keeping the gospel front and center (in our experience in an Anglican church plant)

Deb and I are involved in an Anglican church plant where we live, in the heart of the city of Grand Rapids. It has been an interesting experience, although I hope the experience continues on and grows exponentially over time in seeing a church established and disciples or true followers of Jesus made. The Anglican Church has ties, one might say even roots into both Protestantism and Catholicism. So that depending on the church, it can more of less take on the flavor of either. What is distinctive in Anglicanism from evangelicalism, it seems to me, is that through liturgy (the service is liturgical) and the Lord’s Table (or the Eucharist, Holy Communion) the gospel of God’s grace and kingdom come in Jesus is always front and center, or at least not far removed from the service. The priest/pastor preaching the word is important, perhaps equally important along with the rest. But again the liturgy rooted in the Book of Common Prayer and in or under the influence of the Great Tradition along with “Holy Eucharist” keeps the redemptive work of King Jesus front and center.

Our last evangelical church actually did that probably more than any other church I’ve been a part of. And my experience in evangelical churches has been good. The word has been faithfully preached, the churches being true to the gospel. The difference in where we are now is that this is at the heart of each service, so that it is hopefully the heart beat. We are both confronted with the truth and claims of the gospel and we are also blessed with its promises. All as part of the service. So that the preaching or teaching of the word is no longer front and center, but rather part of the whole, having its place, indeed an important place in the service. While the service is vitally important, of equal importance is the common life that is to follow. We are the people of God not just as individuals, but together as a whole. We are family in and through our Brother Jesus. And in Jesus we are on mission, each of us having our part in this world as witnesses of Jesus, as those who live with the goal of keeping the gospel front and center in all of life.

meditation for the ninth day of Christmas: the mission

Jesus came on a mission and strangely enough is the mission himself. All of God’s will for us and for the world, God’s grace and kingdom are wrapped up in him. He is the one we look to and proclaim. The one in and through whom God’s promises are fulfilled.

May God arise, may his enemies be scattered;
may his foes flee before him.
May you blow them away like smoke—
as wax melts before the fire,
may the wicked perish before God.
But may the righteous be glad
and rejoice before God;
may they be happy and joyful.

Sing to God, sing in praise of his name,
extol him who rides on the clouds;
rejoice before him—his name is the Lord.
A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows,
is God in his holy dwelling.
God sets the lonely in families,
he leads out the prisoners with singing;
but the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land.

When you, God, went out before your people,
when you marched through the wilderness,
the earth shook, the heavens poured down rain,
before God, the One of Sinai,
before God, the God of Israel.
You gave abundant showers, O God;
you refreshed your weary inheritance.
Your people settled in it,
and from your bounty, God, you provided for the poor.

The Lord announces the word,
and the women who proclaim it are a mighty throng:
“Kings and armies flee in haste;
the women at home divide the plunder.
Even while you sleep among the sheep pens,
the wings of my dove are sheathed with silver,
its feathers with shining gold.”
When the Almighty scattered the kings in the land,
it was like snow fallen on Mount Zalmon.

Mount Bashan, majestic mountain,
Mount Bashan, rugged mountain,
why gaze in envy, you rugged mountain,
at the mountain where God chooses to reign,
where the Lord himself will dwell forever?
The chariots of God are tens of thousands
and thousands of thousands;
the Lord has come from Sinai into his sanctuary.
When you ascended on high,
you took many captives;
you received gifts from people,
even from the rebellious—
that you, Lord God, might dwell there.

Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior,
who daily bears our burdens.
Our God is a God who saves;
from the Sovereign Lord comes escape from death.
Surely God will crush the heads of his enemies,
the hairy crowns of those who go on in their sins.
The Lord says, “I will bring them from Bashan;
I will bring them from the depths of the sea,
that your feet may wade in the blood of your foes,
while the tongues of your dogs have their share.”

Your procession, God, has come into view,
the procession of my God and King into the sanctuary.
In front are the singers, after them the musicians;
with them are the young women playing the timbrels.
Praise God in the great congregation;
praise the Lord in the assembly of Israel.
There is the little tribe of Benjamin, leading them,
there the great throng of Judah’s princes,
and there the princes of Zebulun and of Naphtali.

Summon your power, God;
show us your strength, our God, as you have done before.
Because of your temple at Jerusalem
kings will bring you gifts.
Rebuke the beast among the reeds,
the herd of bulls among the calves of the nations.
Humbled, may the beast bring bars of silver.
Scatter the nations who delight in war.
Envoys will come from Egypt;
Cush will submit herself to God.

Sing to God, you kingdoms of the earth,
sing praise to the Lord,
to him who rides across the highest heavens, the ancient heavens,
who thunders with mighty voice.
Proclaim the power of God,
whose majesty is over Israel,
whose power is in the heavens.
You, God, are awesome in your sanctuary;
the God of Israel gives power and strength to his people.

Praise be to God!

Psalm 68

Christopher J. H. Wright on the centrality of the cross in all Christian missional work

All Christian mission flows from the cross–as its source, its power, and as that which defines its scope.

It is vital that we see the cross as central and integral to every aspect of holistic, biblical mission–that is, of all we do in the name of the crucified and risen Jesus. It is a mistake, in my view, to think that, while our evangelism must be centred on the cross (as of course it has to be), our social engagement and other forms of practical mission work have some other theological foundation or justification.

Why is the cross just as important across the whole field of mission? Because in all forms of Christian mission in the name of Christ we are confronting the powers of evil and the kingdom of Satan–with all their dismal effects on human life and the wider creation. If we are to proclaim and demonstrate the reality of the reign of God in Christ–that is, if we are to proclaim that Jesus is king, in a world which likes still to chant “we have no king but Caesar” and his many successors, including mammon–then we will be in direct conflict with the usurped reign of the evil one, in all its legion manifestations. The deadly reality of this battle against the powers of evil is the unanimous testimony of those who struggle for justice, for the needs of the poor and oppressed, the sick and the ignorant, and even those who seek to care for and protect God’s creation against exploiters and polluters, just as much as it is the experience of those (frequently the same people) who struggle evangelistically to bring people to faith in Christ as Savior and Lord and plant churches. In all such work we confront the reality of sin and Satan. In all such work are challenging the darkness of the world with the light and good news of Jesus Christ and the reign of God through him.

Christopher J. H. Wright, The Mission of God’s People: A Biblical Theology of the Church’s Mission (Biblical Theology for Life), 109-110.

study as in attentiveness

I have to give a talk on study, in between talks on piety and action. Many other talks lined up as well.

I value the intellect, and agree with Mark Noll that we evangelicals have been all too either anti-intellectual, or more like apathetic in, or downplayed matters of the mind. We need to learn to think well, if we’re truly to love God with all our minds.

But study is not just an intellectual endeavor. Along with that it involves all that makes up our humanity. We were made for relationship, and we were made for community. As well as the mandate from God for humanity, and mission in this world in following Jesus.

The question becomes: How does God get our attention? How does God keep our attention? How do we remain attentive to God, and to God’s word and will for us in this world, in and through Jesus?

I can tell my story how God captured my attention years ago. My response to that, and what has followed after. Too often I’ve seen life mostly in terms of knowledge, which is essential, but by itself not enough.

Yes, we need to be in God’s word, all of it. For me listening to something like The Bible Experience facilitates that well. And reading scripture also. Hearing it read in our church gatherings.

But God’s word is meant to lead us to God himself in Jesus by the Spirit. And in that, God’s will for us individually and in community in Jesus for the world.

I want to learn to be more attentive, really honed in on that even in the midst of all life’s demands and responsibilities.

There is much that could be said about attentiveness. It will look as different as each of us are, in its outworking in our lives. And yet it will have something of the same characteristics. Some people more on the intellectual side, others the mystical, etc. So that we benefit from each other. But no part of human life that is to be neglected in any of our lives.

What is God saying to us? How is he moving in our lives? What should be our response? And how do we know any of this to be so, in the first place? All good questions. An element of mystery to be sure in God’s working, but we need to give ourselves fully, by God’s grace in Jesus, so that we can begin to attend more and more fully to God himself, and to God’s good will for us in Jesus, together in community with others, in mission for the world.

Christopher J. H. Wright on the church in God’s mission

It is not so much the case that God has a mission for his church in the world, as that God has a church for his mission in the world. Mission was not made for the church; the church was made for mission–God’s mission.

Christopher J.H. Wright, The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative, 62, quoted from his book, The Mission of God’s People: A Biblical Theology of the Church’s Mission (Biblical Theology for Life), 24.

seeking shalom for all

When Israel of old was removed from the Promised Land in God’s judgment due to their sin, they were commanded to seek the peace, or shalom of the city in which they lived. I wonder what that might suggest of the renewed Israel of today, the church, scattered all over the earth. Is that thought a stretch?

Surely this would suggest that we be faithful first and foremost to our calling of living out, witnessing to, and proclaiming the good news of Jesus. There is an intrinsic tension in that good news of course, always for the world. The message of the cross is an offense and scandal to the world, while the message that Jesus is Lord over all trumps any such claim for Caesar.

While all that is true, I think followers of Jesus are called to live out in as wise a way as possible a kingdom message which is ultimately meant for the good of all, both people and entities, including government ones. In other words, while Jesus’ kingdom is not from this world, it is present for the world. Destined to take over at Jesus’ return, but for now in place in a different way, even with its parallels to earthly governments.

What this means for us in Jesus I’m not altogether sure. I don’t believe, myself, that Christians should take up arms in the military. But we seek the flourishing of all in terms of God’s kingdom come and will revealed in Jesus.

Therefore we’re not at all about overthrowing earthly governments so as to set up our own government as in some kind of theocracy. The theocracy present now is the church, and it lives in the Jesus way, as opposed to the way of the world.

And we surely do our best in seeking shalom for all, by seeking to be true to our calling in Jesus, in a community on God’s mission for the world. Being true to that wherever we may be placed, whatever our calling may be, like Daniel of old was for his time.

deep calls to deep

Sometimes life is just too much for us. We can’t handle it anymore. All the hurt, all the disappointment, all the ways we haven’t measured up (according to the devil, and even Christian friends, who are not speaking for God). Of course we don’t measure up; who does? We are all sinners. Of course we won’t do well in and of ourselves. But there is more, so much more. Beyond the finger pointing. Even beyond our actual sins and shortcomings.

Deep calls to deep, in the words of the psalmist. That is, in the depths of our souls so to speak, God’s voice in its depth comes to us. Only through this can we escape the shallowness of life in which we live. But this must be ongoing. With the passion of, or longing for the psalmist’s thirst for God.

As C.S. Lewis pointed out, we humans settle for infinitely less. We may even have a relatively settled faith in God through Jesus. But we can live, not in the depths, but in a shallow existence not much different than the rest of humanity who live essentially as those whose lives are simply life in this world. With all its own wonder and beauty, along with all the subtle and open destruction of so many fronts on every side.

God calls us, and then through us calls humanity to a deeper life, found in Jesus which moves us into the realm of shalom: the sphere in which God’s love is the very life through which all live. Which we begin to work out now in the redeemed community, and out from that into the world. Inviting others through Jesus, and beginning to work out the meaning of it for this world. In anticipation of the completion of its fulfillment in and through Jesus when all things at long at last are made right and new in him.

This must begin now with us. Process and mission together. Yes individually, and together in Jesus for no less than the world.

proclamation is kingdom oriented

Yesterday I gave an account of basics of the good news of Jesus, or the gospel. I am learning from Scot McKnight’s book, One.Life: Jesus Calls, We Follow, that we need to be careful in proclaiming the gospel, that we don’t make an individualistic appeal.

Yes, it is about each individual’s call from God through Jesus to repent of their sins and believe the good news. But it is a gospel that is about what God is doing not just for that individual, but for the world. When one repents and believes the good news of the kingdom, they are entering into nothing less than God’s kingdom work in Jesus for the world. And specifically, they are now part of that kingdom. The kingdom is a domain in which God is King, there are citizens who are subjects–and more than that, family in Jesus, and there is land–ultimately the earth. And we begin in our following of Jesus, to live in this new reality.

This is a calling not about me and God, or not even about me knowing God, though that’s included. But it’s about the entire picture of what God is doing on earth in the here and now through his kingdom people in Jesus. And all that involves. This ends up in the new creation in Jesus, being oriented in a very down to earth manner, and fulfills what scripture calls humankind to in Genesis, culminating in the final vision in the Revelation.

So when we proclaim, and when people receive the good news, it’s not about a ticket to heaven. Instead it’s about a new life of following Jesus together with others in Jesus in God’s kingdom work in the world. To think of it less than that, is to fail to see how this is played out in scripture, how it begins in the call to Abraham, is at work in God’s covenant to Israel, and is fulfilled in Jesus the Messiah and Israel’s reconstitution in him. So that the proclamation and receiving, or acceptance of this good news by repentance and faith, is no less than the beginning of a new life, as large as the kingdom of God in Jesus in which it is found. At work on earth, and ultimately to take over the world, in and through Jesus.

aren’t we related?

Roger E. Olson who is becoming one of my favorite theologians, writes about the rift that is occurring and actually has already occurred in evangelicalism in the new fundamentalism. I hope there’s more overlap and time yet to bring the two together. Some would say two factions, though from my perspective there is one side that has been factious. Th0ugh I all too easily can fall into this sin myself!

I am ecumenical in a Christian orthodox sense. I am “in Jesus” and to be “in Jesus” means to be united not only with Christ, but with all others who are “in Christ.” So I’m one with many many Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Mainline Protestants, all who name the name of Jesus, whose sins have been washed away through Jesus, who have received new life by the Spirit.

We are all many expressions of Christ’s Body in the world. We each individually are expressions of Jesus himself by the Spirit, and together in our various fellowships throughout the world are expressions of Jesus as a Body. In fact the latter is in some ways more fundamental to what God is doing in the world than the former. In Jesus is not only an individual matter, but it is at heart, community oriented.

God loves it when his people in Jesus get along well. When we don’t, such breach is a serious matter, even sin, though we often explain it away. When the Corinthians sinned at the Lord’s Table, their sin was not recognizing the Lord’s Body. Those well to do were arriving early at the meal, leaving little for their poor brothers and sisters who arrived later. They had failed to treat each other as family, as the family they are in Jesus.

What about us? Do we treat each other as family, or not? Does this mean we have to agree on everything? We know we will see things differently at times, even disagreeing. But how do we disagree? That is the question. Do we do so in love, as family members? As brothers and sisters who love each other? Sadly we know all too well how family members can squabble, not get along, and even separate.

But God not only has better things for us in Jesus, but better things for the world through us in Jesus. We show to the world God’s love when we are united, and in that unity in Jesus live out God’s love and truth in big and little ways. We do that together, we don’t leave others in Jesus behind. If we leave others behind, in a sense we leave Jesus behind. And we fail to show to the world the full expression of who Jesus is through his Body here and now.

When we work through our differences to acknowledge our relationship in Jesus together, in God’s love through Jesus, and we put first things first, including our unity in Jesus which is offered to all as a gift to be received by faith, we then live out who we actually are: Jesus’ Body for the world. But we first must answer the question, and answer it well.

Christopher J. H. Wright on the story scripture tells as crucial to the church’s mission

So we are seeking, in this book, for a “Biblical Theology of the Church’s Mission”. What better examples could we follow than Jesus and Paul? We need to pay attention to the whole story of the Bible and see our mission in the light of all of it.

Indeed, we need to ask ourselves right up front: How well do you actually know the biblical story? If Jesus and Paul saw fit repeatedly to go over it with those who knew their Old Testament Scriptures inside out, how much more do we need to make sure we are familiar with the content of the Bible as a whole? Tragically, even among Christians with great enthusiasm for world mission, there is often not only profound ignorance of great vistas of biblical revelation, but even impatience with the prolonged effort that is needed to soak ourselves in these texts until our whole thinking and behaviour are shaped by the story they tell, the worldview that story generates, the demands it lays upon us and the hope it sets before us. The attitude of some is that all you need is the Great Commission and the power of the Holy Spirit. Bible teaching or biblical theology will only serve to delay you in the urgent task. Presumably I can take comfort in the fact that you are reading this book, which means that this is an attitude you don’t share.

I find it helpful to visualize the biblical story as a actual line on which one can plot key points. The four major sections of the biblical story line are–Creation, Fall, Redemption in History, and New Creation. Within the Redemption in History section, of course, falls by far the largest portion of the biblical story, and it needs further subdivision.

“Just do it” seems to have spilled over from Nike to being the slogan of some forms of Christian mission. I was at a large mission mobilization congress where the slogan was “Just go!” My first reaction was to say, “Just hold on.” Even Jesus spent three years training his disciples before he told them to “Go”, and even that time was scarcely enough to radically reshape their scriptural understanding in the light of his own identity, to understand where the biblical story was leading in relation to himself and the future of Israel and of the world. How much more is such training needed when we hear that Bible reading and knowledge among evangelical Christians is at a shamefully low ebb.

Christopher J. H. Wright, The Mission of God’s People: A Biblical Theology of the Church’s Mission (Biblical Theology for Life), 39.

The last paragraph I included is on the side of the page by itself with a lighter font.