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)

Foundations? (by Jon Shuler )

“If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” (Psalm 11:3)

Recent events in the United States have served, once again, to show that the historic constitutional foundations of this country are no longer guiding a large part of our society. This seems especially true of many of those in positions of power and responsibility. For those of us who believe that those historic American foundations were absolutely based on the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ, this is a very difficult and sad day. The moral law, that under-girded all the presuppositions of the founding generations, has been swept away. The Word of God given to Israel, and then incarnated in the Lord Jesus, has ceased to be a “plumb line” for American life.

This is of course not a new development. It has been steadily happening for many decades. But the pace of this descent into darkness has quickened measurably in these last few years. No one who is concerned for the will of God to be done in our land can be pleased with the unraveling of our basic societal unity, nor with the increasing triumph of wickedness. But what are the Lord’s people to do?

This question has been central in my prayers for my country for many years. I have come to one clear understanding about this situation, and how it came to prevail. The main fault is the church that claims to belong to God.

We have collectively turned away from the Lord and his clear teaching, and we have run after false gods. We have been compromised by our careless attention to the the Word of God, by our general acceptance of unrighteous influences in the newspapers and magazines that we read, the radio and TV we attend to, and the movies we watch. Our consciences have been dulled (if not seared) by a wave of behaviors and speech that are inconsistent with a nation of righteous people. And the church has not called us to the truth. To bear the cost of faithful witness. To accept the backlash and still stand. How did this happen?

The number of professed Christians in the USA is somewhere near 70% of the population, and yet small minorities opposed to God and his Word have taken over almost all of the positions of influence and power in this country. In a majority of the Universities, much of the Media, many of the Legislatures, and large numbers of the schools, and even among many historic churches, unbelievers reign.

I would like to blame others, but I have to accept the blame myself. I have been lulled to sleep by a steady stream of small compromises. I have not stood up. I have not protested. I have been so focused on the things inside the particular places where I was called to serve that I have not noticed the erosion of the moral basis of my nation. I have been a negligent citizen. I have not made the “love of righteous deeds” (Psalm 11:7) my touchstone. And meanwhile my nation has come under the judgment of God.

What can I do? I must repent. What must you do?

Foundations? (by Jon Shuler )

Meaning What You Say. (by Jon Shuler)

Our Lord Jesus Christ taught us that we are to let our “Yes be yes” and our “No be no.” A disciple walks in the light of His teaching. How are we doing in this area as followers of Jesus? With regularity over the past few years I have discovered that many in the church are guilty of extreme neglect of this clear word of God. Are we too?

How is this so? Let me cite a few examples.

The first that comes to my mind focuses on the promises that were made at my baptism. I was then charged to never “be ashamed to confess the faith of Christ crucified, and manfully to fight under his banner, against sin, the world, and the devil.”

What then if I meet every week with other Christians, but do not follow Christ in my daily walk? What if I am swept up in behavior Monday to Saturday that is no different from the non believers around me? What if I am either ignorant of, or glibly disobedient to, the clear teaching of Jesus? I said “Yes” to being His follower, but am I following?

In the Anglican world, globally, it is normal to have a service of Confirmation for anyone who is prepared to make their own public Profession of Faith in Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord, and who was baptized as a child owing to the faith of their parents. In that service, the promises of baptism are renewed and confirmed. Thus we promised: “I will follow Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior”. We accepted the promises made on our behalf. Now we commit to obey Jesus and prove to be a true disciple.

What then if most of my time, treasure, and talents are devoted to following something (or someone) else? What if I am caught up in the cares and concerns of this world, and they regularly get my very best, and I prove to be “ineffective and unfruitful” as a disciple of Jesus? (See II Peter 1:8) I said “Yes” to being His follower, and he clearly commands me to be effective and fruitful, but I am not.

In the local congregation there is always a body, or board, that shares in the governance of the local church. Often their deliberations are far removed from the things of God. Due consideration for temporal matters must of course be given, it is good administration, and that is a gift God from God. It is also part of good stewardship. But the people on such a board have a responsibility to God for their faithfulness to Jesus Christ and His teaching as primary. They are to be faithful to the trust given them.

What then if the discussions at their meetings revolve about old wounds, grievances, disappointments, and unmet expectations. With no clear reference, much of the time, to obeying the clear teaching of Jesus? What if personal agendas, attitudes, and fears dominate the meetings. What if they constrain the godly leadership of the church? They are in office to follow Christ Jesus and help the local body do the same. They said “Yes” to following Him, but often He is not the center of their meetings or lives.

Are we meaning what we say? All the time?

Meaning What You Say. (by Jon Shuler)

A New Season for Europe (By Rt Revd Josep Rosello)

+Josep and Patrice“Will you come?” This was the phrase that started an unexpected journey. A friend had asked me if I would consider moving from Brazil to England. He saw an urgent need for England to be reached with the Gospel. My immediate answer was, “I will, if it is God’s call.”

A few months later, Patrice and I had the assurance of the Holy Spirit that it was indeed the right decision and that it was time to start preparing to move to England. But why should I leave the amazing work that God lead me to start in Brazil and, then, Venezuela –one that I had invested so much tears, prayers and time into?

Indeed, praise be to God that after nine years of hard-work, from the few people we started out with, we now have 25 missional communities in these 2 countries, and almost 900 people participating. This had all followed from focused seasons of one-on-one discipleship and the raising up and equipping of young leaders to serve the Lord, as was my heart’s desire.

I believe the answer to “why leave now?” is because God had been preparing me all these years to do this next thing.

Now, I am not thinking or saying for a moment that I have all together or, even that I have all the answers. In fact, the opposite is true. It seems that God used our brokenness to teach us His ways, and His Spirit leads us to teach and train others in God’s way from that same place.

As a NAMS Companion, I share a willingness and desire to teach and preach Jesus Christ to all, at any given time, wherever we are. That Christ was crucified, and that He is the risen Lord, is to be proclaimed by His people to all peoples

As I look England and Europe, I see and hear a Macedonian call like Paul did. A voice calling for help, “will you come?” There is no good reason for me to say ‘no.’

We go wherever the Lord opens a door. I will step out and trust the Lord. It will be one small step of faith after another – plant a seed that God will raise to be a new missional community of faith; then, another and another, spreading with the wind that carries the good news of Jesus Christ from England to all over Europe.

I know I am totally incapable of doing what God has called me to do on my own. But God calls us to obey the leading of the Holy Spirit. Obedience is a step of faith that starts His disciples on the journey to make other disciples and share life together. Making disciples is about giving ourselves to others, as we teach the Scripture and learn to follow the Way of the Lord. It is not simply about being members of a church, but it is about following Christ together, as a family.

As I prepare to move my family across the ocean, I sense an urgency to call upon His name and to give myself totally to the Lord. I will be satisfied when I make a disciple who makes another disciple, and raise a leader that makes another leader, and plant a church that plants another church. And never to break God’s word as I do it.

After all, isn’t that what it means to be a NAMS Companion?

A New Season for Europe (By Rt Revd Josep Rosello)