The time for New Year’s Resolutions has come, but the mature among us know that they will rarely last the year. Does that make them vain? I think not. Better a good intention tried than never begun. Better to set a high goal and reach some of it, than never to set a goal at all. A good man once taught me: “If you have no dreams do not set goals. But if you dream dreams and do not set goals, I promise you despair.” I dream dreams, and I hope all who read this do as well. If they are dreams that have been placed in our hearts by the living God, we must resolve to reach for them.
One of my dreams is to live to see revival again.
I came to a living and true faith in just such a time. A small Anglo Catholic parish, in an out of the way University town in England, entered into a remarkable season of years when the Spirit of God was being poured out upon us. Dozens and dozens of men and women came alive in Christ Jesus. The parish was changed, the town was changed, the whole of North East England was changed, for a season.
Of course the fires of revival always die down, and they did in Durham. But not before countless lives were made new, and not before many were scattered to the wider world to take the Good News of God’s love to others. Some day I pray to be allowed to know, in heaven, the extent of the impact of that time for the spread of the kingdom of God. The thought of it gives me joy.
What might I do beyond think and pray? Revival, if it is truly from the Lord, is not the product of man made manipulation or planning. We cannot set a goal for God. But we can know his heart for the world he created. “He sent his only begotten Son into the world that all who believe might not perish, but have everlasting life.” He has spoken through the prophets and a day will come when “the earth will be covered with the knowledge of the glory of God as the waters cover the seas.” And the reason this will happen is his great love wills it. And so too does his true church.
What then of a slumbering church? Can she have a part in that great day if she is asleep? Or worse, can she have a part in that day if she is filled with cultural Christians who are not themselves reborn? Dare we speak of a church that is not reborn?
No student of the Holy Scriptures can be ignorant of the answer. The church that is the church is only made up of the reborn. There is no such thing as a “fleshly, unborn, church.” There are such men, but not such churches. No other than those called and chosen of God will see his face, when the great church triumphant is gathered around the throne of the Lamb. That is the church.
But still, with the liberty of the modern English language may we dare say it? I think so. We need the organized, visible, historic church to be reborn. God wills it.
I have been asserting that nothing but a new reformation can bring the church of Jesus Christ into alignment with God’s will for the Bride of Christ. I have shared my conviction that an internal change must come in the hearts of all leaders for this to happen, and have sketched out five internal principles for change. But I have also argued that changes are critical in the ordinary life of the local church, and have enumerated seven external principles over the last few weeks that I believe again need to be central. Let me recap these last seven, numbering them in sequence after the earlier five.
6) Obeying Jesus as Lord. Accepting the gospel of truth, by faith, that Jesus Christ died for my sins is life changing. It rearranges the way a person thinks and feels. It starts a life long journey, if the acceptance is real. But how do we know? The clearest answer is we begin to obey the plain word of the Lord Jesus. A church that does not expect and require that of leaders and followers has veered into grave error.
7) Supreme Authority From Scripture. Faithful believers are taught by the Holy Spirit of God to trust the Holy Scriptures. They come under the central authority of their Lord and his word. They devote themselves to the apostles teaching as it is recorded in the new Testament. They receive and seek to live by the moral teaching of the Old Testament, interpreted in the cross of Christ. The church stands firm here or slowly dies.
8) Worship Means Life. Worship is not music, though music helps to lift our praise. Worship is not liturgy, though good liturgy can lead us into the truth as it is in Jesus. Worship is not what we do for an hour on Sunday, though gathering on the Lord’s Day is a mark of true believers. Worship is the call on all of life to be lived for the honor and glory of God.
9) Every Believer Becoming a Discipler. To follow Jesus indefinitely, without becoming a disciple-making disciple, is unfruitfulness, and casts doubt on true faithfulness. Catechesis must include systemic discipleship, and not just knowledge. All believers should soon grow into being disciple-making disciples.
10) Every Believer Equipped to be a Minister. The central task of all the designated leaders is to equip all the members of Christ’s body, the Church, for the work of ministry assigned to them.
11) Restored Apostolic Leadership. The emerging pattern of ordered leadership that characterized the church by the end of the apostolic age, bishop, presbyters, and deacons, is to be effectively restored to the local congregation.
12) Continual Reconciliation. The culture of the church must again become a culture of forgiveness and reconciliation in the love of Christ. Without this grace is nullified.
Next Week: Missing Principles?
Used with permission, https://joncshuler.wordpress.com/
When our eyes are opened to the truth contained in the Scriptures, we soon learn that the early church was not conflict free. Godly men and women disagreed from time to time, and differences had to be addressed. Conflict sometimes erupted and tore the family of God apart. It was part of an apostolic leader’s task to seek to restore unity. But over centuries many leaders of the church have become less and less committed to this task, and that poses a dilemma: “How are believers to be reconciled?”
The simple solution to this dilemma, followed in the beginning by the faithful church, was that believers were expected to reconcile differences in the manner taught by the Lord Jesus. Those who sinned were to go to those whom they had sinned against, and seek forgiveness. Those who had ought against a brother were to go to him, and seek to be reconciled. Forgiveness was to be quickly given. In both cases, if that did not happen, they were to try again accompanied by one or two others as witnesses. If this too failed they were to take it to the church for resolution. It is time for this principle of reconciliation to be restored, first to the local church, and second to the wider family, if Christians are to be faithful to their Lord.
There are at least three levels of application that need to be addressed: interpersonal conflict between believers, conflicts within a given congregation, and conflicts between churches. Commitment to reconciliation in all three circumstances, though challenging, is absolutely necessary.
In the local church, conflicts between believers should be resolved without wider notice. It is to be part of daily discipleship. It is to be normal that committed people live with a desire to be in harmony with their brothers and sisters, and when they are not, to take the initiative to work it out. First between themselves, if possible, then with the help of their believing friends. If those two steps fail they are to “take it to the church.” But what does that mean? Once the church is too large to meet in one home it almost certainly means take it to the leadership of the local church.
What if they can not resolve the matter in private? What if it is roiling the whole local body? Then the local leadership must step in lovingly but forcefully. It is their sacred duty to work to resolve the situation, with clear submission required by all to the gospel of Truth. It may even (rarely) require a gathering of the whole local body. In extreme cases they may require the help of godly oversight beyond the local congregation.
It should be no different when the conflict is between two or more local congregations. Resolution must be sought by the senior leaders, following the same rules that Jesus gave. If the two do not resolve the conflict, they bring in a third or fourth. If that is not sufficient, they take it higher, first in their city or region, and then (if necessary) to their whole movement. If there is to be unity, as the Lord commands, there must be devotion to the principle of reconciliation. Unity is not an option if reformation is to come!
Next Week: Recapping the Seven (Corporate) Principles
Used with permission, https://joncshuler.wordpress.com/
Last week my final two sentences asserted: “there must be a congregational pattern of ordered guidance, leadership, and accountability. All the ministries are to work together for the common good.” This week my focus is on the challenge of recognizing true leadership in the body of Christ. Who is responsible for this ordered accountability? How is this to be accomplished? How is it to be validated? How is it recognized?
It is well known that the Lord Jesus appointed a few to give leadership to the whole. When the twelve became eleven they chose a replacement. Then we see the twelve appointing seven others to share in leadership. By the end of the first century there is only one way leaders are recognized, and that is they are discipled and recognized by the leaders who have gone before them. And it is becoming universal, if not already so, that the leadership of the church involves three different ministry types, or orders: the overseeing pastor or bishop, the presbyters (called in English for centuries elders), and the deacons. Local leadership is universally corporate, and this early local leadership pattern was recognized as essential, not optional.
As the church grew and flourished, this pattern was replicated wherever missionaries took the gospel. All three orders were involved in new starts from the beginning, or very soon after the beginning. It was the way the church was governed, and it was always local. Without this order, something was missing. When this order was in place, the church was recognized as part of the “one body” of Christ.
At some point in time (the specific time is debated by historians but not the fact) this order broke down. Bishops came to have authority over many congregations, each with a single presbyter, and the relational unity that had existed was diluted. Deacons were now based where the bishop was “seated,” and most presbyters were distributed throughout a diocese (a word taken from a late Roman Empire political jurisdiction). Over many centuries the recognized ancient pattern evolved, with the same names, into a completely different structure. And the unity of the church suffered. At the Reformation in the 16th century, some movements and churches sought to restore a semblance of the ancient order, but the question must be asked: “Has the order of the Reformation led to effective kingdom honoring church life and mission?”
My answer must be given in two parts. Wherever and whenever the risen Jesus was returned to the center of the governing patterns, the gospel has flourished locally. Pastoral care is restored to its rightful place. But overwhelmingly the Reformation churches have defaulted to one man ministry and missionary vitality has waned. One person “ministry” can never adequately model “apostolic diversity.”
The time has come to restore a pattern, if not there already, that is universally recognized by the global church, and is taught – in principle – in the New Testament.
Next Week: 12) The Principle of Reconciliation
Used with permission, https://joncshuler.wordpress.com/