An Easter Pause/Easter Truth​​​ (by Jon Shuler​​​)

Undergirding every principle that can serve as a new building block for the renewing of the life of the Western Church, is the central truth of Easter. Unless the Resurrection is believed and lived there can be no living community of Christian faith. There may be buildings with ever diminishing attendance, but there will be no “turning the world upside down” as happens when the grace of heaven falls in power.

The church of Jesus Christ is not a collection of people who enjoy a certain way of worshipping, nor who share common ethnic backgrounds or human interests. It is a gathering of those who believe that “Jesus Christ is Alive.” He is not dead, though he was crucified, died, and was buried. He was raised on the third day by the power and authority of God Almighty. The tomb was empty. He is alive and changing the world in this very moment. To know him as alive by the power of the Holy Spirit is to participate now in the breaking in of the everlasting kingdom of God. It is to be forever changed.

It was the glorified Christ who met the first disciples in the midst of their confusion and grief. It was the “First Born From the Dead” who spoke with them, and supped with them, and illuminated their understanding, and sent them out to change the world. The sin of the First Adam was undone by the obedience of the Second Adam, and all who would ever believe in him and follow would be drawn into his resurrected life. Even though they die, yet shall they live.

From a handful of disciples on the first Sunday of the Resurrection the number of followers grew day by day. Now they are on every continent and in almost every nation, and encompass over one third of all those alive today. The church may be suffering in some places, but she is growing wonderfully in others. Resurrection life is awakening one dead soul after another, and where she is growing men and women are discovering the central truth of the gospel. Jesus Christ is no longer in the grave, he is Risen. The tomb is empty. The Good News of the gospel has come to them. And that gospel is the Gospel of Truth, not opinion.

When “Jesus Christ and him crucified” is proclaimed, the full story of the Incarnation, Crucifixion, and Resurrection is preached to all who can hear. It is preached as truth, because it is the Truth. The one who came among us was – and is – “the way, the truth, and the life” by which all creation will be restored. There is no other gospel. There is no other Lord.

Those of us praying for a new dawn for the church in our land live in this truth. Nothing can take it from us. It has come to live in our hearts. It possesses our mind. It owns our being. The Risen Lord Jesus Christ abides in us and with us.

Next Week: An Easter Pause/ Easter Joy

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Expounding the 12 Principles:#5 — The Serving Principle. (by ​Jon Shuler​)

There is no part of the human body that was not created for a purpose. Each limb, each organ, every major system, indeed every cell has a purpose. It is possible to live after the loss of some, but each of the manifold parts was created to be supportive of the whole. We are fearfully and wonderfully made. As it is in the human body, so it is in the church. The constituent living cell is a believer, and every healthy cell in the body has a purpose.

The Apostle Paul writes of the church as the body of Christ, and the Apostle Peter gives us the image of a living temple. Whether we think organically of the body, or more structurally of the temple (though remember it is a “living” temple), each believer has a part to play. None are to be passive, even if hidden, because each is needed for the common good. To serve the Lord means not only to serve among his people, but also to serve his people.

We argued in an earlier post in this series that every believer is to find the work that the Lord has created them to do, that is their unique and particular ministry. As the journey of faith unfolds, this early work, or ministry, often becomes the primary calling of their life. But here we are describing a different element of the healthy church, not vocation. We are describing a willingness to be used, even outside of ones gifting. This serving is the readiness to do whatever needs to be done. This serving posture is for all.

To begin the journey of a Christian is to learn that we are to be stewards of all that God has entrusted to us. Central to this is to begin to exercise the common grace of serving others. We discover that Sunday worship is vital and normal, but we also learn to work, pray, and give for the spread of the kingdom of God. When we learn to tithe, that is to return a tenth of our financial resources to the Lord, we are serving the body. When we begin to take part in daily intercession for the mission and ministry of the local church, we are serving the body. If we agree to do some simple act of service for a member in need, we are serving the body. In such ways we learn not to hold back from the needs of the church. We offer ourselves to fill a gap. We serve the body of Christ.

And to what end? Why does it matter that all learn the principle of serving? Because the Lord who created us calls us to this. We are part of the family of God, and we share in the common life. We have received so we can give. We have been blessed so we can be a blessing. Our model for this way of life is Jesus Christ our Lord.The one who came down from heaven to save us, gave himself for us. We are servants of the servant Lord. The whole body of Christ is to grow up into the head, into Christ. It cannot do so unless every part is working together for the common good. All are called to be a serving disciples.
Next Week: An Easter Pause/Easter Truth

Expounding the 12 Principles #4:  The Principle of Discipling.  (by ​​Jon Shuler​)

New believers must be formed quickly in the patterns of a healthy and practical way of Christian life, if they are to become life long followers of the Lord Jesus.  They must learn to be disciple-making disciples. Too long a delay, and they will become immature followers for a lifetime, at best, or unfruitful branches at worst. A new believer must hear and obey the call to be a disciple who can help another disciple to be formed.

Making this principle foundational is not accomplished by a program or a temporary training course. It has to be lived. It must become a pattern of behavior that shapes the DNA of the believer. The tree will be known by its fruit, and the fruit of a believer is another believing disciple. But how does this reproduction become normal? At least three things must be true for this to happen.

First, existing followers of Jesus must become convinced that living as a disciple-making disciple is for them, and they must pray for it to be so. When the Lord first sent out his disciples, they were told to pray to the Lord of the Harvest to raise up laborers to go into that harvest.Even as they went, they were to pray to be multiplied. Whatever their particular gift or ministry, they were to help others join them. Prayer to be faithful in helping to spread the kingdom, and doing so, was part of daily life as a follower of Jesus. Disciple-making was not an option.

Second, a follower of Jesus must first be discipled by another in order to learn the essential pattern of discipling for themselves. Walking alongside a faithful follower teaches them how to do the same. Within days of first following Jesus, those first disciples spent hours, every day, with their Master. They discovered that discipling is a relational, time consuming, and intentional lifestyle. They learned it from the Lord so they could  pass it on. Reproduction is the goal of discipling. To accomplish it requires intentionality. We learn to be disciples by walking with other disciples.

Thus it is that third, a discipled disciple – a made disciple – comes to have confidence to build discipling relationships for themselves. They begin to invite others to walk with them. They make time for meeting with those who want to learn. They develop a loving and open lifestyle, with enough margin always to help make a new disciple as the Lord leads. It is then only a matter of time until such a lifestyle becomes like breathing for them. If the Lord has need of them they will answer his summons.

When the principle of discipling is being lived there will be no day to busy to help disciple another. There will be no schedule too packed to prevent them from helping someone the Lord sends to walk the road of Christ with them. They will never refuse to go”  to the one ready to follow. Discipling will be central to their life.

Next Week:  5) The Principle of Serving.

Expounding The 12 Principles; 2 (by Jon Shuler)

2) The Principle of Work.

The clear example of the Lord Jesus must always be our guide, along with his word. His life and teaching set us the example that we are to live, by the grace of God, in the power of the Holy Spirit. He shows us, and has told us, that his food was to do the Father’s will. He was sent to accomplish the Father’s work.

The same is meant to be true of us who are followers of Jesus. A disciple has work to do that no one else is called to do. Our work is particular and specific. God has prepared it for us.

The Apostle tells us that we were created for particular good works, prepared by God for us to walk in. This is not an idle claim, but one of the deepest truths of the outworking of the gospel. God has not made a mistake in creating us, nor in redeeming us, and it is part of that redemption that we enter into our life’s work as he purposes it for us. The ancient way of expressing it is that we are to give ourselves to “our vocation.” This is our calling, and we will all give an account for it at the judgment.

Because this is so, a believing and obedient disciple cannot long watch others in their service and ministry without entering in to their own. They must pray and struggle to clarify the particulars, with the help of others who love the Lord and love them, but the particular is what they must seek. ‘What is my calling Lord Jesus?’

Many will not come to this quickly after conversion, but some will. The sooner the better for the work of the kingdom. Remaining on the sidelines is inexcusable if delayed by lethargy and sloth, or by alibis and excuses. To be a disciple of Jesus requires a single hearted devotion to the Lord’s will and purpose for ‘me.’ Discipleship has a cost.

How then does this become true in my life? How do I find the work that I am to do? The church that submits to Christ is my helper, but the Lord alone must guide and clarify. He speaks to those who truly follow him. In the early days of ones discipleship there will be trial and error, almost always. And there will be times of discouragement and even significant error. But the mistaken or fallen one must get up. The way of repentance and faith is lifelong, yet the Lord will never “leave or forsake” those who love him.

In many Western churches the work of the body is done by only a few. The majority are expected ‘to attend, to give, and to go home.’ Rare today is a historic congregation with even 20% of its membership mobilized according God’s calling, and thus the effectiveness of the witness of these churches is often minimal.

True disciples cannot let this be so of them. They find their calling, and give themselves to the specific work the Lord Jesus has for them. Nothing less will do.

Next Week: The Principle of Being Sent.

Foundational Principles — External. (by Jon Shuler)

There are seven more principles that are external to any one individual, but which I believe are the necessary “bones” if the church is to live well for God’s glory. These must be put in place by those who have the authority in the local church to do so. Any leader, lay or ordained, must do their very best to see these principles in place in the local congregation where they serve, and in any ministry they lead.

6) The Principle of Lordship. The words and example of Jesus must be at the center of all ministries and structures. Abiding in Jesus means more than knowing the words of the Lord, it means obeying them structurally. This alone shows someone is “truly” his disciple, and the same is true for his church. Jesus is Lord.

7) The Principle of Biblical Authority. The Apostles Teaching and Fellowship (for us today, the New Testament interpreted through Jesus’ clear teaching and example recorded in the four gospels) must guide all right believing and all right living in the church of Christ Jesus. The biblical gospel is the only gospel. The Word of God is to be preached. This does not negate the Old Testament, but demands that it always be interpreted in the light of the New. To be devoted to this principle is a mark of the Church that submits to Christ.

8) The Principle of Worship. Holy Scripture makes clear that worship is not a Sunday matter only, but a way of life for true believers. The worship of the church has a purpose and an order given by the Lord of the church, but it is not to be an event. Sunday services, and other liturgical gatherings, must regularly be evaluated for their fidelity to the Father’s desire to find those who will “worship in Spirit and in Truth.”

9) The Principle of Discipleship. Living the cycle of discipleship, from being welcomed into the life of a believer to becoming a disciple-making disciple, is the pattern of life for all members of the church.

10) The Principle of Every Member Ministry. The Holy Spirit gives gifts to every believer, for the common good. Every disciple has a ministry to fulfill. A local church which does not understand this, and make it central, is a disobedient church. To call only ordained ministry “the ministry” is a grievous error.

11) The Principle of Recognition. The Leadership of the local church is meant to be recognized by the whole church, and therefore should be conformed to the patterns given by the Holy Spirit in the early days of the church.

12) The Principle of Reconciliation. Conflict resolution structures must exist under the Lordship of Jesus & his Word. Differences will always exist, but the clear commandment of the Lord Jesus that his followers “love one another” must be taken seriously. Clear guidance has been given to us through Jesus’ teaching, and it must be obeyed.

 

Next Week: Expounding The 12 Principles

Foundational Principles — Internal. (by Jon Shuler)

For the past few weeks I have shared several observations that have led me to think a whole new set of foundational principles are needed in much of the church that I know best. I have also long known that the only way the church will change is if leaders change, and it must begin with me. I have twelve “principles” that have become important to me, five that are internal and personal and seven that are external and relate to the church as I am able to influence her. Let me share them.

The first five principles I want to be inside my heart, mind, soul, and to guide my strength as I follow Jesus. No one else is responsible for these but me. I beg the Holy Spirit of God to make these five true in my life. I pray to learn to live them, not just talk about them. I ask God to make them my way till the end.

1) The Principle of Conformity. I ask God to conform me day by day to the gospel of truth as it is in Christ Jesus. [My whole self, not a part.]

2) The Principle of Work. I pray to do only the work God the Father has prepared for me to walk in. [My assignments.]

3) The Principle of Being Sent. I ask God to teach me to be a loving “sent one” to those who do not know the Lord Jesus, or who are only beginning to follow him. [My lifestyle.]

4) The Discipling Principle. I pray to be discipling other men until the day I die. [My obedience to the Final Command.]

5) The Serving Principle. I pray to take my God appointed place in the ministry and community of the church that submits to Christ. [My assignment in the body of Christ.]

None of these have generally been a part of how I was trained to live as a Christian, nor as a priest. What happened to me has happened to many. I became a servant of the institution rather than the Lord. Do not get me wrong, I believe the Lord needs and uses the institutional forms of his church, but they are not divine. They are to serve the spread of the kingdom of God, not thwart or impede it.

Some years ago I met a young Nigerian priest, serving in the United States, who said in my hearing: “We were baptized as babies, we were confirmed, we got confused and left, we got saved and came back, we were not wanted.” His experience of the institutional forms he encountered in Nigeria was very similar to mine in the United States.

May God prevent that, for future generations of his servants, in our day.

 

Next Week: Foundational Principles (External)

Thinking Through The Four Observations: Observation #4

Observation #4: The Church is organized to make disciples.

When whole towns and villages are changed, when the social and economic patterns
begin to be altered, when the governing structures begin to be rethought, the gospel of
Jesus Christ has come in reformation. The gospel spreads like a wild fire, and it is
unstoppable for a season of God’s choosing. So it was in the 6th, 12th, and 16th
century in Europe. So it was during the Great Awakening of the 18th century. And
always ordinary believers learn to live so that the gospel spreads easily. They learn to
be disciple-making disciples.
In all such eras believing people meet regularly in small enough groups that the true
nature of the church is experienced day by day. This is the hidden reality whenever the
church of the Lord Jesus is experiencing spontaneous expansion. Large worship
gatherings reveal something of this true nature, but it is in the small villages and homes
of believers, that the truth is daily confirmed and lives transformed. Not because of
these small gatherings, but because the very nature of the kingdom of God is
relationally transmitted. Mothers disciple their daughters. Fathers disciple their sons.
Brother disciples brother. Friends disciple friends. The life of the church is not the work
of a clerical and professional few, but the work of the whole body.
For the church of Christ Jesus in the West to see this occur again, by the grace of God,
reformation must come. The church and its leaders must be willing to rethink how she is
organized. Do her current structures assist the effective spread of the kingdom of God
or do they inhibit it? What must be reformed?
Of all that must undergo rethinking and reforming, nothing is so evident as this: the
social architecture of the local church must be redesigned so that every believer learns
to be a disciple-making disciple. Church structures that do not assist this, in a
reasonably effective and timely way, must be rethought. The current patterns that have
evolved over centuries in the West must be radically revisited. What do they achieve?
Are they producing what the Lord of the church desires?
The Final Command of the Risen Christ Jesus to his church was to “make disciples of
all nations.” This was a command that was about the way his people lived for him. It
was something that would occur as they lived ordinary lives, transformed by his grace.
How was it to be possible? It was possible because it was natural and simple.
The historian Glenn Hinson, after surveying the rise of the church in the first centuries
concluded that “the church of Jesus Christ out organized the Roman Empire, one
household at a time.” Small familial units of disciple-making disciples were the hidden
reality behind the spread of Christianity, and where this truth re-emerges and becomes
a normal way of life for Christians, another season of reformation begins.

Next Week: Foundational Principles (Internal).