You have to love a bit of Reformed Christology (any Christology come to think of it). I was heading up a seminar this past week with the young people at Keswick on Christology from Nicea to Geneva. I loved coming across Turretin’s (I think it was his) Triple Cure. Our triple threat (I made up that – well I nicked it from Wrestling or something like that) is ignorance (1 Cor 2), guilt (Rom 3; Eph 2), and slavery (John 8). A solid Christology will show you how Jesus provides the Triple Cure by means of his three-fold office of prophet, priest, and King. As prophet he reveals God to us, dealing with our ignorance; as priest he is the eternal high priest and sacrifice atoning for our guilt; as King he crushes the head of the slave owner buying us back our freedom to serve him. Praise God for Turretin, Christology, and mostly for Christ – our prophet, priest, and King.
Occasionally we have someone debate with us whether or not the whole notion of formal membership is a biblical idea. Here’s my thoughts (with the aid of Wayne Meeks’ material in First Urban Christians).
- The early church had some understanding of who was ‘in’ and who was ‘out’. In 1 Cor 5 the church are told to put out the man who is having an affair with his Father’s wife. In 2 Cor 2 they are told to restore him. That implies some understanding of who counts as being ‘in/out’.
- The early church kept lists of widows (1 Tim 5) which further suggests some sort of formalised understanding of who belonged to the believing community.
- The expectation of ‘outsiders’ presence implies an understanding of who were insiders (1 Cor 14).
- The imagery used to describe the church as a family (see 1 Thess) and a body (1 Cor 12) suggests more than loose voluntary association. It implies a strong sense of commitment and unity to the other ‘members’.
- Formalised roles (elders and deacons) further demonstrates a well ordered community with a leadership providing direction (1 Tim 5:17).
- The Greco-Roman background models which would have informed the ekklesia included the household, voluntary guilds and associations, the synagogue, and the schools of philosophy or rhetoric. Voluntary guilds and associations would have had some form of internal democratic governance, in imitation of the classical polis (Meeks, 78).
- The initiatory rite of baptism would have been a strong marker of integration into the new community (Meeks, 88-89).
- In addition to the rites and rituals, creedal formulas (as in 1 Cor 15, and poss. Col 1; Phil 2) delimit the community in terms of a shared set of beliefs, symbols, and rituals.
There is much else useful in Meeks, but when it comes to formal church membership, these are some of the ideas which inform my thinking. Any further help?
Here is something I used at church last night to help us Dads confess and pray to the Father that we might reflect him as Fathers. It was written by W. Livingston Larned and is entitled “Father Forgets”.
Listen, son: I am saying this as you lie asleep, one little paw crumpled under your cheek and the blond curls stickily wet on your damp forehead. I have stolen into your room alone. Just a few minutes ago, as I sat reading my paper in the library, a stifling wave of remorse swept over me. Guiltily I came to your bedside.
There are the things I was thinking, son: I had been cross to you. I scolded you as you were dressing for school because you gave your face merely a dab with a towel. I took you to task for not cleaning your shoes. I called out angrily when you threw some of your things on the floor.
At breakfast I found fault, too. You spilled things. You gulped down your food. You put your elbows on the table. You spread butter too thick on your bread. And as you started off to play and I made for my train, you turned and waved a hand and called, “Goodbye, Daddy!” and I frowned, and said in reply, “Hold your shoulders back!”
Then it began all over again in the late afternoon. As I came up the road I spied you, down on your knees, playing marbles. There were holes in your stockings. I humiliated you before your boyfriends by marching you ahead of me to the house. Stockings were expensive-and if you had to buy them you would be more careful! Imagine that, son, from a father!
Do you remember, later, when I was reading in the library, how you came in timidly, with a sort of hurt look in your eyes? When I glanced up over my paper, impatient at the interruption, you hesitated at the door. “What is it you want?” I snapped. You said nothing, but ran across in one tempestuous plunge, and threw your arms around my neck and kissed me, and your small arms tightened with an affection that God had set blooming in your heart and which even neglect could not wither. And then you were gone, pattering up the stairs.
Well, son, it was shortly afterwards that my paper slipped from my hands and a terrible sickening fear came over me. What has habit been doing to me? The habit of finding fault, of reprimanding-this was my reward to you for being a boy. It was not that I did not love you; it was that I expected too much of youth. I was measuring you by the yardstick of my own years.
And there was so much that was good and fine and true in your character. The little heart of you was as big as the dawn itself over the wide hills. This was shown by your spontaneous impulse to rush in and kiss me good night. Nothing else matters tonight, son. I have come to your bedside in the darkness, and I have knelt there, ashamed!
It is feeble atonement; I know you would not understand these things if I told them to you during your waking hours. But tomorrow I will be a real daddy! I will chum with you, and suffer when you suffer, and laugh when you laugh. I will bite my tongue when impatient words come. I will keep saying as if it were a ritual: “He is nothing but a boy-a little boy!”
As a follow up to my earlier LICC praisings, here is a prayer I have above my desk which was written by someone within LICC:
The soil is softer,
The task less stubborn,
The laughter quicker,
The hearts less worn,
The grass greener…
But the grass is not greener
The grass grows greener
Where you water it.
Now, on this day,
Here, on this task,
On these hearts and mine,
Let the heavens open
And your reign shine.
I attended a dinner on Monday evening at the London Institute of Contemporary Christianity. Mark Greene (the director) gave an excellent talk on the mission and vision of LICC. Here are some of the things he said that struck me:
- Before God created man, he created a context for human flourishing – after that point it was man’s job to maintain such a context.
- Part of the mission of God is to put love where love is not (quoting St John of the Cross)
- 98% of Christians think they spend 95% of their time in non-mission contexts – we need to get them to see those various contexts as part of front-line mission.
- Boaz was a man who blessed his workers (‘The Lord be with you’), protected the vulnerable, conducted himself with integrity, and maintained workplace standards.
- Front line missionaries are mums, shop-keepers, shelf-stackers, chief-execs etc. – are we equipping them for front line duty?
- whole life discipleship should be unavoidable.
They also gave away a few freebies at the end of the evening including a six-week DVD course called Life on the Front Line. I watched some of the sessions yesterday and it is great material. The DVD also comes with pdf files containing a leader and participant course books – definitely a good resource for homegroups.
Incidentally, you can also find on the blogroll a link to Anthony Billington’s blog – he’s the LICC head of theology, and a thoroughly nice chap with a wonderfully sharp mind. All in all, I was very impressed with LICC and the work they are doing. Check them out.
Yesterday I was handed a copy of Patrick Lencioni’s Death by Meeting (I don’t think it was a hint!). This book dove-tails nicely with a similar kindle freebie I read a while back by Al Pittampalli entitled Read This Before Our Next Meeting . Here’s the combined wisdom:
- Have less meetings – they waste time and cheese off the ‘victims’. Do more by email, social media, text or whatever. But don’t spend innumerable hours of salaries on unnecessary, unproductive meetings.
- Meetings should move fast and end on schedule (AP – Al Pittampalli). Everyone loves the productive meeting that finishes early. Nobody thanks you for finishing at 11.30 at night! Help yourself by not overloading the agenda – don’t over-promise and under-deliver. Everyone will leave frustrated.
- Meetings should involve only those necessary (AP). We’ve all been in those meetings with fifteen people and everyone wants their two-penneth worth. Kill me now!
- Meetings should reject the unprepared (AP). Read pre-circulated docs ahead of time. If you turn up and ask to be briefed on pre-circulated info you should be taken out back and beaten to death with a snooker ball in a sock.
- Meetings should produce clear action plans (AP & PL). Don’t leave a meeting with no idea of who’s supposed to have done what by when – have specific timed objectives, and be accountable on them.
- A variety of meetings is necessary (PL – Patrick Lencioni) – Lencioni recommends the weekly 90 minute team talk (to review weekly activities past and upcoming), as well as the quarterly away day (to strategize and review big picture).
There’s lots of wisdom here, and I’d hope to be able to apply some of this stuff with a couple of caveats. If you work with volunteers some of the above is unrealistic and we’ll require more grace and charity. Volunteers will certainly appreciate us respecting their time and keeping meetings brief, but perhaps we shouldn’t be too harsh if they haven’t read every email or pre-circulated document – a case of the ideal vs. the real. Second, if you happen to be in church leadership you’ll want to soak your meeting in prayer. That’s not to say that being efficient and productive isn’t Christian (actually I think it is good stewardship of time and resources), but it does mean we’re not beavering away in our own strength and effort – we can (and should) entreat the help of Him who can do far more than we ask or imagine.
Nevertheless, there’s plenty of good take-away’s to think about and I’d definitely recommend getting hold of these books and working out the detail for your own situation.
“The very existence of the Bible is incontrovertible evidence of the God who refused to forsake his rebellious creatures” (citing Taber)
“The restoration of Israel to covenant obedience and thereby to covenant blessing (peace, fruitfulness, abundance) will make a corresponding impact on the nations also.”
“So although the exodus stands as a unique and unrepeatable event in the history of Old Testament Israel, it also stands as a paradigmatic and highly repeatable model for the way God wishes to act in the world, and ultimately will act for the whole creation.”
“We can enter the circle of missional response at any point on the circle of human need. But ultimately we must not rest content until we have included within our missional response the wholeness of God’s missional response to the human predicament – and that of course includes the good news of Christ”
“Election is missional in purpose”
Wright’s stuff on missional ethics is wonderfully insightful and helpful. His chapters on redemption, restoration, and ethics are worth the price of the book alone. If you’re looking for something to sink your teeth into this will repay your investment.
One of my fellow elders recommended Ranulph Fiennes’ biography of Captain Scott which I’ve just finished and thoroughly enjoyed. For the most part it charts his attempts to reach the South Pole, which he did in 1912. For me, perhaps the most moving part of the tale comes near the end, when one his buddies, Titus Oates, realizes he isn’t going to make it back to the depot. Scott’s diary entry for the 16/17th March, 1912 reads as follows:
Titus Oates said he couldn’t go on; he proposed we should leave him in his sleeping-bag. That we could not do, and we induced him to come on, on the afternoon march . . . he struggled on and we made a few miles. At night he was worse and we knew the end had come . . . He slept through the night before last, hoping not to wake; but he woke in the morning – yesterday. It was howling a blizzard, He said, “I am just going outside and may be some time.” He went out into the blizzard and we have not seen him since.
Within a few more days Scott’s entire party, including himself, were all dead – they had made the Pole, and died on the return journey just a couple of dozen miles short of safety. The story of Oates is a moving story of self-sacrifice – a man willing to lay down his own life for the sake of his brothers; for good men someone might possibly dare even to die. How much greater the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus who laid down his life for us when we were still sinners (Rom 5).
I was visiting and preaching at a church not too far from Bedford last night that have been without a pastor for some time. Talking afterwards I enquired whether or not they’d approached local theological colleges in their search. The essence of the reply was, “I don’t think we really want someone fresh out of college.” I encouraged them it would be an avenue worth pursuing for the following reasons:
- They’ll be full of enthusiasm, learning, and ideas. What they lack in experience they’ll cover in desire.
- They are still willing to learn and be taught. They won’t come in (hopefully) with very fixed ideas about how things must be run. What they lack in experience they’ll cover in flexibility.
- They’ll be more effective at reaching people at their age and stage – if, for example, they have a young family, they’ll meet, befriend, and attract young families (especially important if your church is ageing).
- You never know, you might have stumbled across the next John Stott.
- If you do find someone with 15-20 years pastoral experience willing to move to your small struggling ageing church you should probably ask why? What’s gone wrong? Why do they want to move? Are things not going so well? Is that the man you want? Really?
- Remember Paul’s words to Timothy – don’t look down on the young men without a ton of experience. The more important questions surround his doctrine, character, and ability. Experience needs to move down the list.
- You stand a better chance of establishing a man who can have a long term ministry. A minister giving you his last 10 years is not a good strategy for long term growth, health, and sustainability. A younger man, on the other hand, may give you (God-willing) 30+ years of sustained gospel ministry – a much better long-term legacy.
Is he fresh out of college? Snap him up, before someone else does.