Showing posts with label Bride. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Bride. Show all posts

13 June 2016

The City on the Hill

The old city on the hill - Approaching the end of his three and a half years of teaching and healing, Jesus told his disciples, 'Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing'. (Matthew 23:37-39)

A city on a hill - Ostuni, Italy
Jesus means us to take these verses very seriously indeed. In Matthew's account they're sandwiched between some of the most severe criticism of the religion of the day and a terrifying promise of the destruction to come. The city of Jerusalem and the temple at its heart were pulled down in 70 AD and replaced by a Roman city. The people died in the assault or were thrown out; this is what Jesus predicts and describes.

Jesus is well aware that we, too, are hemmed in by religious traditions and habits on the one hand, and inflexible structures on the other. And in the same way, he wants to gather us together under his wings. But are we willing? If we are not, he will criticise our religious tradition and allow our structures to be destroyed in order to save us from our own error and foolishness. Let’s not mislead ourselves, religion and structure are central to much that we think and do.

The new city on the hill - This is the New Jerusalem, the bride of the Lamb, the church! In Revelation 21:2-3 we read, 'I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling-place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.’ Revelation 21:9-11 tells us, 'I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb. And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal.'

This new Jerusalem has no traditions and is not built of stone. We are the living stones it's constructed from! Jesus said, 'You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven'.

Sometimes we think in terms of our own, individual lights, and how they should not be hidden. It's not wrong to read the passage in that way, but surely what Jesus really has in mind is his people collectively, the church, his bride, the new city built on a hill - the city that 'cannot be hidden'. And this new city is not built on a foundation of traditions and human teaching and Sunday services. It's built on the foundation of Christ alone and it's driven by every breath he breathes, the wind of the Spirit of Christ.

The how – life in the city - So what do we get in place of tradition and structure? Church life is based on something far more flexible and adaptable, something much more organic.

Ephesians 4:11-16 reveals church life as Jesus intended it. 'Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.'

And here's the practical detail. 'To each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.'  (1 Corinthians 12:7-11)

And yet more detail from 1 Corinthians 14:26. 'When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up.'

This is the new city on the hill that shines its light all around (not hidden under a jar). This is the church, the new Jerusalem, light in a dark world, individuals all bringing a contribution, building and equipping one another. This is who we are, it’s what we need to be doing.

See also


06 February 2013

Small and informal

Choudhrie's steps, Part 3 of 21
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This is Victor Choudhrie's third step in transforming church life. The idea is that we meet in quite small numbers and don't attempt anything like a traditional church service. Instead we meet very informally, much more like a family than a congregation.

Meet informally, like a familyIn step three, Victor Choudhrie suggests we keep our meetings very small and informal, not replicating the idea of a church service, but letting the Holy Spirit lead moment by unplanned moment.

Phase out programmed Sunday ‘services’ while implementing informal, small gatherings. The Bride of Christ must have intimacy with her Lord every day, not only for a couple of hours a week, lest she become unfaithful. However, discourage cross-gender disciple-making, lest chemistry foul things up. Acts 2:46-47; Hebrews 3:13

In step one we dispensed with the pastor, in step two we lost the building, so on the face of it there seems little option but to meet at home in an informal way. But our habits and traditions might lead us in other directions.

The danger of tradition - For one thing, we might feel a need for direction and look to leaders to provide it. Even if we really, really intend to follow Jesus we may still fear we won't hear him well, or we won't understand what he tells us. We may want an 'expert' to guide us. We might also feel that we are too exposed with only a few people meeting in someone's home, larger numbers are safer and a sign of success - aren't they?

But Jesus says, 'Come to me and I will give you rest', 'I will build my church', 'Where two or three are gathered in my name, I will be right there amongst them.' So how can we doubt? He is our security. He is our guide. We are safe in his hands!

Opening ourselves to the new - I think Choudhrie's main point is that we need to avoid programmed, organised, structured meetings and instead allow The Holy Spirit (the Spirit of Christ) to lead us moment by moment as we meet together. If we organise the meeting we will get a meeting designed and built by humans. If Jesus organises the meeting we will get a meeting designed and built by the One who said, 'I will build my church'. Which do you prefer? Go ahead, choose.

Choudhrie also reminds us that we should be meeting daily, not just once or twice a week. That would not be practical at all if we had to arrange everything ourselves. But if we just turn up ready to accept what Yahshua has prepared we will feast on truth and wisdom and encouragement and healing and power and joy and peace every day of every week. Do you want this? Do you want it enough to do it?

But be careful - Ideas like 'Church of two' (CO2) and 'Life transformation groups' (LTGs) may help with this, but even these should be considered carefully and prayerfully. It may be better to let the Spirit lead us day by day in a completely unstructured format. Don't be afraid to take things that work for you and adapt them or employ them for a season. But whatever you do, don't become married to a method.

I would recommend taking the warning against cross-gender discipling with a pinch of salt too. It's right to be cautious and aware of potential difficulties, and it might be right to avoid such situations most of the time. But there is always a danger of ruling out what the Spirit is showing us to do. Be careful and be wise, but remember it is also unwise to quench the Spirit - even in order to be careful.

Body life! - What are the advantages of meeting informally without making prior arrangements?

Spontaneity is essential if Jesus is to have his way in our meetings. His presence and his guiding hand are huge advantages, advantages we can never exaggerate or over-emphasise.

The Holy Spirit is gentle like a dove. He will fly up and perch in the rafters if we are not patient, quiet and expectant; he will look on from a distance if we insist on doing things our way. But with him in control our times together can take us to places we cannot imagine. Freedom to use gifts like tongues and interpretation, prophecy, healing, knowledge and the rest, freedom to sing as and when each one is led, freedom to share a Bible text, a picture, a prayer, freedom to teach, to share a problem, to encourage, to weigh what is said, to build one another up - these are the freedoms we need. Mostly we need them far more than we think!

If we meet like this we will find ourselves doing what Paul describes, building one another up in love as each plays their part.

This is body life. This is body ministry. This is Christ at work amongst his people. This is a hint of the Bride growing into maturity.

The value of the small - Small groups have the potential to be much more intimate than large gatherings. There is a place for larger groups, but intimacy with one another enables intimacy with the Spirit too. And for most of the time this is what we need, times where we can be close and personal, where we can share our hearts and Jesus' heart. These are the conditions that allow one anothering to flourish and all our needs to be met as the body of Christ.

Probable responses - How will people receive the suggestion to meet simply and in small groups?
  1. It seems safe to be in an audience, but risky to speak out. Fear of the unknown and fear of failure will cause some to reject the idea of unplanned meetings. But Jesus says that love rejects fear. The answer to fear and doubt is to love him and love one another enough to give it a try.
  2. Some people might choose to add in elements of freedom but keep a planned framework for times together. But the more we plan, the less space we leave for the Holy Spirit. It may seem safer, but it restricts and controls, limiting what is possible.
  3. Others will seize hold of unplanned and intimate meetings with joy. They will experience great rewards for their bravery and boldness and willingness to take a risk.

Questions:

  • Have you ever been in a meeting that was unplanned and open? Consider trying it some time with a small group of friends.
  • How much planning goes into conversations with your parents, your children, or your friends?
  • Can we trust the Holy Spirit? Do we know him? Is he welcome among us?

See also:


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19 August 2012

Is the church alive?

Jesus says we are his body here in the world. He is alive so his body is also alive. We are to do the things he did (and even greater things). We are to say the things he said. We are alive, not just as individuals but as his body expressing his love, his wisdom, his authority.

Biological processes
We are not just able to express love, wisdom and authority individually, but communally. It is not enough that you and I express our own love. It is not even enough that we individually express Christ's love.

The mystery is that the church herself, the Bride of Christ, is also able in her own right to express Christ's love. We are not a bunch of loosely associated individuals, we are Christ's Bride.

I am deeply troubled that the Bride is fragmented and damaged. So many different forms of church management and government compete for our loyalty. Differences in doctrine, in faith, and in tradition are everywhere.

So let's take one of the many ways of understanding church and see if we can usefully extend it.

Church Multiplication Associates considers that church life, like biological life, depends on its DNA. The idea is that her DNA determines the nature of church, in particular how she is structured, functions and expresses herself. See Neil Cole's article 'What is at the heart of the organic church movement?'

Controlling DNA - Taking this a little further we might recognise that a living organism is more than the product of its DNA. There are subtle factors at work controlling how and when that DNA is expressed. For example these factors are responsible for the fact that babies in the womb do not develop ears on their legs. Every cell in the body contains the full set of instructions, but cells only act on a subset of the DNA.

It's the same in the church, we all have the same DNA which is the nature of Christ, and we all partake of that one nature. Yet we are not, as Paul points out, all ears. Why not?

The Holy Spirit - One factor I can identify immediately is the prompting of the Holy Spirit in the moment. How I behave is controlled, not simply by the DNA, but also by what I am hearing at this present moment. The DNA is not diffused throughout the entire body. Every cell, whatever its function, has a full set of DNA while only using a subset.

Perhaps we should not expect every member of Christ to express all of the DNA. Or, even more significantly, perhaps we should not expect any member of Christ to express all of the DNA!

Instead, perhaps we should expect that particular parts of the DNA will be expressed by particular individuals at particular times for particular purposes, and that each individual will do so based on constant communication with the Holy Spirit.

The environment - Another important factor in living systems is the environment. The expression of DNA is affected by the environment. For a simple example consider the effect of sunshine on human skin. Too much sun causes damage - burning in the short term and perhaps skin cancer in the longer term. Melanocyte cells in the lower epidermis respond to exposure by creating increased amounts of a dark pigment called melanin. The DNA contains the instructions for making melanin, but the environment determines when and how much it is expressed by skin cells.

In the church, one such factor of the environment is persecution. The persecuted church is different from the unpersecuted church.

Prompting by the Spirit and environment both affect the appearance and behaviour of the church. We should not overlook these factors.

Can you think of other factors that might control the expression of the the church's DNA?

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