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: 7-9

The next three:

7.  Nurturing common life among members of intentional community.

Community happens either intentionally or unintentionally where people are.  We’re relational beings, so community is gonna happen.  However, you can have static community (read OAPs in a rest home) or an active community (an Army, a football team etc).  What happens in active community is best described as communitas, as opposed to community.  Communitas is community gathered round a common task.  It is, therefore, always an intentional community.  This is the kind of community Jesus created amongst his discipleship, with mission as the organising principle.  Common life comes with Jesus at the centre.  Although the church in Acts 2:42 – 47 is a very young embryonic church, its a great picture:

“42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”

Some people look at this stuff and say the church has moved on from this and this shouldn’t be used as a pattern.  No, maybe not detail for detail…the sort of ‘if its not exactly like this then its wrong.’  I don’t believe the bible necessarily has that sort of blueprint mentality when it comes to the church.    But, my question is why should 21st C church be any less wonderful, transformative and powerful?   I really can’t imagine why not.  Sincerely.  It is only our western individualism that can get in the way of this. There are transferrable principles that can be discrened in the NT writings about the function of Christian community which can only help to inform our function as a body.

8.  Support for celibate singles alongside monogamous married couples and their children.

There are, I think, two issues here.  Firstly, there is discovering the value of singleness.  I know many single people who serve God with abandonment that I’m not able to as a family man.  There is often an unwritten expectation that its ‘normal’ to get married and have a family.  Lots of people do, but there is something to note in people who commit to celibate singleness for life as a calling as well as those who remain single through circumstance.  We need to find ways to honour the single among us.  In the days when SA officers were required, many officers gave whole lives with single hearted devotion and many still do.  Its about recognising the strength and validity of the ‘single warrior.’

On the flip side, its also recognising the place of the family in the war.  Now, monastics of old would hardly have been married.  But in communities of covenant (like new monastic communities or communities like The Salvation Army) there must be a recognised place for the ministry of the family.  I don’t just mean having activities or programmes for all the family.  I’m talking about the commitment to discipling the whole family, and that done together as a unit.  Quite truly, the best times in our ministry have been when we’ve gathered in our home as a family with others around the word, to worship and pray for one another in small group gatherings.  Special times.  Lets not underestimate the capacity of all to live missional lives….even the children.

9.  Geographical proximity to community members who share a common rule of life.

Commuter church is a strange concept.  It is driven by a church consumerism…the kind that makes people drive to the best Jesus show in town.  Too harsh?  No…the consumerist church is often the antidote to missional living.  It means that people can work in one place, live in a completely different place and worship in an entirely different place.    So, there is something about local geographical presence here.

There is also something about being salt and light in a particular community and living out an alternative way of life visibly with others.  Take Pill for example…one of our corps appointments.  We figured that at the time we lived there, 1% of the population were Salvationist – thats fairly high!  As a result, the Army had a high profile in the community not just through the public life of its officers, but through the visible witness of its soldiers and local officers.  Another example of this are both the 614 communities and the Eden communities here in the UK.  Christians commiting themsleves geographically to an area and joining in the mission of God there.   There is something in banding together to minister to a neighbourhood that is very powerful.

Celtic monks here in Northumbria often went out on mission in bands of brothers, travelling out in small groups and establishing churches and outposts everywhere then leaving some staying on as permanant witnesses in some of those places.  The Army have similar planting stories.   You may or may not have heard of The Seige of London….this was an SA campaign to hold an open air on every street corner in London back in the late 1800s then leaving behind a couple to continue build community with the converts made.  We have much to learn from this stuff.

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.


Now, I’ve gotten into trouble writing about this before (not that its going to stop me reiterating what is, I believe, a fundamental Christian truth).  The fact is this: the Kingdom of God is a classless race of people. The divide between clergy and laity is a Christendom creation.   Laity, and indeed ‘clergy’ , is a biblical idea.  But let’s expore:

The term laity comes from ‘laos’ which simply means ‘people.’  This is the only ‘class’ of Christian: the people of God. We are a royal priesthood, a holy nation according to the apostle, Peter.   Even the word from which we get ‘church’ – from the German Kirche, and before that, from the Greek ‘kuriakos’ means ‘people belonging to the Lord’ and refers to the whole people of God.  The ‘ekklesia’ word is a different word altogether and conjures a different idea (more on that another time).

Tracing the term ‘clergy’ in scripture is a severly difficult task.  The concept is even more alien than the literal linguistic appearance.  The word ‘kleros’ which we get clergy from appears in the New Testament 13 times.  Are you ready to be bedazzled by them?

  • the “lots” cast on Jesus’ tunic (Matthew 27:35, Mark 15:24, Luke 23:24, and John 19:24)

  • Judas Iscariot’s “part” in service (Acts 1:17); the “part” of the service and apostleship from which Judas fell (Acts 1:25)

  • the “lots” given on Barsabas and Matthias, and the “lot” which fell on Matthias (Acts 1:26)

  • the “lot” which Simon did not have (Acts 8:21)

  • the “inheritance” which saved Gentiles receive (Acts 26:18); the “inheritance” which the saints share (Colossians 1:12)

  • members of the flock, God’s “heritage” or “allotment”, whom the elders are to shepherd and not to lord it over (1 Peter 5:3)

Great, huh?  Suffice to say that whilst the bible uses both terms, there is no case for the kleros being distinct from the laos whatsover.  The concept is all rather….well….obscure.  There are, of course, roles within the people of God – this isn’t disputed.  But those role are about leadership function, safeguarding community and about equipping the body.  There is no restriction in the New Testament about who can and can’t do what depending on what Christian caste you are in. The distinction developed in the post-apostolic Christendom era.

So where does all this hit the road?  It hits the road when there arises a class of people who begin to demobolise the people of God on the basis of some form of ordination or some other such thing.  Now folks, before you lose your teeth….let me just say I’ve been ‘clergy’.  I know lots of fabulous godly people who are ‘clergy’.  I know a great deal of those are people sincerely and commitedly leading, equipping and ‘oveseeing’ the people of God.  The problem, I believe, is the professionalisation of Christian ministry and the distinction between those who are ‘in ministry’ and everyone else.   This professionalisation came about simply because the new state religion of the Roman Empire demanded impeccable services, clean rituals and professionals to do it excellently.  None of this changes the fact that there are roles within the laos…we still need equippers, safeguarders and leaders.  We need the five-fold ministries of Eph 4.

The other place it hits the road is simply the functioning of the body as I’ve alluded to in previous posts.  The meetings of the early church for the duration of the apostolic generation and a few following generations we open participatory….everyone brining a prophecy, word, psalm, tongue, interpetation, teaching etc etc through the Holy Spirit with Jesus Christ at the head.

I fought tooth and nail against clericalism in The Salvation Army and I lost.  But for me, I made my own decision.  I now work in a part of the vineyard that has a more articulated clerical system.  However, part of the commitment I admired at Trinity is the commitment in its vision document about every member in mission and every person a missionary.  Also, the concept of an equipping ‘staff team.’    I’m happy do be ‘doing my bit’ towards this journey at Trinity.  My colleagues at Trinity are great folks with a heart for mission and a heart to serve the people of God, do not mis understand me.  The difficulty with this whole issue is that people take this thing personally (which is why people have grumbled about me saying this before).  Its not about good people, its about a system which has its roots more in the paganising of the Christian faith than New Testament vision for the functioning of the body of Christ.

Incidentally, I don’t find the term ‘lay’ or ‘laity’ easy at the moment mainly because the way it is used is not true to the biblical concept and is used in contrast to ‘clergy.’  As a Methodist ‘lay worker’ I’m reminded of this obscure theology everytime I write an email!  I change it when I can and wince when I can’t.  ‘Just call me Andrew….’  is my favourite line!   Yet its also so funny when I get mail from Funeral Directors etc addressed to ‘The Revd Andrew Clark’  – I find that quite hilarious!   So, I’ll continue to resist these terms until we hear them in their right contexts with as much grace as I can muster.

Let me share my hope….my hope is that on my death bed as an old man (God willing) – the clerical/laity divide will be a thing of the past.  I am praying that my generation will be the last clerical generation.  Sincerely and truly.  Before that, however, my hope is that from my place in Trinity over the coming years, I’ll be able to move on to ‘modelling’ what I keep on saying about all this.   The simple issue for me is that the only thing I’m qualified in is the professional leadership of churches so we have some creative years ahead of us as we picture how we support our family whilst facilitating organic expressions of the church.  We’re leaving that to God, but its good to be on the journey, one step at a time.

My plea, to both my Army officer colleagues and other dear ‘clergy’ brothers and sisters is that we explore our role, make brave choices, to simply begin the needful process of declericalising Christian ministry in favour of something much truer to the New Testament vision.

Doing it by the Book?

Every church, in essence, wants to do things ‘by the book’ (meaning the Bible). Yet, it is surprising that many of the ‘sacred cows’ we have in the church have little foundation in the New Testament at all.  Here is a list (with help from Frank Viola and George Barna) of some of the post-biblical, post-apostolic features of church which are largely influenced by Christians accepting the pagan influence of the day that many of us think are crucial to church life and practice founded on the tradition of the bible.  Hold onto your hat….

  • The Church building – first appeared in around 327AD under the influence of the supposedly converted emperor Constantine.  These were patterned after pagan Greek Temples and Roman basilicas.
  • The ‘Pastors’ Chair –  taken from the seat of the judge that featured in pagan Roman basilicas.
  • Tax exemption for clergy – emperor Constantine (again) made churches tax exempt in 323AD and in 313AD gave priests tax exemption so that they were equal to pagan priests.
  • Cathedrals – first built in the 12th Century according to the pattern of the pagan philisophy of Plato.
  • Church Steeples – find their root in ancient Egypt and Babylon but popularised by Sir Christopher Wren in 1666 rooted in his interest in freemasonry which utilized Egyptian pagan beliefs.
  • The Pulpit – appeared as late as 250AD, borrowed from the Greek ambo which was used by Jews and Greeks to deliver monologues
  • The Sunday Morning Order of Service – has remained relatively unchanged all the way from Pope Gregory’s Mass in the 6th Century all the way through to our modern day practices.  Whether you are Roman Catholic, free church, state church, pentecostal, evangelical or charismatic, your order is simply a variation of the 6th Century Mass and bears little resemblance to any early church or New Testament  format.
  • Candles on the ‘communion table’ and incense – from the pagan ceremonial court of the Roman emperors of the 4th century.  The table came from Zwingli in the 16th century.
  • Congregation standing to sing/music playing whilst clergy and/or bible enters – borrowed from the pagan ceremonial court of the Roman emporers in the 4th century and brought into protestantism by Calvin.
  • Coming into church with a sombre/reverential attitude – from medieval notions of piety, brought to the protestant church by Calvin and his cronies.
  • Guilt over missing church services – 17th century English Puritans
  • Long prayer by the Pastor before the sermon – those jolly Puritans again.
  • The Altar Call – Methodists followed byCharles Finney
  • Bowed heads and eyes closed in response to ‘salvation message’ – Billy Graham in the 20th century
  • The Contemporary Sermon – borrowed from the Greek sophists, highly trained and skilled in rhetoric.  Augustine (himself trained in rhetoric) converted it and made it central to Christian worship.
  • The contemporary Pastor (ie ‘Single Seat Bishop/overseer’ as opposed to Eph 4 pastor) – Ignatious of Antioch in the 2nd Century but wasn’t popularised until Constantine standised the clergy system in the early 4th Century
  • Hierarchical leadership – Constantine again.  This was the model of the Babylonians, Persians, Greeks and Romans.
  • Clergy – Constantine again, although Tertullian first coined the concept.
  • Contemporary ‘ordination’ – evolved from the 2nd Cenutry to the 4th century.  It was taken from the Roman concept of accepting men into public office.  The ‘holy man of God’ idea can be traced to Augustine, Gregory and Chrysostom.
  • The Title ‘Pastor’ – this didn’t come around in the church until the 18th century in the Lutheran church.
  • Wearing your Sunday Best – late 18th Century during the Industrial Revolution rooted in the working classes wanting to keep up with their middle class neighbours.
  • Clerical Robes –  330AD with, you guessed it, Roman Emperor Constantines influence.  He wanted his clergy to wear the same as the Roman officials of the day.  By the 12th century, clergy began wearing clerical garb instead of every day clothes to separate them from the ‘normal’ people.
  • The Clerical’backwards’ Collar – The Rev Dr Donald McLeod from Glasgow in 1865.
  • The Choir– provoked by Constantine’s desire to mimic Roman imperial services.  Developed also from Greek dramas in Greek temples.
  • Boys/Children’s Choirs – began in the 4th century based on the pagan idea that children’s voices were more divine.
  • The Worship Team – based on the modern rock concert, and brought into church in 1965 by Calvary chapels and later the Vineyard churches.
  • Tithing – although a system operated for the temple in the Old Testament, tithing was not a Christian practice until the 8th century.  The tithe was taken from the Roman rent charge/tax and later justified by using the Old Testament to bolster its position in the church.
  • Clergy salaries – ole Constantine
  • the Collection Plate – the first collection plate was passed round the church service in 1662.
  • Infant Baptism – rooted in the superstitious beliefs of Greco-Roman culture, brought into Christian culture in the late 2nd century.  It replaced adult baptism almost entirely in the 5th century until the emergence of the Anabaptists during the reformation in the 16th/17th century
  • The Lords supper reduced from a full ‘agape’ meal to the cup and bread – during the 2nd century as result of pagan ritual influences
  • Paul’s letters arranged according to length in the NT – based on the Greco-Roman system of compiling philosopical writings in the 2nd century.
  • Bible split up into chapters – University of Paris professor Stephen Langton in 1227.
  • Bible chapters split into verses – printer Robert Stephanus in 1551

So what? you might be saying.  Basically, when you explore some of these ideas, we see that much of modern Christian practice has no New Testament root yet we see many of them as central to our experience.  The thing is, the bible is not silent on the functions of the people of God and many of our common practices marginalise, neutralise and disempower the priesthood of all believers.  It is just striking that so much of what has become part of the Church of Jesus Christ has little foundation in the early Christian community.  Yes, things adapt and change but the issue, certainly for me, is not just about practices but in how the practices change the theogical thrust of the church’s teaching.  We often don’t see these things because we tend to ‘read back’ into the bible our modern practices.

So, for example, when we see ‘pastor’ in Ephesians, we read our modern day picture back into it.  When we thing leadership, we read our heirarchical top-heavy systems back into it.  When we read the bible, we read it split into verses and we use them devoid of their context without good knowledge of the history they are rooted in, what the other part of the conversation is (especially with Paul’s letters).

For more indepth info about how these things impact the modern church, see Pagan Christianity by Frank Viola and George Barna.




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!