It is tempting to believe we can make the kingdom. Work a little harder, longer, better.
Our symbols are not a shovel, a hammer and a wheel.
Our symbols are far more extravagant: rainbow, parting sea, empty tomb.
We may shoulder a cross but we walk in resurrection. Recreation out of nothing much – that, my friends, we cannot make.
Grass and gophers, sparrows and spiders. The gift received with gratefulness: it can’t be bought and sold.
Bring us out from exile, bring us to our home. As we work for your kingdom, set our hands aflame.
Depending on your interpretation of different sections of the Bible you might say the different authors push for:
- Submission (the conclusion many people come to when reading Romans 13, for example, or perhaps Ezra-Nehemiah)
- Prophetic critique and nonviolent resistance (as found in much of the prophetic literature or Revelation)
- A middle option
- A blend
But what are we meant to do in our contemporary world as Christians? Should we simply do what we understand early Christians to have done in relation to ruling powers?
That is to say, how do we anticipate God’s transformative kingdom on earth, now, in the midst of a world of ruling powers that very often act contrary to God’s purposes? Read the rest of this entry
At the end of last year I was criticised by the organiser of an event I was asked to speak at because of the gospel that I preached.
“We believe the gospel is the good news about the death and resurrection of Jesus,” he said.
On the surface this assertion sounds good to many Christians. But is that really what the gospel is? Is the gospel really just the stating of a doctrinal belief (albeit one based in history) whereby voluntary assent leads to post mortem safety?
Such a caricature does not seem to make sense of the biblical narrative for me. In the Old Testament the phrase “good news” was used to describe the announcement of the people of God concerning the fact that God would bring them back from Exile in a manner similar to that of the Exodus, and that he would be king over them (e.g. Isaiah 40 esp. vv.9-11; 52 esp. vv.7-10). Such kingship obviously implies a kingdom, and so the ‘good news’ (gospel) was essentially an announcement of the coming kingdom of God, that is, God’s reign/rule over his people who are formed into an alternative society to those surrounding them in accordance with the Mosaic Law.
In this way the gospel was intricately linked to the narrative of the Old Testament; God had redeemed and rescued Israel to become an alternative society to empires like Egypt, though throughout their history Israel had eventually become like such empires. For this reason God would cleanse them through fire in the Exile, and the good news (gospel) was that they would be restored as the originally intended alternative kingdom.
In the New Testament the meaning of ‘gospel’ does not really change. By the time of Jesus two things will largely affect the definition of the Greek word euangelion; Keep Reading…
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…
About nine months ago a friend and I were preaching at a Church and the subject was “The Kingdom of God.” Easy, right? Well, anyway, we decided to simply have a public conversation, and our preparation was to sit down for an afternoon and dialogue about the kingdom.
What came out of that conversation was exciting for us. In fact our discussion has largely shaped the way I articulate my framework from which to discuss the gospel and the kingdom.
Our basic premise was this – evangelicals have tended to see “salvation” as being primarily related to one’s own reconciliation and continuing relationship with God. Thus salvation has tended to focus on the dynamics between humans and God, and how that might affect an individual’s post-mortem fate. However, if we go back to the beginning of the Scriptural narrative in Genesis 1-11 we find that such a view of salvation is, though present, inadequate to make sense of the entire story. Read the rest of this entry
“…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…