Christianity Lite

Is Christianity merely an intellectual agreement with a set of propositional truths?  Is it merely a warm tingly feeling and the presence of comfort and peace?   is it building one’s life and diary around the activity of the church?  Of course not.  Having said that, I recently heard a man who had been representing his area at a national church assembly saying ‘I’m not really into spiritual things, but I am active in the life of the church.’   Deitrich Bonhoeffer sums up the teaching of Jesus and Paul in the New Testament on life in Jesus when he says ‘When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”

Yet, it even seems we manage to do dying wrong.  How many times have you sat in a church and recognised the signs of spiritual decay all around you?  How many times have you encountered Christians whose ‘joy’ is so deep that its hidden?  How many times during your experience of being part of the body of Christ have you come to the end of your tether in boredom and put it all down to ‘great adventures in missing the point?’  Maybe I’m the only one.

In many places, as the church we’ve tried to tackle this.  You know, in emphasising joy, vitality, fulness of life in Jesus and in being a ‘big happy family’ as the church.  Lively services, stories for the kids, powerpoint, good music and life-centred messages.  Yet, I don’t know about you….I think whilst this certainly deals with misery and decay, it produces another equally monotonous by-product …that is,  shallowness.  A culture where church is a consumer experience, where services are a show to be enjoyed and where running the whole thing is high maintenance church yet low demand discipleship.

And yet, even here, I’m not talking about a culture that seeks to zap all the free time a person has outside of their work and family (or even in spite of their work and family) and engages people in playing their part in the high maintenance game.  I’m not suggesting that the demand be on spending more time at church doing churchy stuff.  This too is a symptom of Christianity Lite.  It might be one that asks for time from your diary, but it is not one that can be described as maybe the sort of discipleship the New Testament calls us to.

We are all aware of Christianity Lite.  Some of us feed it.  Some of us ignore it…and sure, its easy to ‘judge’ it, but how do we speak life into this situation?  How do we lower the bar on how we do church and raise the bar on how we do discipleship?  And how do we get people into a deeper level of encounter with the Living God through Jesus Christ?  This is something I’ve wrestled with for years as a leader and I’ve tried all sorts…guilt, coercion, high motivation, deep pastoral care and maybe even paid people to go on course to see if they catch it (desperate, I know).  And how do we begin issuing a deeper call to discipleship in environments where the previous call has been less than radical?

This is an issue for Primitive Salvationism with regards to its call to folks to live up to covenant, to raise the bar of discipleship through soldiership.  Its an issue for the whole church in its understanding of ‘membership’ of the church.

Thing is, spiritual depth isn’t something you can learn.  Its not something you can read about, although there will be things that will be helps to it.  Its not something that just ‘happens’ either.  I’m convinced that it comes when the divine penetrates the human heart and soul at its deepest level.  Discipleship begins, I believe, when out of a heart saturated by Jesus, the individual takes steps to follow in the Rabbi’s footsteps.

In the last blog I recounted my conversion and my subesequent filling.  But let me tell you, conversion is simply not a once in a life time event.  The life of discipleship is a life of constant conversion.  Interestingly, early monastic communities which arose out of insipid Christendom were know as ‘Schools of Conversion.’  It was the monks and sisters of these communities who were considered to be the disciples, the rest were just ‘regular folks’.  Subsequently, many people would pay the monks and nuns to live the lives of discipleship that they weren’t either willing or equipped to live themselves.

Might it be that our corps/churches/communities/groups need to establish schools of converstion?  Not with the goal of creating a two tier discipleship, and certainly not as a hurdle through which one must jump, but simply a place where the call is issued, the path is made, the journey is accompanied into the deeper life?  Or, wait a minute…is it not simply the case that our churches should be those exact places?  Are we too scared that people will count the cost and fall away?  Is that better or not than lulling people into a false sense of what Jesus-following is?  How do we avoid letting faithful people like the gentleman I mentioned earlier wasting his life in the church and to start following Jesus?

For me, this is totally not the case of deciding who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out’.  This is about what is at the centre of our community.  I beleive that if Jesus is truly at the centre, then it will always be attractive.  With Jesus, it was never the case of who was in or out, but in about how near you were to the Kingdom.  Instead of having churches surrounded by fences which determine the standard of who is in and out, we should have churches with Jesus firmly at the centre.  Jesus acts like a well from which people draw upon.  Consequently, they will never want to stray far.  I’ll unpack this at a later date.

Lets not allow our converstion to stop at the day we meet Jesus.  Let him fill our whole being so that we might be as the accusation accuses: Christians.

 

 

 

 

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The beginning

As I already mentioned (was it here or facebook?), last Sunday 17th October was the 15 year anniversary of my conversion.  Let me tell you a story….

Faith, God, church was never really a part of our upbringing and to be fair it wasn’t really a part of my parents upbringing either.  My mum and dad divorced when I was a baby, mum re-married and in honesty things were less than easy.  By the time I’d turned 14 I was all over the place – a natural thing at that age.  I’d always been a fairly mature lad given some life circumstances and so there were a lot of things going on in my mind at that time.  Lots and lots of crys for help to be honest, overdosing on medication and things that I’m not proud of but that encapsulated both my need for loving attention and, frankly, the need to escape a few things.

There was one constant in my life all the way through that time, namely, music.  I played brass at school and music was something that gave me a real sense of fulfilment but it still wasn’t enough.  But more than music, was the bloke who taught me, Brian.  He was a constant source of encouragement and fatherly support and to this day, in spite of me telling him more than once, I’m not sure he realises the impact he had on my life.

Yet, more was to come from that relationship.  I discovered that Brian was a Salvationist.  I put two and two together and decided to explore.  Not really putting God into the equation at all very much, but singly determined to be like Brian, I sought out the Salvation Army.   Round about the same time, there was a spiritual search going on.  A little red Gideon’s bible I’d been given at school was impacting my life.  I read the gospels several times over what was around 3rd year at secondary school and started to try and live it.  No one had taught me that, it was just something I was trying to do.

My mum got wind of me attending the Army and really wasn’t keen…more than actively discouraged me actually.  This stuff was just alien to our family altogether.  Anyway, it got to the stage where I had to steal the bus fare in order to go.  Mother would find out, and ban me from going again.  One evening during the summer of 1995, I met Linda outside a pub in the community I grew up in.  She gave me a War Cry which had the time of the meetings on the back of the group which was nearer to my home than the one I’d been trying to get to.

Eventually, I get myself along to The Salvation Army in Irvine. I received there a welcome that I’d never experienced anywhere else and people who make me feel at home from day one.  This is where Billy came into my life.  Billy was another Brian, just an unending encourager and support.   In a very short period of time, I came to hear the gospel.

That evening on the 17th October, at about 6.50pm, the Major had just finished his sermon.  I couldn’t for the life of me tell you what it was about, but I had a tremendous sense of ‘gravity’ pulling me to respond to what was going on.  At the front of Salvation Army halls is a bench called ‘The Mercy Seat’ – basically a place of prayer.  At the end of the sermon, the invitation was given to respond, to receive Jesus as Lord and Saviour and I stepped forward and knelt.

At that moment, without a huge sense of drama, I knelt and Billy explained the gospel again and led me into a relationship through repentence (turning away from what I knew was wrong) and faith, believing that the death of Jesus was there to remove my sin and restore me to wholeness.  I surrendered completely that evening.  I just poured out my heart.

That evening, when I went home, I was just laying on my bed.  There was a few things going through my mind.  Firstly, what did this mean for my life? and secondly, how was I going to tell my mother!?  As I lay on my bed, God completed the whole transaction.  I began to become aware of tingling from head to toe.  I could hear audible music which continued for some time.  I had an overwhelming experience of acceptance, love alongside the physical sensation of the tingling and music.  I now know that to have been the infilling of the Holy Spirit.

God proved to me in a very real way, that he was there and meant business.  My experience of God has always been a supernatural one, and from that day 15 years ago he has been faithful and ever-present.   At that moment, I knew that he had called me to devote my whole life to him.  He ignited in my very soon a passion for his word, for sharing Jesus with everyone.  Incidentally, he also began to birth in me an apostolic gifting.  I had a passion to see ground broken for the gospel and I’ve grown in that calling over the years.

God continues to call and use me, for which I am incredibly greatful.  I’ve been on some massive adventures, and in spite of rough times, there is no other place I’d be than in the centre of God’s will living for Jesus.  I invite you to do the same.

Massive non-blogging failure

Ok, so I’m about as garbage at not blogging as I am at blogging.  Massive failure on the not blogging front.  Well, that lasted for a whole few days.  Hmm.  I was having a bad day!  The simple problem is just the whole transition thing… I’m disorientated, bound to experience the odd bit of confusion at times!  Still overwhelming as you’d guess.  The biggest thing, as I said, is that I don’t want to move around bitter at all.  The challenge is simply how to go about being a ‘blood and fire’  Salvo yet not being really able to engage with the Army much.

At the moment  it looks unlikely to be a speedy or immanent return to officership or to the Army.  There are lots of factors in this.   We do still have links with Salvos down here and of course all the folks we link with internationally and through facebook etc.   We’re just in this weird place of being Salvos in exile.  Weird place to be, but there we go. You know, we just have to get on with who God has called us to be where he’s placed us!  We have to run with the passions he places in us and see what they accomplish in his name.

There were, actually, several points at which we could have ‘recanted’ our perspectives but in honesty, that was no answer.   We believe so passionately in the things we were saying, we knew we were in a place where we couldn’t compromise.  Although we were willing to stay and work it through, when that wasn’t going to be made possible by those in the driving seat, we felt we had no alternative but to leave.  Simple as that.   The things we were so convicted about were not matters to brush aside just so that we could retain our position.  Issues relating to how to go about ministry amongst the urban poor, sustainable patterns of mission, leadership and on the increasing tendancy the Army has in becoming an Army that is full of privilege for officers (through priestly ministry) which hampers the dynamism of the mobilisation of soldiers.  As well as that, we had just got to a place where it was becoming so difficult to be true to Jesus and our attention was being pulled in different places in order to tick people’s boxes.

As I’ve indicated, life has taken a surprising turn.  But you know, I cannot deny that God has his hand upon us here, especially in calling us to Gosforth at this particular time for this particular people.  Its so clear to us and, thankfully, to the church here as to why God has brought us to Gosforth at this time.  We’re believing for exciting things.  Yet, we’ve also realised in life thus far, that whilst the plans of God can be frustrated, he always comes out trumps!  We take nothing as certainty other than he himself.

Our long term hopes, beyond our time at Trinity (minimum 5 years), is to gradually move to a place where we’re able to support ourselves in work outside the established church and step out in mission back to where we feel most at home, amongst those forgotten, marginalised and the multiple-generational de-churched folks in urban areas to establish transformational Christian communities amongst them.  This will always be with Salvo heart and flavour, whether or not the SA accepts it or welcomes it is another thing.  However, all things are passing and this season, too, will pass.  We look on with interest!

Meanwhile, we continue to advocate missional-incarnational living, church built on the essential missional DNA, and will always encourage pioneering, simple church and the spread of church planting movements.  We’re still working out ways to do that. We’re doing that here in what could easily be described as potentially one of the UK’s ‘mega-churches’ in a few years time if current trends continue.  I’m also increasingly drawn towards neo-monasticism of which I’m convinced Salvationism was a precursor.  Salvationism was the best, in a sense, of the ‘old monasticism’ – spiritual life and holiness grounded in the gritty daily reality of mission amongst the lost and the poor.

So, please, watch this space and lets see where it goes.

Blood and Fire!

 

 

 

 

 

Stepping Down

I need to confess that my passion for blogging has waned somewhat of late.  Previously, a large part of my purpose in blogging was simply to add a voice to the Salvation Army blog scene with the dear hope of re-kindling something of a passion somewhere.  I guess to one degree or the next it maybe did that.  And, of course, my final blog series over there on leadership was, as it turned out, my final ‘shout’.  Leaves it all rather tiring doesn’t it?  In many ways, I think I need to leave blogging back in officership where it served a worthwhile purpose at least for some.

I carry out ministry in this new place fairly happily, thrilled to be able to offer some missional imput into an already successful church and do my bit, and yes there are some exciting things happening praise God.  In many ways it is a role that I’m perfectly fitted for, an apostolic role of evaluating, laying and relaying foundations, inspiring mission and prayer, new forms of outreach and all that stuff – I’m working every day with the stuff that really fires my passions.  Incidentally, its a role that The Army felt unable to offer us.  We pleaded to be released from corps officership to see if we could work the thing out and that we might be able to contribute from our strenghts rather than from our weaknesses.

And, finally, thats the last reason I want to take a rest from blogging…My natural blogging tendancy is to simply share my heart and as I’ve said previously, I don’t really want to keep on re-visiting our experiences of the last six months.  For my own sake and the sake of my family I need to move on.  The problem is that there really hasn’t been closure on the whole issue.  We still have had no response as to why things have ended as they have and I don’t expect we will very soon…still no response to the questions we forwarded to THQ asking for clarification on those issues.

Yet, as this Sunday approaches, I will celebrate the 15th anniversary of the day that I knelt at the Army mercy seat and gave my life to Jesus.  I’ll celebrate it and I’ll sing with thankfulness to him for what he has done and I’ll give songs of thanks for the kind, godly people who welcomed me as a broken young man and took me into their family and loved me as their own.  And, no doubt, I’ll struggle with the issues of pain and rejection from ‘my own people.’

Again, just a thanks to those who’ve journeyed with us and who keep us in their prayers and who’ve been kind enough to support us through thick and thin.  I will, of course, be active on the old facebook.  See you there!

Thanks, much love to all…be blessed.

yours in Jesus

Andrew xx

Settled?

One of the things I get asked incessantly these days is “are you settling in?” I guess I hear it so often because I’m part of a big collection of people here at Trinity.  When I hear it I need to remember that it’s very likely that this person probably hasn’t asked me before and therefore my answer has to sound genuine and as interesting as it might be as if I was being asked it the first time.  I recently have had the same experience listening to the talks on our recently started Alpha course.  It’s all very familiar having led Alpha several times over the last 10 years or so.  Quite easy to get bored with the familiar and the oft visited.

It strikes me again and again that there is so much of our Christian traditions and practices that we do again and again and yet start losing touch with the excitement of the first time round discovery.   Part of this is because much of Christian practice has been pretty entrenched in the Christendom approach which has been very similar for around 1600 years give or take a year or two.

One of the big areas I’ve noticed this is particularly the area of sacraments, the meal in particular.  You will understand that as a Salvationist I actually find it difficult to elevate things like this to the sacramental and ritualistic way in which they are often performed. In this, I’m well and truly an outsider looking in.  Not that it is done overtly ritualistic at Trinity, it’s not, it’s quite understated and actually very inclusive which is great.

I am far from negative about the whole thing.  But like everything new, I’m coming at this for the first time fresh.  The first thing that strikes me is that when I look at the last supper and the subsequent mentions of breaking bread, it appears to me that the context is, of course, very informal. Secondly, I’m struck with the fact that the people are eating meal together and as they do so they remember Christ’s death as they go through the common symbols of bread and wine…something that would have been at every meal table in Israel.   Thirdly, although there is every evidence that they shared it, I don’t get the impression they got a tiny little nibble of bread  and what can only be described as a thimble of grape juice.

The final thing that strikes me is that this was a practical, communal, missional meal of a missional people!  Jesus had given them an extremely memorable, functional and repeatable way of sharing the story of the tribe that is the Christian family.  I mean it’s the most accessible, transferrable, common, simple and yet profoundly intimate description of Jesus and his purposes we have and we lock it in the church. I mean, I think that this was the reason that the temple curtain was torn in two, to replace ritualistic access only able to be performed by another by a profoundly multi-sensory experience of the Saviour of our souls. If breaking bread is to be something that conveys grace and blessing of sharing in the blessings of the Crucified Christ, then it is surely something that must have wider significance.

I’m not trying to mock the church. I am seeking to understand and maybe seeking to provoke the question of thinking about what we communicate when we do these things. It strikes me that one of the elements of the dynamism of the early church was the natural daily breaking of bread, one with another, without qualification, this gospel symbol of incarnation, salvation, redemption, grace and glory. Why is this something we only want to do once a month? I’m only really starting to ask the question.

I’ll say this, however: when you view breaking bread from a mission standpoint instead of an ecclesiastical stand point, there is simply a world of a difference!

The New Open Air Meeting

I remember a few months back, up in Aberdeen, chatting to Peter Farmer who leads a little movement called Mission Britain.  Peter has a heart to see missional ‘simple churches’ spring up in small movements across the United Kingdom.  Due to the stuff we were doing up there, he came to chat and walk round Torry with us.

As we walked, we got chatting about the mission passion of The Salvation Army which thrust the message out into the streets as well as deep into the lives of communities and indivisuals (key element of apostolic genius there…missional-incarnational impulse!).  We were talking about what the 21st Century dynamic equivalent of the open air was.  We talked around things like Open Crowd Festivals, summer fun days, servant evangelism and the likes of all those things.  Both of us had tried those over the years to varying degrees of success.

Sitting here this evening, I revisited the question and was asking what the dynamic equivalent was.  What strikes me is that whilst things I mentioned about can be good crowd attractors and communicators of a message, they can stop short of God encounters by the power of the Holy Spirit that the worship dynamic of an ‘old open air’ brought.

Not that I’m getting all nostaligic, but my mind went back to our open air campaigns (of which there were many) in Pill whilst we were the corps officers there and I remember re-launching those old things.  What was really on my heart was that worship, praise and prayer was heard and felt on the streets of the community.  Although we shared a gospel message and read scripture, to my mind the most potent thing in those meetings was the prayer….prayers of blessing for the community, streets and the people who lived there.  That was the real blessing.

I think its easy to underestimate, not only the power of spiritual warfare through prayer and praise, but prayer as mission.  Logically, its obvious that Jesus prayed as he healed, cast out demons etc by the power of the Holy Spirit according to the will of the Father. That divine communication was there.  As too was the prophetic proclamation ‘Be healed!’ or ‘Take you your bed and walk!’ or ‘Be clean!’

Today, increasingly, the ‘Jesus show’ on the High Street loses its power apart from the sheer power or prayer and praise.  However, it strikes me that prayer is maybe something that should be on the increase.  It is in the direct encounter through prayer that transformation comes.  The one-to-one offering of prayer on the streets could very well be the dynamic equivalent.

I remember with tears praying for people out on Street Pastor shifts and see God break in.  Movements like ‘Healing on the Streets’ are gaining momentum.  In a society open to the spiritual, and dare I say to the supernatural, prayer may be a way we can minister the dynamic power of an encounter with God in an age where a few hymns round a lamp-post might not do it.  Over in Canada you have ministries like Extreme Prophetic, taking prayer as evangelism to its heart.  As well as that, we increasingly are seeing prayer being offered at festivals like Glastonbury and the like.   Of course, there is the boiler room movement that has sprung out of the 24/7 prayer movement.

This week at Trinity, although our week of prayer was held inside the building, we’ve had people wander in off the streets and pray significant prayers of faith and re-dedication.  We’ve had folks from the church invite thier workmates to pray at lunch time.  Prayer cuts out the human messenger and allows Holy Spirit to do his work directly.  Yet, he still invites us to partner with him.  I wonder to what extent Christianity might regain its potency by exploring and aiding people to connect with God and his power.  John Wimber, in his books Power Evangelism and Power Healing seemed to thing that it was worth a go!

Facilitating ‘Transformational Experiences’ was out of our key values up in Torry – where better for that to happen that in connecting every day folks to God through prayer as mission.  Have a go, give your prayers legs.  Grab some warriors head out!