Other parts of this series:
Part 4—The Lamb: The Witness of the Cross
In the previous parts of this study I have discussed two of the malevolent characters in Revelation, namely the Beast and the Great Prostitute, representing on the one hand military might and violence and on the other luxury and economic exploitation respectively.
These are powerful critiques on the part of the author. But critique and challenge are not enough for faithful discipleship—we also need to embody an alternative. With this in mind, what positive model does John give us to follow? What hope do we have in the midst of a world of violence and greed?
OUT OF EMPIRE: THE LAMB AS A MODEL THEN AND NOW
We must remember that in Revelation Rome is simply the then-current manifestation of empire! Though John himself was not envisioning future empires, such as those in our time, the images can nonetheless be indirectly applied to them because the phenomenon of empire is, as John knew, an ongoing reality. The challenge for us is to identify empire and “come out” of it.
If we are called to come out of Empire, what does this mean exactly? What models does John give?
I want to suggest that John offers us very strong models, but unfortunately they are often unacknowledged or ignored. One of the most important images is that offered as an alternative to the powerful and monstrous Beast and the seductive and inebriating Prostitute: The Lamb in Revelation 5. Read the rest of this entry
Many of them are part of a local church community and relish that experience.
Many are part of a local church community but feel far less of an attachment.
Many have simply given up on church altogether.
The number of young people in this third group always surprises me. Wherever I go, all across Australia, I meet them. These are young people who love Jesus and are very often passionate about the kingdom of God, but who have decided for whatever reason to cut their ties with the church, at least in its most prominent form.
Many authors have written about this phenomenon. Many pastors have mourned over it. Many church communities have aged because of it.
There is no simple answer as to why this phenomenon is ongoing, and I am not arrogant enough to think I can give such an answer in 300 words. Nonetheless this issue is worth reflecting on. Read the rest of this entry
Yesterday Christian leaders from a range of denominations in Sydney, including Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican and Baptist, joined together in a show of unity.
So what has the power to unite the largest branches of Christianity in Australia?
Is it global poverty and the recent deferral of Australia’s foreign aid commitments? No.
Youth homelessness? No.
Problem gambling? No.
Youth suicide? Australia’s failure to sign the ban against cluster bombs? The danger posed to the Great Barrier Reef and other natural beauty by mining companies? Australia’s role in unjust wars in Central and South-West Asia? Closing the gap on Aboriginal life expectancy?
Australia’s treatment of refugees? Wealth disparity? Racism? Climate Change?
No, no, no and no.
The following post is a response to an article in Christianity Today entitled “The Best Ways to Fight Poverty—Really“ by Mark Galli (editor). It is worth reading Mark’s article before launching into mine.
The Better Ways to Fight Poverty – Really: A Response to Mark Galli
In Christianity Today’s February issue Cover Story, “The Best Ways to Fight Poverty—Really“, Mark Galli offers a thought-provoking sketch of the current state of global poverty and a generous critique of action on poverty within the Church.
Galli’s insights, however, are undermined by a number of critical flaws, notably his understanding of development, global poverty trends and the intersection of eschatology and Christian and ecclesial practice. Perhaps most concerning is Galli’s interpretation of poverty and Christian action within the biblical narrative.
There is no doubting Galli’s concern for Christians to engage with the poor. “It would be foolish to stop caring for the poor,” he says, “We are not called to obey Jesus only if our efforts are guaranteed to make a difference.” To that I say, Amen.
Galli, however, goes on to suggest that such Christian engagement with the poor is meant to be personal, in the sense that it should not attempt to go beyond the level of individual charity into the realm of “national and global initiatives”. In other words, Galli does not believe it is the task of the Church to attempt to end poverty, but merely to bind the wounds of those who must endure it. Read the rest of this entry
I was told that a number of the people present had previously attended particular Pentecostal churches, but having been prayed for for healing over varied periods of time without success some had been ostracised by these communities.
If order and predictability were what someone was after in a church service this was not the place for them – some congregants danced alternatively in the middle of songs, other shouted out comments during the proceedings and one blessed soul prayed that God would make them famous and give them a Logie* award. Two members even declared their marital engagement during the announcement time, though I was told that this was a regular occurrence, often between different people.
In the midst of such “chaos” I must tell you that I sensed the presence of God more potently than I have in a long time. Read the rest of this entry
For years I have been involved in playing music to help lead Christians in worship.
Music leader, song leader, worship leader; call it whatever you want. Without wanting to sound in any way conceited (I assure you, about this I am not), I earned a fair amount of praise and encouragement from people who claimed my leading helped them in some way.
In my late teenage years (I have now just turned 26) so-called “worship” and music was central to my faith journey. My identity was largely derived from my music leading, and there was a lot of pressure to conform to the image of other well-known worship leaders. I truly believed that my calling, that my purpose, was to be found in leading people in worship by way of music.
I sang a lot of songs. A lot of words. But eventually something dawned on me – all that music, all that so-called “worship,” wasn’t necessarily changing me or anyone else I was leading. Read the rest of this entry
The following is a post I wrote for The Greenhouse Effect, a church-planting blog run by Churches of Christ in NSW. It is pretty concise, but I hope you get something meaningful out of it.
There are, after all, two extremes to which a local church can potentially slide, as described in Graham & Lowe’s What Makes a Good City? The first is that the church can become so defined by engaging a pluralist culture that it becomes indistinguishable from that culture. Alternatively a church can become so exclusivist, desiring to protect its ‘distinctives,’ that it never meaningfully engages the culture of its community.
We could broadly call these approaches a concern for ‘citizenship’ and ‘discipleship.’
I am sure that most church planters want to find a balance within this tension. But this balance can be difficult to find, as evidenced by the many churches that have ended up being pulled towards one end of the spectrum.
What should be clear is that the church is called by God to be both good citizens and good disciples. We should no doubt hold fast to our distinctive way of life as instructed by Jesus in his call for people to be radically different to the dominant ways of culture (representing the reality of God’s kingdom on earth).
At the same time we should also be committed to seeing God’s kingdom manifested amongst this culture, which Jesus also modelled in his redemption of society through healings, forgiveness and standing against evil social structures.
Jesus was both prophet and servant. He was separate enough from his culture to be able to critique it and offer an imaginative alternative (proclaiming the kingdom), but was also engaged enough with the culture bring some level of redemption to it (manifesting the kingdom).
This is at the very least a call to something much larger than simply ‘building a church.’ God’s plans extend beyond the ambitions of church leaders, and the church is meant for more than growing its Sunday services. Jesus calls us into the divine task of redeeming our world and its systems through the alternative reality called the kingdom.
This means the church needs to be different from the culture around it. It also means the church must be actively engaged in this culture, and so every member of a church, no matter what their vocation, is modelling the kingdom and bringing redemption to the community wherever they are.
A local church must produce disciple-citizens. Is yours geared towards that task?
Imagine for a second that the CEO of a business decides to expand the company.
He takes a group of fairly plain workers and trains them for the purpose of eventually leading this planned expansion. He spends a number of years teaching them to do what he does, and to emulate it in the context of a new expression of the business. The point of this chosen group is that they would embody the vision of the company, and that they would enact the implications of this vision in terms of their daily business.
The CEO then sets them off on their own as the expansion occurs.
Not many years down the track things begin to degenerate. This chosen group begins to forget why exactly they were chosen. Rather than existing as a group for the sake of the vision of the business they begin to exist solely for their own benefit. They still do some of the things they were entrusted to do in the expansion, but as a whole this group is not fulfilling the full vision of the CEO.
Rather than existing for the purpose for which the CEO created them, this group now exists largely for its own welfare, and for its own survival as a unit.
It is probably fairly obvious by now that this illustration is intended as an analogy for many churches. Not all churches, but certainly many of them. Let me explain why I say this. Keep Reading…
A couple of days ago I started reading ReJesus by Mike Frost and Alan Hirsch. It is a great book, and I would recommend it to everyone. The foundation of the book is basic, but highly imperative. To illustrate I will utilise the scraps of artistry I have at my disposal;
What we see here are three different areas of study in the discipline of theology. Ecclesiology refers to study of the church; its expressions and forms. Missiology pertains to the study of the mission of God and his people; their purpose and function in the world. Christology refers to the study of the person and work of Christ.
In my experience when Christians talk about what they need to do in the world, or what they need to change to be more effective, the conversation most often turns to ecclesiology, that is to say, the conversation ends up being about Church. What should we change? Is it boring? How can we make it more exciting/relevant/effective/engaging/worshipful etc. etc. etc. Keep Reading…
“…so how do we go about creating kingdom communities?”
It’s interesting looking at the history of the church-planting movement over the last couple of decades. It seems that many planters have gone out to build new church communities in order to simply “grow” in numerical terms. This has usually been the result of an unsaid partnership between church-planting and church-growth paradigms. However, such a measurement of growth (numbers) is not necessarily what the Kingdom of God is about (Jesus, after all, said the kingdom looked like daily bread and forgiven debt, not packed out Colosseums).
The question above (italics) was one that I asked a friend of mine in a phone conversation about a week ago. Not happy with the idea of simply starting new churches believing this would not necessarily lead to the kingdom coming to the world, my thinking was that we needed to create kingdom communities. These would look different to “churches” in their lack of institutional structure and more organic organisation, as well as their existence being about God’s mission, not institutional survival.
But in reflecting on that conversation, I’d missed a simple reality. Keep Reading…