Alove

Was at the regional Alove open day on Saturday. For those who don’t know, Alove is the ‘rebranding’ of The Salvation Army for a new generation in the UK Territory. It is refreshing to hear that, since its inception about a year ago, that some of its main projects are taking shape – mainly the ‘NEOs’ (New Expressions Of) that I spoke about in the blog on Sunday.

They run on the key elements of the ALOVE vision…commitment to engaging worship, radical discipleship, mission and social action. Not a bad basis for a new plant. I do hope that at least within the discipleship element there will be a focus on the radical commitment document which is the soldiers covenant but I won’t hold my breath too much.

Quite a few of the NEOs are being built alongside existing corps…like Edinburgh Granton, Falmouth, but others have taken over old buildings from corps that are long gone. Really encouraging actually to see old buildings full to the brim, not only of young people, but their families…people you wouldn’t normally see in church. I guess that gives them that authentic ‘Salvation Army’ DNA.

The sad thing is that many of the established corps in this territory would not be able to cope with these new people. Why? Because we are too fond of order, neat meetings, people that act and look and dress and smell and live in the same culture as we do. A Salvation Army that is willing to ‘go for souls and go for the worst’ is a distant memory for a lot of corps.

Its a challenge for the Army today to change our mindset. Many corps have a strong evangelistic heart, but I can’t help wondering if they have lost sight of the idea of actually existing for the lost. You could blame the shift in mindset from mission to church in this I guess…the point where the fellowship starts to exist for the benefit of its own members more than that of the lost.

Does the renewal of the Army, the Army for a new generation really need to face the shame of needing NEOs springing up everywhere because the ‘regular’ Salvation Army won’t budge and break its neck for the lost?

The challenge is clear.

yours

Andrew

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Renewal

Was reading a book about a vicar’s experiences as he sought to teach renewal in his traditional Church of England church. It rememinded me of the content of my very first blog entry here. But more than that, I really couldn’t believe that it has taken me so long to read this book….its been on the shelf for a good few months. The title of the book put me off actually….its called “Building a new church alongside the old.” It sounded too much like an instruction book, but is actually very helpful in helping facilitate and enourage renewal in traditional congregations.

The main thrust of his teaching was that he had identified three stages of renewal in a church setting.

  1. Renewal of the Leader. He identifies this as a major element. Unless a leader is personally spiritually renewed (by this he means born-again and baptised by the Spirit), it is unlikely that a church will move into renewal. He talked very poignantly about the difficult decision that faces members of a congregation who are themselves spiritually renewed but are in a church where the leadership is not. Ironically, ‘new churches’ do have a good few people who were simply unable or unwilling to pray their way through to breakthrough in their old-stream denominations. Some people are right to leave, I fear. I’d hate to be a leader of the church where people left because it was inhibiting people experiencing renewal…God forbid.
  2. Renewal of the congregation. Of course, unless the leader is renewed, the renewal of the congregation can’t begin. But he talked of the importance of persevering. His experience of his parochial (parish based) church was very trying. 70-80 people from a 130 strong church experienced renewal at the time the church were forced by their community to split. The church wanted to take out the Victorian pews in order to adapt the building to their growing needs, not only in the need for space to worship freely, but to accomodate other community activity. One of the ‘traditionalist’ members known only to attend church twice a year decided to start a public campaign against the removal of the church pews. The ironies of the Church of England meant that this matter would have to have gone to court to solve the dispute…the vicar had to back down and suggested that they worship in the local community centre in the evening. He continued to pastor the traditional church, but led the other group in the evening in a local hall. A sad story but a strong statement about his desire to see the church renewed. We see this in quite a few places in the UK Salvation Army today…not about pews, but about ‘new expressions of’ church/army popping up…even officially!
  3. Renewal of structures. When the leader and a congregation are renewed, renewal of structures comes from that. In his case, the old stubborn structures of the C of E changed…he was released from parochial ministry to pastor this new, non-parochial church called ‘Fountain of Life.’ This is quite an unusual thing for the C of E…to allow a church to exist without its own set parish of benefice (collection of parishes). The result is that the traditional church were left to worship as they please, but the Spirit was not quenched in that they were permitted to exist as a renewed congregation. This one vicars desire to see the church renewed brough great challenge to the C of E. Of course, The Salvation Army has had the same experience…the renewal of individuals, particularly those influenced by the Roots movement/ethos has led to all sorts of ‘non-typical’ Salvation Army corps.

I wonder if some corps have got to the stage where it is too difficult to try to push renewal with the result that the whole corps will welcome the change. Its a sad thing to admit. The jury is still out on my own particular corps, but I see so many corps in these days that would see difficulty in welcoming renewal (that is presuming we have enough renewed officers).

My desire is that there would be no need for ‘building a new church alongside the old’ but considering this is already part of Territorial teaching in the context of the Army’s church planting course, the tide seems to have turned.

The challenge of ‘ALOVE – The Salvation Army for a New Generation’ is a challenge…it is a prophetic statement that the way that salvationism is currently expressed in the UK is not so much irrelevant but lacking spiritual authenticity. ALOVE is a ‘renewed’ movement within the ranks. But what about the rest of us? It is not simply the youth that need a renewed Army.

There are many in our congregations who are desperately trying to express themselves in worship in a format which does not help them to. Captain Martin Thomson alluded to that in his blog late last year…the old worship sandwich problem.

Leaders and congregations need to count the cost of renewal.

yours

Andrew

Covenanted

Started recruits classes with one of our teens this morning. Have a few more planned. We were looking at covenant. Its a solemn subject in a way. To grasp the privelege of covenant is to tap into a great source of empowerment and blessing not to mention a great tool for effective Christian living.

Stephen Court writes a very challenging chapter on Covenant in “New Love” by Commissioner Shaw Clifton. It is, of course, controversial (well, not to my mind, but I can see some liberals getting their trombone in a twist). But with everything Stephen writes, I find bells ringing all over the place in my head. I am not sure Commissioner Clifton would appreciate me putting a chapter of his book on my blog, so I won’t. Why don’t u buy a copy? SP&S Ltd sell them. (I won’t tell you that it costs £14.99!) To be honest, there are some parts of the book that I wonder why he bothered to include, but, I’d buy it even for Stephens chapter and thats not just because I’m an avid reader of him.

I guess my desire that covenant should be taken seriously is linked my thoughts in the ‘Salvation Army Heresy’ blogs. How easy we make it for people to fall away because their neither understand the consequences of rejecting Christ or of rejecting covenant.

I just want to quote one particular bit as I move onto a discussion about covenant:

“How many in The Salvation Army would identify covenant as the most important distinctive? General Booth argues that covenant is essential, ‘not only for those who do wrong, but to prevent people from going wrong’. We’ve watered down our end of the covenant so much that soldiership, for some, has come tomean just signing a piece of paper (and perhaps going to a Saturday seminar so that you can join the band!).



However, the ‘Articles of War’ and the ‘Soldier’s Covenant’ are intended to provide a means to holiness. The Junior Soldier’s Promise (covenant) and the Officer’s Covenant have the same purpose. This puts reins on good intentions to accomplish great ends…..



Some people think that soldiership is irreparably damaged and so they propose the institution of a holy order to fill the operational gap left by desertion of covenant. They recognise that the Army needs dependable, trained, committed warriors who have already covenanted to God. [I think Stephen is referring to Phil Wall and Geoff Ryan’s vision of an order with the SA called Credo which was presented at Roots around 2000 but never got off the initial stages.]



Others suggest that we create a lower level of membership so that the crowd on Sundays, not called or not willing to covenant with God, can still belong to the local corps congregation. However, a new lower level does nothing to address the strategic state of soldiership in some first-world locations or the loss of wonder-working, world-winning impact”

It makes sense to add that a biblical exploration of covenanted individuals yields a powerful hall of fame of wonder-working, world-winning warriors!

There really must be a reformation and the bar must be raised in challenging soldiers who do not live according to covenant throughout the whole of the first world. It is no coincidence that The Salvation Army grows at a tremenous rate in places where they take thier call and covenant seriously. Any look at a Salvation Army year book will prove that to you.

Desertion of covenant. Serious stuff. Big consequences. Missed opportunites. The lost remain lost.

yours, covenanted,

Andrew C

Salvation Army Heresey 3…"However…."

Been having another think. Biblical evangelism is always, without exception, law to the proud and grace to the humble. Never will you see Jesus giving the gospel to a proud, arrogant, self-righteous person. (If you can find an exception, let me know.) With the law he breaks the hard heart and with the gospel he heals the broken heart. Why? Because He always did those things that please the Father. God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble (Jam. 4:6; 1Pet. 5:5). “Everyone who is proud of heart,” scripture says, “is an abomination to the Lord” (Prov. 16:5).

Jesus told us whom the gospel is for. He said, “The spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor, the broken-hearted, the captives and the blind” (Luke 4:18) Spiritually and physically. The poor in spirit (Mat. 5:3). The broken hearted are the contrite ones (Is. 57:15). The captives are those of whom Satan has taken captive to do his will (2Tim. 2:26); and the blind are those of whom the god of this world has blinded in case the light of the gospel should shine on them (2Cor. 4:4). Only the sick need a physician (Mark 2:17), and only those who are convinced of the disease will appreciate and appropriate a cure.

yours

Andrew

Another Sunday…

So, the last blog was posted today as well, but this new format won’t allow me to blog twice in a day! Huh!!

Well today was “Commitment Sunday” and I had an overwhelming sense of tiredness about asking people to “commit.” We’ve been heavy on our real mission since we came, that has been on purpose until we settled in enough to be able to say, now, “lets do it.” I guess what I wanted to acheive today was, yes, still give people who haven’t committed to commit, yes, always have the opportunity to renew ourselves spiritually, but also to help people put some action to their beliefs by signing up to something definite. I hope it helped.

It brings joy to me heart to see so many people willing and ready to fight. But people need worthwhile battles to fight.

I am both encouraged and discouraged today. Encouraged that people respond readily to wot Godz saying to them. But, again, so saddened for the people for whom a whole year of commitment Sunday’s would mean nothing. Nominal salvationism is a sad affair and wold hate to think that any of our soldiers had a good dose of it.

However, another thing that brings joy to my heart, on a completely different subject, is the way that freedom is coming more and more into our worship. Today we had people standing up to sing to a song when they hadn’t been invited to (told to)…spontenaity (or however you spell it)!! We also had a glory march in the morning meeting and this time, I didn’t start it first!!

I wish we could feel that we could relax more in God’s presence..by relax I mean express ourselves how we want to as opposed to how we are expected to. Comes back to whether we will limit our passion. We have one lady in our congregation who incessantly shouts hallelujah at any appropriate time…some people think its a pain, but I think its marvellous. She responds to the heartbeat of God when it is felt and noticed in the every day circumstance.

I even has one of my young people saying that she felt she was a kinda modern version of her…mad for Jesus and desperate to show it. Enough said.

So our preaching and teaching moves in a different direction now. U need to wait and see…I’m not going to tell u here! :o)

Today, I’m feeling incredibly homesick. You can take a man out of Scotland, but you can’t take Scotland out of the man. Sad, I know, but I miss it. I miss the fact of knowing nearly every road in the country! I guess I miss the familiarity, not to mention some of the most beautiful places in the world.

I’m in the mood to blog all night, but thats probably not very interesting for anyone still mad enough to read me! So, I’ll go and do something else.

thanks for reading…dont forget that the blog before this is actually posted today and not Saturday.

yours

Andrew

Salvation Army Heresy? -2-

So…just a few more thoughts on the last blog really. Some of what follows is in response to an email received with comments on the last post.

Here goes…

I do not think I mean to say that the Salvation Army has stopped preaching salvation, repentance and redemption (although it is a long time since I’ve heard a sermon on Hell). What I do mean, is that when salvation is preached, there is a greater focus on what you get when you get saved (ie fulfilment, blessing, better quality of life, etc etc) than both the cost and the real need to be saved in the first place.

Illustration on this:

Two men are seated in a plane. The first is given a parachute and told to put is on as it would improve his flight. He’s a little skeptical at first because he can’t see how wearing a parachute in a plane could possibly improve the flight. After a time he decides to experiment and see if the claim is true. As he puts it on he notices the weight of it upon his shoulders and he finds that he has difficulty in sitting upright. However, he consoles himself with the fact that he was told the parachute would improve the flight. So, he decides to give the thing a little time. As he waits he notices that some of the other passengers are laughing at him, because he’s wearing a parachute in a plane. He begins to feel somewhat humiliated. As they begin to point and laugh at him and he can stand it no longer, he slinks in his seat, unstraps the parachute, and throws it to the floor. Disillusionment and bitterness fill his heart, because, as far as he was concerned, he was told an outright lie.

The second man is given a parachute, but listen to what he’s told. He’s told to put it on because at any moment he’d be jumping 25,000 feet out of the plane. He gratefully puts the parachute on; he doesn’t notice the weight of it upon his shoulders, nor that he can’t sit upright. His mind is consumed with the thought of what would happen to him if he jumped without that parachute.

Let’s analyze the motive and the result of each passenger’s experience. The first man’s motive for putting the parachute on was solely to improve his flight. The result of his experience was that he was humiliated by the passengers; he was disillusioned and somewhat embittered against those who gave him the parachute. As far as he’s concerned it’ll be a long time before anyone gets one of those things on his back again. The second man put the parachute on solely to escape the jump to come, and because of his knowledge of what would happen to him without it, he has a deep-rooted joy and peace in his heart knowing that he’s saved from sure death. This knowledge gives him the ability to withstand the mockery of the other passengers. His attitude towards those who gave him the parachute is one of heart-felt gratitude.

So, if we listen to what the modern gospel says, it says, “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ. He’ll give you love, joy, peace, fulfillment, and lasting happiness.” In other words, “Jesus will improve your flight.” So the sinner responds, and in an experimental fashion, puts on the Saviour to see if the claims are true. And what does he get? The promised temptation, tribulation, and persecution. The other passengers mock him. So what does he do? He takes off the Lord Jesus Christ, he’s offended for the word’s sake (Mark 4:17), he’s disillusioned and somewhat embittered, and quite rightly so. He was promised peace, joy, love, fulfillment, and lasting happiness, and all he got were trials and humiliation. His bitterness is directed toward those who gave him the so-called “good news”. He becomes worse than before he was when he “tasted” Jesus: another inoculated and bitter backslider. (I should really say she, because it is a she that has inspired my thinking).

Another thought…

About the controversial “Jesus never said he loved anyone” as a motivation for a conversion. Of course, Jesus died of love, gave his live because of love…thats how we know what love is. He obviously showed compassion. God gave his son because of the desire to redeem the world, but also to appease his wrath…so that the world could, having experienced conviction of our sinfulness, would not have to face the dire consequences of dying in sin.

Jesus never preached the benefits of salvation as the motivation for follwing Him. His primary message was “Repent, the Kingdom of God is near.” So, a message focussed on calling for repentance and pointing out the Kingdom as it applied to them (the Beatitudes are a great example of the exounding of the kingdom, as are the parables.) Even when he was talking directly to people about their souls, he never pointed out the benefits of salvation without revealing their sin.

Another thought…

The question that seems to be being raised is “what brings conviction?” and “how does it come?” Firstly, and primarily, conviction of sin and the need for salvation, of course, comes from the Holy Spirit, that is one of His works. The Holy Spirit convicts accoring to divine law…what else is there to bring conviction on? But, of course, God has chosen us to spread the gospel, to be the instrument through which the gospel is communicated.

So, just because it is the Holy Spirit that brings conviction, does that mean to say we do not need to focus on that? Look at Peters first sermon…the first sermon of the church that saved hundreds in a day. He didn’t miss and hit the wall with regards of pointing out people’s sin.

Another thought….

I hold to my opinion that grace doesn’t make sense without an understanding of why grace is needed.

Another thought…

another illustration as to why I think it might help in evangelism for the transgression of law/sinfulness to be talked about:

Imagine if I said to you, “I’ve got some good news for you: someone has just paid a £25,000 speeding fine on your behalf.” You’d probably react by saying, “What are you talking about? That’s not good news: it doesn’t make sense. I don’t have a £25,000 speeding fine.” My good news wouldn’t be good news to you: it would seem foolishness. But more than that, it would be offensive to you, because I’m insinuating you’ve broken the law when you don’t think you have. However, if I put it this way, it may make more sense: “On the way to this meeting, the law clocked you at going 55 miles an hour through an area near a school. There were ten clear warning signs stating that twenty miles an hour was the maximum speed, but you went straight through at 55 miles an hour. What you did was extremely dangerous; there’s a £25,000 fine. The law was about to take its course, when someone you don’t even know stepped in and paid the fine for you. You are very fortunate.”

Transforms the message…thats what I mean about it not making sense just to say “Jesus died for your sins”.

My thinking on this whole issue has probably been developing for a while, I have spoken and writted several times about being sure what we mean about the salvation we preach. I am not saying that I, nor any new generation of officers have discovered sin and the need for forgiveness, I am saying that it has become increasingly unfashionable to talk about this topic. Even the ALPHA course, which I like and see as useful, does not have much of an emphasis on sinfulness or repentance…because somehow that is seen as too heavy for the new or not-yet Christian.

Well, thats quite enough for one blog….the discussion continues!

yours in Jesus

Andrew

Salvation Army heresy?

Theological reflection is helpful for any Christian. And if that sounds daunting, what I simply mean is listening to what we say and do from the perspective of what the Bible says.

So I think I might have discovered a Salvation Army heresy, probably actually a 21stC church heresy in general, but I think we might be guilty of it, so no harm in personalising it. The iron is that it is the issue we condemned in other people before we talked ourselves into believing this heresy.

What is it? It is a “Jesus-loves-you, hates-the-sin-not-the-sinner, come-to-Jesus-and-he’ll-bless-your-life” gospel. I’ve been thinking about it. (‘Here we go!’, I hear you think!)

When we lost the guts to comunicate a gospel of repentance, redemption and avoidance of Hell, we had to start communicating something different, and so we went down the “Jesus – life enhancer” road instead of “Jesus-redeemer” road. The gospel de-generated into a “Jesus will give you peace joy love happiness and fulfilment.” So whats wrong with that, I hear you say.

Well, the church today records many decisions for Christ. One particular denomination, one year, recorded 294,000 decisions for Christ BUT they could only find 14,000 in fellowship, connected to the body. Why? Because they’ve heard a slick preacher say that they can have joy peace love happiness fulfilment and so they give it a try, but all they got was persecution, hardship, pain and disillusionment because Jesus simply didn’t promise that life would be a bed of roses. Love joy peace etc of course are legitimate benefits of salvation, but someone needs to be prepared of the reality of the Christian life.

What does the bible say about conversion? Psalm 19:7 says that “the Law of the Lord is perfect for converting the soul.” Thats an interesting statement. It suggests that God’s law has to function in the trauma of conversion. So, do we just preach “Jesus died for you”? No thats doesn’t help. How?

Let me try and explain…I am in the supermarket car park and a driver is coming towards me…he shouldn’t be coming towards me because the arrows on the floor are actually pointing the way I am going and there is a ‘No entry’ sign at the other side of the road. He doesn’t see any of that, so I roll down my window and say (in love) “you are going the wrong way you silly moo.” Thing is, he is looking at me wondering why I am shouting at him for going the wrong way when he is sure that it is actually me that is going the wrong way.

So, we get out our cars, go and have a look at the road signs together, in love. I point out to him that according to the law of Waitrose, he is driving his car in the wrong direction because he is driving against the arrows and in contravention of the ‘no entry’ sign. He realises what a silly fool he actually has been and lets me past, by which time I would probably been quicker showing love and compassion by letting him past in the first place, leaving him in his ignorance anyway. But, he drives off happy because now that he understands, he doesn’t have to be upset about the wrath of the Salvation Army Captain in Waitrose car park now because he understood the wrath and though the very person who was angry with him, he has found out how to appease the anger by turning round and going my way.

That is a simplistic example, probably has a few holes in it, but you know what I mean. If we preach that “Christ died for your sins” when they don’t think they are sinful, they the cross will be foolishness because the cross IS foolishness to those who are perishing (1 Cor 1:18). If through our evangelism we can open people up to divine law, showing them how they have broken it, then they will become, as James says, “convinced of the law as a transgressor” (Jas 2:9). The good news of forgiveness will be good news because he has an understanding of what he needs forgiven for.

Now, with those few thoughts in mind by way of introduction, let’s now look at Romans 3:19. We’ll look at some of the functions of God’s law for humanity. Romans 3, verse 19: “Now we know that whatsoever things the law says, it says to them who are under the law that every mouth may be stopped and all the world may become guilty before God.” So one function of God’s law is to stop the mouth. To stop sinners justifying themselves and saying, “There’s plenty of people worse than me. I’m not a bad person. Really.” No, the law stops the mouth of justification and leaves the whole world, not just the Jews, but the whole world guilty before God.

Romans 3:20: “Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.” So God’s law tells us what sin is.

1 John 3:4 says, “Sin is transgression of the law.”

Romans 7: 7 – “What shall we say then?” says Paul. “Is the law sin? God forbid! No, I had not known sin but by the law.” Paul says, “I didn’t know what sin was until the law told me.”

In Galatians 3:24, “Wherefore, the law was our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ that we might be justified by faith.” God’s law acts as a schoolmaster to bring us to Jesus Christ that we might be justified through faith in His blood. The law doesn’t help us; it just leaves us helpless. It doesn’t justify us; it just leaves us guilty before the judgment bar of a holy God.

Perhaps the reason that the church has a big fall out rate is not so much about finding nice worship services, top notch worship and all the rest…perhaps it is simply because they never fully experience true faith by repentance because they have tried Christianity as a experiment, to see how good the ‘high’ is…to go for the ride.

When people are under conviction from God’s law, they need to know it. The law of the Lord has to convict the heart. Then…they can be under grace…that is where amazing grace comes in. Grace isn’t a good evangelistic tool….because it only makes sense when the need for grace is clear.

Well, I’ll probably have to write more on that….feel free to comment.

yours in Jesus

Andrew C

Standing on top of the year

I’ve been having some strange experiences in prayer recenlty which either prove that God is speaking to me or that I am, actually, totally round the bend.

I can be sitting in a room, alone or with others, praying, and all of a sudden it feels like I am looking at myself praying from a great heigh. Like looking down at the situations I am praying for. This is, they look smaller, less significant when we view things from nearer God’s perspective. Its an intersting phenomenon. I also have had several ‘visions’ of standing at the top of a huge hill and seeing the whole year set before me like a village and praising God for all the opportunities it will bring. So, I’ve no idea what these ‘from a distance’ visions mean. The only thing I know is that I start to praise when they come.

Thankful perhaps of both God’s promise and of God’s help. So a year of promise and provision, as always, from a mighty God.

in Jesus

Andrew

Open

So we are opening the hall on Monday and Tuesday to give people opportunity to give to and pray about the South Asian tsunami.

We have tins in the shops and pubs, posters on the lamposts and windows. Our money might bring hope and life to someone somewhere.

We are a little corps in a relatively small comunity. But there is always something we can do about something. We have the resources to bless people. What is stopping us?

yours

Andrew