The Church That Submits To Christ​​ ​​ (by Jon Shuler​​)

The two passages of Scripture that have most significantly shaped my thinking about the church are these: first the apostle Pauls teaching about the body of Christ in his first letter to the Corinthians; and second the description Luke gives us of the early believers after the day of Pentecost being devoted to the apostles teaching and fellowship(Acts 2:42). For all the years of my ministry these have spurred me on as a leader in the church. But some time ago, while teaching about Christian marriage, I was stunned to see the apostle offhandedly refer to the relationship between submission in marriage and the way the church submits to Christ.(Eph 5:21)

Why was I stunned? Because all my experience was of a church that was generally submitted to other things. A church that maintained traditions, even when they were clearly ineffective in spreading the kingdom of God. A church that maintained organizational control at the expense of gospel liberty. A church that was led by many who seemed to seek the chief seat rather than the towel of the servant. A church that habitually put buildings and grounds ahead of global mission, indeed any gospel mission. A church racked with power struggles and conflict over points of doctrine and order that seemed not central at all to the gospel preached by the Lord Jesus. A church dedicated to the latest fads or programs but which didnt seem to want to restructure to live under the authority of the Scripture.

Paul experienced the church differently. He experienced her as submitted to Christ. When and how did this experience come to him? Presumably it must have come to him in the very first days of his Christian life. He was led to the Lord by an obedient disciple of the church in Damascus. He then spent nearly three years as part of that church. Though the text is silent, I have no doubt that his years in Tarsus were similarly lived in a community of believers there. When he was called to accompany Barnabas to Antioch everything he already knew must have been deeply reinforced by his years in that glorious local body. When the two of them set out on the missionary journey recorded by Luke, they were helping to plant churches that submitted to Christ because that was the only church that was the church. Can the experience of those days be seen again? There is little argument that many would doubt it. But does the Lord of the church?

A central doctrine of the Scriptures, emerging from the experience of the historic community of faith, is that while Gods purposes remain unfulfilled, he will never cease to call his people back to faithfulness. There will come a day when the last of the elect will come in, and then the end will unfold. But until that day, there is time to repent and amend our ways. But who will hear this cry, and who will pay the price? For surely, to begin again to be a submitted to Christchurch will require sacrifice in the face of a hostile world.

Next Week: Cultural Seduction​​​

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Misunderstanding the Church?​​ ​​ (by Jon Shuler​​)

The 20th century Swiss theologian Emil Brunner once wrote, in 1952, a very interesting book with the title: The Misunderstanding of the Church. It was an impassioned argument that the modern institutional forms of Christian life in the West had all but extinguished authentic Christian living and ministry. What the New Testament meant when the word church was used, and what the life and patterns of the modern church signified, where two nearly completely different things, so Brunner claimed. It was vigorously refuted by some, and slipped into general obscurity at the time, but the thesis of his book is almost irrefutable nearly seventy years later. Church has become a building or a place in the developed world, but in the first generations it was a family of believers. It was to be found whenever and wherever believing followers of Jesus gathered. It was a living body.

Today, study after study in the West finds, the personal lives of those calling themselves Christians is remarkably similar to the lives of those who are not Christians. Yet almost 70% of the population of my country (USA) claim to be Christian people. Attendance at worship, which most English speakers call going to church,has fallen precipitously in the last few decades, but there are still millions and millions who do so every week. If that is so, why is the lived life of serious discipleship so rare?

Faithful pastoral leaders know there is a problem, but most of their attempts to address it have little lasting impact. For a season there is a push to have people gather in small groups, or in community groups, or in pastorates, or small group bible studies, but what is almost always experienced there is a minor version of what is experienced on Sunday. There will be social interaction and fellowship of a sort, some perfunctory prayer, perhaps a reading of scripture with a meditation led by a designated teacher,and then all will go back to their own homes and lives as before. Any resemblance to the church of Jesus in the early centuries is hard to discover. How has this happened?

To begin to answer that question we must go back in history. We are remarkably blessed to have a description of the church in the first century recorded for us in the second book of Luke, known to us as the Acts of the Apostles. Even a cursory reading of that book of the Bible will quicken in a true believer a hunger for what has been lost. The serious focus of those men and women was on the Lord Jesus Christ and obedience to his teaching. Opening the New Testament to the letters of the apostles reveals the same thing. The early communities were not perfect, far from it, but there was an unquenchable desire to be in conformity with what the Lord Jesus had taught his disciples, and a deep commitment to be found in him. Anyone turning to what Paul, and Peter, James, and John wrote discovers letters to people in relationship to other people, not to institutional systems.  

So why are modern leaders perpetuating forms of church life that do not issue in the function for which the body of Christ was called into existence? To make true disciples?

Next Week: The Church That Submits To Christ

Ideas or Actions?​​ (by Jon Shuler​​)

Some years ago I read a book that used the word ideation.It was a new word to me, and I was intrigued to discover that it was defined as the formation of ideas or concepts.In the context of the book it was associated with the pleasure found in coming up with ideas, but not necessarily doing anything with them. Forming an idea was satisfaction enough. As I thought and prayed about this I became convinced that this is a major problem in contemporary leadership circles within the church. Many are committed to ideas, but seem frequently unconcerned with the actions which would lead to them having consequences. Let me cite a few examples.

In the 1990s the Anglican Communion undertook to declare a Decade of Evangelismwhich had few lasting institutional consequences. Often the actions, or behavioral changes, necessary to be effective were never embraced. Evangelism, as a program, was simply tacked on to the institutional structures that already existed. Any internal rethinking that would make evangelistic action normative was rarely undertaken.

In the 2000s there was a great surge of conversation about Missional Communitythat was embraced conceptually, but this too rarely came to anything in the established churches of the Anglican Family. A few highly active parishes added more missionalprograms to their suite of offerings, but rigorous realignment of priorities and resources was uncommon. To reform a parish so that it would be a missional communitywas almost unknown, and almost no diocese – despite using the language – changed any of its constituent behaviors. Missionary behavior lived out locally (not short term trips and going to conferences) that would truly begin to extend the kingdom of God to new people and places, did not become widely normal. The phrase did.

In the 2010s there was increasing talk of discipleshipacross almost all denominational families and newer movements, but any close look at what that really meant frequently revealed that it almost always was about improving their brandor tribe,and rarely about making true new followers of the Risen Lord Jesus who live as disciples he would recognize, no matter what the cost.

These three examples illustrate what is a serious problem among many of the current generation of church leaders in the West: they love ideas, especially new religious ideas, but the actual behavior change to implement them is lacking. Sadly this seems particularly so if the ideas challenge the comfortable routines they have become used to. What then of any new Anglican Reformation?

Unquestionably the answer will depend, as ever, on the willingness of individual leaders to hear the word of Jesus and to obey it. Over and over in our Lords day the religious leadership was challenged by his teaching. They heard, but did not hear in the inner way, the only way that leads to new life – repentance and obedient faith. Some have always liked his ideas, then and now, but fewer act upon them.

Next Week: Misunderstanding the Church?

Living the Principles of a New Reformation.​​ (by Jon Shuler​​)

There is a famous apocryphal saying, attributed to the late Peter Drucker but never verified, that goes: Culture eats strategy for breakfast.It is a penetrating insight into the difficulty of effecting lasting change in any organization that has long endured. It is most certainly true in the fields of education, government, and business, and all who have ever thought it necessary to make significant change in the church would agree it is also true there as well.

Of course what we are discussing is not the mystical reality which is the church known only to God, the body of Christ, but rather the all too human organizational constructs men have built to try to protect their understanding of Christian essentials. Once a system of men has been put in place, whoa unto him who would try to change it. Yet reformation demands it. Without change there is no reformation.

The twelve principles that have been outlined are certainly not infallible, but together they represent a reasonable set of behaviors that if lived faithfully will lead, by Gods grace, to the rebirth of a vibrant church in any location. But the key phrase is if lived faithfully.

The Western church is awash in books, pamphlets, podcasts, conferences, and theories, but only one thing can make a difference – lived faith. And that faith must be the faith imparted to his followers by the Lord Jesus Christ. That faith is not seen in emotion or mission language. It is seen when lived practically, day by day, in season and out of season. Until it is seen in behavior, it is questionable if it is real.

Putting new principles into ones daily life, let alone leading a congregation to embrace new principles, requires a long term commitment. It will not be done overnight, nor without mistakes and failures, but it must be begun. And it must be begun with a small company of others who desire to be found faithful. A dear missionary brother, doing astounding apostolic work in the majority world,  describes types of church people as sitters, talkers, and doers.It is doers that are needed. Faithful doers.

So how to begin?

Four things are necessary. (1) Resolve to become a new reformational leader. Resolve only to serve first the Lord of the Church, not the organizational church created by men. There will be a cost, but the blessing of God will fall upon you. (2) Find another believer or two who also desires to align themselves with the move of God in our day. Meet with them, pray with them, plan with them according to the Holy Scriptures, and then put into action what has been decided. (3) Beg God the Holy Spirit to raise up others to join you. The harvest, even in our day in the West, is ripe, but the laborers are few. Cry out to the Lord of the Harvest. (4) Finally, resolve to never beak the word of God. Never.

Next Week: Ideas or Actions?

Missing Principles?​ (by Jon Shuler​​)

When building a house, the builder must first clear the ground and site the foundation. If he has done well, the house will be stout and firm, giving many years of service. So it is as well when the need to restore an old building has become mandatory. Sometimes the original work is so secure that restoration can begin with ease, but sometimes the needed work is tantamount to starting from the beginning. If the old house is a worthy and beloved one, such intensive rebuilding is called for. It is almost always a work of love to save her.

The structures that have characterized the old churches of the West for centuries rest upon a foundation that is the only one that can ever be laid, the foundational preaching of Jesus Christ and him crucified. The apostolic faith of the first century church came to ancient Britain, and Europe, not physical structures or bureaucratic organizations, and that sacred foundation must remain ever fast if there is to be a new reformation.

The four observations and twelve principles I have enumerated are those that I believe need to be again grasped and lived by every local parish. It is my conviction that if they are allowed to guide the work of a local congregation, under godly and wise leadership, there will be life and growth for the people of God. The church in that place will grow strong, and the kingdom of God will be extended. No one principle can be neglected or dispensed with. But they are certainly not a perfect set. There may be missing principles that the Lord will need to point out to the faithful ones in this generation and the next. What is crucial is that the church be reformed. These are a beginning.

By the grace of God the church does not completely disappear from any place that once received her Lord in power. There remains a church in the Middle East, though small, as there does in North Africa and Turkey. But these churches are shells of their former selves, and even now it cannot be guaranteed that they will not completely die in their native lands. We can confidently say that the church of Jesus will never be defeated, even by the gates of hell, but any one national or particular church, or any one denominational family, can die.

The beginning of a new day starts with the dawn. The beginning of a new movement starts with a few. What must happen for the new reformation to come is that a few leaders must be willing to step forward no matter the cost. This is not a time to retrench and try to do the same things over and over again, as though that will change the results. Indeed, to do the same thing over and over again expecting different results is a good definition of insanity. The challenge is to begin.

If God allows, and I am able to revise these thoughts in ten years, I am certain that I will rearrange these principles, perhaps add to them, and hopefully more faithfully expound them. For now, will you join me in trying to live them?

Next Week: Living the Principles of a New Reformation.

Recapping the Seven (Corporate) Principles​ (by Jon Shuler​​)

I have been asserting that nothing but a new reformation can bring the church of Jesus Christ into alignment with Gods will for the Bride of Christ. I have shared my conviction that an internal change must come in the hearts of all leaders for this to happen, and have sketched out five internal principles for change. But I have also argued that changes are critical in the ordinary life of the local church, and have enumerated seven external principles over the last few weeks that I believe again need to be central. Let me recap these last seven, numbering them in sequence after the earlier five.

6) Obeying Jesus as Lord. Accepting the gospel of truth, by faith, that Jesus Christ died for my sins is life changing. It rearranges the way a person thinks and feels. It starts a life long journey, if the acceptance is real. But how do we know? The clearest answer is we begin to obey the plain word of the Lord Jesus. A church that does not expect and require that of leaders and followers has veered into grave error.

7) Supreme Authority From Scripture. Faithful believers are taught by the Holy Spirit of God to trust the Holy Scriptures. They come under the central authority of their Lord and his word. They devote themselves to the apostles teaching as it is recorded in the new Testament. They receive and seek to live by the moral teaching of the Old Testament, interpreted in the cross of Christ. The church stands firm here or slowly dies.

8) Worship Means Life. Worship is not music, though music helps to lift our praise. Worship is not liturgy, though good liturgy can lead us into the truth as it is in Jesus. Worship is not what we do for an hour on Sunday, though gathering on the Lords Day is a mark of true believers. Worship is the call on all of life to be lived for the honor and glory of God.

9) Every Believer Becoming a Discipler. To follow Jesus indefinitely, without becoming a disciple-making disciple, is unfruitfulness, and casts doubt on true faithfulness. Catechesis must include systemic discipleship, and not just knowledge. All believers should soon grow into being disciple-making disciples.

10) Every Believer Equipped to be a Minister. The central task of all the designated leaders is to equip all the members of Christs body, the Church, for the work of ministry assigned to them.

11) Restored Apostolic Leadership. The emerging pattern of ordered leadership that characterized the church by the end of the apostolic age, bishop, presbyters, and deacons, is to be effectively restored to the local congregation.

12) Continual Reconciliation. The culture of the church must again become a culture of forgiveness and reconciliation in the love of Christ. Without this grace is nullified.

Next Week: Missing Principles?

Expounding on the 12 Principals #12: The Principle of Reconciliation (by Jon Shuler​​)

When our eyes are opened to the truth contained in the Scriptures, we soon learn that the early church was not conflict free. Godly men and women disagreed from time to time, and differences had to be addressed. Conflict sometimes erupted and tore the family of God apart. It was part of an apostolic leaders task to seek to restore unity. But over centuries many leaders of the church have become less and less committed to this task, and that poses a dilemma: How are believers to be reconciled?

The simple solution to this dilemma, followed in the beginning by the faithful church, was that believers were expected to reconcile differences in the manner taught by the Lord Jesus. Those who sinned were to go to those whom they had sinned against, and seek forgiveness. Those who had ought against a brother were to go to him, and seek to be reconciled. Forgiveness was to be quickly given. In both cases, if that did not happen, they were to try again accompanied by one or two others as witnesses. If this too failed they were to take it to the church for resolution. It is time for this principle of reconciliation to be restored, first to the local church, and second to the wider family, if Christians are to be faithful to their Lord.

There are at least three levels of application that need to be addressed: interpersonal conflict between believers, conflicts within a given congregation, and conflicts between churches. Commitment to reconciliation in all three circumstances, though challenging, is absolutely necessary.

In the local church, conflicts between believers should be resolved without wider notice. It is to be part of daily discipleship. It is to be normal that committed people live with a desire to be in harmony with their brothers and sisters, and when they are not, to take the initiative to work it out. First between themselves, if possible, then with the help of their believing friends. If those two steps fail they are to take it to the church. But what does that mean? Once the church is too large to meet in one home it almost certainly means take it to the leadership of the local church.

What if they can not resolve the matter in private? What if it is roiling the whole local body? Then the local leadership must step in lovingly but forcefully. It is their sacred duty to work to resolve the situation, with clear submission required by all to the gospel of Truth. It may even (rarely) require a gathering of the whole local body. In extreme cases they may require the help of godly oversight beyond the local congregation.

It should be no different when the conflict is between two or more local congregations. Resolution must be sought by the senior leaders, following the same rules that Jesus gave. If the two do not resolve the conflict, they bring in a third or fourth. If that is not sufficient, they take it higher, first in their city or region, and then (if necessary) to their whole movement. If there is to be unity, as the Lord commands, there must be devotion to the principle of reconciliation. Unity is not an option if reformation is to come!

Next Week: Recapping the Seven (Corporate) Principles