Kingdom


This week I’ve been re-reading ‘The Provocative Church’ by Graham Tomlin. I read this some years ago, but on this second reading its really come alive to me particularly with reference to much of the thinking I’ve been doing about the Kingdom of God and how our understanding and grasp of the Kingdom affects our understanding of mission, evangelism, social action, social justice, the shape of church and all the rest.

I came across something of a definition that is really helpful, especially in the conversation about where our priorities lie in our task in these days. I was in discussion with a cadet on facebook, I think possibly from the US, who was advocating the importance of evangelism over social action. Now in the past, I have said that evangelism is a priority and that social action, whilst admirable and a response to the call of God, is different as it doesn’t quite have the same eternal consequences. To some extent, I still hold that position but I think that I, as well as the cadet, was perhaps coming at it from the wrong angle.

I think its wrong to polarise these issues. I also think its wrong to ‘de-spiritualise’ much of our social work and divorce it from our corps operations, but thats a differnet arguement….and its one that derives from this polarised position.

Now, if our starting point is neither evangelism or social work/action or social justice, but the Kingdom of God, we start to see things in their proper perspective.

Graham Tomlin gives something of a helpful definition. He says something like this:

mission is everything that demonstrates or recalls (read brings into the present) the Kingdom of God – this includes a whole raft of stuff…feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, standing up for those whose voice has been silenced, working for kingdom peace, kingdom economics, kingdom justice, everything that is an expression of making ‘the standards of the Kingdom of God the standard of our lives (Articles of War).

evangelism is the words that explain those things and invite people into the Kingdom of God.

You will know that St Francis of Assisi is often credited as saying something like ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel, using words if you have to.’ Now, it must be the most misused quote around. St Francis was, in essence, an open-air intinerant evangelist but also someone who cared passionately about the poor, and embraced poverty for their sakes.

So what is going on? St Francis got the idea that words weren’t enough. Evangelism is never enough, and it certainly shouldn’t be happening outside the context of the expression of the Kingdom. The apostle James picks this up in his epistle when he says that we should just say ‘God bless’ to the hungry man, but we should feed him.

As I’ve said so many times in this blog, proclamation and demonstration go hand in hand whether, in the case of the New Testament, those are ‘supernatural’ demonstrations (like healings or miracles etc) or practical demonstrations like making sure the widows are cared for. You see, its all a demonstration of the Kingdom.

Jesus central message, all the scholars are agreed, is simply this “Repent, the Kingdom of God is at hand.” We need that message in its fulness. We need the Kingdom of God to be tangible in peoples lives, for them to see what it means to live under the rule of God, the rule of King Jesus, inviting people to enter under that rule through repentance.

Lots of people have problems with evangelism today. But Evangelism is nothing more and nothing less than inviting people to change loyalities and nationality. Like any person who moves to a country not their own, it involves understanding the laws, language and culture, history and customs of that place…it also means recognising and confessing my failure in recognising that God has rightful rule in both my life and in the world…and it involves believing that Jesus provided the way to be set free from the consequences of that rebellion.

The early church held closely to ‘Jesus is Lord’ not just as a nice theological statement, but as a pure expression of living in the Kingdom, under Kingdom rule.

However, the one thing we must recognise and learn is that the church is NOT the Kingdom of God. This is a problematic area. The church is certainly supposed to be small expressions of Kingdom community, how life should really be. Now, I’ll leave you to your own conclusions as to how successful we are at doing that, and as to how successful it is on your front. Reality is that in the Christendom mode, we’ve often been very highly duped into believing that the Kingdom is the church and the church is the Kingdom. There are huge implications in getting this right or wrong. It has huge questions to ask of the church.

Let me just conclude with what I’m saying. If we are not showing the world ‘the Kingdoms of this world becoming the Kingdom of our Lord and Christ'(Rev 11:15) then our evangelistic invitation something akin to asking a person to walk into a dark room with you…they are simply going to be very very wary in doing that with you…and I don’t blame them!

Having said that, lets stop making ‘building authentic Kingdom communities’ an excuse for downplaying the call of the gospels to evangelise. The greek word used for evangelism can’t possibly be understood outside the context of the spoken invitation, the spoken exhortation. Lets not fall into the trap our culture is trying to tell us here.

Our message: “repent, the Kingdom of God is at hand”. Good enough for Jesus, good enough for me.

Evangelism is not a dirty word

In the times we are in, there has been much that has demoted evangelism to the bottom of the pile. Many people are reluctant to share faith because of the culture of the society we’re in, such as the culture I described yesterday. Some thing that because the church isn’t a norm in society, because we’re pluralistic and multi-cultural, and because the world doesn’t readily except the gospel that everyone once had a knowledge of, what we must do now is just make friends and hope the gospel shines from us. I understand that conclusion.

However, there is an alternative we must consider. You know, especially here in the UK, there are more and more people who have no idea of the gospel story. I make reference to the supermarket Sainsburys who last year put out a press release in support of the sale of all their Easter eggs, stating that they had a commitment to sell them due to them being a celebration of Christ’s birth! Then re-issued the statement stating that it wasn’t, of course his birth, but his death. Then, for a third time, they re-issued a statement and confessed that it was in fact in celebration of his resurrection that they were selling the eggs! People don’t know the story of Jesus.

I think that much of our evangelism has had the purpose of getting people to come to church. Again, I state that ‘church’ as an institution, and as a place you go and have services done to you by the professional clergyman and where you don’t have to buy in further than chipping a few quid into the collection plate are over. If churchianity is indeed coming to an end (please God!), then the people who will be Christians are those who are totally sold out to Jesus and many of the people who have some notion that they should attend church will do so no more on cultural grounds. As things get tough in the world with regards to being a Christian, the tactic of getting people to front up to a service on a Sunday will be useless.

Why? Because church is not what happens on a Sunday or Wednesday night. Its not somewhere you go. Church is something we are..and…there is only one church. The word churches shouldn’t really be in our vocabulary because there is but one body. Someone once said that Jesus is coming back for A bride, not a hareem.

So, if evangelism is not to get people to come along to our church empires, what is it? It is the good news of the Kingdom of God, thats what it is. Jesus preached everywhere that the Kingdom of God was at hand. There is an alternative way that you are invited into, a different world, eternity beginning here and now where the charactistics are righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Where the first are last and the last are first etc etc. The entry point into that Kingdom is through repentance and faith in the key character, Jesus, who steps into history of the human being and provides the keys of escape from our corrupt society and our corrupt lives into this other Kingdom.

We have the incredible opportunity to begin to tell the story, God’s story of redemption. Remember when two disciples were walking along the Emmaus road? They didn’t recognise the Jesus that walked with them, they were caught up in the shock of all that had happened, but Jesus brings some context to what they’d just experience by taking them to Moses and the prophets! Have you ever noticed that? Jesus talks to them about his own significance in the context of history….he tells them the story that they’d maybe never considered.

In any case, we have a load of people who don’t know our story (including Sainsburys!). And here is our chance to present not a ‘come to our church’ gospel but welcome to the Kingdom…come, taste and see the beauty of it…come live it with us and we live counter-culturally to the world we are in through the gateway of the cross, death and resurrection of Jesus.

We have the opportunity not to bring people to church, sit them in a pew and leave them forever unemployed in the salvation story of the world. We can invite them in and have them taking part straight away.

We are a salvation people….this is our speciallity. Getting saved, keeping saved, and getting others saved. And when we’re saved, we’re saved to save (and serve too).

Join the Army…be a soldier…enter the adventure…live out the Kingdom and invite people to join you.

On Village Warfare


The previous post, a section from O&R for Corps Officers in 1930, is the section about Village Warfare. Following on from the bit of stuff about Brigades, there was a few things that caught my eye in this chapter.

Firstly, there is just the huge concept of reaching the whole district, even beyond the immediate corps’ town or area. The importance of reaching small villages, is dealt with most practically. But yet, just because a place wasn’t big enough to host a corps, they could still be ‘worked’ in a regular way.

Secondly, there is the ingenuity of the preaching station, or the ‘Battery’. This was something we carried over from Methodist days, but what a practical way to get the message out. The modern day equivalent has to be the ‘gospel bus’ …you know, buses that are driven into areas of a community and opened up for people to come on. I know that the 614 Melbourne (see picture above) folks have one and I know, here in the UK, that the Church Army have one or two as do the Jesus Army. The idea of a mobile unit to take the gospel and the Army’s message is still a valid idea.

Thirdly, in relation to the battery, we see something of an intersting deployment of officer forces. Here are officers being deployed for the sole purpose of running an evangelistic unit out of the, dare I say, confines of the pastoral post. We need to discover again how to best assign our officers, and recognise that not all are primarily pastors (you’ll have heard me bang on about that before, no doubt.) In relation to wise use of forces, there is the total common sense approach to the circle corps, a collection of small groups called societies with their own expression in their various location, but a shared officer.

On the whole, I think we just see a ‘we must do what we can to save the world’ attitude coupled with some creativity in doing that. How often do we thing of the small communities in our area? Do we ever think about taking an Army presence there? Could there be, as the O&R say some undiscovered treasure in areas where there may never be a corps but there could be people contacted, saved and employed in the fight? We need to cast the net bigger…put out our nets on the other side of the boat sometimes.

Back to Church Sunday


Today in the UK is designated ‘Back to Church Sunday.’ Many churches throughout the nation, including many Army corps, held what I guess could be best called ‘seeker service’ and people were encouraged to invite people back to church. I am all in favour of any initiative that engages any particular group of people to reconsider connecting with the things of God. The materials are well produced and thought-out and I’m sure that there will have been some positive results.

There are some cultural assumptions made in the designing this event which is fine if you happen to live with-in the culture of it. For example, the title of the day, Back to Church Sunday, seems to assume that a)people went to church at some point and b) they should come back. There are indeed generations of people for whom that is true, but its not a large generation. I guess too that there are some younger generations who’ve found themselves de-churched. Yet, we should never assume that whilst there are those who will respond to the opportunity to return if they are invited that all will chose to do so. People ‘leave church’ for many reasons.

There are also some questions around the theology of church. The initiative finds its roots in the ‘inherited churches’ who may or may not still have the sense of ‘we are you’re local church, it belongs to you.’ Its a valid idea, but I don’t get the sense that people own their local church, and if they do, its unlikely to be a Salvation Army corps in the sense that many locals might say ‘I’m Church of Scotland’ or ‘I’m C of E’ The second theological assuption with regards to church is that its something that you go to…there is a strong emphasis on Sunday gathering. In this regard, I was encouraged to see the approach at Glenrothes Corps where they held a ‘Back to Church Thursday’ event. Great contribution to the idea, and well done for saying it. Church, as we all know, is the people, not the building or the meeting which happens in the building and certainly not the day it meets.

Another issue is one that has become very much heightened for me both working here in Torry and through Street Pastors. In talking to tens of people in those capacities, the term ‘church’ is still as unpopular as its always been. I can recount several Street Pastor conversations where as soon as you mention the words ‘we are from churches through out the city’ immediately either walk away, freeze up, or go quiet. I’ve stopped saying we are from churches across the city. Church is still not a positive term, it carries negative connotations. Whilst many Salvos might say Army has a negative connotation in society, that doesn’t necesarily mean that ‘Salvation Army’ evokes negative and certainly nowhere near as negative as ‘church’ talk.

My wife, just back from her teaching week for her MA in mission, was sharing that one of her lecturers, Stuart Murray Williams, a prominent missiologist and church planting ‘guru’ said that he things Back to Church Sunday will be something which will work in the short term amongs a small group of dechurched people, but he doesn’t see it as a lasting strategy, for some of the above reasons, as well as the fact that people will only respond to so many Back to Church invitations. Would we be in danger of adding another annual date to people’s nominal churchianity on top of Christmas and Easter? Who knows.

I live in a community where less than 1% of people currently attend church, some families ‘de-churched’ for many generations. ‘Back to Church’ therefore needs to do some transitioning in order for us to ‘take part’ which is what we will do. Our location and situation simply needs a fresh aproach. So whilst I add the thoughts above as part of the reflection on Back to Church Sunday, I also believe that its throroughly possible to adapt any well intentioned idea to the local setting. When the Salvation Army launched its ‘Strategic Framework’ it was explicit in absolute terms about local corps applying initiatives suited to their locality. Its absolutely right, because we’re no longer in the days where things can be automatically rolled out in every community, even if we ever were. So, like I say, we’ll be adapting to local need.

We plan to use the material for our November gathering, using the theme ‘Come as you are’. Having had a little social gathering (quiz) on the Saturday night of the 31st, we’ll be holding a big community meal the next day, including some music, a short talk and invite to link up with what we’re calling ‘Alpha Expresso’ – a four week extract from the Alpha Course running through November. We’ll then encourage any people interested to either plug in to an appropriate existing cell group or we’ll start on especially for them if they can’t make any of the others.

Looking forward to hearing the great stories both of where Back to Church Sunday worked as set out, and where people have had to adapt. I am guessing too that there are some who will just dismiss it…lets not throw ANY baby out with the bathwater – everything is useful with the right pair of glasses and a good dose of creativity.

Affirmations #4: Jesus or Hell

4. I believe that lots of people are going to hell forever (some who never got saved, and some who lost their salvation)

I can totally understand why people would want to theologise hell out of existance. I can imagine why in the midst of grief and uncertainty, Christians may chose to opt out of thinking about the issue of hell.

Funnily enough, we don’t seem to have the same problems about heaven. Somehow, we can cope with heaven because its ‘nice.’ Somehow we can better understand a God with a heaven than a God who lets hell exist. Goes to show how much we don’t know about God.

My grandmothers death in particular brought this issue to the forefront of my mind. Its over ten years ago now, but I will never forget the anguish of realising that she was probably heading for hell…that is unless she repented on her death bed. Its shocking, isn’t it? My granny going to hell.

I had a thousand and one opportunities to share Jesus with my granny, but at that point I was in a strage softly softly place with evangelism and Jesus…I’d believed the lie that all you had to do was be nice to people and let Jesus shine out, and so I never took the opportunity to share Jesus with my granny.

Friends, the evangelisation of the world is urgent because hell is real. The God of love and perfect justice will deal with sin and rebellion in that place. Its repent now, or pay later. I thank God that he is a God of justice.

Some people think that its not right to be thinking about hell as a motivation to get ourselves off out backsides and share our faith. Some think we should just think about God’s massive love. You know, let me just say that one of the biggest parts of Gods love is his love of justice and righteousness. His judgements are 100% right and so if hell is someones destination and its God that has done the sending, I agree with God, without a doubt.

Luke 16:19-31 (New International Version)

The Rich Man and Lazarus
19″There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. 20At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.

22″The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23In hell,[a] where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’

25″But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. 26And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’

27″He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father’s house, 28for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’

29″Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’

30″ ‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’

31″He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’ “

Let that word sink in.

Affirmations #3: World Winning


3. I believe that we should (and can) win the world

Again, this is a topic that has been repeatedly accented on this blog over its however many years now. We realise that the bottom line is that its either Jesus or hell…salvation is in him alone. We don’t hide that, we declare in in out doctrine and everything about us. You may or may not have heard the prophecy given by Catherine Booth along the lines that she believed that The Army would be highly significant in winning the world for Jesus, in facilitating the ‘big push’ for world evangelisation and actually, at 118 countries invaded so far, we’re not doing too badly!

But we don’t just rest on the call of the Booths or the Railtons or even the Cliftons or Gowanses for they are simply emphasising the words of Jesus himself who called us to go into all nations and to make disciples of them. Preaching the Kingdom, demonstrating the Kingdom.

Is it possible? Well, everything is possible with God. However, doubt has crept in about our purpose as an Army. It is interesting that when we talked up winning the world for Jesus, people were actually bold enough to have a go! We were zealous for the Lord in this, absolutely. We know the task remains the same, so whats changed?

a) the task? – nah, the great commission still calls us.

b) culture? – we know the world has changed, church has changed, people’s views of Christianity have changed. However, this is inevitable. Culture is always changing. What often doesn’t change is our mindset or our methods. Commissioner Joe Noland has a little formula:

attack + adapt + attract = some (I Cor 9:22)

The key I want to bring out is adapt. We were very adaptive in our early days, we took leafs from anyones book and had a jolly good go…seeking to grab the attention of our culture. We must do the same today. The message is the same, the method, howver, will be creative as always. Have we lost our creative spark? Have we lost our innovation as a movement? Nah….its there, lets just unearth it!

c) the Army?
– its my long held and annoyingly vocal opinion (to some) that the Army has been guilty in some quarters of losing its focus as a permanant mission to the unconverted. We’ve drifted into thinking we’re a church, which is a grave error. Sure, we are the church (the church is the people/body of Jesus, yes?), but we are a mission. Our soldiers are missioners. But its not terminology thats the problem, lets not fall into that one. The problem is where we set our eyes!

If you set your eyes inwards, you become a people obsessed with the ‘inwards’ of the organisation. You become too focussed on yourself, trapped in unhealthy introspection at the cost of all else. Our frame of reference is how to survive and how to keep us all happy.

If we set our eyes outwards, we become obsessed with reaching the last, the lost and the least and transformation happens in the life of people. It also shapes us because we’ve looked at the call of Jesus, applied it as the priority for our existance.

With a nod to Steve Chalke, we must be careful to let our vision of Jesus and his mission to shape our mission so that we can best win the lost by all means possible. It is that vision of Jesus and mission that then shapes our ecclesiology (how we organise ourselves and what we think we are). We get it the wrong way…we let how we see ourselves as Army shape our mission, which then affects what we say and how we present Jesus. Lets turn that on its head.

The chart flows like this:

Vision of Jesus and his call to us -> How we do mission -> Shape of Church

Not this:

How we do ‘church’ -> how we do mission -> what we say about Jesus

Is the world not too big? No….not if you start where you are. You see, if we all do that, we’ll have the world won by Tuesday (which even gives time for training and equipping!)

Here is a definition of salvationism you may or may not have come across: “The Salvation Army is a revolutionary movement of covenanted warriors exercising holy passion to win the world for Jesus.” Chew on that.

I believe that the world mus be won, that we must lift our eyes up from ourselves and look to the harvest field which is ripe and awaiting labourers. Get yer boots on.

Going for Souls

We’ve been teaching the 4 points to pretty much everyone linked with our corps here. I keep going on about it, I know, but this is by far one of the best ways I’ve come across so far in equipping everyday folks for their witness. Its ‘power to the people’ – something which doesn’t always happen very easily! For the ‘evangelist’ types it seems simplistic and maybe not th most effective method, but for people who aren’t majorly gifted in the evangelism dept, its great.

Tonight we shared with with our Kids Alive kids, gave them one of the little bands (which they were well chuffed with) and was just great to hear them go out the door sharing the gospel with each other! Lord give us what we need to nurture those seeds and see them bear great harvest for the Kingdom!

There are only a few of us in our corps. We’re going all out in sharing the gospel in these next couple of weeks leading up to Easter. We’re praying that boundless salvation will flow. We’re praying that the Holy Spirit will come and cement the Word we share and produce the fruit (godly sorrow that leads to repentance -2 Cor 7:9-11). We’re pressing for souls because there is nothing more important. There are other things that are important, but still, what does it profit a man to gain the whole world but lose his soul? (Matt 16:26; Mk 8:36; Luke 9:25).

Some of you will find that this gospel makes more sense to the poor. Why? Some of these guys have a lot of fertilizer in their lives! It truly is good news to the poor as opposed to the rich young ruler who walked away sad. Camel, needle, eye.

Remember the last, the lost and the least, in your sharing.

4 points


As you might know, we’re using the four points as a focus for our Easter outreach this year. Last week, we gave our wee cell group that meets in our place on a Sunday evening a band/bracelet thingy with the four symbols on. It was just a blessing tonight to hear of the stories of how the folks were able to share the gospel so simply and plainly with not just one or two people, but tens of people this week.

For the hard core evangelists out there, that might not seem very much. But what we’re talking about here are some quiet unassuming types who would have found it incredibly difficult otherwise. This is a great tool to empower people to share. I recommend it again to you.

Just a few things…

Had opportunity to share the ‘4 points’ at the prison this morning, where I’m a chaplain. Great simple tool to get hold of for your witnessing. Gives you just enough of a prompt to enable you to share from your heart. Like I said, they have some good resources to help you at the site

——

I’m reading ‘ReJesus’ by Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch. Eminantly more readable that Hirch’s previous offering, but equally as powerful. The main thrust of the book is how we so often manage to cage Jesus up and build a whole lot of stuff around him that he gets squashed out. The book claims we need to re-Jesus the church..put him back at the centre. Absolutely. Do it.

——

I recently attended an award ceremony as part of the Street Pastor initiative where we were awarded a ‘Good Samaritan’ award from the charity ‘Diced Cap’, which is a police charity (our police officers were a checked band on their caps, thus ‘diced cap’). Great to see the police not only recognising the work of Street Pastors, but also of many Christians across the city involved in some great ministry.

——

I was speaking to a comrade in charge of the work in the Belgian Command yesterday. He was speaking of the challenge of doing mission in places such as Belgium where their is neither a strong Christian ethos or heritage and where people are caught up in secularism, materialism and indifference. This aren’t easy for the Army either…the major is driving as much as 300 miles every Sunday to preach here and there and encourage a strong sense of mission for his officers and soldiers. Pray for them, Majors Jacques and Yvonne Rouffet.

——

the4points.com

I just came across a great and simple evangelism campaign, suitable as an Easter project perhaps, in the form of the4points.com. Visit their website for greater details, but basically the idea is based around four symbols which summarise the ‘4 Spiritual Laws’.

The Heart = God loves us
The X = we have sinned against God
The Cross = Jesus died for us
The ‘?’ = what are you going to decide.

There is much more info, plus some great resources over at the site. Its great for kids work, but also good for some really clear communication of the basic gospel message to a world that doesn’t always ‘get it.’ Using this alongside your day to day corps ministry can only be a benefit!

We’ll be using it at Torry in the lead up to Easter (and beyond) for sure!