Thinking Through The Four Observations: Observation #4

This series of blogs by NAMS Leader Revd Canon Jon Shuler list his observations on 4 factors that are true wherever the church is reformed newly by God for his purposes and glory….

Observation #4: The Church is organized to make disciples.

When whole towns and villages are changed, when the social and economic patterns
begin to be altered, when the governing structures begin to be rethought, the gospel of
Jesus Christ has come in reformation. The gospel spreads like a wild fire, and it is
unstoppable for a season of God’s choosing. So it was in the 6th, 12th, and 16th
century in Europe. So it was during the Great Awakening of the 18th century. And
always ordinary believers learn to live so that the gospel spreads easily. They learn to
be disciple-making disciples.
In all such eras believing people meet regularly in small enough groups that the true
nature of the church is experienced day by day. This is the hidden reality whenever the
church of the Lord Jesus is experiencing spontaneous expansion. Large worship
gatherings reveal something of this true nature, but it is in the small villages and homes
of believers, that the truth is daily confirmed and lives transformed. Not because of
these small gatherings, but because the very nature of the kingdom of God is
relationally transmitted. Mothers disciple their daughters. Fathers disciple their sons.
Brother disciples brother. Friends disciple friends. The life of the church is not the work
of a clerical and professional few, but the work of the whole body.
For the church of Christ Jesus in the West to see this occur again, by the grace of God,
reformation must come. The church and its leaders must be willing to rethink how she is
organized. Do her current structures assist the effective spread of the kingdom of God
or do they inhibit it? What must be reformed?
Of all that must undergo rethinking and reforming, nothing is so evident as this: the
social architecture of the local church must be redesigned so that every believer learns
to be a disciple-making disciple. Church structures that do not assist this, in a
reasonably effective and timely way, must be rethought. The current patterns that have
evolved over centuries in the West must be radically revisited. What do they achieve?
Are they producing what the Lord of the church desires?
The Final Command of the Risen Christ Jesus to his church was to “make disciples of
all nations.” This was a command that was about the way his people lived for him. It
was something that would occur as they lived ordinary lives, transformed by his grace.
How was it to be possible? It was possible because it was natural and simple.
The historian Glenn Hinson, after surveying the rise of the church in the first centuries
concluded that “the church of Jesus Christ out organized the Roman Empire, one
household at a time.” Small familial units of disciple-making disciples were the hidden
reality behind the spread of Christianity, and where this truth re-emerges and becomes
a normal way of life for Christians, another season of reformation begins.

Used with permission by joncshuler.wordpress.com

Next Week: Foundational Principles (Internal).

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Thinking Through The Four Observations: Observation #4

Thinking Through The Four Observations — Observation #3. (by Jon Shuler)

This series of blogs by NAMS Leader Revd Canon Jon Shuler list his observations on 4 factors that are true wherever the church is reformed newly by God for his purposes and glory….

Believing that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is for all people.

It is natural for men and women who first encounter the love of God in Christ Jesus, who repent and welcome him into their lives, to want to convey this Good News to their immediate friends and neighbors. It was this desire that led Andrew to go and find Peter, and Philip to go and find Nathaniel. This first instinct is inspired by the Holy Spirit, but the fullness of God’s intention for the spread of the gospel is greater. He cares for all the peoples of the earth, and he desires that they know and walk in the liberty of the children of God. Whenever reformation comes this truth comes to the fore.

Today in the West many see all cultures and religious traditions as equally valuable and good. They should be left alone. But the love of God, as it has been revealed in Christ Jesus, is meant to be taken to every corner of the globe. This amazing news, manifest in the life and death of Christ, is Good News for every people and nation. No one is to be excepted.

The first outflowing of this grace will touch those near at hand, but it will soon spread to others from the nations. Strangers and sojourners who live in the lands of the new anointing will hear the truth, and the Spirit of God will awaken in some of them a desire to go back to their own people, to share the joyful news they have heard. New communities of faith will be formed in those places that have never before heard of Jesus the crucified Redeemer. And the faithful church, if there, will re-awaken to the unending command of the Lord Jesus to “go and make disciples of all nations.”

Some will then be called to leave their own lands to take the blessing to others. To find men and women with receptive hearts and share with them a love that will never let them go, and never forsake them.The kingdom of God will break in among them.

Reformation can never come, however, to a church that will not embrace the Father’s heart for the lost. Failure to mobilize to carry that love beyond the walls of their own hearts, their own families and friends, or beyond their own buildings is a sin. When those to whom the gospel has come close their hearts to those who have not yet heard, it is only a matter of time before the forbearance of the Lord is exhausted. He will seek those who will worship and serve him in Spirit and in Truth.

Yet most of God’s people need not go far. The eyes of their hearts will be opened by God’s Spirit to see those they are called to serve right where they live. Their mission field is very near. But they must learn to see as God sees. There are people everywhere waiting to hear the Good News from someone who will share it in love. Someone who will be faithful to reach outside the boundaries of their community of faith. Someone who will not rest while any have not heard in their town or city. When this change occurs in a faithful few, and then a few more, reformation begins.

Used with permission by joncshuler.wordpress.com

Next Week: Observation #4: The Church is organized to make disciples.

Thinking Through The Four Observations — Observation #3. (by Jon Shuler)

Thinking Through The Four Observations— Observation #2. (by Jon Shuler)

Believing that the Word of God is true.

Astute readers will know why this second observation is directly related to the first. Since the period of history known as the Enlightenment, educated men have undermined faith in the Word of God as true. This began in the 18th century, with non believers, but by the late 19th century it had deeply penetrated most of the institutions that trained Christian leaders in the West. By the late 20th century, many in the older historic families of the church were being led by men who no longer believed the Word of God could be trusted. “Modern” thought had shown its (so they said) many errors. At least by 1950 in the West, if not sooner, men and women who did not believe in and follow the clear teaching of Jesus and his apostles, as revealed in Holy Scripture, were leading and training the next generation of church leaders. The Enemy of all that is good and true was having a field day. The church entered into precipitous decline.

It is in times like these that a few dear saints of God cry out to heaven for mercy. Please God renew in our day what our Fathers have told us you did in days gone by. Faithful witnesses call down the consuming fire of heaven to burn away what has become corrupt, and purify what is called to be holy. And in the fullness of time God acts.

When God begins to move in power, and Holy Spirit reformation of the church begins, it is always in the places where God’s clear Word is being trusted, and the preaching and teaching of “Jesus Christ and him crucified” is coming back to the center. When the truth of the gospel “as it is in Jesus” is restored to the heart of the church’s life, the church begins to grow. And that growth is seen in the lives of humble folk who kneel before their Lord in repentant faith and are born again of the Spirit of God. Obeying the Word of God begins to be their desire, because they love him who is the Word of God incarnate. A new day of reformation dawns when leaders begin to be moved to that repentance, and submit afresh to Jesus as he is revealed in the Word of God.

Of course such men are usually accused of breaking the rules, or not being faithful to the traditions of their denomination, or of being enemies of God. But they know something has happened in their hearts that has called them back to their first love. Or they have at last become truly converted men. In either case, they are brought under the sovereignty of the Word of God written, and they begin to be used for the spread of the kingdom of God. That kingdom and his righteousness becomes what they seek first. They are no longer in thrall to the traditions of men.

The darkness begins to be penetrated, when those days come, and the light of Christ Jesus begins to shine in heart after heart, congregation after congregation, and community after community. The gospel of Christ Jesus begins to change the culture of those places where it is preached and lived. A reformation from God has begun. Times of refreshing have come.

Used with permission from joncshuler.wordpress.com

Next Week: Observation #3 – Believing that the gospel of Jesus Christ is for all people.

Thinking Through The Four Observations— Observation #2. (by Jon Shuler)

Thinking Through The Four Observations (by Jon Shuler)

Observation #1 – Leaders Are Rarely Seminary Trained.

When true reformation comes to the church of Jesus Christ, it always disrupts the ordinary way things have recently been done. It is part of the very nature of reformation that it only comes because many things have gone wrong. God is intervening because many of his people, and their leaders, have grown cold in the face of these errors. God intervenes to put things right. But in times like these God always has to raise up leaders who will turn their face toward him, and obey what he asks of them – whatever the consequences. This pattern has been seen in all of Church History.

Understanding this reality, goes a long way to helping us to understand the first observation from last week’s post. Reformation almost always begins through the leadership of men not sharing the currently accepted and “normal” way of being trained to lead. They are often outsiders, not thinking the way the majority think. They do not see the current situation the way those in authority see it.

This phenomena may manifest itself in one of two ways. The first of these, and most common, is God raises up leaders trained on a different path than those currently leading. An example from ancient history is the bishop of Rome known as Gregory the Great. Gregory was a Benedictine Monk, and a part of an order founded by St Benedict of Nursia, who died in AD 547. Benedict had established (we would say planted) thirteen small monasteries before he died, all of which were outside of the Catholic authority and leadership structures of their day. Yet in AD 590 one of his followers, Gregory, was made bishop of Rome, and inaugurated a season of lasting reform whose influence is still felt in 2019. He was trained outside the ordinary structures.

The second way this phenomena manifests itself is through a leader trained in the way common in his day, but who has experienced what he believes to be a direct intervention of God in his life. God has shown him a different way for the church to be guided and shaped. When truly God inspired, this leads him, and those who follow him, back to revealed truth already given to the church but neglected or obscured in his own lifetime. He leads in a way outside the “accepted norms,” but consistent with the Word of God. He is a reformer. Thomas Cranmer was such a man. So was John Wesley.

For at least the last 200 years, if not longer, the Western Seminary system has taught men to be men of the mind. To be scholars. It has neglected the formation of the whole man: heart, mind, soul, and strength, putting the Lord Jesus second after knowledge. This has separated many leaders from their people, and has communicated (often unintentionally) to the flock of God that they “do not know enough” to follow Jesus wholeheartedly. They must read more. They must study more. They must have more classes, more programs, more guidance. They must have “expert” instruction to be good Christians. It does not put obeying the Lord Jesus first. It screens out reformation.

Used with permission by joncshuler.wordpress.com

Next Week: Observation #2 – Believing that the Word of God is True.

Thinking Through The Four Observations (by Jon Shuler)

Coming to Christ (by Revd. Clay Hamrick)

From time to time we wrestle with the question, how to people come to Christ? Every disciple and preacher asks this question. My Grandpa preached on this topic in 1966. He addressed it from the grace of and drawing power of God. When you are regularly sharing or preaching the gospel you tend to want people to come to Christ more than they do.  Your heart aches for them.

This desire can cause you to question the person yourself or even God. Why don’t they get it? Was I not clear enough? Argh! Has that happened to you? It will if you are engaged in regular gospel conversations. When it does happen, I turn to the Scriptures and talk to Jesus. In John 3, a man named Nicodemus inquires of Jesus. He is being stirred by the things he has seen and the teachings that he has heard.

Jesus tells him that you are not going to get this unless you are born again. Unless the Spirit does a work in you, belief is impossible. When you hear the gospel and the spirit turns the light on in you then belief happens. It is the mystery of faith. Jesus speaks of this again in John 6, as the drawing power of God.

A difficult saying, no man may come to me unless the Father draws him. God prepares the heart to receive the truth. He also prepares the meeting. For Satan tries to veil our spiritual eyes from this truth. God clears the way. Often the Holy Spirit uses us like John the Baptist, by preparing the way for Jesus’ coming into someone’s life. The message itself is perfect in converting the soul says the psalmist. (19:7) Paul reiterates that the law acts as a tutor to bring us to Christ. (Gal.3:24)

The gospel addresses the reality of our need of a savior. Jesus states in the the sermon on the mount that we are blessed when our spirit is brought low and we mourn over our sin. (Mat.5:3-4) We are called Blessed because our hearts are now prepared to receive. We have only to turn and put our trust in him for what he has done on our behalf. The Spirit testifies with our spirit that we are His forever.

When you share your faith and become frustrated talk to God about it. Read the Scriptures. Be at peace that God desires for people to come into a saving relationship with him. Then pray for those that you are sharing with. Be patient. Watch and see God do the miraculous.

Coming to Christ (by Revd. Clay Hamrick)

Compelled…to share (by Revd. Clay Hamrick)

Have you ever been compelled to share an experience? A great game you saw? Trip you took? Concert? Play? New relationship? Problems? Struggle? Complaint? We all have stories that burn within us until we can let it out. We can’t stand to be quite.  Do you have one now?

Yesterday I was in Walmart. Look, I’m a father of seven that does the shopping. So I have lots of opportunities to hear stories. The lady in front of me had no issue in sharing a painful moment that is going on in her life. I was minding my own business.  This was unsolicited. You get where I’m coming from?

She was compelled to unload whether I was ready or willing. She was passionate. She needed to speak and to be heard. It is a feeling we can all relate to, no? What compels you to share? Think about it. Who do you tell?

While reading the psalms I kept seeing how the writer David shared his heart and passions. He was compelled to tell God all his problems, hurts, sins, and plans. He came before the throne of grace with boldness. He laid everything in raw form before the Lord’s feet. Note that he didn’t share a lot of this with others, but with God alone. He took it to the throne before he took it to the phone.

We tend to tell everyone else over coffee, phone or Facebook. Rarely do we take it to God. David would shift from on loading to praise. He would be compelled to worship. As his countenance went down, his praise would go up. Praise pulls you out of darkness and despair.

David would then swell up with passion to share with others. In his praise, he would remember all the things that God had done for him. What has God done for you? What have you seen him do? Prayers answered? Do you remember that he saved you? Look back six months or a year. Has your relationship with God grown deeper?

Like David we will be compelled to share the testimony of God in your life. People need to hear this. They need to see hope. Touch it. Receive it. So when you feel compelled to share about the big game, trip, or concert ask God to compel you to share about His impact on your life.

Compelled…to share (by Revd. Clay Hamrick)