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the church as alternative politic and way of life

The following is a sermon I preached in my community on Sunday 28 July, 2013. I have been asked by quite a few people to post it, so here it is.

The first two paragraphs of this written version of the sermon have replaced a much longer section in which I told my story of being hurt by the Church in greater detail. I shared this story with my community, and I feel that it should remain there. I hope the remainder of the sermon makes sense, even without this background story, and that it is helpful and challenging for people.

MCA


In some ways it is a strange thing for me to speak about the Church, particularly for those who know my story well. In recent years I have experienced a fair amount of pain at the hands of churches, not least because of my theology, but also due to personal relationships.

I do not say this to evoke sympathy. I do not want it. My story is merely a description of a part of my life, the seemingly inevitable experience of the ugly side of the Church. Indeed, my story is by no means the worst experience of the Church and many others, including some in my own community, have lived through far more terrible injustices. Such people have too often been left hurt, with deep scars and a lingering distrust of “the Church”.

So why would I want to talk about the Church? Read the rest of this entry

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beauty and the beast: empire in the book of revelation (part 4)

Other parts of this series:

Part 1—Revelation in Context
Part 2—The Beast: Might and Power
Part 3—The Prostitute: Seduction and Luxury

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![1] 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

churches unite!: getting our priorities straight

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?

No.

Australia’s treatment of refugees? Wealth disparity? Racism? Climate Change?

No, no, no and no.

Instead these Christian leaders united to oppose same-sex marriageRead the rest of this entry

the best ways to fight poverty – really???: a response to mark galli

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

mental disability and praying for logie awards

Last night I went along to a church service with friends while staying in Brisbane. The group I joined was made up of 60% people with mental disabilities.

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

confessions of a “worship” leader

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

citizens or disciples?

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.

The relationship between a local church and the community within which it is located is no simple matter.

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?

MCA

ekklesia: why exist?

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…

christ > mission > church

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…

church doing mission or missional church?

“As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” (John 20:21).

Currently there is a lot of talk about ‘mission’ in the Western Church. Of course, as with any widely spoken-of subject, there are positive as well as negative aspects to this somewhat renewed interest in what might be called missiology. Renewed fervour in mission is of course positive, though misplaced or ignorant zeal can be as harmful as apathy or indifference.

One major problem, I think, lies in our tendency to separate mission from the larger story we find ourselves in, positioning it instead solely in our local context. This was one of the major issues inherent in the missionary explosion of the last couple of centuries – Western Christians equated taking the gospel to the ends of the earth with Westernising other ‘pagan’ cultures. Indeed, they viewed the institutional church of Christendom as identical with the objective of mission, and thus mission was not merely about forming the Church of Jesus Christ, but also about forming Christian communities that resembled those of Western culture.

I suspect though that mission is meant to find its anchor point somewhere else. I think we can find the core of missional theology in one simple reality…  Keep Reading…

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