23 June 2010

THOUGHT - What is a church?

I've been reading Neil Cole's book 'Organic Church' and enjoying it enormously. It was published way back in 2005 but has lasting value. In it, Neil poses a question. He tells us that when he was a seminary student he was given the following five characteristics of church.He often asks groups what is missing from the definition.
  • A group of believers gathered together regularly...
  • That considers itself a church...
  • That has qualified elders present...
  • That regularly practices the ordinances of baptism and communion as well as church discipline...
  • And that has an agreed-on set of doctrinal beliefs.
Neil agrees that these are good qualities for any church to have and that most would meet these standards. A lamp distributing lightBut his answer is that Jesus is missing!

The New Testament Greek word usually translated church is 'ekklesia'. What does this word really mean? Literally, 'ekklesia' means 'called out' and this is probably how the early church would have thought of themselves - those called out from the world, called by Jesus.

If we scrapped the term 'church' and replaced it with the literal translation our view of what church is might change. For example, when Peter recognises Jesus as the Son he is told, 'on this rock I will build those I call out' (Matthew 16:16-18). In other words, if you understand who he is you will also be built by him as part of his called-out community.

If we habitually thought in terms of 'called out' or 'called ones', maybe we'd live more closely in the way Jesus really wanted! Because the English word 'church' has no real underlying meaning for me, I can effectively make it mean whatever I wish. But if I have in mind the true sense of the Greek I see that I'm called along with others and that we are together built by the Messiah himself on the basis of knowing who he is.

Revelation uses the term 'lampstand' for the seven 'called-out communities' (Revelation 1:20). 'To the messenger of the called in Ephesus write...' and so on for all seven 'lampstands'. (The messenger would have been the courier who carried the letter to the called out community. The word 'angel' means, literally, messenger.)

Each called-out community is referred to as a lampstand. What is the function of a lampstand? To hold the Lamp! Can a lampstand provide light? No! But if the Lamp, the Light of the World, is held in his rightful place he will provide light - it's what he came to do.

So each of these communities of people called-out from the world has the function of holding the Light in a place where he can illuminate the area all around. So where there is a called-out community there will be a pool of brightness in which the world can see.

Read the letters to the called-out in Revelation 2 and 3 and understand that a lampstand can be removed if it does not perform its task (holding up the Light so that he shines out). And remember that a lampstand is a 'church'. A removed lampstand is a removed church! We have a function and there's a cost associated with failure. I live in a town called St Neots, if the called-out in St Neots fail to display the Light we may lose our place!

This isn't some sort of angry threat from the Lord, it's the inevitable effect of failure to be a lampstand. It has happened historically on a large scale, think of all the lands in the Middle East and in North Africa where Islam swept away the Roman and Greek churches in the later centuries of the first millenium. It will happen everywhere the Light of the World is not held high by his called-out people. It can happen where I live. It can happen where you live.

But the Light has overcome the darkness. So live your life as a called-out member of your local called-out community and let the Light of the world shine around. Then the place where you live will have a future and your called-out community will truly be a lampstand. See Isaiah 9:2, John 1:5, Ephesians 5:8.

14 June 2010

THOUGHT - See, hear, touch

Sean and I agreed to read and discuss 1 John 1 at our MRT meeting last Friday. Early fragment of John's Gospel

As I read John's words this morning and thought about them I made some brief notes. I'd like to share them more widely, here they are...

This chapter is expressed in a way that is very black and white - or should I write 'dark and bright'! As in his gospel, John writes about mysteries but describes them in a very clear and logical way. There's no arguing with him because he makes his case point by point, carefully and thoroughly. He states the undeniable and then draws an inescapable conclusion - again and again!

Yahshua is light and there's no darkness in him, none at all. If we are walking with him then we are in the light. If we're in the dark in any way, we are not walking with him. You just can't argue with that!

Claiming freedom from sin logically requires Father to be a liar so we can forget that idea right away! But it we confess he forgives us. The entire good news is here in this first chapter.

And how did John know all this? He'd seen, heard, and even touched the Life himself! What a privilege that would be, I can hardly imagine it. And yet that life was so ordinary that many others had looked and seen a builder from back-of-beyond Natzeret in way-up-north Galilee, they had heard a false prophet, and they had no interest in touching him.

I love the progression in John's opening words. First seeing the Life (something you can do from a distance just by noticing), then hearing him (for that you need to come close and pay atttention), and finally touching (truly making contact with the Life himself, embracing him fully).

For John seeing happened on his father's fishing boat as Yahshua walked along the pebbly shore. Hearing required leaving the boat and coming closer, then following him wherever he went and paying attention. Touching him included leaning against him at the last meal before his death. Seeing, hearing and touching are the steps we all take as we experience more and more of his presence in our own lives.

06 June 2010

Hinchingbrooke - Celebration

The forecast had been for torrential rain, but it was merely cloudy when we met from 10:30. Numbers were low for a variety of reasons, but we soon got the BBQ under way and the food set out and then shared an enjoyable time, chatting in groups. Drilled and blasted rock faceSome of the younger ones took advantage of the dry weather and the extensive park to burn up spare energy.

Meeting afterwards there was a sense that Father was leading our thoughts along a theme. He showed us that his presence and direction are far more important than any amount of planning or effort on our part. If I do what I think, even if I do it well it will be of no value if it goes against his plans. But if I hear what he says and see what he does and do what I am told, the impact will be far greater.

Uli told us about a book that she had been reading that had had a big impact for her. Even talking about it was an emotional time for her. The story emphasised that what we do for the Lord is of little significance by comparison with what he does through us.  In particular, a little love is greatly prized by him as loving is the essence of his being.

Jim shared the story about last summer's camp. Again, it had been hearing and doing that succeeded, rather than setting our own goals and course. It had been a learning experience for us and this was one of the main lessons.

I explained how I'd read Jeremiah 52 and how Zedekiah and the people of Israel seemed to me representative of the church. Zedekiah was taken captive, his sons were killed (his future was taken from him) and he was forced to watch, then his eyes were put out and he was carried away to a foreign land and imprisoned. This is very much what happened to the church as she was adopted by the Roman state. She was taken captive, her future was taken from her, her vision was taken away, and she was carried away and her freedom was removed.

On the other hand in Jeremiah 52 we read that only the poorest and least significant were allowed to remain in the land of Israel. The wealthy and all those with influence were murdered or taken away, only the peasant farmers remained. Isn't this also true for the church? 'Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven' (Matthew 5:3).

Rupert shared pictures and interpretations for some of those present, this was very, very encouraging. Then Neil explained that we work with the Lord. For example, it's as if we drill a hole in the rock face and he fills it with explosive. Our part seems insignificant and by itself has almost no effect, but it's important and necessary. Sometimes we can't see how our part can make any impact on the problem, but when the charge is detonated we see that in doing our part we have facilitated something much more powerful! We shouldn't feel ineffective, we must do our part in faith and out Father will do the greater thing that was necessary.

Graham reminded us that we are treasures, he used his gold wedding ring as an example. As he spoke I understood that each of us is like a precious ring of gold, but we can't make our rings interlock, even as a chain. But he can interlock them, not just in a one dimensional chain, but in two dimensions. Like a chain-link fence or chain mail. Together, forged into a structure by him, we are much stronger and more impenetrable than we could ever be on our own.

We prayed for one another, based not particularly on 'ministries' or 'projects' but on the areas where we live and work. Neil mentioned that a net is stronger than it's weakest point because some of the strain is always taken by the many other available strands.

When the time came to pack everything away and tidy up we had the most torrential downpour. The sky just opened, there were one or two distant rumbles of thunder, and I was absolutely drenched to the skin simply loading the barbecue back in the car just a few yards from the building. But I didn't really care - it had been a wonderful afternoon!

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