Month: April 2008

Tom Sine stirs things up in Perth

Anabaptistish-futurologist-populariser of kingdom ideas Tom Sine was in Perth last week, and Chris Summerfield has written a thoughtful and interesting post thinking through the consequences.

In Tom talking up the new conspirators (emerging, missional, multicultural, monastic communities), it brought up for me a struggle over the last few months against feeling left behind. For me, I have fought against a sense of having tried and failed, and fearing I have sold out. Or that’s what I was feeling, but I’ve decided to stop it. I’m content doing unglamorous things for God at the moment. It’s important to give up the need to be on the cutting edge. It’s important to give up the need to feel important. I defy the cult of celebrity and success which infects even Christianity and even ‘new conspirators’.

But I was excited by Tom’s talks in several ways. I like his emphasis on the possibilities for transforming our everyday life in creative ways to make it look more like kingdom life. I like his emphasis on hospitality and celebration, and I need to go watch Babette’s Feast now, which he mentioned several times as an example of what he’s talking about.

I may have a whole mindshift going on at the moment, but I’ll have to wait till I’ve got some time to think it through AND write about it.

Success in the Kingdom of God: a sermon

Agape Chinese Baptist Church 27 April 2008

Reading: Luke 12:13-21

 The world brainwashes us with a particular version of success. According to the world, we are successful when we have a lot of money. We are successful when people admire us and envy us. The world tells us that we need lots of stuff to be successful and happy. We need the latest technology. We need a bigger car and a bigger house. When we have a big house, we need a second house to invest in. If you get a second house, you need a third house. To be successful, we need to be always moving up to higher paid jobs with higher status.

These messages get to us through advertising on the television, the radio and in junk mail. Advertisements are designed to stir up discontent. They tell us we don’t have enough. They tell us we need more. They tell us to be unhappy with what we’ve got and they promise happiness in the form of some new possession.

But new stuff won’t make us happy. Wealth is always relative. We’re not comparing ourselves to our grandparents who had so much less than us. We’re comparing ourselves to our neighbours who have just a little more than us. We’re comparing ourselves to the person at work who bought a new boat or a more expensive car. We feel envious, we feel left behind. We feel like we have to catch up.

The world’s version of success makes us anxious that we don’t have enough and that we’re failures. It’s tempting to think that even though this picture of success doesn’t work for me, it works for the successful. But it’s not true. Jesus’s parable of the rich fool in Luke 12:13-21 tells us that the world’s version of success doesn’t work for the rich and successful either. (more…)

Discouraged by a man who hears from God

I spent yesterday at a day long seminar which was meant to be about house church but wasn’t really. I came away with a heavy heart. The speaker was an American with an international ministry, but focused on India. He starts a lot of house churches, mainly by discipling people.

His big focus seemed to me to be listening for the voice of God and then obeying it. If you do this, you’ll see thousands of conversions like he has and miracles, from the raising of the dead to words of knowledge about people which provides an opportunity to evangelise them.

I agreed with some of the things he had to say:

  • He emphasised empowering every member of the body, which is great. You don’t have to go study for years to become a disciple or to do God’s work.
  • He talked about discipleship as going far beyond conversion. (Yet he emphasised all the conversions that he’d seen happening.)
  • He traces a lot of what went wrong with the church back to Constantine. (And yet strangely, he seemed to suggest later that his aim was to make India a Christian nation – and every nation a Christian nation. He made me realise that just because you think the Constantine shift was bad, it doesn’t make you a Yoder-ite who thinks that the faithful minority is the pattern for being God’s people.)
  • He was humble and sincere.

But all through the day, I felt bad. I think I felt bad because if he was right, I’m wrong and so is every other Christian I know.

Early on, he had me interjecting like I was the conservative evangelical in the room, a position I haven’t held in the last nine years. He told us that when he first converts and disciples people in India, he doesn’t teach them the Bible but to start listening for God’s voice. I objected that we need to know the Bible so we can judge whether we’re actually hearing from God or not. He responded that we’re called to test the spirits, but not God’s voice. (He seems to be referring to 1 John 4:1; if only I was quicker at drawing my Bible evangelical style and I could have pulled out 1 Thessalonians 5:21 – ‘test everything’.) I definitely disagree at this point. It’s essential that new converts be grounded in the story of God’s people, that they know the teachings of Jesus and his life story, and of the way Paul instructed the early church.

The speaker said several times that everyone hears God’s voice, and it’s just a matter of recognising it and obeying it. I think it’s impossible to generalise about people’s experience of God like that. God doesn’t promise to speak to everyone. For a lot of people, their experience of God is his silence. Even Mother Theresa. YWAMers hear God all the time, and so do a lot of Pentecostals; what’s wrong with the rest of us?

I think we should always be listening, and my experience is of occasional gentle promptings which might be from God. I try to obey these when I hear them. I’m open to God speaking clearly to me; I’d love that. But being a disciple doesn’t depend on it.

House church is a broad church and I’m realising that I’m coming from a very different angle to a lot of people within it. I’m worried that house churches attract a lot of people with outlandish ideas. I’m sure plenty of people would put me in that category. Maybe I should just be able to live with other people’s craziness and hope they can live with mine – but I don’t want to engage with craziness at the moment; my faith is too fragile. The idea that church should be small and simple might not be enough common ground to create a movement.

 

The failure to be friendly

I think committed Christian communities – new monastics, house churches, emerging churches and other variations – are the most exciting thing happening for the kingdom of God at the moment. But today I was struck afresh by our main failing: unfriendliness.  I’m not talking about something new, but it needs thinking about.

There’s this balancing act between openness to others and maintaining the body life that is so central to committed Christian community.  I think it’s fine to have a ‘high bar’ to get in. That is, it’s good for membership to mean something, for the path to be as narrow as the kingdom path should be.

But I’m talking about a love of the other, and of a sensitivity to people outside the group. Friendliness, basically. The lesson I’m learning is: don’t get so caught up with yourselves that you stop looking outward. You can have high expectations of members and still be friendly.

Part of what I’m talking about is the sense that in so many committed Christian communities, our door doesn’t seem very open. Not even to people who feel similarly and would like to join or find out more. As we go deeper into community, we mustn’t leave out people who could be members or friends.  (Part of the struggle for those of us in these communities is we’re so used to being rejected or treated with disinterest by others that we stop being open.)

It’s not a problem restricted to small committed Christian communities, of course. In so many different contexts I see this failure to seek out the people on the outer in social situations. And I don’t just mean the people obvious to radical Christianity – I don’t just mean immigrants or Aboriginal Australians or disabled people. I mean just as much the shy or lonely white middle class people who don’t have much radical glamour. 

I suspect that part of what the church needs to recover is the gift of hospitality. I want to do some more reading on this, but I believe hospitality is crucial to healthy Christian community. I know one couple who’s table fellowship touched many people’s lives and was at the centre of what was, for at time, a wonderful house church.

 

Strange encounters with mainstream evangelicalism 4 : Yancey

My thoughts on reading Philip Yancey’s Reaching for the invisible God

I’ve been avoiding Yancey for years. He’s so popular I thought he’d be insipid. I was wrong. I repent of being so dismissive. In one way I’m surprised he’s so popular; in another way I understand and think it’s great. He reads so widely and has an open, inquiring mind. This book made me feel like I was in the company of an honest and thoughtful seeker who had passion and only some tentative answers.

Maybe that’s where I find the key weakness in this book as well. Because as beautifully as Yancey explains the problem of trying to relate to a God who is invisible, hidden, often seemingly absent, I came away without knowing much new.

Instead, I drifted through well written chapters which only seemed to have loose connections with each other and even within themselves. Along the way, I heard a lot of wonderful stories, wise sayings and profound thoughts. But what did it all add up to? Probably this: that someone who has thought deeply about this problem and read widely on it has shared his findings.

I like Yancey for his honesty and I think he’s good for evangelicalism.