Tuesday, 11 October 2011

A Great Book

A Great Book
I know I have had several blogless months. Early in the year I had another few days in coronary care, but have been fine since then. What has stimulated me to break the silence is the discovery, under what I believe was divine guidance, of a book, that has thrilled and excited me more than anything I’ve read for a long time. The book was written in 1951 by one of the most famous and influential theologians of the 20th century, Emil Brunner. It is entitled “The Misunderstanding of the Church”. In this slim volume this man of profound learning and deep faith I and love for Jesus shows that Church as it is known in its institutional forms, whether Catholic or Protestant, is not the Church portrayed in the New Testament, but a transformation and retrogression from that new-born Ecclesia, and expresses his strong and urgent desire to see again a fellowship in Jesus more near to that Spirit-created and governed organism. For me the book has been like Father’s “Yes” to the path I have followed over the past 24 years and it has been hugely encouraging.
I could fill pages with quotations, but will restrict them to two. First, “The Ecclesia of the New Testament, the fellowship of Christian believers, is precisely not that which every “church” is at least in part—an institution, a something. The Body of Christ is nothing other than a fellowship of persons. It is “the fellowship of Jesus Christ”( 1 Cor. 1:9) or “fellowship of the Holy Ghost”(2 Cor. 13:13; Phil.2:1), where fellowship or koinonia signifies a common participation , a togetherness, a community life. The faithful are bound to each other through their common sharing in Christ and in the Holy Ghost, but that which they have in common is precisely no :thing:, no “it”, but  a “he”, Christ and His Holy Spirit. It is just in this that resides the miraculous, the unique, the once-for-all nature of the Church: that as the body of Christ it has nothing to do with an organization and has nothing of the character of the institutional about it.” And second, in his conclusion; “We must be prepared for the possibility that it might be the will of God eventually to destroy the ancient churchly framework of the Ecclesia or at least to complete it by structures of a very different order---With or without the churches, if necessary even in opposition to them, God will cause the Ecclesia to become a real community of brothers.”
This scholarly yet radical book holds the answers for the many who are feeling that the institutional church falls short of God’s intentions for His people.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Organic Church

Organic Church
The word organic is related to that which has life. Recently I have stretched and challenged my aged brain by reading Stephen Meyer’s fascinating book, “The Signature in the Cell”, which is all about the mind-blowing facts of the incredibly complex codes in our DNA and about the very origin of life. Meyer is convinced, from all the evidence he so thoroughly and scientifically investigates, that we are obliged to conclude that the only reasonable explanation for the initiation of life is that an intelligent creative divine mind was at work. In simple terms, life is divinely created.
Much has been written in recent years about organic church as opposed to institutional church. But what is organic church? Just as life is a divine creation, so is true organic church. The New Testament church was not the product of man’s ingenuity. No human mind conceived it. It came into being as an act of divine creation at Pentecost. By the outpoured Holy Spirit those first believers were welded into a family of Jesus, a truly organic church.  The apostles had no command from Jesus to plant churches. Jesus had told them, “I will build my church.” Their responsibility was to proclaim Christ and as they fulfilled that calling the Lord Himself created and built families of believers. Within a few short years these cells of life spread through the known world. They belonged to no centralised organisation. They owned no buildings. They had no ruling hierarchy. They were vitalised and sustained by the Holy Spirit. It follows that organic churches are planted, not by any deliberate intention  of man, but by a creative act of God.
For ten years or so I experienced life in such a church. No one turned up to plant it. It just came about by Father drawing together a number of believers who desired to meet together to deepen their relationship with Jesus. I have pointed out elsewhere that in all the scriptures concerning the building of the Church believers are in the passive. They are built by the Lord into His Body, His temple. They do not build it and you cannot build when you are in the hands of the builder!

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Not Religion but Life

Not Religion but Life

Over the past few weeks my heart has been captured by a short phrase at the beginning of 2 Timothy 1, where Paul says that he is an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God “According to the promise of life in Christ Jesus.” The message which has been ringing loud and clear in my spirit is this, that Jesus does not give us religion, but that His gift is life, new, supernatural divine, eternal life invading us from above.
It has been said that man is a religious animal, and it is all too evident that we do love to construct systems, ceremonies, rituals and laws which must be observed whatever our religion. Sadly this is what happened around the message of Jesus almost from the earliest years, when the Judaisers sought to impose all the observances of the Jewish ceremonial law on new believers. It is seen throughout the history of Christendom and is present today in all its multiplied denominations and institutions.

Jesus did not come to give us a new religion, nor to establish any institution, but He came to open the door to life, new life. Listen to His own words. “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10) To the ultra-religious Jews, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life but you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” (John 5:39-40)  Again, “Truly truly I say to you he who hears my word and believes in him who sent me has eternal life and does not come into judgment but has passed from death to life.” (John 5:24)

Consider too the witness of the Apostle John concerning his gospel, “These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God and that believing you may have life in His name.” And in his  first Epistle, “This is the testimony that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; and he who has not the Son has not life.” (1John 5:11-12)

Paul’s Epistles too are full of the same message. “The law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin & death.”( Romans 8:2) “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” (Galatians 2:20) “You he made alive.”  (Ephesians 2:1) “You have come to fullness of life in Him.” (Colossians 2:10 RSV)  “Christ who is our life.”(Colossians 3:4) Many more examples could be given.
When we grasp this fact that Christ gives life and enter it by faith it is a truly liberating experience. This is not a matter of adherence to any religious system. It depends on no rituals or observances. This gift of grace is an infusion from above of divine life. It brings the resurrection life of Jesus into the centre of our beings to be the energy and power in every aspect of our lives. The Church of God is the great company of those who know this life being built together into a body by the giver of that life, Christ Himself.

I have just been reading the biography of Martin Luther by Ronald H. Bainton. In a section entitled “Practical Church Problems” he says of Luther ,”The true Church for him was always the Church of the redeemed, known only to God, manifest here and there on earth, small, persecuted and often hidden, at any rate scattered and united only in the bond of the Spirit. This was what Luther meant by the kingdom of Christ.” And here comes the sad part, “He did not pretend that it could be actualized, but he was not prepared to leave the Church disembodied.” Bainton then goes on to describe his efforts to build the Church. The result today is Lutheranism, another institutional system. I wonder what might have happened had he been willing to trust in the life imparted by Christ. And I ask are there those in our generation, who know the life and will simply walk in it relying on Jesus to fulfill His promise to build His Church?

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Forgetting & Remembering

Forgetting & Remembering

Scripture has many injunctions about remembering. The people of Israel were constantly reminded by prophet and psalmist to recall their history and in particular the mighty deliverance of their release from slavery in Egypt and their eventful journey to the Promised Land. A lament of Jeremiah was that Israel had forgotten their God and that was the root of their troubles. The Psalmist exhorts us to bless the Lord and to forget not all His benefits. (Ps 103:2)

At my age, only two & a half years from ninety, there is much to remember, and one of the blessings I count is the encouragement that comes from reflecting on various manifestations of the grace of God experienced along the pilgrim way. I had a powerful experience of this a few days ago as I began my day by reading Psalm 71. Here are some passages from that Psalm which gripped my spirit;

“Thou O Lord art my hope, my trust from my youth. Upon thee have I leaned from my birth; Thou art he who took me from my mother’s womb. My praise is continually of Thee.”
“I will hope continually and will praise Thee yet more and more. My mouth will tell of Thy righteous acts, of Thy deeds of salvation all the day, for their number is past my knowledge.”
“O God, from my youth Thou hast taught me and I still proclaim Thy wondrous deeds. So even to old age and grey hairs, O God do not forsake me till I proclaim Thy might to all the generations to come.”

As I meditated on these things a veritable flood of memories crowded into my mind from my earliest days right up to the present, and I found myself overwhelmed by a fresh awareness of the love grace mercy and goodness of my Father. Thankfulness and joy overflowed my heart and praise filled my mouth. Blessed remembering!

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Back on air.

My blogs have been held up by rather complicated changes made by Google, which were beyond my IT skills to deal with. Now, thanks to wonderful help from my friends Scott & Melody Nightingale, these problems have been sorted out and I can get back on air, or rather, cyberspace.

I have been using a book of daily readings compiled from the writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and today the passage selected was from his wonderful little book, “Life Together”. I would like to share it because I believe it speaks to a problem many find who have left the institutional church regarding fellowship.

“Christians cannot take for granted that they will be allowed to live together with other Christians….. The degree to which God gives the gift of visible communion varies. Christians in the diaspora are comforted by a brief visit from a fellow Christian, a common prayer and a fraternal blessing. They gain strength from a letter written by the hand of a Christian. The handwritten greeting of Paul in his letter was indeed such a sign of fellowship. Others receive the gift of Sunday fellowship in community worship. Still others live a Christian life in the fellowship of their family. Among Christians today a desire has arisen together with other Christians during work breaks for a time to find life together under the Word.. Today Christians again understand life together as the grace that it is, as something unusual , as the ‘roses and lilies’ of the Christian life.”

We are so frequently told that it is impossible to survive and thrive without regularly gathering with others, and made to feel guilty that we are “not fellowshipping”, but the reality is that many who have stepped aside from the old ways of church find themselves relatively isolated and unable to enjoy frequently meeting with fellow-believers. Others are blessed by having taken the step outside in company with others and so are often able to be together. I have learned to accept the circumstances in which Father has placed me. I have known the joy of life together, rich experiences of sharing life with others, and now in these later years of my life I am immensely thankful to Father for those who visit me from time to time, for encouraging e-mails and contacts on Skype. Such gifts of grace keep me assured of my part in the Church which Jesus is building.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Prisoner of God

Prisoner of God

Some weeks ago, while browsing in our local library I noticed a book with the intriguing title “A Prisoner of God”. This proved to be a fascinating story with not a few things to learn about institutional religion and its ultimate nature.

The story is that of a brilliant young French biochemist, who gave up a highly promising career in that field to enter a monastery of the Benedictine order. His purpose was to find God and he was told that if he obeyed all the rules and observed all the rituals diligently he would finally find God.

In his own words, “The impressive monastic tradition tried and tested for centuries, could only lead to God. ‘Do all this,’ the rule said and you will arrive there…. In fact what I arrived at was mainly ‘doing all this’. But God where was He then?” And “I refused to see all the pretence that there was in our lives. A comfortable poverty, an anaemic chastity, a bulldozer of a prayer routine. To admit it, or just consider it would have been to call everything into question. ‘You will arrive.” I based my life on that promise in the Rule. … But what of God?”

He had discovered that relationship with God is not a matter of religious routines, obedience to human superiors and devoted performance. In fact these were the enemies of true intimacy with Father.

Later, when he was in Rome for further study shortly after Vatican 2, he encountered charismatic priests and had some experience the so called “Basic communities’ which were in many respects like House churches. However, he relates how, although they started in a way that was refreshing and alive a “clericalism of the laity” soon developed. Here is another quotation, “There was no escaping clericalism, which was now the clericalism of the laity…. There is only one truth and that is ours. If you don’t share it totally there are only two possibilities; either you are a bit stupid and we’ll enlighten you for your good or else you reject our line of thought and you become our enemy.”

The same danger exists in current House Church movements and even in what is supposed to be free from all clericalism, Organic Church. It is a constant that man will always seek to take control. We have the greatest difficulty in believing that God is able to organize His own work!! We do love to instituionalise!

Michel Benoit’s story continues until he was finally and quite brutally expelled from the vocation he had chosen at such cost. In the concluding part of the book he draws some conclusions. Here are a couple of observations he makes; “Jesus did not found a church (meaning an institution) and Christianity as it developed was a betrayal of Him.” (The parenthesis mine). Also, “How many years it took me to realize that the churches, all churches are power machines, that their unvoiced ambition is to win power and then cling to it at all costs.” And finally, “The Church brought me Christ, but I had to leave her in order to find the prophet of Nazareth.”

No doubt this man’s experience was in the most rigid of religious forms and the cruelty of his ultimate rejection has coloured his views, but I felt that there were salutary lessons in his story to which we do well to give heed.

For me this book was a real page-turner, well written, transparently sincere and full of many fascinating insights. The only regretful thing was that he seemed still short of a full and satisfying discovery of Father’s heart of love.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Fruit in its season

Fruit in its season.

Two days ago I completed 87 years of life, and looking back over the road I have travelled, I see, with great thankfulness to Father, abundant streams of grace and mercy from beginning to end. I can truly join the hymn writer Frances von Alstyne in singing,

“All the way my Saviour leads me:

What have I to ask beside?

Can I doubt His tender mercy,

Who through life has been my guide?

Heavenly peace, divinest comfort,

Here by faith in Him to dwell!

For I know whate’er befall me,

Jesus doeth all things well.

Also I have been thinking about the Scripture in Psalm 1 concerning the believer who is likened to “a tree planted by streams of water, that yields its fruit in its season.” The little phrase “Fruit in its season” particularly has gripped me.

For each season of our life with Jesus there is an appropriate fruit. There is one kind of fruit when we are young, full of vigour and zeal. Another kind of fruit in the season of the full maturity of manhood, when we have had experience and faith has been tested. Yet another different kind of fruit in old age when the vibrant energies of youth are no longer ours and and the years of maturity have passed. I must not envy or seek to reproduce the fruit of youth or even of my mature years, but be content with that fruit that Father chooses to produce in me which only comes with age and long experience of the pilgrim way. That thought has encouraged me. May it do likewise for you.