​ Can A Church Be Reborn? (by Jon Shuler​​)

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.

 

Used with permission, http://www.jonshuler.com, https://joncshuler.wordpress.com/

​ Can A Church Be Reborn? (by Jon Shuler​​)

Recapping the Seven (Corporate) Principles​ (by Jon Shuler​​)

I have been asserting that nothing but a new reformation can bring the church of Jesus Christ into alignment with Gods 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 Lords 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 Christs 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/

Recapping the Seven (Corporate) Principles​ (by Jon Shuler​​)

Expounding on the 12 Principals #12: The Principle of Reconciliation (by Jon Shuler​​)

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 leaders 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/

Expounding on the 12 Principals #12: The Principle of Reconciliation (by Jon Shuler​​)

Expounding on the 12 Principals #11: The Principle of Recognition (by Jon Shuler​​)

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/

Expounding on the 12 Principals #11: The Principle of Recognition (by Jon Shuler​​)

Expounding on the 12 Principals #10: The Principle of Every Member Ministry (by Jon Shuler​​)

One of the oversights of the 16th Century Reformation was the unconscious way the single pastor model of local ministry succeeded the single priest model that had prevailed for centuries. The churches that broke from the Roman obedience carried the culture they had known into their polity. Even those who adopted Calvins attempt to reclaim an earlier pattern (as he understood it) soon had a practical, if not theoretical, focus on the single leader. The preaching minister was (and usually is still) seen as and honored as the Minister.” In a congregation with one Minister” the apostolic teaching that all the people of God have gifts for ministry is hard to recover. To this day, in ordinary conversation, Christian people and leaders speak of someone going in to the ministry” when they mean someone who is becoming a full time ordained servant of the church. It is not consistent with biblical truth, and it has not brought spiritual health to the body of Christ. A new reformation demands every member ministry be recovered.

Apostolic teaching makes clear that when someone comes to the Lord in repentance and faith, the Spirit of God takes up residence in them. It is also clear that Spirit gives gifts to all believers, and that the Lord assigns the ministry each is to walk in. This must be grasped by the people of God and their leaders, and then applied in the life of the congregation. What are some steps for this to happen?

First the whole congregation must be taught that this is a component of biblical Christianity. It is not optional. The move from conversion to ministry is meant to be a natural progression, guided by the Lord over time, and discerned and embraced by each believer with the help of the body and the leaders. A survey of the Holy Scriptures will quickly show that over two dozen gifts and ministries are identified specifically, and the actual number is greater and only known to the Lord. But each one is called to be a steward of the gifts they are given. Their stewardship means using their gifts in ministry for the common good. First for the good of their marriage, family and the church, and then – for some in particular- for the blessing of the world.

Second, there needs to be a clear pathway, owned and supported by all, that assists in the discovery of the gifts and ministry of each disciple. This may require an elaborate system in a large congregation, or may be organically lived in a smaller one, but the members of the body must all understand it, and be unwilling for any to be thought to be maturing in Christ if they are not discovering and growing in their ministry. Not the basics of following Jesus, the behaviors and life patterns that are simply Christian, but the particular calling for each follower. The basics should be learned in the homes of the people, parents and older siblings serving the younger ones, and extended family members sharing in this nurture. Basic nurture is not particular, it is universal. But the gifts and ministries of Gods people are varied and distinct.

Finally, there must be a congregational pattern of ordered guidance, leadership, and accountability. All the ministries are to work together for the common good.

Next Week: 11) The Principle of Recognition

 

Used with permission, https://joncshuler.wordpress.com/

Expounding on the 12 Principals #10: The Principle of Every Member Ministry (by Jon Shuler​​)

Expounding on the 12 Principals #9: The Principle of Systematic Discipling (by Jon Shuler​​)

The church is meant to be a community of men and women who are not only disciples of Jesus, but able to help others become faithful disciples of Jesus. For this to happen, the local community of believers must have some pattern, some system, to ensure that day by day, week by week, those who are part of the body learn to walk as disciple-making disciples. For this to happen there must be a way for it to be the reality lived, not a concept talked about. There must be a principled pattern, owned by all leaders and learned by all followers, that ensures – by God’s good grace – that those who come to faith actually walk in that faith. They must learn to be “fishers of men” as Jesus described it. They must take their place among those making disciples of all peoples.

What is the simplest way that disciple-making becomes normal for all Christians?

There are a few things that must be clear before an answer can be given.The first prerequisite must be an absolute understanding that no one lives this life who is not born again of the Spirit of God. There must be a heart change or there will be no life change. If the love of God has not been poured into their hear that will not follow where Jesus leads. Any church that does not see this as central will never be a disciple-making church. Any leader who does not live this truth will not lead others into it.

Secondly, the lived life of one disciple-making disciple must be seen and imitated by another for systematic discipleship to be ordinary in the life of the body of Christ. Men and women following Christ with integrity must be seen to demonstrate this life style. Unconsciously in the sense that all they do is with a heart ready to help another follow Christ Jesus. It is not a program for them, but a relational lifestyle. With integrity in the sense that they do not speak of what they do not live. They do not try to get others to do what they are not doing themselves. One helping another is the way of the Master.

So is there a system that is needed? In the local church there certainly need to be because most of God’s people will never learn without some framework to assist them. The challenge is to keep it as simple as possible and no simpler. Three things need to be identified and communicated, regularly, effectively, and systemically.

First, what did Jesus teach about discipling? Learning what the word of Jesus says, and abiding in it (John 8:31,32; 13:34,35; 15:7,8; Luke 14:26,27,33).

Second, those learning must see others doing what they are learning. They must be with those who are actively living the disciple-making life. They must be watching others they esteem following and obeying Jesus.

Third, those who have seen disciple-making in others must begin imitating what they have learned and seen. They must step out of their comfort zone and begin. They must start doing what Jesus says do. If not they are not following. They will not be fruitful.

Used with permission, https://joncshuler.wordpress.com/

Next Week: The Principle of Every Member Ministry

Expounding on the 12 Principals #9: The Principle of Systematic Discipling (by Jon Shuler​​)

Expounding on the 12 Principals #8: The Principle of Worship (by Jon Shuler​​​​)

For many, if not most, the first contact they have with the church is when they attend a local gathering of the body of believers. Someone has invited them to “come and see.” When the Holy Spirit is manifestly present in the believing community, and the true word of God is preached, some who were strangers moments before come, almost immediately, to a place of faith. It is a wondrous thing to behold. Once it occurs, no matter how dimly understood, that person wants to be present when the church gathers to worship. To be present on the Lord’s Day begins to be their custom, just as it was the Lord Jesus’ custom to attend the synagogue on the Sabbath. Sunday by Sunday faithful attendance becomes their pattern of devotion, and they rarely miss “the assembling together.”

But if there is not clear biblical teaching they may come to a place of great peril. They begin to imagine that the Christian life is a pattern of church going, rather than a pattern of learning from, and obeying the Lord Jesus. They imagine that worship, as understood in the word of Truth, is church attendance alone. They may even confuse worship with songs of praise and hymns.

The principle of worship that must be understood, however, is that worship is the response of the whole person to the love of Christ Jesus that has come to them. They are indeed to adore and praise him with others weekly. They are to give thanks, to intercede for themselves and others, to make supplication, to cry out in penitence in the midst of God’s people gathered, to give him all their praise. But that is not the principle of worship fully lived if it is only on Sunday. What then is missing?

The worship God the Father seeks is that which comes from worshippers who “worship him in spirit and in truth.” This, at the very least, means when believers gather they are coming ready to be touched afresh by the truth of the gospel. They are not coming to have their ears “tickled” by smooth words, but are coming to hear the pure Word of God. They come wanting the Holy Spirit to awaken their cold and sluggish hearts. They come to be fed by the mystical gifts provided by their Lord Jesus, that only faith can receive. And they come knowing that the Sunday assembly is to lead them to a daily worship that is just as real, just as central, just as holy as that which they share with others on that day.

“Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, which is your spiritual worship,’ the Apostle says. There is no part of your life that is not to be worship. Your rising and your going down, your waking and your sleeping, your work and your play. Seeking to live a holy life in all things is to be your worship.

And to discern what is the “good and perfect will of God” for you, is the heart of a true worshipper. To pray for the transformed mind that alone will lift the soul from earth to heaven. A daily desire, a daily yearning, a daily life chosen in Jesus.

Used with permission, https://joncshuler.wordpress.com/

Next Week: The Principle of Systematic Discipling

Expounding on the 12 Principals #8: The Principle of Worship (by Jon Shuler​​​​)

Expounding on the 12 Principals #7:  The Principle of Biblical Authority (by Jon Shuler​​​)

This principle, some will surely say, should be placed first. They may indeed be right, but for this series I have chosen to place it here because so many in the historic churches have experienced the progression to this principle by steps of faith, and not as a beginning foundation. I have frequently stated that trust in the authority of Holy Scripture is a presupposition that must come to be believed if there is any hope of true reformation, and I will stand by that as an essential building block of what it means to be a church founded on the preaching of “Jesus Christ and him crucified.” Without the Holy Scripture, today, we would have no apostolic testimony that could save. So why here?

First of all, most people meet the Risen Lord Jesus long before they understand the biblical testimony to the truth of the gospel. They have heard the gospel preached, or explained, in a way that reaches their heart. They know themselves to be lost. They have realized they must repent, acknowledge Jesus as Savior, and have then yielded their lives to the living Lord. Their experience is that he has received them as his own, and he has taken up residence in their hearts. As a dear brother said to me recently, “Now I don’t just believe in him, I know him.” The Incarnate Word is the first word they believe and receive.

Secondly, the testimony of other true believers is the most frequent way a new believer comes to faith. The living Lord Jesus in another person shines forth to them. They believe because they “see Jesus,” whether they can explain it or not. The witness, verbal and non verbal, of a true believer is the catalyst of true faith in others. The word seen and heard in the body of Christ, the church, is the milk they next receive.

This is perhaps the reason that belief in the Holy Scriptures as the Word of God was not a part of the creedal faith of the early church, or so I believe. It was a universal conviction of the faithful community. It was the air they breathed. It is in that sense, that the teaching authority of the believing church did indeed come before the authority of the Holy Scriptures was ever articulated, as some critics of classic Christianity sometimes remind us. But it was assumed that they were the authority over every other.  It was impossible for them to imagine that any other authority was, or could ever be, primary. To suggest so was to be in grievous error.

Step by step the first communities accepted the writings of the apostles as having the same authority they had when in person. After the death of the apostles, and the ever widening knowledge of the writings they or their companions left behind was received, the church universal embraced and canonized the New Testament as the equivalent of “the apostle’s teaching” that had been the center of the church’s life from the beginning.

It is now time to reassert as a principle that without devotion to the teaching of the Holy Scripture, to the “whole counsel of God” in Christ Jesus, their is no faithful church.

Used with permission, https://joncshuler.wordpress.com/

Next Week: The Principle of Worship

Expounding on the 12 Principals #7:  The Principle of Biblical Authority (by Jon Shuler​​​)

Expounding the 12 Principles #6: The Principle of Lordship (by Jon Shuler)

The church of Jesus Christ submits to Christ, and to no other. She has only one Lord, and he must reign in, among, and over all who believe in him and have been reborn in him. Anything less is either a church that has lost its first love and must repent, or no church at all.

Of course when we speak like this we are using the word “church” in the way it is always used in the New Testament. We mean the community of the faithful. The living, breathing men and women who have “put on Christ.” The heart of this community is the Risen Lord Jesus Christ. It is the fellowship of those reborn by water and the Spirit. It is a band of believers “devoted…to the apostles teaching and fellowship, the breaking of the bread and the prayers.” It is a community that knows one another well, and cares for one another well, and is no stranger to the lives and homes of other believers. It is not a gathering of polite Sunday worshippers who smile at others whose names they do not know, and then return to lives lived outside the will of Christ.

But, some will say to me, ‘What you describe is so different from what we experience in the local congregation that we attend, how can this be normal?’ My answer must be, the “normal” in most congregations today is gravely “abnormal” when compared to the life Jesus commanded his followers to live if they were to be his disciples. The crowds paid attention to Jesus, of course, and a smaller group followed him from time to time, but the ones who truly attended to his words and were committed to walk in his way were an even smaller number. As we know all to well, there were very few at what seemed like the end as Jesus hung on the cross. Perhaps only three. Even in the days before Pentecost there were only 120 left in Jerusalem, and that after a three year public ministry of the Lord. These were the ones who would soon be accused of turning the world upside down, and that did not happen because they were casual Christians.

Centuries of tradition have come to adhere to the life of most of the historic and long established churches, and like too many barnacles on a ship, they often impede the purpose for which she was made. More attention is sometimes paid to the traditions of men, than to obedience to the Word of God. All too frequently much more attention than to the clear word of Jesus. He is spoken of as Lord by many, but is he obeyed as Lord? If he is not obeyed as Lord has he really been received as Savior? This is the crux of the principle of Lordship.

If the church in decline is to be rescued from its free fall, by the grace of God, the members of the local body can not continue to be allowed to imagine that their faith is secure if they disobey the Master. Even more critically, as we have repeated said, the church’s leadership cannot be allowed to lead disobediently. To do so makes a travesty of their profession of faith.

Either Jesus is Lord or he is not. There is no other sign of true faith.

Used with permission, https://joncshuler.wordpress.com/

Next Week: The Principle of Biblical Authority

Expounding the 12 Principles #6: The Principle of Lordship (by Jon Shuler)

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).

Thinking Through The Four Observations: Observation #4