hidden leadership);
  • sometimes the choreographers set the moves but often they are worked out together as a group;
  • there is room for individual improvisation but the most impressive moments are those amazing feats of synchronization because it is the group working so well together that is so remarkable - leadership helps enable this but it requires mutual submission to achieve it;
  • all the dancers are moving in time to, and being inspired by, the music of the Spirit as they dance.
I hope that this blog can be a forum for conversation about the journey that some of us are on in our understanding of such things; so do please feel free to add comments - some of you will have further insights - or to ask any questions you like. 

Friday, 12 October 2012

The Dance: Trinity and Authority

In the understanding of authority I used to have, I was pointed to the triune Godhead as our model - for here we have equality of persons with hierarchy of roles. The Son is subordinate to the Father and the Spirit is subordinate to the Father and the Son. This was based on who sent who and who did the will of who. I see it differently now. But I still believe the Trinity is our primary model and source of revelation about the counter-cultural nature of authority in God's different kingdom.

I was reminded of it again today while meditating on John 8. I noticed again how the Son wants to honour the Father (v.49) and the Father wants to glorify the Son (v.54). There are many other references of the person of the Godhead seeking to honour and glorify the other (e.g. John 16:14, 14:4, 5). What we actually see in the Godhead is the movement of each person in mutual self-giving love and submission to the others, with an emphasis not on role and authority but on willing submission and service that comes out of relationship and love. The key to the government of God was not role and hierarchy but honour and submission from love, not from the fulfillment of a role in a divine pecking order.

This movement around each other in the Godhead was called by the early church fathers, 'perichoresis' which means 'to dance or flow around' (we get our word choreography from it). Many writers are rediscovering this now. Here is a taster from Tim Keller:

'...self-centredness is to be stationary, static. In self-centredness we demand that others orbit around us...The inner life of the triune God is utterly different. The life of the Trinity is characterised not by self-centredness but by mutually self-giving love. When we  delight and serve someone else, we enter into a dynamic orbit around him or her, we centre on the interests and desires of the other. That creates a dance, particularly if there are three persons, each of whom moves around the other two...Each of the divine persons centres upon the others. None demand that the others revolve around him. (Keller, The Reason for God, pp.214-215)

Our patterns of leadership and authority - and indeed of all of church community - must begin here.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Confession and Culture

What we believe or confess is not enough to determine what we get. The word confession is sometimes used to refer to a detailed statement of faith, a declaration of what a person or church or organisation believes (as in the The Westminster Confession of Faith). We can 'confess' certain beliefs - state them ,write them, preach them etc. But if those beliefs do not permeate right through our inner and outer culture, then we will find that we have a church culture that is at odds with our confession. If we say we value the manifest Presence of God but do not let that affect our attitudes, lifestyle, practices, priorities, choices and so on, it will not be what people experience when they come among us. We may say (confess) that we believe that everyone in a church family is free to be who they really are, but unless we create a culture where that truly is so, it won't happen.

In the church I help lead, we are still on a journey of cultural transformation. For the most part, this has not involved a major change in our basic beliefs; rather, it is the recognition that we must let those beliefs affect our culture. In relation to authority and leadership, we may very sincerely believe in and confess a conviction about leadership that is servant-like, and authority that is liberating and empowering (we always have really). But now the Holy Spirit is teaching us - and we are beginning to learn - what that really looks like in practice and how we can make it happen. He is showing us that our confession must be and can be matched by our culture.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Hosting God's Presence

I'm going to take a break from the subject of authority and hierarchy for now though I will come back to it: I want to suggest some thoughts on structures and culture of leadership in the local church once we abandon hierarchy. But something different for now.

I'd like to use this blog to occasionally write brief reviews on books that are influencing my thinking right now. I have just finished reading Hosting the Presence by Bill Johnson.

Worship and valuing the manifest presence of God is something that is part of our heritage, for many of us. I am so grateful to spiritual fathers like Bryn and Keri Jones who helped to lead a movement in the UK, one of whose main legacies was to transform the experience of worship for so many - they paid the pioneers' price so that we could enjoy a church culture that experienced freedom, passion, genuine intimacy with the Holy Spirit, exuberant joy, the gifts of the Spirit and an expectancy that God would manifest his presence and power when we gathered to worship. I honour them for that. (One of my favourite books by Bryn was Worship: A Heart for God, almost certainly now out of print).
Bill Johnson's writings on worship, intimacy with God and the Presence therefore so resonate with this key aspect of the journey many of us have been on for years. In this recent book he puts it in the context of God's ultimate agenda to live among people - in the garden of his Presence. Then he reflects on different aspects of what it means for us to be carriers of the Presence both individually and corporately. Where I think he takes us further on the journey is in encouraging an expectancy for the supernatural lifestyle as living in God's Presence becomes normal for us; and for our experience of the Presence to actually lead to a transformation of cities as the Presence we attract actually changes the atmospheres and environments in which we live. 
He gives us so much to think about in this as in others of his books. People often say that a book was so good they couldn't put it down. I usually say of most of Bill Johnson's books that they are so good you have to put them down - he writes in such a way that you want to stop and think about what he has said. And often just to worship! The only other writer who wants to make me stop and worship is A.W.Tozer.
Bill Johnson argues that for many years, churches have camped around the sermon in our gatherings. We need to value preaching and teaching but learn again to camp around the Presence, and to discover more about its transformative power. I agree. 

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Benevolent Hierarchy?

Is it possible to have a benevolent hierarchy? Well, yes, perhaps...but it's still hierarchy. And hierarchy is ultimately, even if inadvertently, restrictive and dis-empowering  I guess benevolent hierarchy is kind of what I used to believe - my being 'over you in the Lord' was for your own good. And I genuinely tried to be relational and considerate (if not always succeeding) in the exercise of it. I think now that the problem is not just the manner in which authority is exercised, but with the actual model of hierarchy itself.

In Luke 22:25-26, those  in authority are referred to as 'benefactors' - the idea was that those in authority were for the benefit of society. But Jesus includes this in what he wants his followers to be different from - "But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves." (v.26). He is turning hierarchy on its head! He is not just challenging its abuse, but its very place in the kingdom community.

For years, I was taught - and in turn taught others - that authority (and by this was really meant hierarchy) was central to the Godhead, nature, society, family and the church. It was of the same essence across all of these. And then it was argued that modern society faced a crisis of authority. We needed to see its value and have more of it, and the church could show the way. The problem is that we didn't take into account sufficiently the fallen nature of this world, including its model of authority, nor the radically counter-cultural nature and dynamic of God's different kingdom.

The world does not need more authority of its own kind. It needs a radical redefinition and re-modelling of authority in terms of servant-hood,  self-sacrificial love and the empowerment of others.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Authority and Family

I have said that authority must be seen in the context of family. If a stranger came into my home to meet my family and one of the first things he asked was 'who's in charge around here?', 'who's the boss?' how would I feel? Terrible. Offended. Upset. I would want them to experience the life, fun, play, messiness, thrills, spills, laughter, love, tensions, honesty, openness, security and intimacy of family life; not concern themselves with the 'government' of the family. Even where there is loving leadership and responsible parenting, it does not draw attention to itself. It's success would be in its own invisibility. 

I'd love for the same to be true of the local church family. It's not that there isn't leadership or authority but that it is not the focus, or the first thing people notice. Hierarchy is never invisible and is an inappropriate structure for family, including the church family. Apart from inevitably working against the servant nature, the 'power under' dynamic of the different kingdom, it ultimately stifles the life and freedom that is the birthright of every child of God. And it requires constant attention to maintain - over the years I have heard more arguments about and attempts to organise how such church government works. Family is far more organic and vital - it also requires continual attention, but this is to all of the relationships involved, not just to governmental structures.

For the church to work effectively as family, we need to prioritise relationship, release the gifting of all in the family, including the various gifts of leadership, and discover those spiritual parents whose gift, maturity, faithfulness and stability help bring strength and security to the family even as other kinds of leaders are released in their gifting. 

Monday, 1 October 2012

A Different Kind of Authority

I guess I used to think that authority in the church was basically the same as authority in the world but that we were nice about it! I thought that when Jesus was telling us not to lord it over people like the Gentiles do (Mark 10:42-45) that he was just talking about the way in which authority is exercised. We were still to exercise authority 'over' people but that we were to be gentle and considerate about it.

Because the kingdom of God is not of this world (John 18:36), I now see that authority  in the kingdom and therefore in the church - the kingdom community - is of a totally different nature, kind and order. Authority in the kingdom is not 'power over' but 'power under'. It is not hierarchical - it is not about who's in charge, who has the last say, where do the lines of government lie, who's accountable to who? When we think that way, we are beginning to imitate the kingdoms of this world. Instead, we must look to the Godhead for our model.

In the Godhead there is total equality, yet not one that is grasped at (Phil.2:6); rather, there is a willing, voluntary, beautiful submission of the Son (and the Spirit) to the Father. It is in this model of the community, or family, of the Godhead that we must find our example. As it is in heaven, so let it be on earth. And the heavenly model of family is the context in which authority must be understood.

For of course there is still a place for authority and leadership. And in the church that includes issues of direction, decision-making, instruction, purposeful restraint (in the sense that it is not a free-for all, for everyone to do as they see fit) and even discipline. But they must be seen in the context of family - and the heavenly model of family (Eph.3:14-15) - in which the desire of the father/parent is for the realisation of the full potential of the son/child.

And it must also be seen in the context of the counter-cultural, 'power under' dynamic of the different kingdom - authority that serves, sacrifices and empowers. I hope to develop this more tomorrow.

Saturday, 29 September 2012

The Power of the Lamb

'...there is no greater power on the planet than self-sacrificial love...This is the unique "Lamb power" of the kingdom of God...When God flexes his omnipotent muscle, it doesn't look like Rambo or the Terminator - it looks like Calvary!' (Boyd, 2005, p.32)

Friday, 28 September 2012

Quotation from Boyd

Too little time to post thoughts today so here's a great quote from Boyd's book I was writing about yesterday:

The kingdom of God 'demonstrates the reign of God by manifesting the sacrificial character of God, and in the process, it reveals the most beautiful, dynamic and transformative power in the universe. It testifies that this power alone - the power to transform people from the inside out by coming under them - holds the hope of the world. Everything the church is about...hangs on preserving the radical uniqueness of this kingdom in contrast to the kingdom of the world.' (Boyd, 2005, p.14)

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Authority and God's Different Kingdom

How do you get revelation when reading about American politics? Well, you wouldn't have thought it. But I was reading The Myth of a Christian Nation, by Greg Boyd (a courageous challenge to his fellow American Christians that they were guilty of political and nationalistic idolatry) nearly two years ago. As I read the first three chapters, I was just hit with a fresh perspective on the kingdom of God that made me weep. I wasn't changing my fundamental theological position but there was a shift in perspective that is still proving to be life transforming. We have to first understand that the Kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36). It is God's different kingdom. But the church has often imitated the world. When it comes to authority, the way of the world is about what Boyd calls 'power over' people. It is the power of the sword - ultimately about intimidation and coercion. The way of the kingdom is about 'power under' people. It is the power of the cross - it's about selfless, servant-like, sacrificial love. Its power and authority is one that is willing to die in order that others might be powerful. The connection between the cross and the kingdom just hit me with fresh force.

Although we may have taught and held up the principle of servant leadership,  our practice has too often defaulted to the way of the world. Even when this has not manifested directly in intimidation (and too often it has done that in subtle and not so subtle ways) it is expressed in an understanding of authority that is essentially hierarchical - its concern is with who's in charge rather than who can I serve?

This has set me on a journey of re-evaluating my understanding of authority and power, government and leadership that still continues today. My next few posts will have more to say on this. 

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Reasons for Blogging (2)

Just getting round to explaining my other two reasons for blogging again.

A third reason I guess is its an opportunity to explore with others some of the theological questions and issues behind some of the things that we believe and do in church life. I am interested in how our theological understanding relates to our discipleship and church life, but also how Christian theology connects with issues in contemporary culture and public life. And also, doing theology is just good fun! No, really!! I hope some of you will help me with this by asking questions and making comments on my posts.

A fourth reason is simply that it is another vehicle for encouraging members of the church community I help to lead - and anyone else who cares to visit and read this blog. I want to encourage God's people to live this life of adventurous faith with boldness and understanding, vision and passion as we advance God's different kingdom across the nations and through the generations. There is nothing better to live for than this!

I hope over the next few posts to say more about what I mean by 'a different kingdom' and especially how it began to help shift my perspective on power and authority.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Reasons for Blogging (1)

I guess I have four reasons why I want to restart blogging, and why I am beginning this blog. The first relates to the title. Almost two years ago, I felt that God began to refresh and enlarge my understanding of his kingdom by shifting the focus on to the counter-cultural nature of his kingdom. Its character and ways are so radically different from the ways of this world, but the Church has often imitated the world rather than been shaped by the kingdom. Part of what I want to do is to explore with others more about what it means to be a citizen of this different kingdom, in vision and in practice, in understanding and experience.

A second reason is that, along with other factors, this vision led to a whole new stage of a journey for myself and the church I help lead. This is involving some shifts in perspectives, a revaluation of our understanding of many things and to an on-going cultural transformation in the church. We believe this connects us with what God is doing in the body of Christ across the globe in our generation. I want to use this blog to help the people I lead - and anyone else interested - to understand more about what is involved in this journey.

These are my primary reasons. But I learned from blogging last time not to make the posts too long. So I'll explain the other two reasons tomorrow.

Saturday, 22 September 2012


Welcome to Different Kingdom, the blog of Trevor Lloyd. I am a leader of Community Church Huddersfield, in West Yorkshire, in the UK. I am committed to a vision of the kingdom of God that is radically, totally and completely different from the kingdoms of this world. The character of God's kingdom is most fully, though enigmatically, expressed in the Sermon on the Mount. Its primary characteristic is the counter-cultural way of selfless, serving and sacrifical love; this is the way of the Cross, the way of the Lamb who is seated on the throne of this kingdom. The rule of this kingdom is therefore not tyrannical, oppressive or even hierarchical but is one of serving, empowering and liberating love. It is such an understanding of the kingdom that this blog is intending to explore.