The Collapse of Evangelicalism – Part 1

nooseThis is a reprint of an excellent article by Maurice Smith of the Parousia Network. It’s a bit of a challenging read but worth it.

The Collapse of Evangelicalism – Part 1: Anatomy of A Collapse 

The English author Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) once observed regarding the hangman’s noose, “It marvelously concentrates the mind”. Confrontation with our own mortality, whether at the point of a gun or the short end of a noose, tends to do that. There comes a point in every person’s life or the life of a community when, when confronted with the harsh facts of reality, they must decide whether or not “denial” is just a river in Egypt, or whether it represents a condition of the mind which they must overcome and move on if they are to survive. That, I believe, is where Evangelicalism as a biblically based Christian movement is at in the opening decade of the 21st Century. We stand at the short end of a noose. We are in need of a very searching self examination of who and where we are. Why? Because Evangelicalism as an identifiable movement of God’s people gives every evidence of both internal and external collapse; a collapse which will prove fatal to “church as we have known it” and is probably  irreversible apart from a divine intervention unlike anything we have witnessed or experienced in well over 100 years. 

Continue reading “The Collapse of Evangelicalism – Part 1”

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THE BARKADAS OF JESUS

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The third apostle we met on our trip to the Philippines was Molong Nacua (pronounced naquah). I met Molong on the internet whilst surfing for house churches in the Philippines. His writings connected with my spirit and we finished up spending 5 wonderful days with him and his wife Lisa and their extended family on the Central Philippines island of Cebu.

The story of Molong (or as he says, ‘Long’ for short) is one of a gradual journey through traditional style church (youth pastor, worship leader) to traditional style homechurch (doing the same but in a house) to a less structured homechurch (but still based on attending a weekly meeting), to his current passion, simply building a company of disciples for Jesus.  While we were with him he coined the phrase ‘The Barkadas of Jesus’ to describe them – a barkada being a wonderful Filipino word referring to a company of friends joined in a common bond of friendship and loyalty. No set meeting times or programs but what he refers to as a life of ‘intention – relational discipleship’, mainly based on reading the Bible, learning to listen to the Spirit and learning how to disciple a friend for Jesus. We did a lot of listening and talking while we were with him but the highlight of our visit was an unintentional demonstration of the ‘barkada’.

It happened when a young recently graduated high school student, Jommie, turned up with his friend Julian, who he had recently invited to become a disciple of Jesus. Jommie had been discipled two months earlier, beginning with the same invitation, by Albert, who had been discipled by Molong. Albert had baptised Jommie the Saturday before we arrived  and now Jommie was ready to baptise Julian.

So we headed down to the sea to baptise him. Two days later however, the three boys turn up at Molong’s house with a new friend, Louey Dan, a not-yet-believer who they were working on. Over lunch the Gospel was explained to Louey Dan and an invitation given to become a disciple of Jesus. He was ready, having observed his young friends for some time. An hour later Julian, baptised only two days earlier, was praying over his friend as he baptised him into Christ.

Later, as we celebrated over Dunkin Donuts, I took the opportunity to quiz the members of this growing Barkada of Jesus about what they had done and how deep was their grasp of the Gospel. Each man impressed me with his grasp of repentance and faith, one of the most articulate being Louey Dan.  We finished our donuts and the boys hung around for a meal with Molong and Lisa and then headed home.

And three days later we headed back home ourselves, back to our own nation of Australia with a whole new understanding of what Jesus meant when He simply said (my paraphrase),

“Go and preach the Gospel, making disciples, baptising them and teaching them to obey me. And lo I am with you to the end … every day, not mainly on Sundays, not mainly in your meetings, not mainly via the Pastor, but moment by moment, day by day, until I come again.”

You can catch up with Molong’s writings at the new blogsite we are building together, The Barkadas of Jesus.  It’s still in in the building stage but you might like to bookmark it.  But be warned. It could change your thinking about the nature of church.

Here’s a Youtube of the new barkada.

THREE APOSTLES TO THE PHILIPPINES

I’ve just returned from one of the most significant trips that I have had to the Philippines. We (myself, my wife Esther and my good friend Carl Porter) went there to serve some churches with whom we had a relationship – and in the process finished up serving three apostles, three good Filipino men that Christ has given as gifts to the church.

FELIX DE RAMOS

One of them was Felix de Ramos. Felix has been serving as a father in the Philippines for the past 15 years and more, travelling around the country building up pastors and serving the Filipino church. He is one of the humblest, most unassuming men I know. His home church, Peace International Christian Church, sounds grand but meets in the basement of a house in Quezon City, Manila, hidden from view yet immensley influential.

Which is what true apostles are all about. Like the bones of the body or the foundations of the building they carry weight and give strength and shape but are hidden. It’s the flesh that carries the life and is seen. Felix, to my mind, embodies that principle and is a gift to the church.

LHOY EDANIOL

Lhoy and Venus EdaniolLhoy I’ve introduced in the previous post. He met me with tears at Felix’s church and we proceeded to Sapang Palay to meet the two churches that he was fathering in San Jose del Monte, a significant city in the hills above Manila. Five years ago God restored a very broken Lhoy back into ministry and gathered again the scattered flock that he had left – and added another battered flock to him as well. By the time we arrived Lhoy, with the enthusiastic help of his wife Venus,  had formed them into a couple of vibrant churches with equally enthusiastic workers reaching out among the poor and planting home based churches among them.

Part of the reason I went was to check that he had put into place some protections for himself and his family. Church planting is hard work in the Philippines, especially under old paradigms of ministry. I left him, confident that the safeguards are in place (before I came he had submitted himself to an older pastor in the area who loved him)  and confident also that God had restored him from the wilderness to be a key man in the city. For he carries an apostolic heart for the city, for the churches of the city and for the many other pastors who have fallen under the weight of ministry. God is making him a father beyond his local congregations. And I’m looking forward to being part of that process, raising some support back here in Yeppoon and dropping in now and then to strengthen him in a great work.

MOLONG NACUA

Then there was Molong.  But he definately requires a separate post … stay tuned.

MORE THAN A SONG

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Listening to a Chris Rice song today in which he sang about the whole of creation worshipping God I began to ponder the thought of mountains worshipping. They can’t lift up their hands and sing, actions we attribute to worship.  So in what way do they worship?

Then tonight I watched ‘EARTH’, an amazingly beautiful documentary on the marvels of this planet, and was again  reminded that day after day the earth  silently gives praise to its Maker. Just by being. By being what it was created to be.

And surely this is the highest form of worship and what He supremely seeks in us. Surely God takes His greatest delight in us when we are simply being what we are made to be.  A reflection of his image, resting in  his love and grace and being led by his spirit into a multitude of creative affirmations of  His Being.

Just singing about Him is too easy. The Carols by Candlelight tele-spectaculars are evidence of that and the great worship spectaculars exist because we do in fact love to sing His praises. However, in a day when the church is able to turn out great songs so easily, maybe the ‘hillsong’ * that we need is closer to that which the hills give to God day after day just by being what they were intended to be. Nothing more and nothing less. Perhaps worship is more about being than doing. Being available. Being transparent. Being vulnerable. Being a vessel. Being a friend.

Lord help me to be all that you made me to be in the coming year. Help me to bring you more than a song.

* No criticism of Hillsong intended here. To a great extend they are simply being what they were raised to be.

IF THE BLOOD IS BLACK YOU WILL DIE …

How hard it is to receive or give a rebuke.

Today in our Gathering we were discussing Paul’s instructions to Titus, who had been sent to Crete to bring correction and lay a foundation of Christ in the lives of the believers. As part of his instructions Titus is instructed to “encourage and rebuke with all authority” (Titus 2:15). Encourage and rebuke. Fifty fifty! It seems that although “the grace of God … has appeared …teaching us to say NO! to ungodliness …” (Titus 2:11), our old ways do not always simply lie down and die without a rebuke. Encouragement is not enough.

Encouragement I’m good at, both giving and receiving. But not rebuke. And neither are many to whom I’ve had to bring a rebuke. Despite the Bible telling us that “faithful are the wounds of a friend”, we take offence and more often than not skulk off to lick our wounds in self-righteous indignation and denial.

Which brings me to the purpose of this blog, a dream that my son-in-law Dennis had. Dennis is quite a dreamer. Not the daytime ones (although he does go fishing alot). No. Early in his walk Dennis realised that God often speaks in dreams and will give the wisdom and skill to interpret our dreams if we seek him. Many a time have we been blessed or warned by the Lord through this very Biblical means of grace. And the following dream is an example.

The dream was of a medieval battle and in the dream Dennis and I are engaged in a sword fight in which I slash his throat. Immediately I show him the blade of my sword on which are written the words, “If the blood is red you will live; if the blood is black you will die!”  Dennis grasps his throat – and the blood is red, at which point he then joins me in the battle.

I then turn to another brother in the church and engage him in battle with the same result. I slash his throat, show him the blade of my sword, which again reads, “If the blood is red you will live; if the blood is black you will die!”  He also clutches his throat but finds that the blood is black! However, he then steps back and in doing so comes into the rays of the sun coming through the mist which shows the blood to be red! Hallelujah, he lives!

The interpretation? Well it is simply this. All fathers, leaders, mentors wound. Sometimes, like the wound of a surgeon dealing with a cancer, the wound is good and life-giving, though painful. Sometimes however the wound is simply because the father/leader is human. Often though, it is without malice or intent. In whatever way the wound comes though, it is the light that we put on it that determines whether it will kill or bring life. Whether it will damage us (and the relationship) or result in wholeness and freedom. And bring us on board as part of a team.

The choice is ours. We can reject the rebuke and remain imature, selfwilled and stunted, battling alone in the shadows and never coming into the fulness of God’s intentions. Or we can value rebuke as we value encouragement, bringing even misguided rebuke into the light of the Holy Spirit and growing in the process.

Lord, help us to value the wounds of a friend.

IN DEFENCE OF APOSTLES AND PROPHETS

This is a comment that I made the other day on the Simple Church Journal, a useful site that I came across recently. It was in support of an excellent piece by  John Marcus in defense of the need to honour and restore the vital ministries of the apostle and prophet in the house church/simple church scene, where there sometimes seems to be a fear of any kind of leadership other than the leadership of the Holy Spirit. 

While I so agree that we must get away from the adulation of men, the “I am of Paul…Cephas…Apollos” syndrome that Paul corrected the Corinthians on, we also must avoid the “I am of Christ” group that he also rebuked. It sounds very spiritual to take that position but I’m not sure that Jesus gave us such a purist option.

After all “It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers.” (Eph 4:11) Paul’s great balancing revelation however is that Christ gave these ministries, not to gather people unto themselves but “to prepare God’s PEOPLE for works of service”, to release that great ‘people movement’  that was birthed by the Spirit to go and fullfill their true calling. But I contend that it is not going to happen just by us sitting in in our living rooms and ‘allowing the Holy Spirit to lead rather than men’, as if the Spirit is restricted and cannot lead through men.

Truth is there has never been a move of God where there was not key men or women in some leading role, whether it be a Moses, a Wesley, a Zinzendorf, an Edwards or whoever. These leaders, although they were rarely acknowledged as such, were actually apostles and prophets, men who carried a bigger picture than just the local fellowship. This is their foundation laying function; to establish Christ, not just in the individual lives of gathered believers house to house, but as the Head of God’s Government over the nations, person by person, street by street, city by city.

It concerns me for instance when I hear homechurches refer to themselves as local churches when Paul, with the bigger picture, seemed to see all the saints in a local area as the local church, encompassing a variety of ways of meeting but with an eldership over the whole town that carried a much bigger vision than the smaller ‘house to house’ gatherings, vital as they were. I believe that that is God’s bigger intention and that only the restoration of true servant apostles and prophets can take us into that fuller expression of Christ.

I’m passionate about home church/simple church but I tend to believe that until we welcome the restoration of apostles and prophets among us we will finish up where we’ve come from, “of Paul… of Apollos… of Cephas” with an elitist and marginialised group maintaining that they are “of Christ”.

WILLOW CREEK MOVES FROM PROGRAMS TO PRACTISES

I picked the following off Kerry Denten’s site The Wind Farm where it is actually a reprint of a post written by Peter Matthews, the Vicar of St Patrick’s Anglican Church in Lexington, Kentucky, better known as “Guitar Priest“.

Willow Creek Moves from Programs to Practices

Something has happened at Willow Creek Community Church that will shake the Church world. Willow Creek has discovered after 3 years of research that programs do not develop fully devoted disciples of Jesus Christ.Please Note — I AM NOT MAKING THIS UP!!Here is what they say:…increasing levels of participation in these sets of activities [church programs] does NOT predict whether someone’s becoming more of a disciple of Christ. It does NOT predict whether they love God more or they love people more.

Chuck Warnock at Confessions of a Small Church Pastor writes:

Here’s the backstory: Greg Hawkins, exec pastor at Willow Creek, surveyed Willow Creek members to determine the effectiveness of WC’s programs — small groups, worship, service groups, etc. Participants had four choices to describe their spiritual lives:

Exploring — not yet Christians, but interested.
Growing — new Christians and growing in faith.
Close to Christ.
Centered in Christ.

The survey results produced what Bill Hybels calls “the wake up call of my adult life” –
Survey Says: After a person left Stages 1 & 2, church programs did not help them love God or love people more. And, to make matters worse, people in Stages 3 & 4 said they wanted to “be fed.” Some even left Willow Creek altogether.

Conclusion: Church programs are helpful initially for new and growing Christians, but as people mature in their faith church programs are inadequate and ineffective. (Watch the videos and look at Willow Creek’s new REVEAL website for their next move.)

Watch the entire 13-minute segment with Greg Hawkins here, and Bill Hybels comments here

You have got to watch these videos.

BTW — the key thing Willow Creek is implementing is personal spiritual plans that help each person identify a set of practices that move them forward in their spiritual lives. Hmm…

Again — I AM NOT MAKING THIS UP!!

 A Final Note from Kerry:
This is truly one of the single most encouraging stories I have read in the last five years of my journey. Upon watching the full 13 minute version of Greg Hawkins’ presentation, I was moved to tears to think that the very things I have seen in the Spirit and have been believing for God to change in the contemporary church, are finally happening .. and on such a grand scale. Pray for Willow Creek! They’ll need all the help and protection they can get to make this transition complete and intact.