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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.