Alternative

Another area in which we need to discover what allegiance to Jesus means is in the thing we’ve called the church, especially if we’ve named it as a particular brand of church.  Now, I don’t think there is anything particularly wrong about a people having a particular charism that lights them up, an aspect of Jesus following which shines more brightly for a community.  This is where the variety and broad spectrum of the ‘church’ serves us well.  But we need to keep watch.

I’ve quietly observed (and sometimes not so quietly observed) that the thing we call church is horrible when it goes wrong.  When a movement settles into a Constantinian ecclesiology where order, human tradition and human partisan identity are valued over and above the movement of the Spirit, the Word of God and the mission of Jesus, we’re in difficult ground.  I say that confidently as one who has previously lived in that trap.


I watched just a short video by the profound theologian, Stanley Hauerwas, this evening and spent a bit  of time thinking through the challenge it presented.  Hauerwas basically makes the point that to follow the Way of Jesus should “scare the hell out of us”.  It is something that is going to make our life and existence awkward both in relation to ‘the world’, in which we are resident aliens, and to an extent, in the institution of the church which has taken the Way of Jesus and made isms out of it.  He says that going to a church is something we should do because we’re fleeing to the safety of like minds….the following of Jesus can only be done in community in which we are part of an ongoing story, history, that we don’t get to make up.  The Way of Jesus involves a cross before it involves glory, this is what we have received.


Basically, Jesus comes to end religion, dogma and any system that sets itself up in opposition to him.  It can be so easy to accommodate so much stuff out there.  Anything that sets itself up against the Lordship of Jesus is an impostor and simply not true to who he is and the Way he establishes.  As followers of Jesus, the challenge is for us to continue to embrace the heretical imperative, the embrace the disfunctional life of being a ‘fiddler on the roof’ as we walk he path of radical obedience whilst the world and even the church looks on.


Kingdom life is life in the upside down Kingdom.  It is alternative because it is not ‘of’ or ‘rising out of’ this world…in fact, its a Kingdom which is the perfect encapsulation of all that  God wants to do and which he invites us to pray ‘Your Kingdom come, your will be done!’  None of the normal earthly kingdom rules apply.


This is especially so in the realms of leadership.  At one point, Jesus says to his disciples in Matt 20:


“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”


He means what he says.  Our pattern is different because its not how things are done in Heaven but yet we find it so difficult to see beyond.  To embrace the Way of Jesus is to call to account all that we are, to submit it before him and others and to lead from the place of humility instead of confidence in our own systems.


To take Jesus at his word here, and to live it, is a call to transformation.


NB No denominations were harmed or injured in the writing of this post, but we may just have to put them down.



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Remembrance, War and Conflict

“My kingdom,” said Jesus, “doesn’t consist of what you see around you. If it did, my followers would fight so that I wouldn’t be handed over to the Jews. But I’m not that kind of king, not the world’s kind of king.”  – John 18:36 


We’re coming up to a time when we remember the casualties of war.  Remembrance Day.  I will be involved in the marking of that (especially as a Chaplain in the Air Cadet Organisation, linked to the Royal Air Force), but I do so in a particular way and from a particular perspective.


Every time I get the chance, I make mention of the fact that Jesus claims our allegiance.  This is relatively new language for me, but it is language I find myself using a lot for a variety of reasons.  Giving our allegiance makes demands upon us.  It requires active participation or our allegiance means nothing.


I think there are some pretty strong implications for our allegiance to Jesus in lots of ways, but here are our thoughts about our relationship to the state, conflict and war:


1.  That we are continually resident aliens in any nation of the world.  Whilst we might want to seek God’s blessing and shalom for our surroundings, our ultimate allegiance is to Jesus and His Kingdom.  And so I even hold ‘being Scottish’ much more lightly than I hold the supreme importance of being an ambassador of the true King.  Being an ambassador of the Kingdom of God means that we join with a multi-national non-geographic people, brought together under the Kingship of Jesus.  In every place where we are, we represent him.


2.  We are, as resident aliens, subject to the state.  The state has its role, as Paul outlines in Romans 13: 1 – 7   Such as:  raising taxes, wielding the sword (as agents of God!….more on that later) etc etc.  So, as we reside in the state, we do what the state requires like if we were visiting America or France on an extended visit and did some work there, we’d expect to pay taxes and make a positive contribution to society.

3.  Yet, we are to hold 1 and 2 together.  Bruxy Cavey, an anabaptist leader, states that if you were visiting another nation and that nation declared war, you wouldn’t automatically go to war with it.  If you were required to sign up, you’d automatically say ‘woah, wait a minute, I’m just a visitor.’

Take a look at the text at the head of the blog.  Jesus, having been arrested and falsely accused, defends his Kingdom and his Kingship before Pilate.  He brings out the stark contrast between a worldly kingdom, a ‘secular state’, and God’s Kingdom.  Maybe this is where Paul gets his comments in Romans 12 and 13.

In Romans 12 he paints the call of the Kingdom.  In Romans 13, he paints the call of the state.  Now, is it possible to take of your Kingdom hat and put on a State hat in these things?  Jesus says that his followers belong to a different Kingdom and so aren’t going to take up the sword in his defence or in anything.    


Thinking about war and conflict, I believe it is not the business of the followers of Jesus to be wielding the sword of the State.  That is the State’s role and privilege.  This is the challenge that the political, geographical, social and religious entity called ‘Christendom’ was never able to resolve.  Thus, in our day we have a long history in the church of sanctifying war.


That is not to say that there must never be war, I don’t think pacifism is always about that (although I’d often challenge the assumptions upon which wars are entered and conducted).  I’ve already said that Romans make the role of the State clear.  Its just the case that war is not ‘our Way’.  It is alien to our Kingdom.  It is not the Way of Jesus.


So, as I come to Remembrance Day, I don’t want to glorify war.  Neither do I want to buy in to the glorification of the war dead, which is becoming a real feature of our culture.  There is a difference between honour, respect and glorification.  I do, however, 
want to mark with others the lives of those that are lost to conflict, whether it is deemed right or wrong.  Soldiers are men and women who are carrying out the functions of state and in doing so sadly lose their lives.  This is something to be remembered.  I believe the followers of Jesus should be there to help our communities mourn this fact.

Yet, I think we need to go the step beyond.  ‘Pasifism’ can never be purely reactive, passive.  Its not passive, and thats where the term is misleading.  Someone else has coined the phrase ‘Shalom Activist.’  This is to recognise that as ambassadors of a different Kingdom, our agenda in the world is different.  We want to see the peace of God, the values and standards of the Kingdom touching all people everywhere.  A pledge of allegiance to Jesus is a commitment to the Way of Peace and of peacemaking.

I seek, as in all things, to hold these things in creative tension, yet seeking to honour Jesus in all things whilst ministering compassion and the ministry of reconciliation he gives to his people.

17th October

The Mercy Seat

The 17th October has been a special day for the last 17 years.  At 6.50pm on a Sunday evening in 1995 in The Salvation Army hall in Irvine, my home town, I knelt at the ‘mercy seat.’

I had been moving towards this point for around 8 or so months, having been searching seriously for God.  He had placed some human saviours into my life, some of his own people, and now I had to find him for myself.

The major finished his sermon and gave the altar call.  I knew it was my moment.

I knelt and Billy, the Sergeant-Major, came and spoke with me, acting as the spiritual midwife for all that was about to take place.  He reminded me of God’s love for me, God’s delight that I’d come to this point.  He invited me simply to make a confession of sin and a statement of trust.  He didn’t say it for me, this was my dealing, my conversation.

At first I felt sorrow, a heaviness.  My life had only been 15 years long thus far but there was plenty to weigh me down.  I laid it all out before God and wept over it.  I gave Jesus my all.

I arose from that bench with one thought on my heart:  God, I need this to be real.  You have to be there.  That night, I went home and knew I’d have to tell my parents the next day who had actually forbidden me to go to The Army…I’d been sneaking there with stolen money.  Ironic.

I lay on my bed before God.  I was pleading with him, asking him if what had happened that evening had meant anything.  God, if you are there, show me.

In those moments, God came in power.  His presence came upon me powerfully, I could feel a warming, tingling sensation.  I could hear music, music like nothing else.  It lasted for some time, I couldn’t tell how long.  God had heard and responded.  He has been very real to me ever since.

The next morning I shared my faith trembling, but with boldness and determination.  I wouldn’t be turning my back on Jesus.  There was trouble at home in the months to come, but there was no turning back.

17 years on I’m daily amazed at God’s amazing faithfulness and goodness.   When I think of the adventure, I’m just utterly overwhelmed.  He has my whole life, my whole allegiance.  We move at his command.  Jesus is the Lord.

The invitation is the same to you as it was to me:  follow Jesus, give your life into his hands.  He will make all things new.  Don’t delay, its the best thing you’ll ever do.

Companions of the Heart?

I’ve been giving thought to the ‘construct’ of my spiritual life post-Army.  You may or may not know that Salvationists live by what you’d call a set of vows, a covenant.  As a former officer, I’d been living by the ‘Soldier’s Covenant’ as well as the ‘Officer’s Covenant’.    The first of those is a generic set of commitments, the officers covenant is a bit more specific to the officer’s ministry.

I didn’t make either of these covenants lightly, but some aspects of them don’t make sense outside The Salvation Army, so I’m looking at them again.  As well as all that, there have been some other useful Kingdom influences informing my discipleship and formation in recent years, so I’m looking at those too.  I’ve learned that I want to have a framework which isn’t dependent on my relationship with any particular denomination…it has to transcend and be complimentary to any of that.

You might wonder why someone would have these covenants/rule of life/vows.  Quite simply they’re a framework that I can use to invite others speak into my life constructively.  They function as a ‘vision/mission statement’ for me as a follower of Jesus.  They also potentially have the value of being something that others may join you in and so just building in that ‘accountability’ that can helpfully come from mutual relationships.

As I said earlier, I’m looking for some ‘Companions of the Heart’….that being a translation of the Old Celtic word Cymbrogi which carries the connotations of covenanted brothers/sisters working together in a particular cause.  Here’s what I’ve written about it so far…maybe it speaks to you…maybe you’d like to join with me in this simple ‘rule’? Its not cluttered and 

The Rule of the Companions of the Heart is a simple rule, built upon the Great Commandment (Matthew 22:36 – 40)  and the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20).
1.  Authentic:  true to Christ
We are called to love and serve him supremely all of our days.  Jesus is the pattern for life, worship, discipleship and mission.
2.  Relational:  loving our neighbour
We are called to care for the poor, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, love the unlovable, and befriend those who have no friends.  ‘None of us lives for ourselves’ (Ro 14:7)
3.  Missional:  taking the gospel to the nations
We are called to live to spread the fame of Jesus, sharing the Good News of the Kingdom with all peoples.
Living the Questions:
As a dispersed community (if anyone wants to join with me) we might simply live this rule, but continue to inspire each other by saying ‘what is God saying to you?’, ‘what are you going to do about it?’ ‘How can we help you?’  If people are nearby, maybe opportunities for the occasional gathering…who knows?
There may also be some specific spiritual practices that can be shared…we’ll see.  Get in touch privately if you are interested.


‘Too long at ease in Zion…’

“Too long at ease in Zion
I’ve been content to dwell
While multitudes are dying
And sinking into Hell.
I can no more be careless
And say there’s nought to do.
The fields are ripe to harvest,
But labourers are few.
Here am I, my Lord, send me.
Here am I, my Lord, send me.
I surrender all to obey thy call.
Here I am, my Lord, send me.”

Just a little ditty we used to sing…in fact,  Brigadier T Clark used it at Trinity on Sunday night.
‘Too long at ease in Zion I’ve been content to dwell”  – harks back to the early followers of Jesus that would never have bust themselves out of Jerusalem unless persecution scattered them.  Zion, of course, an image for the Holy City….a place of familiarity, a place of the former things, a place waiting to be renewed with a New Jerusalem filled with all the things that God’s community in mission have worked for.  This is what happens when the people of God lose their corporate memory of missional-incarnational impulse that sends us out and deep into engagement with the world.
If anything is bound to mess my life up its always likely to be the call of mission.  Its a continual call to step out boldly.  The challenge is massive.  Lord, may it never be that I’m content to be at ease within the safety of ‘the church’.
‘While multitudes are dying and sinking into Hell’  – now, lots of conversation on Hell these days. Its not a popular doctrine.  And sure, it gets some bad press.  But, cutting a long conversation short, I believe ultimate loss is still a dangerous possibility for many.
This just won’t do.  I want all to taste the goodness of God.  This isn’t about preaching Hell, but it IS about living in such a way as to ensure that our life and mission is a continual invitation into the Kingdom.
“I can no more be careless and say there’s naught to do” – I guess this is a big temptation for a community like the one I lead that have a lot of people and do a lot of stuff.  Its easy to fall into the trap of believing our own hype.  But ‘to who much is given, much is expected.’  Not that this is a call to work ourselves to death…its a call to make sure we’re about mission and not just about ‘stuff’.
“The fields are ripe to harvest, the labourers are few.”  Thing is, there are enough labourers.  Its just that some of them are still out in the field to be harvested.  Some of them are at ease in Zion.  We need to hear the call…and as leaders we need to preach the call. 
God is calling you to Kingdom work, without exception.  It includes everyone.  No one is excluded.   Nothing you do is in vain.  Begin where you are today.  Another world is possible!

Organically Simple

Once you’ve experienced it, you’re ruined for life.  Nothing else will do, nothing else will match it and everything else seems a  shadow in comparison.  Sometimes we’ve found it by accident, sometimes we’ve planted it and sometimes it has developed as the only appropriate response to a mission setting.

I’m talking about ‘simple church’ by which I mean a group of people, committed to the life of Christ amongst them, who gather together and function as a family instead of an institution.  People who can begin to share their lives, their possessions, their hopes, fears, strengths, weaknesses and desires.  People who take up a unique place in your spiritual life.

A word in season from a brother today got me to thinking.  Our first real taste of this kind of thing was when we were at Sally Army training college.  We hosted a group of people from around the college who came to our flat on a Tuesday night.  We had some teaching and study of God’s word, and we had some rich, rich fellowship.  Boy, I miss those guys.  We shared some really formative experiences there.  Significant things.

We happened upon it again with some folks in other places, but nowhere more so than in Torry where the missional situation demanded a different shape of church than a ‘meeting.’  There we met together and led one another into Christ, build faith, built relationships and engaged in some mission together.  My son, even two years on, will often say to us ‘when can we have church like we used to’.  He too, it seems, has been hit by the bug…the desire for church as family as opposed to theatre.  The special thing about this for me was that we were all active participants, we all led one another.   The structures were flattened.

Don’t get me wrong, there is space for a lot of things.  The life of Jesus shows him active in many places, gatherings of variety and size:  temple, synagogue, party, meal table etc But you could really tell that he and his disciples didn’t just catch up over coffee at the end of the service on a Sabbath.  It was ‘doing life’ together.  He invested in them and they drew their life from him.  This is a picture of the body with Christ as the head.

Going back to the time in Torry, I remember leading worship at another SA corps/church.  Ceitidh, my daughter, was just a tot and I’ll never forget her words as I stood up to lead this service (something she wouldn’t remember me doing normally) – “is Daddy going to do the show today?” Out of the mouths of babes and infants…!   So, I don’t help this thing…you see, I put on a pretty good ‘Jesus Show’.     I lead fairly well and preach well.  And thats fine.  Its fine if thats just your opportunity to get a sense of the big vision.  But if thats your default mode of experiencing the movement that Jesus began, boy are you missing out!

We’re in the process of encouraging our folks at Trinity to ‘grow small’ through networks of LifeGroups and or Missional Communities.   These are the key building blocks of our life together.  My suspicion is that when people get the taste for it, they too are spoiled for life…and this can only be good for the Kingdom, discipleship and the movement which Jesus began.

Here is the question:  what is God calling you to do?  how can we help you do it?

Booth on Neo-Monasticism!

So, I mentioned this the other day….Booth’s vision of a neo-monastic movement within the Salvation Army.  To be honest, I think it would have been better had it been a real vision of what the Army was to be about…It is a piece very much in SA parlance, but anyway, it makes for fascinating reading and speaks very much into how I sense the calling of God upon my life, either with our out-with the Army, wherever I may be.  Its a clear vision of a neo-monastic rhythm in the great Salvo tradition.   It deserves wide reading.

Maybe its time it came about.

____________________________________________________

Do not limit the possibilities of the future. God has many ways of fulfilling His purposes towards the sons and daughters of men. Here is one, of which I dreamed a dream. The one I am going to mention came to me when thoughtfully wondering, as I so often do, what The Salvation Army of the coming years was likely to be.

In this vision I beheld many things that were novel and fascinating, but nothing that took greater hold of me at the moment than the one I am about to describe. Perhaps the superior interest it excited in my feelings arose out of its intense practicality. It seemed all so natural, so possible, so fruitful, and the results so desirable, that I came almost to feel that the thing was not a dream, but an actual occurrence, literally happening before my eyes.

I thought I was looking at The Salvation Army in its varied future operations, and while I looked I thought I saw a new body of Officers suddenly start into existence. In many respects they strongly resembled the comrades with whom I am familiar to day. In other respects they appeared strangely dissimilar.
I will try to describe them, and while I do so you will be able to judge of the probable usefulness or otherwise of such a class, the possibility of creating it, and whether you would or would not like to belong to it, if it were created.

As I looked at this new people, they appeared to manifest extraordinary signs of earnestness, self-denial, and singleness of purpose; indeed, they had every appearance of being a reckless, daredevil set. On inquiry, I found that they described themselves as “Brothers of Salvation” or “Companions of the Cross of Christ.” They went forth, two and two, strengthening each other’s hands, and comforting each other’s hearts in all the work they had to do, and all the trials they had to bear. They seemed to welcome privations, and to revel in hardships, counting it all joy when they fell into diverse persecutions, and facing opposition and difficulties with meekness, patience, and love.

As I looked, and looked, I wondered more and more, for I observed that they had voluntarily embraced the old-fashioned vows of celibacy, poverty, and obedience. These vows I observed, further, were regarded as only binding upon them for a term of years, with the option of renewal for a further term at the expiration of that period, or of being able at that time to honourably return to the ordinary ranks of Officership.
As I looked at these new comrades, who had as it were suddenly sprung out of the ground, I saw that they wore a novel kind of uniform of simple shape, but very pronounced, and displaying very prominently the insignia of The Salvation Army. They were evidently proud of their colours.

And then I saw another thing that was peculiar about this new Order – I do not know how else to speak of it. I saw that they refused to accept any money or gifts for themselves, or for their friends, or, at most, not more than was necessary to meet the very humble wants of that particular day; while I saw that they were pledged not to own any goods of any kind, save and except the clothes they wore.

And then I saw that they were great wanderers, continually travelling from place to place, and that very much on foot, as this gave them the opportunity of visiting the hamlets, cottages, farmhouses, and mansions on the way, and speaking to the people in the streets, market squares, or other open spaces on week-days as well as on Sundays, as they passed along.

I saw that they assisted at the services in The Salvation Halls wherever they came, always working in friendly co-operation with the Officers in Command; visiting the Soldiers, sick or well; hunting up backsliders, and striving to promote the interests of every Corps they visited, to the utmost of their ability.

I saw that they visited and prayed with the people from door to door, in the great cities as well as in the villages; talked to them in the streets, trains, or wherever they had opportunity, about death, judgment, eternity, repentance, Christ, and salvation.

I saw them in my dream addressing the workmen at the dock gates, at the entrances to public works, in the factories at meal hours; indeed, they were talking, praying, and singing with whomsoever they could get to listen to them, singly, or in company wherever they came.

And as I looked, I saw their number, which was very, very small at first, gradually increase until they reached quite a multitude. And the educated and well-to-do, charmed with this simple Christ like life, swelled its numbers, coming from the universities and the money­making institutions and other high places.
Do you ask me about their support? Oh! I answer, so far as I could find out in my dream, they never lacked any really necessary thing, having all the time what was above all and beyond all in worth and desirability – the abundant smile of God, and a great harvest of precious souls.

(International Staff Council Addresses 1904, General William Booth, p144-147)

‘…new type of monasticism…’

Bonhoeffer’s amazing quote:

‘The renewal of the church will come from a new type of monasticism which only has in common with the old an uncompromising allegiance to the Sermon on the Mount.  Its high time men and women banded together to do this.’
‘New monasticism’ has long been a fascination…ever since the day when Major Geoff Ryan uncovered a vision of William Booth for a ‘band of men and women’ even within the ranks of the Salvation Army for the renewal of Salvationism and the advancement of the gospel.  That has continued through my contact with the Northumbria Community and through my readings of other new monastics.  It is everywhere….and no wonder.  It is also more than a fascination, it has become my spiritual map.
Ancient spiritual practices, a rule of life, a covenanted life are the tools which keep me sane in an insane church.  I feel like an alien in the church, in a sense…I’m talking ‘church’ as we organise it, as opposed to ‘church’ as in the movement Jesus began.
All through the history of the church, there have always been voices unconvinced about the status quo, convinced that radical renewal is needed.  When Christianity became the imperial state religion and became less and less like the movement Jesus began, the ‘Desert Fathers and Mothers’ moved out to the secluded places to form new community, to live again the radical call of the gospel as articulated by the Sermon on the Mount.  It was the desire to show the world that Jesus meant what he said.  In fact, they were so successful at this that they started to call the monasteries ‘schools of conversion’ because thats where the full commitment to a life of discipleship often happened rather in the churches.
When the indigenous church became heavily influenced by Roman Christianity, the Celtic Church continued to spread out from the Priory at Lindisfarne.  Aiden’s (et al) band of missoners carried the gospel over all Northumbria and set up outposts around the crosses of the villages.  They soon became susceptible to Roman influence, but still, the intent was there.
In the times of the Reformation, when Catholicism was corrupt and the Protestants wouldn’t go far enough, groups like the Anabapstists, the Lollards, the Waldensians, were persecuted from both sides.  They made the radical point of allegiance to Jesus in a time when the church was losing the plot.  Movements like the Methodists and the Salvationists which follow them were in the great dissenting tradition…dissenting from compromise to any system that limits the gospel and the Lordship of Jesus.
We’re still in days when the witness has to be made.  It can be gentle, though.  As I mentioned a few posts ago, when I left the Army I left with the determine to know more of Jesus’ Lordship in my life…to recalibrate around Jesus.  This, I’ve discovered to my joy, is my life’s work.  Its such a privilege to get paid to do it, too!  Whatever desert I’m called to go to, whatever ‘denomination’ I work for, whatever my local setting, its that ‘new monastic’ vision that inspires me simply because it takes seriously the call to discipleship and mission in the world.  It takes seriously real spiritual discipline.  It ‘should’ be the norm (serious discipleship) but we all know the reality, not just in others but ourselves too.
I think that even with in our churches, there needs to be a banding together – a non-exclusive witness to our own settings, a modelling of what we believe discipleship means, always inviting others in towards the central maxim of ‘Jesus is Lord’.   Its so important that the movement that bears his name resembles his character, call and commission.
So….here’s to necessary dissent…creative dissonance….