Renewal of the Church?

Ideas-Make-or-Break-Your-BusinessAs I prepare to begin my MA in Mission (Celtic Mission and Spirituality) course in the autumn of this year,  I’m starting to think towards the big D….the dissertation.  Although I haven’t had any formal conversation with the college yet, my current thoughts are to make a study of Celtic New Monasticism…in particular, what role it may or may not have in the renewal or reinvention of the church for post-Christendom UK.  I’m convinced that the renewal of the church will come from a form of new monasticism, just like Bonnhoeffer was.  I was convinced of that in my Salvation Army days, and am equally convinced now.

What is clear to me is that even some of our most successful churches in the UK are running on ‘Christendom-shaped’ paradigms.  Professional staff, audience of worshippers, programme based, etc.  When this works, its fine.  But by and large, it isn’t working because it takes a huge of effort to pull it off.  I know this full well….I’m at the helm of trying to make a church like Trinity tick.  There is still a place for this form of church, of course, but it is fading.  I’m not being pessimistic, just realistic.

People protest – ‘the Lord will build his church!  Why are you saying it is failing?’  I think we need to understand, again and again, church is people – the body of Christ.  Church is NOT our structures, ways of being and doing.  The people of God will continue to grow and form the body of Christ.  The question is, what does the body of Christ look like for our generation.

On Wednesday this week (18th June) I’m going to publish a short vision document.  It is an idea, a hope, a something that has been with me for a long long time but which is coming into maturity and also into sharper focus.  I’ve sung  General Booth’s line ‘The revolution now being…send the fire today.’  Now is the time to have a stab at it!

Please tune in!!!

12 Marks of New Monasticism: 10-12

10.  Care for the plot of God’s earth given to us along with support of our local economics.

The first part of this ‘mark’ is, I guess, one that would only be making an appearance in lists like this very recently.  Gradually, more and more Christian communities are discovering the important of stewardship of the earth as a fundametal biblical principle (even if a little bit late).   Yet, over the last decade I’d say there has been a large influence to ‘get out and keep your neigbourhood nice’ often as part of ‘servant evangelism’.  Yet, I think this call goes further.  Its about finding ways to make our footpath as people sustainable and responsible as well as having a response to improve the location we are in.  More an more communities have gardens, projects and redevelopment initiatives going on, especially in the inner city, and this is great.

Support of local economics is crucial for the future of our cities.  Our supermarker cultures and the mass production and wholesale of goods threatens local and small business and affects the sense of community.  There is much to be said in Christians leading the way (and indeed, in challenging) local businesses.  The story is told of Bramwell Booth opening a bread factory to bake bread when the local bakers were charging costs above the reasonable rate for people to pay…because Bramwell could do it for next to nothing, they soon changed their minds!  Now, it couldn’t quite work like that these days, but the principle is the same.  Yes, we support local businesses and enterprise and invest ourselves in the community, but not at the expense of the poor I shouldn’t like to think.

11.  Peacemaking in the midst of violence and conflict resolution within communities along the lines of Matthew 18.

No-one can fail to notice that we live in a war torn world.  Leaving aside the pacifist/non-pacifist debate, regardless of that, there is a huge role for Christians to be reconcilers.  The first place this needs to be ministered is within the church.  It also needs to be ministered into local families who have no healthy ways to solve differences.  It needs to happen in fractured communities where racial segregation fuels tension.  It needs to happen between peoples and nations.  Whether you are for war or not, and whether ‘just war’ is in your theology,  all of us can and should have a theology of reconcilliation and peace-making.

However, to now enter the pacifist debate, today’s new monastics will travel to places and Bagdad and Kabul and look the locals in the eye and ask for forgiveness for the wrongs done in the name of our nations.  They will sit with the killer and the bereaved mother and broker some resolve.  They will sit with the broken husband and wife and weep for restoration.  They will sit in the roads in front of tanks.  They will refuse to be at war with anyone, because to be at war is to fight your brother.  They will move into broken communities and live peacably with everyone so far as they are able, repairing broken walls and repairing places long devastated by the consequence of sin and poverty.  They will be up front and about the fact that the way to peace is through reconcilliation to God through Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit wherever and whenever they find a soul who needs the light of God.  They’ll fight and they’ll fight to the very end to see God’s Kingdom transformation to come in whatever form it needs to manifests itself.  I believe these to be the steps of Master Jesus.  I ask that God would give a soft hard and hard feet to go to the places it is vulnerable to go to all for the sake of grace.

And finally:

12.  Commitment to a disciplined contemplative life.

This is pure dynamite.  From our position of freedom in Christ, we submit ourselves to him.  We commit to seeing our relationship with him develop through the renovation of our hearts by his Spirit.  We follow the footseps of Master Jesus who would often go into the night to pray or rise to pray alone to maintain close communion with the Father.  We will reject the shallowness of 20th century evangelical-charismania and plumb the depths, widths and heights of the love of God through Jesus.  We will then live out of that place as we engage in mission to a lost world.

The new monastic will take a spiritual leaf out of a variety of people’s books throughout Christian history to seek appropriate help and responses to our current day problems.  We’ll pray with the apostles, the church fathers, the reformers, the anabaptists, the Wesleyans, the pentecostals, the charismatics, the Salvos, the new monastices, the eastern orthodox because we’re all birthed from the same branch which is Christ and we will recognise the value of the whole Christian tradition, lest we become arrogant and think we have the monopoly on holiness rooted in the trenches of the daily establishing and advancing of the Kingdom.

From the place of close communion, the new monastic engages in close connection with the people around, pouring out their lives and investing in the lives of those who need themselves to reignite the spark of the Divine and reconnect with their Creator.  As they do this, they will pray, talk, drink coffee, mow lawns, sweep yards, preach, worship, work, pray again and on and on for as long as Jesus tarries in his coming again, seeing more and more the answer to ‘Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done!’


Thanks for taking this brief wander through the 12 Marks of New Monasticism with me.  I hope, certainly, that you Salvo’s out there will have heard something of the call to primitive Salvationism which was an order of preaching friars as much as any people were.  For those tired of routinism in church, I pray that there might be something which will cause you to ask ‘yes, there is more to it in this.’  And for all of us, I’d ask ‘how might my world see Jesus if I started to live out my Christian faith with others in this way?’  Good question….the answer demands some sort of response from us before God for such a time as this.

12 Marks of New Monasticism: 4-6

Straight into ‘mark’ number 4:-

4.  Lament for racial divisions within the church and our communities combined with the active pursuit of a just reconciliation.

These set of 12 marks have their context in the US, that melting pot of nationalities and races.  I don’t claim to be up on the scene over there, but there are still clear racial divisions.  Both in the states and here, especially in the cities here, there are many ethnically divided churches.  Black churches, chinese churches etc etc.  A lot of this was a part of the church growth movement that thought you had to get everyone who was the same together in order to win them.  We are reminded in scripture that we, united in Christ, are a new nation, a new people, a royal nation in fact.

One day we will stand before the throne, every tribe and every nation under God and sing the song of the Lamb.  It strikes me that in a divided world, outrageous unity is one of the most significant prophetic acts we can perform.  In Aberdeen, we never would speak a word against our Eastern European neighbours and, actually, we had to take a family in and provide a few days sanctuary for them against some rampant racism against them.  We’re especially proud of Ben, who happily and intentionally befriended the E European lads in his class.  Bramwell Booth, writing about the context of the World War commented that ‘every land is my father land, because every land belongs to my Heavenly Father’ – this against the backdrop of trying to keep a unified International Salvation Army amidst world wide conflict.

Again, however, it starts at home.  Actively advocating for justice, reconcilliation between peoples whereever or whatever the context….even if its just one neighbour who doesn’t speak to another.  We have this ministry of reconcilliation, says Paul.

5.  Humble submission to Christ’s body, the church

Paul exhorts the Ephesians to ‘Submit to one another our of reverence for Christ.’  This is a recognition of the fact that the whole body manifests and ‘makes up’ the Body of Christ.  The inclusion of ‘allelon’ (Greek – ‘one another’) here and quoted several other places just emphasises the unity of the body.  We are to do a whole lot of ‘one another-ing’.

I’m not sure where I got this from, I think it might be from the Chinese language, but I remember someone telling me about how in a particular culture, a common Christian greeting is ‘I submit to the Christ in you’.  Profound, absolutely profound.  It is a submission that we see modelled in the Trinity, mutual submission.  But just the wonder of the discipling of seeing Christ in our brother/sister and submitting to Him in them.  This doesn’t preclude leadership, but it certainly adds to the picture of leadership scripture calls us to.  I think this statement is the one key to the abuse of power in church – for everyone to submit to the Christ in each other.  There is transformation in that!

6) Intentional formation in the way of Christ and the rule of the community along the lines of the old novitiate.

This is huge, especially potentially so for The Salvation Army.  One of the troublesome things about Christianity these days is that the term ‘Christian’ means everything and nothing.  Because we’ve typically had the bar high on our standards of church and low on standards of discipleship, the disciple can be difficult to find in some areas.

Now, my testimony is that whilst in the Salvation Army I still witnessed ‘nominalism’, the one thing that was a potential counter to that was Articles of War.  In the Army, discipleship is partially defined by a rule of community, a soldiers covenant.   You serve your time as a recruit, you see if you can cut the mustard, you enrol and you embrace the covenant with the community.

It has to be said, that this sort of thing is secondary to conversion….being a member of the body of Christ, getting saved, requires no rule, covenant or promise.  However, that is why monasteries were often called ‘Schools of Conversion’ and monastic life as a ‘second conversion.’   When you confuse membership of the Body of Christ with membership of an order, you get into sticky ground.  The Army is the prime example of this.  I believe it is wrong to see soldiership as church membership for those reasons.  Soldiership is a commitment to a community and a way of life as outlined in the Articles of War and the Orders & Regulations.

Leaving that aside, I believe the day has come where many churches need to articulate in clear terms what they mean when they speak of  ‘discipleship.’  This is not about creating a second tier of Christian, this is about calling up those who’ve lost the discipleship vision to live as a radical follower of Jesus.  I believe every community should have  a community discerned ‘rule’ or ‘covenant’ where those within it can be supported, guided and kept accountable in their spiritual and missional pratices.  Before we left Torry, we had started to explore common practices which, alongside our soldiers covenants (which, admitedly can be a bit less than striking). to help us flesh out our discipleship.  I’ll post them in the next post before going on to steps 7-9.

Bottom line:  “Lower the bar of how we do church, raise the bar on discipleship’ (paraphrasing Neil Cole!)

12 Marks of New Monasticism: 1-3

I mentioned at the end of the last post the 12 Marks of New Monasticism.  Now, let me start by saying that one of the reasons this thing fires me up is because I think that Primive Salvationism had the whole New Monastic thing going on long before Bonhoeffer coined the phrase and before people started exploring it.  It may interest you to know that Booth likened his soldiers to versions of modern day St Francis.  Someone else has likened the concept of Booth to the itinerant preaching friars, folks who were right in the muck of society relieving poor but also igniting faith and hope in the Lord, Jesus.  Click the link for a book that is a good read about ‘New Friars’ – related to new Monasticism. I hope as I go through these you’ll see the similarities.  It is interesting that throughout history, God has often used monastic movements to revive the church.  Here is a looks of the 12 Marks of New Monasticism.  The bold type are the ‘marks’, the rest is my commentary:

1.  Relocation to the abandoned places of Empire.

This may seem like a strange turn of phrase, but you have to realise that when monasticism has been at its most vigorous (ie outwardly missional as oposed to inward ascetisism), it has always been again the context of forging alternative society to the world around.  As I’ve said, this is especially true with regards to the Romanising of Christianity.  For the first 300 years of its inception, the early church was a marginal movement amongst a marginal people.  The gospel thrived at the grass roots mainly because the ‘top’ would see it as too distasteful.  The reality is that Christendom church is well and truly over for urban settings, especially poor urban settings where people have long lost the point of going to church entirely.

Relocating to places the ‘Empire’ would rather have us forget is not only a way to side up with the poor, but a positive way to deal with the marginalisation of the Christian faith in an increasingly secular world.  Christian faith ‘proves its salt’ in these places.  The state establishment of the Christian faith has always led to a ‘gentry’ church, a church of privelege and power.  The height of this was surely the Spanish Inquisition, the Crusades and the witch hunts etc.  Not exactly a great portrayal of the Christian faith.  Truth is that the radical gospel of the Kingdom of God flies in the face of the standards of the world.

2) Sharing economic resources with fellow community members and the needy among us.

When it comes to voting, I vote Labour or when in Scotland, the Scottish National Party (Alba gu brath!!).  Both are parties of the centre left with political agendas which recognise the responsibility of caring for the needy and poor.  I was dragged up through a local authority council estate in the benefit culture.  My family weren’t spongers, they were hard working and dog poor.  Initiatives like Child Tax Credit, Working Tax Credit etc etc brought many families who were brought up in similar places up and over the bread line.  Leaving aside any issues surrounding, this has been a lifeline for many families.

Why do I start there?  In essence, I believe that we see in the early church as revealed in the Acts of the Apostles and Paul’s letters a new race of people who cared for one another in a way that went beyond the extra mile.  The early church was mutually dependant….there was equality and NONE WERE POOR.  I think this is more significant than we realise.  I’ve been in churches where it has been obvious that people in the church have been poor and others are rich.  I’ve been in churches where I’ve sought to ensure that poor brothers and sisters were cared for.  As a whole, the church doesn’t always get that we are a separate race and nation.  Yes we care for one another, but that love also spills out in generosity to our wider communities.  Old monastic places were literal places of refuge and provision for the poor.  A new monasticism has the same commitment, but also ensures that those of the family of faith are cared for too.

Some people go as far as common purse, some communities chose poverty for the sake of others less fortunate, and some still engage in the relief of the poor, but like I say, important not to miss the brothers and sisters in favour of  those who aren’t part of the faith community.  In the West we have such an individualistic approach to possessions, treasures, wealth etc.  The counter cultural community of Jesus is the sole community…yes, the sole community….that have the potential to model to the world how to care for the poor among us.  Communism is essentially ‘Christian wealth distribution’ gone wrong and corrupted.  Its a devil perversion of how a Christian community can potentially function showing the world a differnet pictre, singing a different song.  We need to step up to the plate in this area and model this to the world.

3) Hospitality to the stranger

Again, this touches on the individualism of the West.  ‘We don’t go about other people’s houses’ is the mantra of pride in many parts of our nation as if thats a great thing.  This is amongst our friends!  How often to we give hospitality to the stranger then?

I remember as a young lad this being an automatic thing flowing from Jesus.  I remember as a 16 year old lad encountering a young guy, few years older than me, who claimed to be in need of food.  I thought nothing of it to take him home.  Of course we live in a dangerous world, we must take some care, but we also live in a world where many are lonely and need the care of strangers.  Hospitality, especially to the stranger,  must be one of the most under-rated disciplines and graces of Chrisitan discipleship in these days.  If we are not comfortable with people in our homes, there are other ways to be creative in hospitality.  The important thing to ring in our ears that is in welcoming strangers we may just find that we are entertaining the angels or Jesus himself!

There is also just the intimacy of sharing a meal, of sharing our space, our heat, our light, our space with another.  Here is a Celtic blessing on hospitality for the stranger:

Seeing a stranger approach,
I would put food in the eating place,
drink in the drinking place,
music in the listening place,
and look with joy for the blessing of God,
who often comes to my home
in the blessing of a stranger.

What an adventure…give it a go!  Be safe, but be adventurous.  Start with a neighbour, perhaps.

Looking to the years to come

Funny, I was watching Ugly Betty last night.  I don’t know if you watch it, but basically one of Betty’s ex-boyfriends confronts her about the fact that she’s working in a fashion mag when she wanted to be a serious journalist.  She’d forgotten her vision.

Like I said, the Army stuff is difficult mainly because we believed that ‘doing officership differently’ was part of the DNA of a Salvation Army who’s founders were so full of the principle of adaptability – one we heart and soul believe in.  Laying the Army aside, as we’ve had to do, still leaves us with the call of God upon our lives.  We do have a vision!

So what is the vision then?  We want to be in the place where we can try to live a new model of ‘ministry.’  Its not entirely new, of course, its biblical, but it is somewhat contrary to the approach of Christendom church for the last 1600 years.  We want to be self supporting workers on permanant mission to plant a network of small missional communities at the margins of our society, amongst ‘the poor’, living among them, serving, gaining their trust and being good news to the poor.  We also want to equip others to do the same.  I believe, with Bonnhoeffer, that some sort of new monasticism will bring renewal to the church (more on that another day) and want to encourage brothers and sisters in this.  I believe that people ‘out there’ are spiritual people who don’t just want religious shows, but want community, a sense of depth of spirituality and real honest answers to their questions.   They also need to experience those things in the real world, not in the cloistered conditions of an attractional model church.

We are in transition.  God is gently moving us from on phase to the next.  It has actually been quite important for us in these days just to pay our own rent, our own bills, run our own car, to work set hours and be paid for that rather than being given allowance to live from the church.  I work my hours (and more) and claim back the extra time in lieu. Why?  because I chose to see my work as work.  It is our LIVES that are missional, not just what we are paid to do.  My work stops when I leave the office.  Our live’s mission never stops.

When we sense it is the right time to move on from this stage, we will.  We are already working hard on improving our financial situation and developing ideas and strategies for ways of sustaining family life to release us for the next stage.  We value your prayer.

So, just in case you thought I was going off the side of the cliff in the last post, we’re not.  There is a place in ourselves where we have to properly grieve the separation and to gradually tease the vision from the institution and take bold steps towards it.  This is an experience that the Desert fathers and mothers had as they began to drift from the increasinly ‘state’ clericalised church in the 4th and 5th centuries…they withdrew to the desert to ask the question ‘How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?’ and ‘How then shall we live?’  and then sought to live out the reality.  Here in Britain, we have much to learn from Columba, Cuthbert, Aidan and their other Celtic brothers and sisters who engaged pagan British Isles with the radical gospel of Jesus Christ not from a position of centrality, power and privelege, but from voluntary poverty on the margins of society propelled by the Spirit to ‘go into all the world.’

We are, in essence, looking for a new ‘order’.  The Army as an order is by far the best description of it that fits it in its purest form.  Now, we look for another cymborgi (companions of the heart) to journey with into a new day.  We’re in a stage of history in the church where it is very much twilight.  The curtains have been drawn on Christendom church, in some places its only begining, in others their twilight is dawn instead of dusk.  But whether we here in Britain are in dawn or dusk, the landscape is changing and we need to seek the will of the Lord as to how we can serve our present age and be faithful expressions of the body of Christ on earth in these days.

Have a read for more on new monasticism:



After Christendom Summary

For those of you who might want to ‘brush up’ on the thinking that accompanies how we might respond as a church after Christendom, Stuart Murray has a book called ‘Church Afer Christendom’ and one called ‘Post-Christendom’.  They are weighty books, although very good.  There are also others in the ‘After Christendom’ series.

However, if you don’t have time to wade through a book, I have discovered a Study Guide for ‘After Christendom’ which summarises the message of the book, gives some practical helps and then some good questions to ask.  Maybe you have a book club or something, or a leadership team you could explore this stuff with.  Might just help you reposition yourself for mission in post-Christendom west.  Certainly Europe, Australia, New Zealand are  further on into post-Christendom than, say, the United States and Canada but still, helpful stuff.

Its worth pointing out that even by the term ‘post-Christendom’ that there is a new era to come.  It is dawn, twilight, where the old is fading and we enter a period of night….but hey, joy comes in the morning and we are at a stage of history where the creative church reincarnates itself to communicate the ageless gospel to a new world.  Exciting times.

Anyway, here is the link to the study guide for those interested.


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!

Prevenient Grace

Those of us who find oursevles on the ‘Wesleyan’ side of the fence when it cmes to theology have a beautiful contribution to make on the theme of God’s activity in the world.    Its not exclusive to Wesleyans of course, its biblical but the Calvinist would roughtly define the same idea as ‘common grace’ – that which sparks within the human being and which enables them, for example, to love and do good.  The concept of prevenient grace would take a whole lot of unpacking un its fulness,  but there are some really interesting implications for mission.

Firstly, prevenient grace recognises that God, first and foremost, is a missionary God.  Even before his people, he is absolutely out there whispering his presence in peoples lives, relentlessly presenting himself before them, pursuing them and opening the door of response.  Yes, people are sinful, they have lost their glory in its fulness, and there are many who shun Him, but God is out there active as the real missionary in the world.  The Father send the Son, the Son sent the Spirit and they all send us.  So wow, when we go out into the world in response to the missional-incarnational impulse place in us by Holy Spirit, we find that God has indeed prepared the way.  He is ALREADY active in the places where we have not yet had the courage to go.  God goes to the pub more often that  you do.  He does to the strip club more often than you do.

I remember one evening after a Street Pastor session encountering a young lady who had just finished a shift at a lap-dancing club in the town.  She stood before me, expectant that I had a message for her.  I delivered the message that God gave me there and then and whilst there were drunken brawls going on around us, we stood with tears in our eyes as we experience the tangible presence of Holy Spirit amplifying Jesus and his radical grace towards her, even her.  She subesquently left her line of  ‘work’ and returned to full time education with a part time job, (so she told me some weeks later).

It is out of some sense of moral superiority that we perhaps imagine that there are places he won’t go.  A sort of spiritual superiority, a modern day phariseeism that says ‘God won’t be seen amongst those people.’  My colleage, David, preached about the 10 lepers on Sunday evening from Luke 17 where Jesus slams home the truth of grace amongst the foreigner in the healing of the lepers, without strings!  Hey….God broke into my life when I was just as sinful, just as depraved and as far away from God as any other ‘sinner’ or ‘foreigner’ to God.  Why should I assume that he will only meet me in the sanctuary.  Indeed, everywhere that the God encounter can be had is the holy place.  And thank the Lord I’ve been in some pretty dank Holy Places in my life!

The second lovely aspect of prevenient grace is, as I’ve mentioned partly already, the idea that even in the very worst of person, not only is there something worth redeeming, but there is (however marred) the image of God.  This, I believe, is a crucial aspect of belief that will help us in mission in these post-Christendom days especially with regards to reaching people who the typical British church struggles to link up with.  People with radically alternative lifestyles.  We are quick, and I have been so quick, to judge others.  After all, some people’s sin is very obvious and its easy for us to condemn it or point it out.  Our concept of holiness means that we can’t cope with ‘such people.’  Again, we only need to look to Jesus.  The pharisees wandered around trying to keep themselves pure and undefiled from the filth around them yet here is Jesus, Messiah, Son of God, Alpha and Omega mixing with sinners, tax collectors, prostitues, lepers and all other sorts of societies outcasts who would only dare call on Jesus from afar due to the pharisaical religious attitudes they had faced.  Jesus is the one who leaps over all their walls and speaks into their lives.

He extends grace…favour, attention, time, love, care, mercy, forgiveness, wholeness, healing and salvation that they don’t deserve.  Yet is that not what he has done for us?  How then, as followers in the way of Jesus, engage in this grace-filled ministry?  Might it begin by being able to recognise even in ‘the worst’ that there is, within that person, the stamp of God – Father, Son and Holy Sprit – in that very being?  And might we realise that holiness is not so much about maintining an outward ritual purity as much as it is extending the radical grace that has transformed us to those who need it most.

A former Archbishop of Canterbury once noted ‘everywhere Jesus went, there was a riot.  When I go places they make me cups of tea!’

Prevenient grace and the theology of the missionary God (the missio Dei – as the sophisticated like to call it) go hand in hand and we find that God himself not only calls us to be missionaries, but in the person of Jesus, who is the perfect representation of the Godhead, shows us how to operate in radical grace.  It transforms ‘Go for souls…and go for the worst!’ (William Booth)

Shema Spirituality

I’ve been an avid reader of Alan Hirsch’s stuff over the last couple of years.  Firstly, there is the excellent ‘The Forgotten Ways‘ , truly on of the best books on activating a missional form of church and I’d even go as far as to say its one of the best books on mission I’ve read.  Then there is the tool to applying that book, ‘The Forgotten Ways Handbook‘ which I’m desperate to work through wth a group of people.  Its teeming with practical stuff for applying the teaching in the previous book.  In these two books, Alan expounds ‘apostolic genuis’ – what he sees to be the essential elements of all highly effective and authentic missonal churches (using the early church and the underground Chinese church as example of exponential growth).  I’ve blogged a bit about apostolic genuis over at ArmyRenewal (my previous blog) and you can do a search of that stuff there.

And so to the blog title, Shema Spirituality.  This is expounded in Alan’s books ‘Untamed – reactivating a missional form of discipleship‘ as well as in ‘ReJesus – a wild Messiah for a missional church’.  This is a phrase that Alan has coined to encalsulate the importance of monotheism at the centre of Christianty and, indeed, understanding God through the person of Jesus Christ, the unique and full physical manifestation and revelation of God the Father.  The Shema, in case you didn’t know, is a central prayer of Judaism taken from Deuteronomy 6:4 onwards (pictured left –  ‘shema’ is the first Hebrew word in the verse meaning ‘Hear’), reiterated and expanded by Jesus in Mark 12:28-31 (and in the other two synoptic gospels)

28One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

29“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.[a] 30Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’[b] 31The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[c]There is no commandment greater than these.”

This is the central creed of Judaism, recited daily and nailed to the door posts, but Jesus also confirms it as central to Christian understanding and faith.

Anyway, whats so key about this? Essentially, its about having a right view of God.  Alan points out that the shema:

  • contains the revelation that God is one
  • that God wants to have our whole devotion in every aspect of our lives….no false dualism, sacred/secular divide including sexuality, work, play, home, politics, ecomomics….all become aspects of worshipping God.
  • expanded by Jesus to explicitly include love for people to stop all the pious ones getting the impression its some purely vertical navel-gazing devotion to God.  By adding ‘love your neighbour’ Jesus is claiming that loving God is only complete when it is also being expressed and flowing out of our relationship with him.

The central creed of the Christian faith – ‘Jesus is Lord’ – articulates the shema for the Christian.  Alan suggests this is central to every Jesus movement.

Basically, authentic discipleship comes into play when shema spirituality is fully realised.  A combination of ‘Right Thinking’, ‘Right Acting’ and ‘Right Feeling’ (basically, a combination of orthodoxy, orthopraxy and orthopathy).

How does this look practically?  Its about realigning our lives under the Lordship of Jesus…making him central to everything, having him as Lord over everything, refusing to lock him out of anywhere.  More than that, its about making sure that nothing supercedes Jesus in our lives….neither church, family, mission, work, ministry, or anything else takes his place.   Bigger than that, its about our idols, its about Jesus having our full loyalty.   So, what does that look like in all the aspects of our lives?

I doubt I’m doing the idea justice, you’d have to read more, but there is something so incredibly important about our lives being fully under the Lordship of Jesus.  It reminds me that God has his claim upon me in Tesco as much as he does when I’m gathered with the church or at my dinner table at home.  Its the act of continually presenting our whole selves back to God, all the time.  For me, its about integration of life, spirituality, mission and lifestyle under the one who claims my life.

A helpful examen tool borrowed from St Ignatius of Loyola:  Where did I work with Jesus today? Where did I work against Jesus today?   Journal about it for a few weeks….see how your life is aligned.  Or maybe even take a leaf out of the Jew’s book…put it on the door posts of your home, in your car, or your desk at work….everywhere you need the reminder.

‘Here I am.. SEND me!’

I’ve been a passionate student of revival and a pretty consistent pray-er for revival for a long time.  For years, what I’ve meant by that is that the Holy Spirit would come and zap the church, there would be conviction, there would be salvation and salvation in numbers.  Now, I think its still fairly safe to say that any sort of ‘revival’ will always have certian things in common.  There seems to be a common thread.  Firstly, there is usually a re-focus on God’s word, or a re-discovery of a neglected truth.  Or, there is a new appreciation of the cross.  Or thirdly, there is a different manifestation of the Spirit (eg Toronto etc).   Most of these have lead to changed lives, changed churches, and salvation.  We’re certainly at the stage now where we’re Christianity seems to waiting for the next big wave.  The recent Florida thing seems to have been stemmed by some immorality somewhat, and certainly wasn’t the ‘next big thing’ everyone expected.

So whats going on with this?  Thing is, typically when the church has been at low ebb, thats when people get desperate and call out.   So, there is a degree of seeking God to be done.   But thing is….in these days, the church is more open to the Spirit quite possibly than it has in most of its history, we understand and have access to God’s word more than we did before and yet we’re not always finding ‘the magic’ happening in our churches.

I’m convinced that the next ‘revival’ will be different to the previous ones.  Yes, people will get saved, the Word will be real, the Spirit will be present.  But I think the context and the catalyst will be different.  You see, I think the church’s biggest need isn’t more Holy Spirit tongue-fests ( please note, I’m not anti-Toronto or anti-charistmatic, but there has been some insular stuff amidst all that).  I don’t think the need is for more bible knowledge and the whole ‘bring the bible back into schools’ and all that sort of stuff.  Nor do I even think that it is some moral crusade to re-capture Christian Britain, as if somehow to capture a wonderful golden age.

When I think of the early church, they had a whole raft of things going.  Yes, they had Jesus, the living word as their focus.  That’s key.  Second, they had ministry in the power of the Holy Spirit.  Yes!  And, many many were saved.  Yet, the key in the spread of the church wasn’t just these things….it was because these things thrust the disciples of Jesus OUT from the places they were keeping themselves to engage in the lives of people.  They were thrust out from the walls of the synagogue (God even allowed persecution to come in order to make sure they were truly out there) into the places where, like Paul, he had to eat and live and become like a Gentile in order to save the Gentile.  These original disciples are thought to have been thrust out to the edges of the then Roman Empire, carrying the gospel with them where they went.  It was the going that brought the ‘recipe’ for transformation.

God acted as he has done in previous revivals to bring the people of God to an awareness of the word, an awareness of the things of the Spirit and to spark the ‘evangelical’ passion of his people.  Yet, if we are all ‘Word’ and all ‘Spirit’ yet forget to go, it bears little fruit other than that we can enjoy for ourselves.  Isn’t that what gluttony is??  Its clear to me that God seeks to mobilise a mission people who will take upon themselves a missionary stance with regards the micro and macro situations God puts them in.  People who have a mindset that is about carrying the Word and Spirit, the Blood and Fire, to the people instead of expecting people to flock to church in revival.  There will indeed be a coming in, there will be an equipping of the new disciples, and of course, there will be increased size in Christian communities etc but the focus will be on the going out.

There is a place for repentance, for spiritual warfare, for ministry in the power of the Spirit, for a great grasp of the Word of God and for a heart for the heart of God and the Kingdom.  Its all needed, all necessary.  But the next revival in the church will come when we ditch our old wineskins of ‘come to us’ religion and see every believer living provocatively, unapologetically and intentionally where God has placed them.  I sense that God wants to break his church out of the walls, not just physical ones, but the cultural ones we set up.  This is not an ‘if you build it, they will come’ mentality…its a ‘go into all the world….’ starting right where God has placed you.

What does it mean to live provocatively, unapologetically and intentionally at work, school, even in church?  What will it take for the Word and Spirit in us to take legs and get out to meet that which it is supposed to meet?  How will people in our communities touch and feel the truth and power of the gospel unless they can tangibly meet it in people who will show them and who by their following Jesus will make people take note?

I still sing ‘Send revival, start with me’ regularly.  But rather than me sitting waiting for God to do all the stuff, I choose to partner with him and choose to recognise that in actuality, he’s given us all we need to see the world saved.  We have a gospel that we can share by the power of the Spirit.  The next revival will be a revival of the ‘sentness’ of  God’s people.  This is truly a ‘neglected truth’ we need to discover if our world is going to be changed.