Friday, November 11, 2011

What is the kingdom of God? (My church detox continues.)

My season of detox continues and I don't feel as sick as I did before. I still have the odd pang of guilt when Sunday rolls around, but even they are starting to subside.

One of my problems is that when ever I hear the word "church" or "pastor" I cringe a little. The word "church" just brings up images of being chained to the pew (metaphorically for me, but there were some convicts in early Australia who were literally chained!), and not being able to participate. The word pastor (I have sympathy for them) still brings up images of a person overworked by the system, unable to release people into what God has for them.

I really appreciate Frank Viola and all that he is doing for the organic (church) movement, but I do respectfully disagree with him that we need to use the word church. Frank Viola has been in the organic movement for more than 20 years now, so the word no longer carries connotations for him, he is able to use it as it should be. But unfortunately when nearly everyone else hears the word we all get it wrong. I personally want to let the word rest for a generation or so.

Wolfgang Simson was heard to joke (while publicly speaking in Australia) "It was brave of you to invite a non-Christian today to speak. Today I am an ex-Christian, I'm just a follower of Jesus now." Wolfgang Simson is a dedicated follower of Jesus, but he is brave enough to let go of the label Christian (that carries so many incorrect definitions in people's heads). So surely I can be brave enough to let go of the label "church".

Some interesting twitter feeds have been coming through this week. A story of a new house church* movement springing up in Ecuador caught my attention. Have a look at The M Blog here to begin reading the story. It's good to know God is doing good things in so many places around the world. I draw encouragement from such stories to keep moving forward in obedience and faith that we are on the right path and that the Lord will raise up an organic movement of disciples in our midst.

I have been asking the Lord to show me what his kingdom is, and that is a slow unfolding process. I would like to record my thoughts on what I am learning so far. I have begun to tell oral stories from the gospel of Mark. I love the gospel of Mark because it is so fast paced and suspenseful. Most times when people make a movie about Jesus they usually choose Matthew or Luke because they want to tell his whole life story. Mark doesn't do this, he just gets straight to the point. A movie of Mark would be an action film or a "supernatural thriller from the other side" (the other side than from which most supernatural thrillers come!).

I have it in my mind and heart to tell the whole story of Mark in one go. So far I have told four of the early stories and begun to fill in the gaps.

River Jordan

The first story starts out with the wild camel hair covered, locust eating prophet preaching in the desert. The prophet John the Baptist preaches "say sorry for your sins, get baptised in the river for the forgiveness of your sins." There's something in this story that I had never really paid attention to before. ALL of the people of Judea, all the country towns and villages and ALL of the people of Jerusalem came out to the Jordan River to be baptised for the forgiveness of their sins. That's something to imagine, that ALL of the people came out. There must have been some that didn't, surely. Well later we find out that many of the pharisees did not receive this baptism. And because they had not received John's baptism they were unable to receive God's kingdom. (Luke 7:30.)

John is preparing the way for the Lord. How? He is baptising people for the forgiveness of their sins. This prepares the way for Jesus, so Jesus can get on with bringing his kingdom. This means that Jesus could not bring his kingdom to those who had not repented and been baptised. All of Jesus' ministry is actually to people who had already been baptised for their sins. I'm sure it's true that some of these people later on decided not to participate in God's kingdom. But for now, they were all in.

After the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus he was led out into the desert for his forty days of spiritual battle with the devil. He won by the way. (An interesting footnote here, is that an Altai man in Siberia when telling his epic story of the gospel spent a lot of time on this part of the story, in fact more than the cross itself. For this man and his culture the battle in the desert was where things were won and decided, the cross was the payment of the bill so to speak.) But straight after that, Jesus is back again.

Lake Galilee

This time Jesus is at the Lake in Galilee. He is walking along. As he walks along he says to all those around him "Now is the time to get the kingdom started, say sorry for your sins and believe in the good news." Jesus did not need to tell people to get baptised, they had already done that. But confession of sins was still important. It seems confession of sins is an important part of receiving the kingdom and it's not just a one off event either. (Sometimes in evangelical Christianity it does become a one off event at the "point of salvation".) Jesus says this to everyone he sees. As he comes to Andrew and Simon they seem to respond to him, so he takes things further, "Come with me and I will show you how to catch people, not just fish." The same thing happens with James and John.

This is just the beginning of God's Kingdom though. The whole story of the gospels is wrapped up in Jesus showing and then teaching what the kingdom actually is. He doesn't spend a bunch of time showing what the church* is. (Not to say that the church* is unimportant, but that is more of a lesson for later. And really the church* is a collection of all God's people, who are already a part of the Kingdom. You simply can't have the true church* without the kingdom. Many have tried, and the result is a stale institutional church.)

Mark moves pretty quickly (a lot quicker than my blog!), and before you know it Jesus is casting out demons and healing the sick and telling people their sins are forgiven in front of legalistic know-it-alls. Jesus is demonstrating first of all what the kingdom looks like, he only bothers to unpack the teaching later on.

That's as far as I have got in my rediscovery of God's Kingdom. Hmmm, before I try to understand too much of the teaching perhaps I better get back out there and do some more of the doing, since that's how Jesus started things.

Now is the time to get the Kingdom started!

Church*- What is a good alternative for this word? There are probably many, mostly phrases, but that is the challenge of post-modernism, to bring clarity back to truth and definitions.

Ekklesia may be a good option, because it needs further unpacking.

A phrase that explains the concept would be something like "the people who belong to Christ in that town or city."

1 comment:

Don said...

You ask, What is a good alternative for "church"? For too many of us in the western world "church" only means a building on a corner with a steeple. Let's forget about this; drop it; the NT does not mention physical church buildings.
Second, "church" can mean a church service, a Sunday morning time when people come together. In this sense the Christians I am with often use "gathering" or "meeting" not only for Sunday morning but also for gatherings in homes. "Assembly" could be another alternative but it might be too formal; perhaps "assembling" which is what we, the believers, are doing.
Third, "church" in the NT means us, the believers, the members of the Body of Christ. I'm not sure what alternative to suggest here. Christians I know in German-speaking countries use "Gemeinde" which means "community."
Besides seeking suitable words, we also need the Lord to wash us inwardly. Ephesians 5:25-27 says that He is working to "sanctify her [His wife, all of us who believe], cleansing her by the washing of the water in the word." Opening to the Lord in His word will wash (detox) us, getting rid of the spots and wrinkles. Lord Jesus, wash me today!