I am so glad there is an interval of days between the Ascension of Christ and the Day of Pentecost. I admit that in the past I have not paid enough attention to Ascension Day. And if I did, it was to focus more on the disciples, what they were doing in obedience to their Lord’s instructions.

By continuing now to give my spirit free reign to roam through the narrative looking for additional ways the Ascension is referenced by the Biblical writers, I am finding all sorts of treasures. Some of these I have added as comments on the previous post.

Gifts of the Ascended Christ

Since this one deals so directly to the theme of E4Unity, the unity of the universal Church of Jesus Christ, and the necessity of that unity as related to the perfecting of the Saints, I want to post this separately. Read how the Apostle Paul, reasoning from the historical Ascension of Christ, emphatically states how the Church is to perfect herself in this present age: Ephesians 4:7-16

But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.  Therefore it says,

“When he ascended on high he led a host of captives,
and he gave gifts to men.”

 (In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth?  He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.)  And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds  and teachers,  to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,  until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood,  to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,  so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.  Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,  from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

This I believe, is exactly what the Apostle had in his spirit and in his prayers for those first recipients of this letter (see chapter 3: 14-21). This is the vision the Father has allowed me to see for most of my adult life- the vision of His purpose for His new creation, not the race of Adam but the race of the last Adam, even Jesus Christ.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could all just get along?

I got caught up in two celebrations on Sunday. The first one was at my church where the congregation finally got to hear a report from a church-growth consultant team which has been study our situation, both inside and outside the church for several months.

The good news: we are in the right place at the right time with a very talented congregation to be able to take advantage of the opportunity to grow the Body of Christ in Richmond for the next 10-15 years. But in order to do this and move forward from where we find ourselves at the beginning of 2010, there are some barriers to overcome. The one most obvious and the one the team focused on the most is the present size of the new facilities that we moved into in 2005. They presented a workable plan to the congregation and now it is up to us to see if we can in fact come together and dedicate ourselves to the task.

But this challenge also throws into the spotlight the number one requirement ( in my humble opinion) to be able to do this successfully as a fellowship of Christians bent on following the Head of the Church-the Commander-in-chief. Churches don’t operate the same as corporations- we don’t have ceo’s. If we do, we deny the essence of who we are as God’s new creation- God’s new humanity. No, we have a CIC, and the only hope of success is to follow His strategy by faith and by His Spirit.

Thankfully, I am a part of a congregation which says they understand that: our mission statement is centered in “Alive in the Power of God!” That is before us every Sunday as we gather to worship- on the front cover of our worship bulletin. So the challenge to grow (and I believe our people have embraced that it is God’s desire for His Church to grow) begins with growing deeper spiritually. In this way, I believe we will know if we are “up to the challenge”. Thank you Doug and Dan of the Lifeway Consultant team for your excellent work.

Alive in the Unity of The Spirit

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alive  in the Light- a message from the CIC in I John 1.

 

 

5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. 6 If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.

See Also the Apostle’s statement in the Gospel of John regarding this key element of LIGHT: John 3:16-21

 

How the Gospel of the Kingdom Produces Missional Apologetics                                        johnarmstrong

April 6, 2009 newsletter
John H. Armstrong

The Bible is a book of truly big ideas. We often miss the really “big ideas” because we spend too much time on the lesser ones, often the ideas that we enjoy debating with other Christians. If we are to become missional apologists then this all has to change, sooner than later. I believe we must return to the one really big idea of the gospel of the kingdom.

But here is the problem-we assume that we all know the gospel. (I want to challenge this assumption as long as I live.) We think the gospel is simple (it is in one profound sense)-it is good news about getting our sins forgiven if we personally trust Jesus to save us. You know, “Invite Christ into your heart and get your sin problem solved so you can go to heaven when you die.” The problem, of course, is that this is not the gospel of the kingdom at all. . .

When Jesus began to teach in the synagogues, and heal the sick, he “proclaimed the good news of the kingdom” (Matthew 4:23). The gospel means, in its simple essence, good news. The good news, in short form, is God’s provision of complete salvation through the life, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

When the writers of the four Gospels wanted to report that the gospel was being preached they said things like this: “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15). Jesus even spoke of the necessity that was placed upon him to “proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God” (Luke 4:43).

Some have argued, falsely I believe, that this kingdom of God/good news connection is not found in the Fourth Gospel. (Some even once argued that the gospel of the kingdom was for the Jews, not for the rest of us. Thankfully this idea is almost totally dead.) But consider this about the Fourth Gospel-the most oft-quoted of all texts about new life in the gospel is found in John 3 where Jesus spoke to Nicodemus about his need for birth from above. Here our Lord says, “No one can see the kingdom of God without being born again” (John 3:3) and later “No one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit” (John 3:5). The point here is obvious. Being born of God, and believing the good news, amounts to seeing and entering the kingdom of God. The new birth and the kingdom are intimately connected.

Though the Pauline epistles speak far more often of the gospel without this kingdom link, the same message is still found there. At least sixteen times Paul writes about “inheriting” or “living in” the kingdom through the good news of grace. And the writer of Hebrews, the second letter of Peter and James all refer to “the kingdom” as well. The Apocalypse even says that God “has made us to be a kingdom” (Revelation 5:10). Make no mistake about this-our loss of this emphasis on the gospel and the kingdom is not small. In fact, so far as I can tell, this might be the most important loss to the message of the good news in the modern era.

Social Gospel, Spiritual Gospel, or the “Gospel of the Kingdom

In the 19th century a great debate arose in the Christian church about the gospel. Some argued that what was missing in the era of great revivals, and the later post-Protestant developments in church history, was the social gospel. By this they had in mind the fact that the gospel spoke to things like justice, mercy and concern for the poor. Many evangelicals saw danger in this social emphasis and reacted. They defended the biblical truth that the gospel was about sin and forgiveness, about grace and personal salvation. The great tragedy was that this debate not only divided the church but it radically altered the way people heard and understood the most important message ever given to humankind.

What was the cause of this loss? I believe the answer lies in this question of understanding the nature of the gospel of the kingdom. When we pit personal forgiveness against the transforming power of the good news to change lives, through God-given repentance, we have missed the point. The gospel of grace changes us and changes everything around us. This is not a private message. It is a public declaration of what has been done in Jesus Christ. It is a message that announces to the whole world that God “through him [Christ] . . . reconciled to himself all things” (Colossians 1:20).

When we make the gospel exclusively about private forgiveness, without the call of God to share in reconciliation and transformation in the world, we invent a privatized message that does not transform people and cultures. This message has no connection to the kingdom, which is the actual context of all forgiveness and personal salvation. In avoiding the “works” paradigm many evangelicals have actually created a gospel that is detached from the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. We have lost the gospel of the kingdom.

When Simon the Sorcerer professed faith (we wonder if his faith was real in light of what follows in the story) Luke records that Philip had been proclaiming “the good news of the kingdom of God” (Acts 8:12). When people believed this same gospel they were baptized. Later in Acts we read that the gospel was preached in many cities and new disciples were told that they would have to go through many hardships “to enter the kingdom of God” (Act 14:22). But even more persuasive is the text in Acts 19:8. Here we read that Paul entered the synagogue in Ephesus and “spoke boldly for three months, arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God.” Do you not see it? We would think this text should say that he argued about the gospel. But Luke has no hesitation at all in equating the proclamation of the good news with the reality of the kingdom of God itself.

An Authentic Kingdom Community

One can rightly deduce, from reading the whole of Scripture, that the church is not identical with the kingdom of God but the community that we call the church exists to serve that kingdom. The church expands the kingdom’s impact throughout the whole world. Simply put, the gospel-and thus the church-are always directly related to the kingdom. We have separated them and this has created nothing short of spiritual chaos.

People made in God’s image long for relationships. Having lost their relationship with God through sin they have lost all deeply satisfying relationships with their fellow human beings. All the unrest and social breakdown in the family and society is the result of this brokenness. But the gospel of the kingdom restores broken relationships, with both God and people.

Genuine loving relationships, in which trust and respect are central, are desired by all people. This is a part of that “God-shaped vacuum” we have heard about. And this is why the greatest apologetic of all is missional, or communal. People cannot function as they were made by God without relationships. This is why they gravitate to bars, civic clubs, college fraternities and sororities, sports teams, Gay Pride groups, Internet chat rooms and hundreds of other expressions of human community. And this is why the church fails to present the gospel of the kingdom effectively when it is ceases to be a unique community of people living eternal life in loving relationships.

The fullness of the kingdom of God must be preached and it must be demonstrated. This is not an either/or, but rather a both/and. The best apology that we can give to people today is to show them the implications of the kingdom of God at work in a healthy church. This is why the evil one attacks the church the way he does. He does not need to attack the world. The world already does what it does because they follow him. He attacks the church (cf. Ephesians 6, which refers to spiritual warfare in corporate ways, not private ones) because if the church fails to preach and live the gospel of the kingdom then there is no apologetic that can draw the world to the church.

Conclusion

The generation born since 1965 longs for community more than any I have ever encountered. I am not surprised by this given the impact of modernity and consumerism. I believe the answer to this is missional apologetics.

Put more simply, the answer is found in loving communities that are involved in the real lives of deeply broken people. The staple of kingdom/gospel ministry will always be intentional spiritual friendships. Let me put this as plainly as I know how:

No Christian should ever be without at least one intentional and significant relationship with a non-Christian.

Note, I did not say every Christian is an evangelist. Nor did I say that every Christian is to be a trained apologist. (A careful study of Colossians 4:2-6 will dispossess you of this faulty, but all too popular, notion.)

I have known several Christians who left other religions to become followers of Christ. One, a Muslim, told me time and again that the one factor that drew him to become a Christ follower was the love that he saw in Christians for one another. Several studies of the reasons why Muslims convert to Christ show the same thing. It is not our ability to convince them that Mohammed is a false teacher, or even that the Koran is dangerous, that ultimately wins them to Christ. It is their seeing us living in a love that they cannot and do not know.

The great early church theologian Tertullian said this so well: “It is the Christian’s way of life that shows the validity of his beliefs: goodness is their identifying characteristic” (cited by William Dyrness, Christian Apologetics in a World Community, 28).

(I usually don’t post excerps from others in such detail, but this was so good and fit in with my recent posts and conversation with some that I made an exception. John Armstrong is a very dear friend,Director of ACT3 ministries. He teaches a course in Missional Apologetics at the Billy Graham School of Evangelism at Wheaton College).E4Unity

To follow the Four Part Series-Here

conquering-christ

Conquering now and still to conquer, rideth a King in His might;
Leading the host of all the faithful into the midst of the fight;
See them with courage advancing, clad in their brilliant array,
Shouting the Name of their Leader, hear them exultingly say:

Refrain:
Not to the strong is the battle, not to the swift is the race,
Yet to the true and the faithful vict’ry is promised through grace.

Conquering now and still to conquer, who is this wonderful King?
Whence are the armies which He leadeth, while of His glory they sing?
He is our Lord and Redeemer, Savior and Monarch divine;
They are the stars that forever bright in His kingdom shall shine.

Conquering now and still to conquer, Jesus, Thou Ruler of all,
Thrones and their scepters all shall perish, crowns and their splendor shall fall,
Yet shall the armies Thou leadest, faithful and true to the last,
Find in Thy mansions eternal rest, when their warfare is past.

– Fanny J. Crosby

Lenten Readings-Final Week

Wed    2 Tim 2 A Good Soldier of Christ                                              Thurs 2 Tim 3 Equipped for Victory                                                       Fri Eph 3 The Eternal Purpose of  God                                               Sat Eph 4 Growing up together in unity                                                                    Sun  Eph 5 Children of Light and Love                                              Mon Gal 5 Faith Working through Love Tue Gal 6 Fulfilling the law of Christ

VICTORY in JESUS CHRIST (video)

The Chief Temptation of CHRIST’S CHURCH forsyth

It was what still makes, and always has made, the chief temptation of his Church — the reformation of society by every beneficent means except the evangelical (The Gospel); by amelioration, by reorganization, by programes, and policies, instead of by the soul’s new creation, and its total conversion from the passion for justice to the faith of grace, from what makes men just with each other to what makes them just with God.

It was the temptation to save men by rallying their goodness without routing their evil, by reorganizing virtue instead of redeeming guilt. …It is the error which leads men to think that we can have a new Church or Humanity upon any other condition than the renovation in the soul of the new covenant which Christ founded in his last hours, before the very Church was founded, and which is the Church’s one foundation in his most precious blood. — P.T. Forsyth

ESSAY on THE PRECISE PROBLEM TODAY , from The Work of Christ, an incredible contribution to celebrating the UNITY of The CHURCH.

A classic on PREACHING CHRIST, by Charles McIlvaine “Nothing in this world could I rejoice in so much as to be instrumental, under God’s grace, in promoting the spiritual excellency and efficacy of your work and your personal growth in the faith and love of Christ.” (Ohio 1863)

 

 

WE DON”T KNOW WHO we are

One of the practical benefits of studying afresh the contribution of the Apostle Paul will be to reset our spiritual compass. Paul conceived himself to be the key figure in a “vital stretch of God’s purpose in history”.

The importance of understanding his sense of being called to a specific work forces us to place him first of all in his own Jewish context and training which was anchored in the Old Covenant tradition as well as in the Hellenistic reality of the dispersion within the Roman empire.

Over fifty years ago, writers in the field of Biblical Theology were telling us just how central the Jewish context was for the Church to understand her own calling in our modern world. Here are some remarks from G.Ernest Wright, one of those writers, speaking of “The Church’s Need of the Old Testament”. I think you will agree that they speak just as sharply to the twenty-first century Church as they did a half a century ago.

He says rightly that in order to understand the heart of the faith of the people of God we have to go back to its origin.” The focus of Biblical man’s attention, therefore, was not on the cycle of nature, but on what God had done, was doing, and was yet to do according to His declared intention”!                                

The faithful man’s attention was focused on the interpretation of his own life and of all history in this light. The chief sources of his light and power came…from his certainty of the reality of God’s working in every event…and from his glad acceptance of his divine election within the election of his people to do the work God called him to do. His life and work had meaning and importance therefore, because God fitted them into an over-arching historical plan. God’s purpose was that the whole earth shall become His kingdom and the Israelite was called to play his role in the universal cosmogeny of the age yet to be born…It is thus characteristic of Biblical faith that it creates this hope that is based on trust”.

Now to see how central knowing who we are is, to say, our worship, not to mention the rest of all we do as the Church, it simply needs to seen that the People of God were to respond to the INDICATIVE of God, what God did in His redemptive acts. And so, “at the centre of Biblical theology is a confession of faith of a particular type…recounting this history is the central religious act of the worshipping Community”.

Now lay this carefully beside the state of the churches in America today and the identity problem which has become legion across denominational and non-denominational congregations alike. Is this who we see ourselves as: the people of this same faith, the continuation of this same biblical heritage and vision? Or are these words about the Church in Wright’s day surprisingly prophetic of our own situation?

Thus, on the one hand, the Church today has tended to succumb to man’s hope for integration, happiness, and security in the world as it is. It has preached the Gospel as a new kind of paganism the value of which is strictly utilitarian. Religion is good for us; it gives us comfort and peace of mind; it is the only hope for democracy; it alone can support the status quo and make us happy within it.

The biblical hope is based solely upon God, upon His promises and upon His election. It is known only in the context of judgment and of the cross in the acceptance of a severe ethical demand of cross-bearing and cross-sharing and of a calling (vocation) which one works out with fear and trembling…

A more recent author dealing with the critical issue of INTERPRETING the OLD TESTAMENT Graeme Goldsworthy

 

What is “Scriptural” Church Growth ?

Years ago as I was just entering the gospel ministry, I was drawn to the principles of the Christian & Missionary Alliance in relation to the world mission task facing the churches. One of those principles insisted on by Dr. A.B. Simpson from the very begining, was that of “doing God’s work, in God’s way”. This seems to be a perennial lesson the churches must constantly strive to maintain as their priority if their work is to be found pleasing to God and of eternal value (see I Cor.3:8-14).

The New Temple, which Christ himself builds calling us to be co-workers with him, must be done God’s way just as the temporary temple of the Old Covenant was erected in all it’s details “according to the pattern shown in the Mount”. The two most obvious reasons why this is so, seems to be in order that God alone receives the glory, and, that the Gospel of Jesus Christ have it’s God ordained fruit in the lives of His redeemed ones.

J.I. Packer, writing an introductory essay almost fifty years ago, warned evangelicalism of the source of many of the perceived problems in the churches already manifesting themselves. “Without realising it”, he said, “we have during the past century bartered the true gospel for a substitute product which, though it looks similiar enough in points of detail, is as a whole a decidedly different thing”. This he insisted was the source of our troubles, “for the substitute product does not answer the ends for which the authentic gospel has in the past days proved itself so mighty” (Rom.1:17). “The new gospel conspicuously fails to produce deep reverence, deep repentance, deep humility, a spirit of worship, a concern for the church”. When asked why this was so, Dr. Packer with prophetic simplicity replied: “We would suggest that the reason lies in its own character and content. It fails to make men God-centered in their thoughts and God-fearing in their hearts because this is not primarily what it is trying to do”. (From John Owen’s Death of Death in The Death of Christ,1959)

For much of that same time-frame, a battle was being waged to persuade the churches that God did indeed desire for His Church to grow and that it was a serious sign of disobedience and unbelief when that was neglected. Thankfully, it seems that many local churches have finally embraced growth as a healthy and desirable purpose of being the Church. For those that have done so, there now enters the critical element Packer was addressing relating to how we grow and with what gospel we depend upon to produce that growth if it is to be “Scriptural”. Another prophetic voice recently speaking directly to the dangers from modernity already influencing much of the church-growth methodology issues this urgent directive :

“The Church of God. . .is the church only when she lives and thrives finally by God’s truths and resources. If the church makes anything else the decisive principle of her existence, christians risk living unauthorized lives of faith, exercising unauthorized ministries, and proclaiming an unauthorized gospel”.  (Os Guiness, Dining With The Devil, p.35)

The “unity of the Spirit” that we insist is foundational to the Church Christ builds and for the purpose of growing His Church, is not a unity based on our natural understanding but rather one that is revealed in Scripture; a unity which includes truth as well as love on God’s terms and not ours. This is what we believe is the very function of the voice of God speaking into His congregation and the reason for those gifts named in Ephesians chapter 4, and referred to as the “equiping” gifts. They are each one related to proclaiming God’s Word for the equiping of the saints of God for their work of ministering. The Word of God itself is sufficient for that which God sends it to accomplish on earth. Herein lies the critical calling of the evangelist, the pastor-teacher, and the prophet. And these, as you know, are spiritual gifts sent down from the exalted King himself to his flock here on earth.
8/11 UPDATE- To see how this is playing out right before our eyes in America, see this thoughtful essay recently in TOUCHSTONE Magazine and the tribute to Robert Webber prophetic ministry at SAINTS GALLERY