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Tuesday, 23 September 2014

The Genius of the Gospel

One reason for confidence in the Bible
There are many reasons for having complete confidence in the Bible as the Word of God. One of them is this: when it comes to the details of "how to do church",  the New Testament is silent. Here are the areas of silence:
  1. when should you meet, day-wise and time-wise?
  2. what exactly should you do when you meet?
  3. what music, if any, should you use?
  4. what translations to use?
Human-made religions are filled with unkeepable detailed practical rules and regulations (pray five times a day and so on), but the New Testament is devoid of such details, and that is one reason for confidence that it comes from God.....

The Gospel is for the world
...for the task of the church is to take the Gospel into every tribal group in the world. This is only possible if the church, like the Son of God, becomes incarnational in that culture. If the missionaries stand outside that culture judging every aspect of it and trying to conform it to their own (cultural) standards, the Gospel will have little success.

The genius of the Gospel is that it focuses on majors and principles and says nothing about minors and details. Why? So that it can find a place in every culture and amongst every people.

Examples good and bad
I remember watching a black and white film from about the 1950s of a group of South American converts dressed in suits, hair brylcreemed, singing western songs in English to an approving church congregation in North America - you could read on the faces of the congregation, "these people are truly and properly converted!"  But this westerning of converts was an an embarrassing imposition of western-christian-culture and ways of 'doing church' on another culture.

If you go to many Asian churches in England, on the other hand, you will find Christians using Indian instruments singing distinctly Indian Christian songs (not translations of Wesley or Townend, words or tune-wise) and hearing sermons of a distinctly Indian nature (for example long and more rambling, rather than short and logical).

Our problem
Our problem is two fold. First we confuse tradition and Gospel. We think that what we do, as well as what we believe is of equal value and rightness. We forget that the NT nowhere stipulates that one must meet at 11.00am on a Sunday, nowhere stipulates we must sing hymns of a western variety to western instruments, nowhere says we must meet for an hour, and so on. All these little details are left to be worked out in the culture in which the Gospel finds a place.

Our real problem is far bigger: we don't get the Incarnation. In the Incarnation, the Son of God did not bring or impose the trappings of divinity upon the world, but came not only as a man, but "in the likeness of sinful flesh"  (Romans 8:3: as close as it is possible to be like us without any sin), and indeed incarnated himself into one world culture - Jewish culture. He would have been culturally indistinguishable from those around him, except for their sin. He would have dressed like a Jew, spoken like a Jew and acted like a Jew.

And we are called to reach our world in the same way.

The consequences of our confusion
The tragedy of our failure to grasp the Genius of the Gospel is that the world is so often put off by our
traditions and not by the Gospel. They are offended by ancient cultural relics in language (perhaps such as "thees" and "thous"), furniture (by pews and organs and tunes of a bygone age) and literature (KJV-like translations). They stumble over these and are put off before they have the chance to hear or see who Jesus is.

And in the end we complain that the fields are hard and stony, and we live in day of small things. While all along the problem is our refusal to become all things to all men to win them for Christ. We are more committed to our traditions than to the lost and to the Gospel.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Why Home Groups?

As our church's home groups restart for the autumn term, it's a good to reflect on why we meet together every week in homes. Here are the reasons, beginning with some recent history....

"Just come on Sundays and Wednesdays"
It is not so long ago that many evangelical churches in the West would encourage their members to come to a building called a "church" on Sundays and Wednesdays. This was all they needed, they were told, to grow in their new-found faith.

To be fair on that generation, since they had been brought up in a culture radically shaped by the Gospel, where persecution was zero and they already knew "how to live" because the Gospel had shaped culture, this advice was probably just about sufficient, even though not ideal - and certainly lacking, biblically. 

Today, with a radically secularised culture, "come to a church building two/three times of week" just will not grow the saints. Why do we need to meet together in smaller groups?

Because Jesus needed a small group
Right at the start of his ministry he chose 12 men "to be with him" (Mark 3:14). He the perfect man, the
God-man, did not think he could make it on his own but surrounded himself with twelve men, with whom he would not merely do worship, but with whom he did the whole of life. He wanted them to "be with him". We need people with whom we can "do life" and often a home group is where we find them.

Because we are all lacking
The Biblical view of an individual Christian is that of one body-part, an eye, a hand, a foot, and so on. By definition then, a single believer actually cannot function without other parts around us. Not merely around us, but functioning around us in living pulsating connection. I might lack wisdom on certain matters so I need someone who has wisdom to make up for my lack. Or perhaps I may lack knowledge and experience on other things, so I need someone with knowledge and experience to make up for that lack. I lack spiritual discernment perhaps, so I need someone who has that gift, who is that part, to make up for it. You simply can't get those functionings from a large gathering on a Sunday.

Because we all have something to give
The counterpoint to the previous point is that we all have some gift to contribute to others! They need us, as much as we need them. A small group is an ideal place to share the spiritual gift, the experience, wisdom, help, advice or knowledge we have been given. 

Because we need encouragement
In an increasingly postChristian culture we need encouragement. A few minutes of conversation over a coffee on a Sunday is surely not enough.

Because we need to be surrounded by examples
"Follow my example as a I follow the example of Christ" says Paul. How do we know what Christlikeness looks like unless we can see it in other more mature believers? As we meet with other believers we are challenged by their Christlikeness to become more Christlike ourselves.

Because we need mirrors
In their interaction with each other, the disciples revealed their own faults, such a pride, prayerlessness and faithlessness. If we have no mirrors around us to admonish us, how can our faults be corrected?

Because we need protection
A sheep on its own will be picked off by the enemy. A rumour about the local church, heard by an isolated sheep can be turned into a mighty lie by the evil one, stumbling that sheep. A sheep all on its own is thus not only a danger to itself, it's a danger to the whole flock.

A tragic legacy of the church aping the academy
One of the most tragic legacies of the church wanting to be like the world, is this legacy of big meetings in big buildings. The western church has aped the world and turned the church into an academy-like institution where all the emphasis is on learning, sermon-style. It took the less cerebral, more touchy-feely, more relational charismatic movement to restore the rightful place of the home group in the western church.

The blessings of home groups
Where they function well, home groups result in more Christlike Christians, for the emphasis when we meet in small groups is on character and grace and Christlikeness, not how much stuff you know. For pastors it means far fewer phone calls from the sheep because the sheep are looking after the sheep.

From a pastor's perspective
As a church pastor, I am deeply unhappy with anyone who joins the church until they commit to a small group, faithfully and regularly. Why? I know that their spiritual growth will be greatly stilted. And I know, that I, being merely an eye or a foot, cannot cause them to grow in Christ; pastors cannot replace the body. I know the time will come when they could be picked off by Satan. I know they are likely to be critical and negative because on the periphery of the church Satan will make them prime target number 1. I know they won't grow by coming only on a Sunday. I know that many wrong things they believe and many wrong attitudes in their hearts will remain unchallenged while they are not revealed in a homegroup setting. I know they will not grow into Christlikeness.

Spiritual growth is all I am concerned about -  I have zero interest in "numbers on a Sunday." I am only interested in those who like the disciples of old, are prepared to band together in a small group, for then, and only then, will they truly grow, not only in knowledge but in grace.