Friday, March 28, 2014

Two Related Conditions with One Solution: Preparing for Persecution, Part 2

I am convinced that there are two related conditions we have not experienced in the Western Church in recent days: rapid multiplication movements and persecution. These two conditions are directly related to one another though the sources of these results are quite opposite. 

I believe that we are not persecuted simply because our enemy is content with the way we currently are. Why would he want to mess up the church when we have done so for him with our selfish ambition, competitive spirit and greed? He’d be a fool to mess with that, and he is no fool. Our influence is marginalized in society and our reputation is of hateful and selfish people–the opposite of Jesus. Satan is quite content with a once a week, consumer driven, model of church that is a mere shell of what we are supposed to be.

The second thing we haven’t experienced in the Western Church is rapid multiplication and I believe that is not the enemy’s fault, but God’s. Frankly, God doesn’t want to multiply our current expressions of church because he doesn’t want more of them. He’s smart that way. Unhealthy things tend to become infertile and lose their ability to reproduce.

We must see these two factors change. The good news is that they will both change with only one solution: become a healthy threat to the darkness and God will want to multiply the church. That is something the enemy will attack. After years of traveling all over this nation and Europe I am delighted to say that we are finally on the verge of seeing these things happen.

The church is becoming healthier and more indigenous. I am seeing ordinary people empowered to carry the work of God’s kingdom out of the meeting place and into the market place where it is a threat to our common enemy. I believe multiplication and persecution are not far away.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

A Parable from the Past: Preparing for Persecution, Part One

I’m often asked if I feel that our organic church movement has accomplished all that I had hoped. The answer is no. We are not the movement that I hoped for…yet. But that is partly because I have always felt that what we were doing was preparing the church for what is coming: persecution. Because it has not come yet the movement has not fully realized all that it was meant to.  I see our work as sowing seeds for a future harvest, and I believe that future is getting closer every day.

One of the heroes of my faith is Watchman Nee. God used him (and his contemporaries) to prepare the church in China before the Communist revolution took over. He launched the “Little Flock” movement, which was a radical departure from the Western church model that had been planted in China prior. It was smaller, simpler in structure, less expensive and more indigenous. The churches met in smaller gatherings in homes led by ordinary people with real jobs.

When the communists took over the nation they arrested the church leaders (like Nee) and seized all church property. The indigenous expressions of simple churches meeting in homes not only survived…they thrived. The Cultural Revolution of Mao Tse-Tung sought to eliminate all religion from society in China but instead mobilized the church and it grew from about 2 million Christians in 1949 to over 60 million.[1] It is estimated today that there may be upwards of 80 million Christians in China.[2]

Contrast this with the church of Russia. The Russian Orthodox Church was dependent upon three things: holy buildings, holy men in robes, and holy services performed by those men in those buildings. When the communists took over in Russia they seized all the buildings and arrested or compromised all the leaders of the church. The church was devastated.

I carry deep inside a feeling that everything I have been about for the past 20 years is just preparing the bride of Christ for what is to come. Like Nee, I have been striving to bring health and simplicity back to the church, and with that an ability to ride out any storm that may come. 

But there is another movement in America that looks far closer to the Russian church than the Chinese. Just as it was easy to decimate the church in Russia the church in the US may be equally weak and not surprising it is the same three areas that will be the downfall.

In the next week I will post a few ideas on this blog about how vulnerable our churches are to persecution and what I think may take place in the next couple years to expose those vulnerabilities.

[1] Alan Hirsch, The Forgotten Ways, Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2006, p. 19

[2] Philip Yancey, “Discreet and Dynamic: Why, with No Apparent Resources, Chinese Churches Thrive,” Christianity Today, July 2004, p. 72

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Weakness is Key to APEST Team Building

I have been part of a functioning APEST (Apostolic, Prophetic, Evangelistic,Shepherding, Teaching) team for over 20 years. Together we helped catalyze the organic church movement. We also combined to write Primal Fire. 
Left to myself I honestly would have formed a team of apostolic people and ignored the other gifts. This grave mistake is unfortunately quite common. By God's grace, I was not alone at the start, but with Phil Helfer (the Shepherd on our team). Because of Phil's gift the strengths of each gift were equally important and we built a team based on mutual submission rather than individual strengths.

Mutual submission is particularly necessary when addressing the APEST roles of Ephesians 4:11. In our twenty plus years of experience, we have found that focusing on our own gifts and the strengths they bring to the church does not produce unity at all. In fact, it’s almost guaranteed to bring separation. Rather than starting with our gifted orientation, we must begin by establishing genuine relationships with one another. Surrendering one’s own strength and glory for the benefit of others–which is really just love–is the foundation of unity. Focusing on one’s gift usually turns selfish, rather than unifying it tends to separate and divide. Our relationships must be more important than anyone’s agenda or ability. We have learned that abandoning all of our goals and dreams to maintain our love for one another can actually birth a far greater outcome.

Each one of the five gifts has an area of weakness that casts a shadow—a consequence of the gift that is not always positive. This shadow is always easier for others to recognize than it is for the one who casts the shadow. Until we recognize our own weaknesses, we will not achieve real unity. But when we come to recognize our own shadows, we begin to appreciate the other gifts more. The secret to forming a team of the various gifts is not to focus on the strengths of each one, but rather on their weaknesses. Only then will we have the unity necessary to be a potent, diverse team.

This post is adapted from our book Primal Fire

Monday, March 24, 2014

Unity Is Found Only in Humility

--> “With all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” 
––Ephesians 4:2

Ephesians 4:1-16 is the paramount text on the “called out ones” (ecclesia). It is the Magna Carta of the Church. It begins and ends with unity, which is not the same as uniformity. In fact, unity amid great diversity is God’s desired intent. He loves diversity, but He also loves unity. This requires a common commitment to humility. The off-ramp that leads to Unityville is neither “doctrine” nor “agreement.” It’s humility. It is amazing how often we try to make adherence to doctrine the glue that binds us together, yet the result is always division over minutia. Our glue is not a creed or statement of faith, but a common humbling of ourselves.

Two humble people may not always agree, but if they are truly walking in humility, they will always get along, despite their differences. When each is more concerned for the betterment of the other, the two will live in harmony and achieve unity. When everyone strives to bless others, everyone is blessed.

Paul challenges us to live with humility, gentleness, patience, and tolerance. These are the qualities that lead to unity amid diversity. Notice what is not on the list: agreement over doctrine, common practice, church models, heritage, culture, or style.

Paul says we are to diligently guard the unity that is ours because of the same Holy Spirit that dwells within us. This is not always easy; in fact, it’s hard work. Markus Barth, in commenting on the verb being diligent says:
It is hardly possible to render exactly the urgency contained in the underlying Greek verb. Not only haste and passion, but a full effort of the whole man is meant, involving his will, sentiment, reason, physical strength, and total attitude.[i]
If we ever hope to attain to the “unity of the Spirit” that we are meant for, we must start from a place of humble submission to one another—especially with those who are different from us. Unity in diversity is a beautiful goal that we must press toward with all haste and urgency. It requires that we daily lift the interests of our brothers and sisters above our own.

This post is taken from my new book Primal Fire.

[i] Markus Barth, Ephesians 4–6: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (The Anchor Bible), (New York: Doubleday, 1974), 428.

Friday, March 7, 2014

The Abortion of Apostles & Prophets

Primal Fire refutes the cessationist argument, but specifically the view that the apostolic and prophetic gifts ended after the first century. Opposition to the prophetic and apostolic gifts is nothing new. Jesus spoke against the religious leaders of his day who were honoring the prophets that were previously killed by their own ancestors. He said: 
Woe to you! For you build the tombs of the prophets, and it was your fathers who killed them… For this reason also the wisdom of God said, ‘I will send to them prophets and apostles, and some of them they will kill and some they will persecute. (Luke 11:47-49)

Today the resistance toward the apostolic and prophetic from the religious institution is not any less. Instead of making martyrs of these people and then having to raise statues in their name, the religious leaders of our day have found it far easier to theologically define these gifts out of existence. Instead of killing them in public, they have aborted them in the wombs of their theological textbooks, classrooms, boardrooms and pulpits. They removed them before they can even become a problem. This is another way of killing them, without getting blood on their hands. They simply deny their existence and do not allow any place for them in the church. This they do with their Bibles open but without a syllable of Biblical support.  

According to the apostle John, there will be apostles and prophets in the end times (Revelation 18:20). If these roles are found at both the beginning and the end–and there is no verse that indicates that they have ceased to be given–we can reasonably conclude that they are still around today.  

My good friend Alan Hirsch points out how we all agree that the later results of Ephesians 4:11-16 is universal and for today. He also notes that scholars all agree that the first part of Ephesians 4:1-10 also has universal application today. Why then would we say that two (or three) of the gifts in the center of that passage are not for today? Nothing in the text would indicate that. In fact, there is a verse in that passage that seems to indicate that the work of all five gifts is still incomplete and currently essential  (Ephesians 4:13).

Not only should we allow for their existence, but we should not be content without them. To suppose otherwise is detrimental to the church, to those who are meant to fulfill such roles and even to the world itself that needs to see Jesus as He truly is. We must end this abortion of the apostolic and prophetic in our churches.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Lighting Fires in the Church Today

John MacArthur stirred up controversy recently with a conference launching a book called Strange Fire. MacArthur is a cessationist that has consistently taught that any spiritual gift that is miraculous is no longer given to the church today. Strange Fire is now the third book published by him saying as much (The Charismatics, 1978;  Charismatic Chaos, 1993). In his new book, he postulates that those who practice Chairsmatic phenomena could be guilty of a counterfeit revival, which he likens to the strange fire offered to God by Aaron's sons. 

Besides Mark Driscoll's very public response, promoting his own book A Call to Resurgence, there are now several books with the word "Fire" in their title, some in direct response to MacArthur's work. From Strange Fire to Purifying Fire (Nov 2013, by Caldwell), Authentic Fire (Dec 2013, by Brown), and Holy Fire (Jan 2014, by Kendall) all came out within weeks of my own book on the gifts of Ephesians 4:11 called Primal Fire (Feb 2014)

I assure you that the title Primal Fire was chosen for this book five years ago  (Alan Hirsch suggested the title) and the choice had nothing to do with MacArthur's new book/controversy. Though my book came out last, "Primal" means first, so I guess I win...the last shall be first. kidding. 

That said, it could very well be that God is bringing these issues to our attention because it is time to pay attention. I believe it is time to find balance and release the diversity of gifts in the body so that the church can operate in health and reflect the wholeness of Jesus to the world. Perhaps God is wanting to settle this issue now and fire is the picture He is using to get his truth across. Lets pay attention, after all, He is a consuming fire.

While the choice of the name Primal Fire had nothing to do with MacAruthur's book, it does nevertheless address the Holy Spirit, the gifts of both the Spirit (1 Cor. 12; Rom. 12) and Jesus (Eph. 4:11), and the cessationist point of view that MacArthur espouses. The book is about far more than that, but it does address those things. As former cessationists, however, the authors of Primal Fire (myself with our APEST team) all have come from MacArthur's point of view, but we are no longer there. In fact, two of those named on the cover were on staff under the current dean of the Master's seminary (which MacArthur founded) and one of those named graduated from Masters and is a former assistant youth pastor on MacArthur's staff. So we understand the point of view, we just no longer see it as biblically valid.

In Primal Fire we articulate that there are unhealthy extremes on both sides of the church aisle when it comes to gifts. We must move closer to both the Spirit and the Word. The evidence and authority of God's work is not the gifts, but the fruit of the Spirit. Discussion of the gifts void of love does not bring freedom, health or life. Simply attacking the other side by using extremes to define all who are different than you doesn't either.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Ideally, Change is not an Option, but the Norm

If the propositions presented in Primal Fire are at all true than there will need to be changes made in how we relate to one another and the world. Change is never an easy proposition for Christians, but I believe it should be.

The word metanoia (translated “repentance” in English versions of the New Testament) literally means “to change one’s mind.” Frankly, a Christian life without repentance is a counterfeit. The natural pattern of the Christian life is to repent and believe, to put off the old and put on the new in its place. This is not something we do just once at the beginning of our new life in Christ, but something we do at the beginning of every day...and at each day's end. If we look back over the past couple of years and cannot find that we have changed our point of view about anything, then perhaps we’re not learning and walking in the practice and pattern of an authentic Christian life—a life meant for constant renewal as we are molded progressively into the image of Christ. The gospel itself is all about transformation and change. Status quo is incompatible with the Christian life. Our faith is one of perpetual, daily change.

The sign of a true learner is not just the knowledge he or she has accumulated, but also the ideas that have been jettisoned. Sometimes the discard pile is as interesting as the growing library of new ideas. You can tell a lot about a person by what he or she has tossed aside. When someone’s point of view doesn’t change across a lifetime of education, I tend to distrust that such a person has really learned anything. Can you live your whole life listening to God and never change your point of view? I think not. That would assume that you are already right about everything and have nothing to learn or change. I cannot trust such a person.

Many people have inherited a theological framework into which they plug all new learning. If something doesn’t fit into the original paradigm, they discard it without any true consideration. This is a type of closed-mindedness that can only grow so far. Unfortunately, too many teachers and theologians are like this. I fear that often the people who have read the most and given their lives to teaching others have actually changed the least in their world view and are not learners at all. They simply look for ways to substantiate their current point of view, not challenge it. Too often our theology becomes our truth, and before long even the Bible must submit to our doctrines. We say that our faith is sola scriptura (by Scripture alone), but then we place them under submission to our theological systems. But, in truth, God’s Word stands alone and is not subject to our systems and categories.

In the church, our default settings must be changed if we are ever going to release a movement. What got us here will never lead us there. Unlearning is as important as learning for empowering the missional church. In fact, the lessons we must learn are really quite simple, but the ones we must unlearn are complex and deeply embedded in how most churches are assembled and operated. In the end, it boils down to two basic things: helping people realize what they already have and releasing them on an unsuspecting world. That is how the church is meant to function.