All posts in Ecclesiology

Jesus And His Message


Jesus, the Jesus of history, the Jesus who was born in Bethlehem and grew up in Nazareth, the Jesus who was raised by his parents Joseph and Mary, the one who grew up as all good Jewish boys did memorizing the Torah, attending the synagogue and pilgrimaging to the temple; this Jesus began his public ministry with a simple announcement, “The Kingdom of God is near!”

Vittore Carpaccio, Vocazione Di San Matteo

Vittore Carpaccio, Vocazione Di San Matteo



For Jesus of Nazareth, from that point on forward, what began as his opening announcement remained his central message in all that he said and did.  He stayed on course with his Kingdom of God motif right through to the very end of his life.

If this was Jesus’ main message then we might ask: “What is the Kingdom of God?” and “how is it near (at hand)?” Many did ask Jesus these questions and other questions just like them.

Now, Jesus had a peculiar way of communicating his message when people would ask their questions. Many times he simply answered people’s questions with another question.. He had a way of seeing behind people’s questions to something deeper and quite revealing.

He also wasn’t nearly as literal and precise as we are today. Our modern sensibilities seem to prefer describing things in more of a straight forward and direct approach.  In contrast, Jesus chose to explain his message through simile and short stories called parables. Jesus went about saying such things like:

The Kingdom of  God is like a mustard seed..

The Kingdom of God is like yeast the a woman mixes into flour..

It is like a man who scatters seed on the ground..

It is like.. when a certain man was preparing  a great feast..

If Jesus were around today we could imagine Jesus being interviewed on the TV show Larry King Live. Larry might ask Jesus if he could explain more about his main message.  Jesus would begin explaining, “The kingdom is like this.. or the Kingdom is like that ..”  Larry King might ask Jesus in the closing 15 seconds of the show to simply break down his message into a headline or soundbite, something short, concise and clear. Jesus might say, “Well Larry, the Kingdom of God is like.. a..” 

You probably get the point already.

I have been on a journey of following this Jesus. The one who was born, lived, died and resurrected a couple millennia ago. When at first I started following Jesus, it was for a variety of different reasons and motivations (I could talk to you about those reasons some time in greater detail.) The point I want to make now is that I now find myself following Jesus for a different set of reasons. Some of the orignal reasons  remain, some have evolved, and many are brand new reasons altogether.

Paula and I have been apart of a community of people (here in Cape Town) who are learning together what it means to follow Jesus. Recently we have been learning about and deeply exploring this central message of Jesus, the Kingdom of God. There are four accounts of the life of Jesus: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. When I first seriously started reading the story of Jesus I began in Matthew (because it was the first book in the New Testament). Matthew has Jesus going everywhere talking about the “Kingdom of Heaven“. At the time when I first started reading Matthew some people told me that Jesus came to teach people how to get to heaven when they die. Therefore, I used to read Jesus’ parables explaining “the Kingdom of Heaven” and think that he was describing what Heaven will be like for us one day after we die and escape this earthy physical dwelling. I assumed he was talking about a place somewhere else, not here.

Kingdom Of Heaven, Kingdom of God

Rosa Celeste: Dante and Beatrice gaze upon the highest Heaven, The Empyrean 19th century

In contrast, Luke’s and Mark’s Gospel’s tells us Jesus was talking about the “Kingdom of God”. Even though these Gospels had “Kingdom of God” instead of “Kingdom of Heaven” I hadn’t really asked myself why the language was different in their account of things. I just assumed that all of these stories and parables were Jesus’ attempt at describing what Heaven was like and what we needed to do in order to get there some day.

Originally my motivations for following Jesus was more about getting to heaven, escaping this life. My hope was for a distant spiritual place far away from this physical place.

Recently, my motivations have been changing. I am waking up to the reality that actually Jesus wasn’t going around teaching people how to escape this world, rather he was planting creative stories in the minds and hearts of people which were explaining how God’s Kingdom was breaking into this one, the here and now, with renewing and transforming power.

I have been discovering that Jesus’ Kingdom of God Message is about the present, not simply the future. It is about what God is doing through us, not only what he does in and for us. Following Jesus and living for his Kingdom is not the least bit about escaping this world, rather, it is about shaping our world.

Our Lord teaches us to pray for the reality  of God’s-realm (heaven) to become meshed with our-space (earth).

“May your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

This has become our prayer. May the reality/life of heaven become reality in your life today. The Kingdom of God is at hand.

Harrowing of Hell/ 15 c. Hermitage

Harrowing of Hell 15 centurey. Hermitage

 

Making Disciples, How Should We Go About It?

sermon on the mount, making disciples, way of jesus

I just came across this great video with some very interesting and provoking illustrated thoughts about Jesus’ central instruction to his disciples to “go and make disciples”.

How should we be going about discipling followers in the way of Jesus? There are probably many various and creative ways to answer that question.. What do you think?

A New Kind of Pentecostalism

From the earliest time I can remember on up through High School I was a member within a Pentecostal Church. It was full of mostly great experiences with some bad experiences mixed in as well. For various and sundry reasons I eventually came to the point where I no longer identified myself as a Pentecostal. It was not that I disliked “Pentecostals”, or for that matter liked Non-Pentecostals better. I simply chose to not identify myself with any particular denomination or tradition over another in a formalized sense. Of course being that this was the particular Christian expression that I grew up in, I did have many critiques of Pentecostalism as one from the inside.

This new book comes along, and when seeing the title, “A New Kind of Pentecostalism: Promoting Dialogue for Change
, my first thought was that I had no interest to read about any kind of reassertion of the kind of Pentecostalism of which I was familiar with. Nor did I want to read a book about Pentecostalism over against the other great Christian traditions and movements as if Pentecostalism were the elite expression of true Faith so to speak. I was happy to have discovered that neither of these ideas were present within this book. In fact, quite the opposite was true. Samuel hopes to affirm many of the great strengths of the Pentecostal movement, but there is no elitist snobbery found in this book.

Sam opens his conversation with a very broad definition of what it means to be “Pentecostal”. He tries to show how it can be something all Christians ought to take ownership of in its deeply rooted biblical context. He is quite bold in his critique of the movement at large. Sam brings plenty of challenging points to the conversation concerning the common pitfalls within the Pentecostal and Charismatic movement. And he follows through with just as much constructive guidance for the way forward. I highly recommend Sam Lee’s book, A New Kind of Pentecostalism: Promoting Dialogue for Change for those who at any point have identified with Pentecostal and or Charismatic expressions of the church. He has a prophetic message that needs to be heard.

A few of the topics he covers is Emotivism, Exaggeration, Performance, Miracles Sings and Wonders, Financial Ethics, Denomination and Leadership, Bible Interpretation, Dialoging with the Other, Dialoguing with Islam, and Social Justice. In all of his talking points there is a great spirit of dialogue that is encouraged, within and outside of the church.

The Shaping of Things to Come

If you have heard any of the following terms in religious conversations as of late, Missional, Incarnational, Meta-Narrative, Post-Christendom Culture, being an authentic community, it was probably encouraged at least in part by this book,  “The Shaping of Things to Come: Innovation and Mission for the 21st Century Church“. Both Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch have done an excellent job in describing what is at the the center of the  fresh expressions of church that are emerging.

Frost and Hirsch explain how “Western” society has been moving into what they describe as a post-christendom era. They say, “Christendom has been in decline for the last 250 years.” They argue that many are now or many ought to be moving in to a “Missional” phase of church expression. One where we are moving away from the many things that defined the era of Christendom, such as Buildings, Institutional Centralized Leadership, Institutional Sacraments, Church as center of Society,  and ex-tractional Conversions.


The Missional emerging shape of things to come will not be focused on a Church building. The new leadership mode is one that is pioneering-innovative in nature, including the five-fold ministry ethos, not just majoring on the “pastor/teacher” role. It will move towards being more grassroots and decentralized. It Redeems, re-sacralizes, and ritualizes new symbols and events. Church is once again on the fringes of society and culture. The church re-embraces a missional stance in relation to culture.That is a mouth full.

They suggest the idea of Shared Projects. Rather than only doing church based programs,  instead getting involved in programs and initiatives that are already helping the community.

There is this group in San Francisco calling itself ReImagine.  They have been meeting to explore the goal of living in what they call Green space. Green is the goal. The color green is made up of course by both the colors yellow and blue . “Yellow space refers to a Christian spirituality that is only concerned with the personal, interior world of faith. It characterizes the classic individualized form of faith the focuses on personal quiet times, Bible study, church attendance and personal moral/ethical behavior. Blue space refers to an exclusively other-focused form of Christian spirituality, one that takes context seriously and features such activities as social concern, justice-seeking, activism, and public moral/ethical behavior.” These two parts of faith ought to be blended and not separated.

Rather than being an attractional church, the goal of the emerging church is to be Incarnational. “The incarnational church seeks to infiltrate society to represent Christ to the World” A long chapter toward the end is about what they call “the genius of APEPT“. This is the five-fold ministry or functions of disciples: Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist, Pastor, and Teacher. The newer expressions of church are giving a more rounded recognition within the leadership of all these roles, not just favoritism to the Pastor/Teacher C.E.O. style of things from the past.

I have read many books in this genre and this one is is quite unique and stands out amongst the rest in many ways.