At William Booth College, on Thursdays they had cadets meetings every now and again. I can’t remember what they called them. Bascially, a night of worship etc organised by cadets for the college community. One of the times they had a sort of ‘open mic’ night and people were just invited to share whatever it was God wanted them to share. I was sitting there and starting to get ‘that feeling’ in the pit of my stomach…that feeling where you have to stand up and say something. Might not happen in your church circles, but not out of place in Army circles (‘a soldier is ready to preach, pray or die at a moments notice’ says Booth).
So, I move to the front. I put my bible on the floor and I stand on it, literally.
I don’t remember exactly what I said, but I felt led to do it and I imagine that I gave a word about the importance of having the word of God as our foundation and not moving from it.
And therein lies my problem. I do confess I have a problem.
The journey between that kairos moment (for me at least) and now has more or less been the fall-out resulting from seeking to live out what it says. Now, I’m not saying that being in The Salvation Army as an officer is a direct contravention of scripture….as such. However, in the years that were to follow I just kept on getting myself into trouble for the whole Bible thing. Dyed-in-the-wool Salvationist, that I was (am), I believe all the SA doctrines, especially the first one, which says ‘we believe that the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments were given by inspiration of God and that they only constitute the divine rule of Christian faith and practice.’ (I didn’t even have to look that up).
What does that mean? Well, I might be a bit dumb, but I think that it means the we believe that the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments were given by inspiration of God and that they only constitute the divine rule of Christian faith and practice! But what does that mean?
All the way through my time as a ‘fully-fledged officer’, I was aware of asking this question. The first assumption I quickly came to was that my estimations were that my base gifting was not that of ‘pastor’ – at least not in the modern day sense. Not in the sense of ‘preach the sermon, feed the sheep, visit the sick and talk about ingrown toenails’ variety. I didn’t see that in the bible. I couldn’t find the pattern of the one man band. Even in partnership with Tracy, many of the corps folks were still looking for ‘the male officer.’ Whats that about?
My problem was that I had been eisegeting, instead of exegeting. Those are bible college words for what we do with the bible. To eisegete, we start from our subjective point of view and read in our workings and justify it from the bible. What we should be doing is ‘to exegete’ – to go to the bible, discern what it is saying, and then allow that to determine our practice. I soon discovered that it was much more than just the shape of ministry that I was eisegeting and so I made a determination to move to exegeting instead. Well, there went my nice officership.
I use this to illustrate a general point. I’m not the first to do this, in fact Catherine Booth does it in the opening chapter of her Papers on Aggressive Christianity: suppose that we forget the hundreds of years of church history and just had before us the gospels, the book of Acts of the Apostles’ and the rest of the New Testament, what would we make of it? I mean, if we were starting fresh, would we do what we do now and have what we have now? Would we meet like we do? Would we live like we do? Would we lead like we do? I mean, really, what would the priorities be?
I’m not advocating ‘blueprint-ism’ here – some sort of ‘we must do it exactly like 1st century church. What I am saying is that if we were starting now to form Christian community using the pages of the New Testament and translating it into our culture, I doubt if we’d come up with what we have got now. I mean, who from reading the New Testament would get the idea of turning up to a big (or small) hall twice on a Sunday, sing some songs and listening to one person ‘perform’ the whole thing? No, you just wouldn’t get that.
I mean, it strikes me that the big ole message of Jesus was to love God and love one another. That has to be up there as the whole point of the whole thing. Number one, right up there. And you know, how well can we love one another doing what we do when we gather? That has to be the key. Is what we do and how we meet the best way to love one another? Maybe why this is why the believers met day by day in the temple courts AND ate in one another’s homes, breaking bread. A whole load of ‘one anothers’. There are a total of 54 ‘one anothers’ in the New Testament. And most of them are impractical things to acheive in the way we often do the church thing.
The second ole thing is that they gathered to listen to the apostle’s teaching, they prayed, there were close enough to practically love one another, making sure that no-one amongst them was in need of anything. There isn’t even much of a mention of singing!
And hey, these guys didn’t have masterclasses in the latest evangelistic techniques because they had a story to tell, a Jesus to follow and a mission to live out. They weren’t scalp hunters, they were out in business to teach people to obey all that Jesus commanded them to teach. Making disciples. It was so natural, it didn’t have a massive budget, but it did cost them their lives. Following Jesus isn’t an add on, it demands your all.
Friends, thats only the beginning, isn’t it? Don’t we know that the experience we have of the thing we call church is, well, less than full? I love the body of Christ. I’m passionate about it. I believe in its fundamental role as the biggest change agent in society because of Jesus.
But I’m certain about this thing: I’m not convinced that the thing we got is something we can legitimately call ‘church’ in the scriptural sense of the word. Its like the Irish joke “Yes, I know how to get to Dublin, but if I was going there I wouldn’t start from here.”
Trouble is we do start from ‘here.’ How do we deal with church? Is it able to adjust, shift, realign? Will this, increasingly, be the thing that separates ‘new church’ from ‘inherited church’ – the shape of it? Or, in this internet age, are we the generation who will see the next great reformation of the Christian church? If the last one was about orthodoxy (believing the right stuff), will the next one be about orthopraxy (doing the right stuff)? I hope so. Bring it on (and count the cost)!
(First published on my other blog, but just adding Army related content from there on here)