Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Bring him home

Art is always transgressive. What I always say is, we need to transgress in love. We today have a language to celebrate waywardness. But we do not have a language, a cultural language, to bring people back home.
- Ty Fujimura, of International Arts Movement

[HT: JB]

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Belonging and significance

'Citizenship in the Roman empire, as in others of the sort, depends on lineage, power and financial means, and it classes people into first, second, third categories. Belonging, in Jewish cultural religion, also rested on family line and social status. In contrast, membership in the household of God is a gift: gentile and Jew, slave and free, women and men, old and young, people from South and North, East and West, people without all their limbs and wits and people with them, all belong, thanks to God's reconciling work in Christ.

'This new household, the Church, is built not on money, or power, charismatic leaders or individual saints, but on the foundation of the apostles and prophets: on the whole recorded history of God's work in God's world through God's people. When Rome claims that it's imperial power that holds everything together, and temples become symbols of dominion; and when today we are tempted to place our confidence in nations' military or economic power, big church budgets, or successive business ventures, and when denominational and institutional preoccupations easily become more important than people, then, with Paul, we must counter-culturally claim that Christ is the peace without which the entire construction would crumble apart. He is the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.

'Where, we asked at the beginning, does God live? Paul closes with this amazing and humbling affirmation: in Christ, you are also being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. We, the Church, with all our imperfections, petty concerns, pride and prejudice, are God's holy temple, God's earthly home. Yes, by God's grace it is here: in the immensely diverse, transnational, transethnic, transcultural community, that God chooses to live. God lives in the new humanity, created by God, reconciled by Christ and indwelled and gifted by the Holy Spirit.'
- Ruth Padilla De Borst, at Cape Town 2010. Hear more here.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Does Reformation doctrine really matter now?

So there was a rumpus and split in the church some hundreds of years ago, and people believe different things. Surely it's not important: we've learned to see past these petty differences, hm? In a wide-ranging conversation, Mike Reeves interviews Mark Dever on the personal and practical implications and value of the Biblical truths mostly rediscovered at the time now known as 'the Reformation', showing just how vital and pastoral these things are. 

The latest UCCF Table Talk, here - as usual, an excellent use of your listening time: easy listening with an edifying twist, an informative skip and a good shake of heart-warming.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Leading in mission

'Let me say without any fear or favour, that any church leader who is not leading in mission loses his apostolicity - simple. The apostles were church leaders because they were leaders in mission. Anytime you get to the point where you’re a church leader and you’re not leading your people in mission, you’ve lost the leadership. You can own the title, drive the cars, own the houses, but you’ve lost it - as far as heaven is concerned.
And I think church leaders need to know that so that they can really be the leaders in mission and create the enthusiasm. Let me tell you: if you are a church leader and you got out on witnessing, and the bank manager sees you and the people see you, it will not be long before your diocese or your circuit or your presbytery begins to say, 'Hey guys, we’d better join this man.' That’s why you’re put there in leadership!'
- Archbishop Ben Kwashi, of Jos, Nigeria

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

'Don't preach at me'

We know the power of words. The ability to manipulate. To skip around your logic, whirling you around with beauty, form, time, until you succumb and join the dance. To reason and persuade, to change your mind against your will, with all the cost to your life. To speak a fan of words to blow away the mist and expose that you stand on a rickety, rotting rope bridge over a chasm. Words are powerful, and scary. 

So out of respect for fear, and for fear of abuse or imposition, should we shut up?

Ruth Padilla De Borst, on 'he came and preached peace...' from Ephesians 2, at Cape Town 2010:
Now rhetoric, preaching, speaking: all these are skills practised and esteemed in Greco-Roman society, to which the recipients of Paul's letter belonged. They're highly aware of the power of the spoken word in building personal prestige and swaying public opinion. But Jesus' peace-preaching had a far more significant impact. It was grounded in his peace-being and his peace-making as expressions of the ongoing reconciling work of God who declares things into being. In the beginning, God, the creative community of love, spoke the world into existence out of chaos. In Jesus, the Word made flesh, God spoke redemption and new life into history. And through the Spirit's breath, God speaks community out of distanced individuals. God speaks and it comes to pass.

Paul had begun his letter by portraying the grand cosmic scheme of things: everything brought under Christ's lordship. He now zooms in on a visible, historical expression of that unity and authority. He leads us not to some ancient temples or some opulent modern church building. No! Instead, he lands squarely on his listeners - on the local community of Christ's followers, v19: 'So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God...'

What God in Christ has spoken into being is nothing more and nothing less than the Church, the body of Jesus' followers, the new humanity, woven together out of people from different ethnic, linguistic, cultural and religious strands.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Decide this doubt

Oh make this heart rejoice or ache;
Decide this doubt for me;
And if it be not broken, break,
And heal it, if it be.

- William Cowper, from a longer poem/hymn, here

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Who's out & who's in?

How much change are we willing to make as different people come in to our churches? Do we really want them to grow, as it means change? Ruth Padilla DeBorst, evidently shaped by a strong sense of cultural and linguistic justice, spoke of this in relation to the Ephesian church. It's not directly in the passage (Eph 2), but came across as she 'set the scene'. I wonder if she doesn't read back today's experience into the first century a bit, but it's helpful to hear her perspective and consider its application to our churches and plants.

So, an imagined description of what might have been the reaction of 1st century Jewish believers in Christ, hearing Ephesians 2: [NB there's a certain poignancy about this, that she was having to address the Congress in English in order to be translated into the other Congress languages - rather than Spanish]
'And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience' Ah, this is about them: the Jewish Christians might have sighed in relief. ... They might have rested assured of their belonging, and believed they owned the right to determine who was in and who was out of the new community being forged by the apostles' teaching. Become like us - the true believers: look at the world through our lenses, and organise your experience into our categories; otherwise, you will only ever be second class. We can tolerate a little colour here and there, a token representative of minority groups, but they must be willing to blend in, to accommodate to our standards and expectations, our jargon, our styles. Yet Paul leaves no room for such smug self-righteousness. He continues: 'We ALL once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath like the rest of humankind.'
Everyone likes to control who's out and who's in - it's scarily uncomfortable otherwise. So how will we set about obeying: 'Welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God', with all the discomfort, culture shock, and change involved?

Friday, 12 November 2010

Quote of the day: extrinsic value

'Value and beauty are granted by our Creator to the Christian community: not fabricated by the symbols of status, prestige, or prosperity of our contemporary pagan consumer society.' 
- Ruth Padilla De Borst on Eph 2.10. To what extent to we live in line with this truth?

God set us to be shining like stars in the universe, and we tend to run after lightbulbs of status, and gold star stickers of success.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Quote of the day: labour to describe

'This truth is something that is culturally distant to most people. It's difficult for them to understand: how they can be redeemed from sin, how Jesus could turn God's wrath, and how the blood could cleanse them, how they are justified because he bore their guilt. So it's a difficult thing for our people to understand that. But it was difficult for the first century Jew. Paul says in 1 Cor 1.23 that the gospel is foolishness: 'We preach Christ crucified, which is foolishness to the Greeks, and a stumbling block to the Jew.' But, what did he do? Did he not preach this message? In 1 Cor 2.2 he says, 'I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.' He laboured to get this message across. And so in the epistles he used different pictures and all sorts of things to remind us of the fullness of our salvation.

'I fear that today many of us have surrendered to the culture and focussed on what is easy to understand, rather than labouring to describe what the work of Christ really did. We must be using our greatest creative energies to get through the Biblical concept of the work of Christ to the people that we minister to. That's the challenge that we have. Not to present God just as one who meets needs, but the One who has a plan for the whole universe.'
- Ajith Fernando, on Ephesians 1, from Cape Town 2010 [more expositions and talks here]

For more, watch the exposition below, in which Ajith Fernando advises that while many people come to Christ to fulfil a felt need, to keep going they must be taught the difficult truths, to recognise that Christ is Truth, and that they have been welcomed into something a lot bigger than a solution their initial felt need. 

Bible Exposition:Ajith Fernando (Ephesians 1)
from Lausanne Movement on Vimeo.

Over the next while, I hope to highlight some quotes and teaching from The Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization, from those of various cultures and countries. This is partly because I didn't get to attend the sessions, so am catching up now; partly because I tend to hear only the negative crit so want to acknowledge the work of the Spirit during the Congress; and mostly because I do believe that for the health and growth of the Church, it is vital to listen to perspectives that Christ has given his people in different parts of the world.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Music as text (or vice versa)

A while ago I considered music as preaching (or vice versa). Peter Leithart has a clear, succinct post considering written or spoken text musically: Hermeneutics: Melody of the Text.

Each word must die for the sentence to live, yet each word must live in memory for the sake of the whole. For a melody, each note must die for the melody to live, yet each remain in memory for a melodic line to form. And so with a whole text, or book: hear the text, and don't miss out the bass drone, repeated rythms, or recurring motifs! 
But read it here in Dr Leithart's own words.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Grasping for the wind, or beyond

Many people have commented on this BBC interview - Jeremy Paxman in an unusual interview with comedian Russell Brand. Unlike his public persona (of which, to be honest, I know very little, as his speech seemed vulgar enough to put me off listening to him ages ago), Brand shows has real insight into culture and human nature. I often think that comedians are left to be the only ones in our age and culture who are permitted insight and understanding of human nature and society. They are the court jesters, who are allowed to preach unpleasant truths to the powerful and comfortable, in the name of entertainment.
Brand - I don't want to dwell here with such trivial things for very much longer.
Paxo - You mean you seek death?
Brand - Not death. But between now and death, it would be ever so nice I think, if I were able to achieve something that is truly valuable, some evocation of beauty, togetherness, an exposure of the illusion of separation, and some connection between people; perhaps use this energy for something better than leaving voicemail...'

Brand - Now I am famous and what does it mean: ashes in my mouth. ... Someone told me once that all desire is the desire to be at one with God in substitute form. So perhaps we can draw attention not to the shadow on the wall, but the source of light itself.
The substance of the interview is worth hearing (if you can ignore the few profanities).
I want to send Brand a copy of C.S.Lewis' Surprised by Joy. He seems to have 'got' that celebrity, or mundane non-celebrity, are all vanity and grasping for the wind. He wants to get through it and find something genuinely weighty, which will transform him. But would he cope with the weight of glory, if he held it in his hand? It might pierce him right through, unless he has been transformed to bear the image of the Man from glory.

[Aside: Paxman finds it unusual that Brand's so intense or in earnest about what he's saying. One of the aspects of British culture which I really don't like is how being in earnest or passionate about serious things is found somewhat Odd, and Not To Be Encouraged.]