I have gathered together here some posts that seem to carry a longevity to them. Many posts have a shelf-life, others carry more weight – they are either not time-bound or capture something that is worth remembering. Hopefully this page will make finding what you want a little easier.
Don’t give us a king: 4 May 2016 (Click to read post) Don’t give us a king (Click to close post content)
I closed yesterday’s post suggesting the possibility of ‘leaders’, ‘apostles’ being crowned as our king. We need ministry gifts and they will be here ‘until’. Their task and their relationship to the body of Christ is key. First they do not own, nor are they above, but they are among. Jesus in one of those summarising moments when there was a dispute about who was the greatest among them said:
Then they began to argue among themselves about who would be the greatest among them. Jesus told them, “In this world the kings and great men lord it over their people, yet they are called ‘friends of the people.’ But among you it will be different. Those who are the greatest among you should take the lowest rank, and the leader should be like a servant. Who is more important, the one who sits at the table or the one who serves? The one who sits at the table, of course. But not here! For I am among you as one who serves.
“You have stayed with me in my time of trial. And just as my Father has granted me a Kingdom, I now grant you the right to eat and drink at my table in my Kingdom. And you will sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel (Luke 22: 24-30).
I am one among you – words on the lips of Jesus of all people. We have to understand the promise with regard to ‘kingdom’ in the light of this modelling. This is not a promotion to the top, for his coming was to make the high places low, and the low places to be brought up. The challenge of Scripture is we can read it almost any way we wish. That is its ‘weakness’, but in reality that is its strength. We can only legitimately come to Scripture through the cross. It is not that God is displayed on the cross in weakness, but that he is manifested at the cross for who he is. The resurrection is the vindication that the way of the cross is the way to life. Laying down one’s life is the way to reign. It is a kingdom of priests.
So we have a tendency to want a king… we simply have to refuse all coronations, and seek to resist the temptation to search for a king. We have to take responsibility ourselves.
I, though, in this post want to move in a slightly different direction. I do this as I see and hear of a direction being proposed that might be a move in the right direction or could prove to be a place of subtle bondage.
The move is to an understanding of the church within society and the need to interact within the places of influence such as media, arts, commerce etc. Wow that is a move in the right direction and gives the ministry gifts a focus with respect to equipping. The package and the content comes in different guises, even with some speaking of kings (marketplace) and priests (the churchy context). I consider the language highly dangerous as it seriously distorts the biblical language of ‘kingdom of priests’. The only legitimate kingdom is one of priests, and where we began with this series of posts that is in relationship to seeking the well-being of the world.
A second kind of related language that, for me is highly problematic, is that of ‘mountains of influence’ and this can be pushed further with the need to get to the top of the mountain of influence. Top down. The problem is not that we have the wrong Caesar in charge it is that the very existence of empire is wrong.
The rule of God is not based on he is bigger than all others so what he does he can do, but it is love for the other that is expressed in outpoured life. We are not to be the ones taking life but the ones giving life.
I am glad for every push out the door, every encouragement to be engaged, every appeal for excellence but this has to be in the context of priesthood, of intercession. Standing both for the world, and in particular the oppressed, and standing between what is and what is to come (what should be).
This is not about success, about getting to the top. It could be a pathway of being less than applauded, of being spoken of in derisory terms, or even of as a failure. This is why in this next phase we have to find a deeper understanding of such basic things, that are sadly taken as granted, as what constitutes ‘work’, what the bottom line is for commerce and business, to whose voice is media to be communicating. It is not enough to add the adjective ‘Christian’ or ‘kingdom’ to those activities. Adding the word ‘Israel’ to a people opened up the ongoing debate to ‘but not all Israel are Israel’. Indeed, although they held on to some religious traditions, they were on the pathway to become as one of the other nations. If we are not careful we might do the same. Far from becoming a mountain of influence, we could end up contributing to the mountain of oppression.
Israel called for the world. God loves the world, he always has and always will. Love that is expressed in the Incarnation. This God does not appear as a human, he becomes one. Love that is displayed on the cross, the place where all oppression is both exposed and brought to death. Such love cannot die.
That call was to be the people through whom his purposes of salvation (healing) could be fulfilled. At each point of Israel’s fall God went with them. Even into the Temple. Maybe there had just been enough prayers in there for the nations over centuries that the fall could be reversed, though at great cost. Once the God-sacrifice was made the Temple is over. The curtain ripped, with the holy ones not able to quickly sow it back up because of the Sabbath day, everything visible for all to see. And what could they see? God is not in a house built with hands, he is in the world.
Maybe we still have enough apostolic prayers that have been prayed, we certainly have a great High Priest who prayed, and through these prayers it has been done. I think so for Jesus said it is finished. His work is over, but Paul says that he was completing what was lacking in the afflictions of Jesus. His work is the finished work – ours is not yet finished. We await the Parousia,and the Parousia awaits us.
Not a temple, not through kings as is the way with the nations, but as a royal priesthood we are to live as aliens, embedded in the land, finding that this indeed brings afflictions to those who live in that way… but finding that this is the God-appointed way of healing and well-being coming to the nations.
Not all will find salvation (in the way we commonly use the word), some will resist, some will persecute, others will find well-being. Wonderful closing words from 1 Peter 2:9,10:
But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.
“Once you had no identity as a people;
now you are God’s people.
Once you received no mercy;
now you have received God’s mercy.”
Temple – where to from here?: 3 May 2016 (Click to read post) Temple – where to from here? (Click to close post content)
A couple of posts ago I ended with the comparison and contrast of the words of Cyrus and of Jesus. One was Jerusalem directed, the other ‘all nations’ focused. One gave a blessing of God’s presence being with those who went to rebuild the Temple, the other the presence of Jesus (Emmanuel) with those who went to the nations. Given that Matthew is the Gospel that focuses on scriptural fulfillments I think we can understand the commission to ‘disciple all nations’ as restoring the Creation mandate and the Israel calling.
It is not surprising then that the term ‘royal priesthood’ is applied to the church. In the context of 1 Peter these words are written to the ‘exiles in the Dispersion’ (1:1), the ones who are scattered in an alien land. Peter reminds them of their ‘royal priesthood’ in the immediate context of Jesus being the stone the builders rejected. All ‘chosen people’ and temple language. Likewise in Revelation it is to the church(es) set in the hostility of Rome’s dominion that John reminds them that they are a kingdom of priests (1:6; 5:10).
Where to post destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem? Maybe some Jews kept a hope alive of the rebuilding of the Temple. This was probably why Bar Kochba in the second Jewish revolt of 132-135AD had coins minted with images of the Temple on it. But for the believers in Jesus there does not seem to be a continuing hope for its rebuilding. And given the vision of Scripture and the belief that the new Covenant had been inaugurated, indeed that the New Creation had already begun, this is no surprise. The vision of John of that final total transformation with a cubic shaped city (also a bride so we must not think literal) that had no Temple in it is breathtaking. No Temple for the whole city is a holy of holies, and the size he describes is of the then known world. The final vision is of no centralised building, no ‘place’ of worship, but of the awesome presence of God and the Lamb throughout all of creation.
We are those born of the Spirit and for whom all things are new, even a new Creation. The challenge to live from the future, to have our lives symbolically and practically shaped by the future, not by the past is enormous.
In the following quote I invite you to think what church background the writer might come from:
The prohibition of Laodicea completes a critical cycle. The Lord’s Supper had changed from evening meal to stylized ritual. The assembly had moved from dining room to sacred hall. Leadership had shifted from family members to special clergy. Now the original form of church was declared illegal.
The writer was Vincent Branick, a Roman Catholic writer, expressing his convictions as he looked at the development of church from the Pauline letters to the fourth century.
I am not suggesting some iconoclastic movement, but I do suggest we need to be an eschatological movement. Pragmatism is a wonderful gift, but too often what was once developed to serve a vision, starts to dictate the vision and eventually its survival becomes the vision. That I consider is the highly insightful biblical perspective of the fallen city.
The issue is not primarily over buildings – after all we all live in one of some form or another! – but of purpose. Sociologically I consider that the early church was a movement, one that was not primarily focused on its own survival, but on the transformation of the wider setting. This is the original call on Israel, and if it were to focus on that call they would find that God would be their Provider and their Protector. Faith was necessary, and only faith can sustain through the sacrifice.
If I am correct in suggesting that Israel’s trajectory was a fallen one, and that Jesus has come to reverse that we do need to be sobered as to what extent we have embraced a ‘no Temple in her’ perspective.
We do need to ask the hard question concerning buildings, and our names for them. These things are important as even symbolism contains power. A tendency to refer to the ‘sanctuary’ is to apply temple language to a building, whereas it seems that the NT reserves such language for the people who are being built together for God’s dwelling place.
Church growth programs… yes all can be agreed with under the pragmatic umbrella, but we should also celebrate (or even celebrate more?) when there are those who have been blown as exiles into a new setting.
The body of Christ in all its settings is needed. But let us not sanctify it in one setting above another. The Temple is holy, and that Temple you are, said Paul.
A rebuilt Temple?
If we simply had the OT as our book we might consider that as a future vision yet to be fulfilled. The last chapters of Ezekiel can be pulled in that direction. Not so for the community by the Dead Sea. They were already seeing themselves as the Temple restored, positioned due east of Jerusalem where the river was going to flow. With all their quirks they seemed to be a prophetic people anticipating a fulfillment more in line with how the NT interpreted these OT Scriptures than along some literalistic path. John in Revelation borrows very heavily from these chapters, and he is free to interpret them in a non-literal way. As per the prophets of old and of today the visions are not normally fully understood.
The restoration of a temple would be a step back, the re-instituting of sacrifices not a move forward. We live post-the-sacrifice that was for all time to end all sacrifices. We live seeking to align with the corner stone that has been laid so that in that alignment of the new humanity there might be a living temple throughout the earth.
So, no, a rebuilt temple does not get my vote!!
A temple being built?
This is the process that I consider is still taking place. Paul writing about the one new humanity:
And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit (Ephes. 2:17-22).
And in 1 Corinthians again using temple language warns us not to be divisive, and in that context suggests that the alignment with a ‘king’ is a major issue.
So don’t boast about following a particular human leader. For everything belongs to you — whether Paul or Apollos or Peter, or the world, or life and death, or the present and the future. Everything belongs to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God (1 Cor. 3: 21-23).
The NT is clear that ministry gifts are important, but the ownership by ministry gifts of the body is forbidden. There probably still is the tendency within most of us to want a king. That trajectory in all its forms also needs to be reversed.
Sorry… the Temple has to go: 2 May 2016 (Click to read post) Sorry… the Temple has to go (Click to close post content)
A brief recap:
- I am suggesting a trajectory from a loss of identity as the corporate priesthood for the nations, through the Levitical priesthood there for the nation, to the desire for a king to be as one of the nations, and the king finally builds a Temple.
- It is not that God is not present among the people in that process and he is certainly manifest in the midst of those landmarks, indeed in some of the most remarkable of ways.
- I have also suggested that although we are not looking for some idealistic outcome there is the same calling for the church as was on Israel, that is to be a royal priesthood for the nations. And in the NT I now intend to reverse the trajectory. The sacred Temple is not sacred – shock, horror to the disciples then (and maybe also now).
The Cleansing of the Temple: John’s version
I do not hold to two cleansings of the Temple but that viewpoint is incidental. I consider that John’s positioning of the cleansing at the beginning of the ministry of Jesus is not making a chronological but a theological point. So first to John and the early chapters of his Gospel.
‘In the beginning’ (1:1) carries such a resonance to Genesis, and we have references to ‘the light of the world‘ paralleling that of ‘Let there be light’ from the first creation account. We then have a succession of days:
- ‘the next day’ (1:29, 1:35): this then accounts for 3 days of ‘creation’ (two ‘next days, indicating two days after the opening ‘in the beginning day’)
- after that disciples come and remain with Jesus ‘that day’ (1:39): a fourth day
- we then have another reference to ‘the next day’ (1:43): a fifth day
- no reference to the sixth day, the day when humanity was created – the truly human one is not created
- then we have a final reference to an event that takes place ‘on the third day’ (2:1). This of course pushes us beyond the Creation narrative and forward to the new creation day / week inaugurated that will be inaugurated through the resurrection.
So in the above ‘days’ we have a movement in a week with a skipping over of day 6 – Jesus is not a new ‘adam’ with the breath of God in him but the word made flesh… Creation is being re-calibrated with the resurrection pre-figured in the event that takes place on the ‘third’ day (the wedding at Cana). There the water for the Jewish rites of purification is changed into the wine that can only be drunk in the new creation. This is described as the first of the signs and through which his glory was revealed (2:12).
We then have a pause and a ‘few days’ pass with the next event recorded is the Johannine account of the Temple cleansing. This is why I consider John has placed the cleansing right up front. The new creation has to cleanse the Temple, but even more than that for the Temple has to give way to the Temple which is his body (2:19).
The Temple cleansing – other accounts
The other accounts place the Temple cleansing where I consider it took place chronologically – in that final week in Jerusalem. The prophet has to die in Jerusalem – that centre is the place that has to be the focus. Here I might sound a little controversial, but hold with it! It is not the centre with the identity of being the holy city, but as the place where the fall from redemptive calling is centred. Break it open there and there is a break for the world. He is the Jewish Messiah, to fulfil the promises to Israel so that the call to bless the nations can be truly released. He restores this by first breaking the curse over Israel.
Nevertheless, I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the day following, for it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem. O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! Behold, your house is forsaken. And I tell you, you will not see me until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’ (Luke. 13:33-35.)
When he finally comes to Jerusalem he weeps over the city (Luke 19:41) as he only sees judgement ahead at the hands of the Romans. Having declared what he saw in the city he makes one further visit – to the Temple. He is looking for something here that is redemptive, that could even hold back judgement. However, he does not find in the Temple what might have been a slender life-line. The Temple is no longer a house of prayer (for all nations) but has become a den of robbers. With that the bondage is complete, and the tragic future of the Temple is outlined, for example Matthew 24:
Jesus left the temple and was going away, when his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. But he answered them, “You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”
Tragic in the eyes of his Jewish disciples, and nothing less than the end of age (and remember that the question is from the disciples who could not even see the Easter events so this question should not be understood along the lines of a standard modern-day Christian perspective concerning the ‘Second Coming’). The tragedy of the Temple destruction as seen from a pre-Easter viewpoint has to give way to an incredibly expansive viewpoint of a living temple where God dwells.
The Temple and the early disciples
In as much as Jesus was not anti-Temple, neither were the early disciples. They continued to gather in that setting in Acts and Paul went through purification rites within the Temple (Acts 21:26, albeit from following the advice of James). However, there were implications through the death of Jesus for the Temple. Perhaps Stephen who was associating with a more open minded synagogue (Acts 6:9) is the first one to push hard a point that he repeats in his speech (Acts 7), namely that the visitations of God were outside the land of Israel. That perspective was what took him to the point he made about the Temple. The end result – stoning.
There is, I consider, a little literary twist in the Lucan account. Those who stoned Stephen laid their coats at the feet of a young man called Saul, who we read explicitly approved of the killing. The twist is once we get into the Pauline message we realise that if ever there was a Jew who carried the mantle of Stephen it was Paul. The coats might be at his feet, but the coat of Stephen would soon be on his shoulders. Again we will read of a 3 day incident – this time of blindness. Paul, blind until he can see that the crucified Jew was crucified not for his own sins, but for the curse on the nation. Stephen had underlined a point of the glory of God being revealed outside the land, likewise Paul’s revelation comes not within the land but within the foreign soil of Damascus!
I consider that either the early church was ambivalent about the Temple in that it no longer carried any redemptive purpose, or as Jews they were unable to come to terms that its day was over. Whether either of the above is right or not, it seems to me that there was a growing expectation of a great and imminent shift:
In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away (Heb. 8:13).
There is no evidence in early Christian writings post-AD70 of an expectation of the Temple being rebuilt. Those events were seen as the fulfillment of Jesus’ words.
Enough for today!!
We have a Temple: 1 May 2016 (Click to read post) We have a Temple (Click to close post content)
The Temple in its various manifestations carried great significance for Israel. In the time of Jesus we had the Temple, though not yet complete, built by Herod the Great thus validating his claim to to be king of the Jews; the Maccabean cleansing of the Temple in 164BCE gave them a strong basis to form the Hasmonean dynasty; the building of the second Temple post-exile signified some dignity and autonomy to the people. The Temple stood for something and in the time of Jesus, the obvious grandeur of Herod’s Temple communicated something about the uniqueness of this nation, Israel, and God’s promise to live with and defend this people.
The Temple, prepared for by David and constructed by his son, Solomon, was a key feature of the his reign and legitimised his unique standing before God, as his ‘son’. 1 Kings 8 is a chapter where we can pick up on Solomon’s Temple:
There was nothing in the ark except the two tablets of stone that Moses put there at Horeb, where the Lord made a covenant with the people of Israel, when they came out of the land of Egypt. And when the priests came out of the Holy Place, a cloud filled the house of the Lord, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord (1 Kings 8:9-11).
Yet even in the dedication Solomon holds on to a higher truth, ‘Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you; how much less this house that I have built!’ (1 Kings 8:27). I suspect, though, that the building of the impressive Temple did not expand the peoples’ vision to see God as inhabiting the whole earth, but as being present in Jerusalem and within the inner sanctuary of the Holy of Holies in a very intense way. The cloud of glory would even seem to endorse this viewpoint.
There is a tension within the narratives. God is present everywhere, but his intense presence is within the Temple. There are continuing tensions we face. God’s Temple is creation and God is depicted as seated within Creation (heaven = throne / earth = footstool). Humanity is placed in the original narratives, in line with ANE understanding of temple imagery, inside the sanctuary as the image of the invisible God. Hence God is present in all places, and yet he is found in an intensified way in specific places. Even a theology of ‘home’ suggests this, for we cannot impose God in all places, but we can within our own circle invite this God to take up residence with us.
The issue with the Temple was not the tension of the universal and the particular, but that the particular geo-location weakened and ultimately cancelled out the universal. Rather than the identity of Israel being located within the nations of the earth as a unique people the draw to the centre eventually resisted the push outward. Living in a strange land they were not able to sing the songs of Zion, whereas a prophet like Jeremiah who relativised the importance of the Temple provoked them to buy land and seek the welfare of the city – even of Babylon.
Reading the pages of the OT we are often left hanging in the midst of the debate, and if all we had were those pages we would find it hard to navigate to a place of clarity. It is of course to the pages of the NT that we have to come, to the ministry of the one true human, the true Israel to find how we should respond to the issues raised in the trajectory.
- We could suggest that God never desired a priesthood, a monarchy, nor a temple.
- Yet within each of the above the presence of God is discovered. We cannot take that presence as endorsing the container in which he is revealed.
- Indeed the container also in parts hides or distorts the revelation.
The ultimate direction from Exodus 19 to the pages of the NT is not one of fulfilling the calling to be a priesthood for the nations, but of a decreased ability to do so. A Temple remained, a priesthood but now one compromised with Rome, and a dubious king (Herod), they are all still visible, yet the overall sense in the land was one of being in Exile, separated from their God in any real sense. The NT claim for Jesus that ‘God is with us’ (Emmanuel) is momentous. There has been a downward trajectory, indeed so much so that Paul says that the death of Jesus was to break the curse on Israel. How far has the fall been? The nations under the curse were to find their freedom through the unique nation, but now, that nation is as one of the other nations. Here is the deeper significance of Jesus coming in ‘the fullness of times’, born human, born Jewish to redeem those under the law.
The formation of a people. ‘Are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’ might be the question of those who could not envisage a future without a Temple, and maybe the question could have been framed differently, or maybe we are meant to understand it differently / deeper along the lines of are you going to restore the kingdom call of Israel at this time? (Understanding kingdom to be a kingdom of priests not a kingdom that can rule over others.)
I end the downward trajectory with Cyrus’ declaration and parallel / contrast it to the Jesus declaration. The former ends how the Hebrew scriptures were normally framed: the last words of the Writings. The Jesus declaration coming at the of the very Jewish Gospel that is all about fulfillment of Scriptures. Here they are:
Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also put it in writing: “Thus says Cyrus king of Persia, ‘The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is among you of all his people, may the Lord his God be with him. Let him go up.'” (2 Chron. 37:22,23.)
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matt. 28: 18-20.)
The resonances are strong. The differences are clear! A downward trajectory has been what we have looked at. Now the great reversals!
Monarchists at heart: 30 April 2016 (Click to read post) Monarchists at heart (Click to close post content)
Yesterday I suggested that there was a subtle shift with the setting up of the Levitical priesthood, but that subtle shifts often lead to much more substantial shifts. Although I would wish to argue that the Levitical priesthood does mark a loss of the corporate royal priesthood this is not explicit within Scripture… but when we come to the issue of kingship this is very clear.
1 Samuel 8 is the central passage in this monarchial move. We read;
- Now appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations.
- they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them.
- solemnly warn them and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.
A sobering aspect is in the choice of Saul as king. A humble man, seeking to avoid the limelight, does not look to put himself forward but it is the people who insist on a king who will do things for them (1 Sam. 8:20). The corporate responsibility to be something for the nations become an exchange of that calling for a king who will be something for them as a nation. ‘We want to be as the nations’ is effectively shorthand for ‘and no longer a royal priesthood’.
Again God enters into the world of the king, and anoints Saul, David, Solomon and those who follow. As one king dies there is no discussion on ‘should we really have a king to be like the other nations?’, any debate has long since gone. Now the debate is not over kingship but at times simply who the next king should be.
Israel has moved a long way from being there for the nations, to being one of the nations. God is still present, he does not disown them.
From king to temple… tomorrow.
Levitical substitutes: 29 April 2016 (Click to read post) Levitical substitutes (Click to close post content)
Israel called to be a royal priesthood for the world (‘for the earth is mine’) slides down as it loses this calling when the levitical tribe is chosen to be priests for Israel. We read of the choice of the Levites in Exod. 32 and the golden calf incident.
And the sons of Levi did according to the word of Moses. And that day about three thousand men of the people fell. And Moses said, “Today you have been ordained for the service of the Lord, each one at the cost of his son and of his brother, so that he might bestow a blessing upon you this day.” (Exod. 32:28,29.)
The violence might be (might be??!!) an issue for us but in context it was a people (levites) who were passionate for the fulfillment of the covenant that were chosen. They were on ‘the Lord’s side’. (Bear in mind that the contrast of the 3000 who lost their lives when Moses came down the mountain to the 3000 who found life when the Spirit came down on the Day of Pentecost is very deliberate, and highlights that the trajectory is from judgement to salvation.)
The shift from royal priesthood to a priestly tribe is more subtle than an immediate loss of the royal priesthood calling. In Num. 8:16-18, we read that the Levites replaced the choice of the firstborn from the people:
Instead of all who open the womb, the firstborn of all the people of Israel, I have taken them for myself. For all the firstborn among the people of Israel are mine, both of man and of beast. On the day that I struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt I consecrated them for myself, and I have taken the Levites instead of all the firstborn among the people of Israel.
It is not clear if the firstborn were to be priests within Israel and the Levites took that role, or whether it is an exchange of royal priesthood to that of a priestly tribe. So in seeking to be fair I suggest the shift is more subtle than a blatant exchange.
Two aspects we can note:
- we do not need to look at things as if they are pure, in the sense of ‘it has be this way and only this way’. Compromise is part of our journey, rather than the idealism that those of us who are of a certain disposition love.
- And secondly, God goes where we go. He anoints the Levites for the task. These two aspects should caution us.
Just because God’s anointing is present we must not read that as an endorsement, nor should we accept a compromise as an acceptable end point.
The subtle shifts, the acceptance of what is pragmatic, become the doorway through which further shifts take place that are anything but subtle. I can remember a strong interchange between a well-known bishop and an Anabaptist where the bishop argued that being a member of the House of Lords was a place where there was the God-given opportunity to shape legislation, therefore a ‘godly’ place. The response was that if the basis of being there was unjust (read for this ‘Christendom’) then this could not be seen as a ‘godly’ place. My vote, of course, was with the Anabaptist! This illustrates the journey. Idealism or compromise. I think the way forward is continual ongoing redemptive compromise – starting where we are but moving forward and upward in the most redemptive way possible.
The shift to the Levitical priesthood might not be a huge step, but it subtly moved the identity and calling of Israel away from being a corporate royal priesthood for all, to being a special nation whose calling separated them from the nations. Later in Num. 35 we read that the Levites were to be dispersed throughout the land. They were not given land separate from the other tribes – maybe a picture of what could have been. Certainly a picture post-Pentecost of those who lived as aliens in the world, living among the peoples.
A royal priesthood: 28 April 2016 (Click to read post) A royal priesthood (Click to close post content)
Israel has left Egypt and arrived at Mount Sinai where they receive the 10 words that will shape them as a nation (and these 10 words are in direct contrast to the values of Egypt). There as Moses goes up the mountain to God he receives these words:
Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel (Exodus 19:5,6).
A very special relationship is on offer, a covenant not of equal partners, but one that has both purpose and conditions. The ‘for all the earth is mine’ is so key to understand the purpose of Israel. This election is to purpose, not for the damnation of others, but for their salvation.
What makes this call all the more powerful is the setting – delivered from being slaves to the Empire they are set free and are given an identity but it is certainly not all about them. As a priesthood they are there to offer sacrifices to God, but there is a significantly deeper role, that of intercession. They exist for the well-being of the world, they are to make healing possible among the nations.
There are other collaborating Scriptures. If Adam is symbolic of Israel we see it there – a model of care for the garden to be a light to those whose setting is in the wider context. Even if that is stretching the Adamic symbol, we have enough other Scriptures. We have the irony of Egypt with Jacob who is asked to bless Pharaoh (Gen. 47:7), and even the Pharaoh who was the nemesis of Israel asks Moses to bless him as the people get ready to leave their slavery (Exod. 12:32)! The nations need Israel.
In the original call on Abraham it is placed in relation to the nations. Israel cannot live in a vacuum as a chosen people, they are set within the nations as a priesthood for those other peoples. The nations are a result of the fall(s) that are in evidence from Gen. 3-11, and the genesis of the chosen people (Gen. 12) in Abraham is for the implicit purpose of release from the curse.
Then in the Isaianic passages concerning the servant we see they are nation-oriented (e.g. Is. 42:6; 49:6). There we read that they are to be a ‘covenant to the people’ and ‘a light to the nations’. The well-being of the nations are Israel’s responsibility.
So it is this implicit purpose from the context of the early Genesis chapters that I read explicitly here in Exod. 19 and again in Isaiah.
If we read this as the raison d’être for the covenant we can then read the ongoing story of the people as falling short of that call. Even the ‘high’ points of David (a king as a high point???) has to be set against the effect of his son Solomon who begins the systematic enslaving of the nation. Post-Solomon the result is the split of the nation, with the king who rules over the northern kingdom (Jeroboam) coming up to reign from Egypt and erecting two golden calves (1 Kings 12). (The resonances with history are sounding very loud when one reads of that event.) Yes, the northern tribes are in rebellion against the house of David, but there is also a deep relativity that runs through it all. A ‘pro-house-of-David and anti-rebellious-northern-tribes’ perspective might draw the line of evil along the north / south divide, but there is something deeper going on. North might be in rebellion, but Israel, even as idealised in Judah, is deeply fallen. The nations, and even the northern kingdoms are now enemies to be defeated or at least to be separate from.
The first element then of this fall was to lose sight of the corporate nature of the priesthood for the world, and to exchange that priesthood for an insular priesthood for the special nation. The priests are now going to serve the nation, to intercede for the nation. That sadly is a fall.
Redemptive trajectory: 27 April 2016 (Click to read post) Redemptive trajectory (Click to close post content)
While recently away I began to see a clear pattern that in a series of blogs I would like to explore. The trajectory ‘down’ or ‘away’ from the original purpose has to be reversed. God as redeemer suggests he does not rubbish but, at a price, pulls whatever is to redeemed through the original initial point and even beyond.
The downward movement is along a progression:
Israel no longer living to be a ‘royal priesthood’ for the whole earth, but
living with seeds of ‘being like the nations’ the big picture is reduced, a priesthood for the nation not for the nations.
this is solidified with the call for a king, and ultimately this was a rejection of God not of Samuel.
the king has in his heart to build the Temple.
A few observations:
God does not disappear when Israel loses her calling, indeed his glory is seen in the Temple when it is dedicated. This should be a challenge for us: the presence of God does not validate where he is present.
The first act of the Cross is that of the Temple curtain. Along with other Scriptures shows that redemption has to deal with this final manifestation of the downward movement. (‘I saw no temple..’)
My suggestion will be in these posts that the gospel (‘good news’) is that Jesus came for the sake of the world, the light to the nations then was a mandate given to his followers, and that there is a parallel mission to that of Israel that is now the church’s mission.
The church’s gospel purpose: 4 September 2015 (Click to read post) The church’s gospel purpose (Click to close post content)
Words and definitions always carry baggage – what one person means when they say something and what another person understands by what is said or written might not line up. So running the risk of that let me at the top of this post suggest that the gospel message gives the church a focused purpose. The purpose being to
Enable the world to be truly the world
I put that in contrast to a purpose being enshrined in ‘saving as many from hell as possible and getting them into the church’.
So having put that out there I am well aware that the above two purposes could be understood as being in total contrast to each other, of being mutually exclusive one of the other. I am not fundamentally suggesting that they are in total contrast, but am suggesting that whichever one is focused on will significantly shape how we live and what we live for.
So backing up. Temple → King → Priests is a backward trajectory of issues for Israel that totally derailed them. It is not that God does not use the temple, king or priests, but that simply illustrates how he works not what he desires. He works with us and is found in our mess. If Israel was to be as none of the other nations, but a unique kingdom of priests (sorry but language of ‘kings and priests’ just does not cut it) we then have to ask what their purpose was in relation to the other nations. Was it to save them from themselves and incorporate them into the unique nation of Israel, or to stand in the intercessory / priestly gap on their behalf so that they might be truly themselves?
How we see this outworking will shape how we see the ‘goal’ of the Pauline Gospel in the missional context. The body of Christ (expressed as the ekklesia in every place) is to be the intercessory people to enable there truly to be a ‘new creation’ to be expressed in those places. Captivated by the vision of a ‘new heaven and a new earth’, impacted by the Spirit of the resurrected Jesus, this firstfruits company of believers have a message of a new society. The world is God’s world and the Gospel is to enable the world to be just that: God’s world.
If we focus on ‘saved from hell and into the church’ (sorry for the inaccurate language but it is easier to put it this way) in what way is the church being faithful to the call to be the intercessory body for the nations? Further if that is our focus we will rob the world of the opportunity to grow into something that expresses God. However, if we see our mission as one of enabling transformation we will always be stepping back as the space is filled with a new spirit expressed in and through the world. Our (Gospel) task is not to be the fulfiller of the call of God but to enable the call of God to be fulfilled. It is not to create the ‘Christian’ version of something but to see the versions that arise as carrying (the eternal) values of Jesus.
So in closing I am not expecting that the world will ‘be’ the kingdom of God, but that there will be kingdom values expressed in society as the body of Christ relocates itself increasingly to be the intercessory servant of the world.
Neither am I suggesting that people do not need an encounter with the living Jesus. But I am to value them as people and not robbing them of value as if ‘all their righteousness is as filthy rags!’
God will continue to inhabit our Temples, work alongside and through the kings and the priests… but what if there was a kingdom of priests that arose, the privileged servants of the majority who were not claiming great successes as if it was about a successful Israel / church.
Do we need a discussion on ‘the right way to do / be church’? Maybe, but we probably need a larger Gospel discussion on the right way to do ‘world’. I know that might lead some to think that I am simply suggesting the ‘establishment of divine order’. No that is not where I am going!! I rather think it is how we respond to, for example, the current migration issue. This is a test case for Europe. How Europe responds will give us a story to tell. The story will be a God story or not – and this will reflect on the body of Christ and how we have been responding to the Gospel – whether there is a people embedded in society who are not there for themselves, nor to convert others but to serve.
I hope as you read you can see there are many loose ends, but that I consider the Gospel to call us to serve and help our ‘world’ to be truly the ‘world’.
This is the Gospel!!: 12 August 2015 (Click to read post) This is the Gospel!! (Click to close post content)
Of course we know what the Gospel is. We are very clear on that – or as clear as our tradition tells us to be. So I will try to refrain from stating what it is, but am continuing the theme of the past posts: ‘Different Pages – Same Gospel?’ and ‘Another Interpretation?’. I had a brief break for a birthday celebration. Age after all is simply a number, a lot of days, not so many years and a handful of decades thrown in. I hope more to come!! When I was 46 I woke in the early hours of the morning and got up to pray. Two prayers… I am 46 Lord if possible give me another 46 years as I have so much more to learn, more mistakes to make to gain something of value for others. That did not take long as we don’t have a lot of control over that aspect. My thoughts now are why did I only go for double? Second prayer was for those half that age to kick in with a focus, lack of fear and a maturity that one would only expect from someone twice their age. That prayer took a lot longer. I have many stories to tell about that aspect, one being calling someone (the first time I had called them) to ask if they would consider taking on some of the ‘stuff’ I was involved with. I then explained the 46 x 2 and 46 / 2 episode. At the end of the conversation he posed a question – ‘do you know what day this is?’ I did not but it was his 23rd birthday.
Age is strange. But it is primarily simply a number. So a pause for that… and then a longer pause for our internet to return. It can go down quickly but apparently what goes down does not come up so quickly. So pauses behind me and back to the Gospel.
In what follows there is a measure of a ‘work in progress’ and many mornings, particularly in our readings Gayle and I have wrestled with these issues.
I am very grateful for my (narrow) evangelical background. I encountered Jesus in a life-changing way when I was 16, have had some crazy encounters since. Experiential Christianity is not abnormal.
Did you experience so much for nothing?—if it really was for nothing. Well then, does God supply you with the Spirit and work miracles among you by your doing the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard? (Gal. 3: 4,5)
‘Experience’ (better than some versions ‘suffer’), and ongoing verbs (current and not past) of ‘supply’ and ‘work miracles’. Hardly non-experiential. Love it when there are miracles, inbreakings of heaven, shifts etc. So I am one who does not want to see that disappear amidst some Gospel that has no personal transformation, but… is there always a ‘but?’
The Gospel core that I extracted a few posts ago with the help of Gospel Coalition definitions just does not cut if for me at so many levels, and of course with the Cross and one view of it at the centre it paints a picture of God that just does not fit with the Jesus-revelation. It fits if Jesus was somewhat mild and meek in his Incarnation but is ready to come with the blood of his enemies on his garments at the parousia. However, as I have written in ‘Discovering Kenarchy’ (highly recommended!!) the Jesus who went is the One who is coming. The Incarnation is eternal, certainly in terms of carrying revelatory value and not something temporary. At the parousia we will see him as he is, but not as someone different to how his 30 plus years were lived.
So I write what follows with some tensions. When I meet those who are ‘born again’ I normally have a spirit-to-spirit connection with them. There is a deep resonance, even when the Gospel I hold dear and the one they hold dear makes for (some) ‘common ground but not too much ground where there will be happy and mutually-beneficial co-working in the same space.’
Are they brothers and sisters – YES. We are of ‘the household of faith’.
But the Gospel that is presented is too small and very one-sided, totally unbalanced (not that I have an opinion on this!). So why am I convinced that the Gospel is much bigger and more embracing?
The message of the NT is contextual. Of course we can read it and read it through Western, 21st Century lenses and be incredibly blessed and impacted. But that is not the NT world. It is a world, both political (in the context of a ‘one-world government’) and faith-wise (this is the God of Israel that Jesus claims as ‘Father’). Consider:
Kingdom (basileia) of God and Empire (basileia) of Rome
Caesar is lord and Jesus is Lord
The ‘good news’ surrounding the birth of Jesus and the ‘good news’ surrounding the enthronement of the emperor
The ‘peace on earth’ and the ‘pax Romana’.
Jesus as ‘Son of God’ and the new Caesar being proclaimed as the ‘son’ of the former Caesar who has passed on now to divine status.
Is it any surprise that Paul is accused of proclaiming another king, and a king understood in political terms? Not sure that is what most ‘evangelists’ would be currently accused of.
The message is a political one – not political in the sense of political party, not political in the sense of left / right but political with the implications of Sabbath, Tabernacles and Jubilee all located in the background.
Political for the big world, and heavily challenging for those who claim to be the covenant people. Jesus as ‘son of God’ is not a divine title but an Israel title. Jesus as ‘son of man’ is not simply an affirmation of his humanity but that he embodies the vindication given by God to those who suffer in the face of the ‘beast(s)’. Covenant people is not so as to avoid pain, but to carry for the sake of others, to carry it particularly in the face of the tribulations that the ‘beast’ afflict on all non-compliars.
I don’t know what Paul proclaimed or how it would match up against the typical evangelical sermon. But it seems that his proclamation was centred on the inbreaking (or maybe better outbreaking as it is already present) of a new order, a whole new creation. The foundation for this new Creation, Paul proclaimed, was through the suffering of the Son of God / God the Son and his forerunning resurrection that signals the end of death’s reign. It is a theo-political message.
So for me here are the challenges. The message is political, and there are those who embody it better than perhaps I do, but do not ‘believe’ in Jesus. They are also there in the story of the early church – the Asiarchs who were not believers (in Jesus) but were advocates for Paul, even though everything he was standing for would disempower them. They are his friends. They seem to count as those who were not against him so are counted as with him.
Do they need Jesus? With my ‘Gospel’ hat on – YES.
And if those kind of people do not come to a similar faith as I discovered when I was 16 will they be ‘lost’? With my Gospel hat on – I don’t think so. (And for the record, lost is not for me eternal burning in a place called hell – I have covered that in the long ago podcasts on eschatology, just trying to keep this post shortish and focused.) The offence of the Gospel is not in who it excludes but in who it includes.
Where is there a basis for ‘the politics of love’? The basis is in the life, death, resurrection of Jesus who reveals who God is. Can one come to the same conclusion without the ‘Jesus’ part? Maybe to some extent – after all ‘humanity’ is in the image of God, so those with a truly humanitarian approach (and I am using that term theologically) can come to convictions in the same direction.
(This suggestion is something that needs some more working through, but it is I think central to seeking to resolve ‘those who are not against us who are with us’).
After all Jesus is human, it is just that he is more (fully) human in a way that we are not. Theology that dehumanises people cannot be called a theo-logy. A Jesus revelation will only push us further. Love for neighbour (humanitarian love) becomes re-defining the one who would be classified by others as our ‘enemy’ as the neighbour, where we do not take life but are life-givers. (Yes there are implications for such issues as the death penalty which should not surprise us when we read that in response to the first murderer that God protected his life; implications for war etc.)
So I have an uncomfortable Gospel. A Gospel that is about societal change, that includes far more than it excludes, that does not demand a ‘jump through these hoops and you are in’… and yet. And yet come experience Jesus and personal cleansing, receive the Holy Spirit of God.
The big challenge is not the mess of that. The challenge is living it in such a way that people see there are values to live for, and en evident, tangible life source that burns within that is truly transcendent. Seems Jesus had that burning within but the religious powers were not happy that they had lost their monopoly. Seems Paul had that same fire and even some former hard-nosed vested interest, power hungry people found a pathway to humility.
Another interpretation?: 2 August 2015 (Click to read post) Another interpretation? (Click to close post content)
So, hopefully without too much distortion, I presented the ‘normal’ Gospel – certainly the one I was brought up with – yesterday. What though if that presentation is not a true representation of what we find in the pages of the NT? Years ago in a process that is probably the root of the ‘new perspective’ on Paul E.P. Sanders suggested that Paul’s understanding was shaped by an awakening that Jesus was the solution, therefore the question he had to work on was what was the problem (plight). This of course is the reverse of most presentations. Problem = Universal Fall / Solution = cross. A personal response is then required otherwise personal guilt remains.
The implications of our understanding of the Gospel has enormous knock-on effects. So taking a cue from Sanders but not applying it as he did, what if we start at the ‘end’. The outcome is for ‘the reconciliation of all things’ under one head. The final putting in place, rightly ordering of all things – maybe what we can summarise as the fullness of the manifestation of the kingdom of God. Of course, for some, that might instantly lead them to a ‘Universalism’ conclusion – though by no means a necessary conclusion. With that sort of final outcome, the perfection of Creation it is necessary to understand the death of Jesus as being at a cosmic level. It is indeed a political event. The Gospel being political, corporate in its outworking. The church, as per Israel before, is not to be a separate community condemning the others, but a forerunning community of the community.
To reduce the Gospel to a personal level is a much more recent understanding of the cross (with such understandings as guilt / debt etc.). The prominent (though not only) early church view was one of dealing with everything hostile, disarming the powers that held the ‘world’ in bondage. It was not of paying a debt but of breaking the stranglehold of ‘Satanic’ bondage. Freedom from bondage – yes freedom from sin as that was the cause of bondage, but not primarily freedom from sin in terms of a ‘guilt’ issue.
We see this in Matthew’s description of Jesus’ ministry as ‘he will save his people from their sins’ (Matt. 1:21). That chapter places Israel in ‘Exile’, as living in the punishment resulting from their sins (or in Deuteronomic / Pauline words – ‘under a curse’). Unable to be who they were meant to be (not free as a result of sin) they were subject to all kinds of over-rulers. Rome, but Jesus had bigger fish to fry than Rome. Not simply Roman, but also internal with their own religious rulers who complete with their ideologies made their disciples even twice the son / daughter of hell that they were. Yet the internal and the external, the religious and the political rulers, were simply sub-rulers for the one known as ‘the Satan’.
The cross means ‘we’ are free from our sins and this has to be primarily a power issue, a transfer from one ‘kingdom’ to another. ‘Born again’ is an appropriate language to use, but we need to remember that it was to a religious leader those words were spoken. It is probably not inappropriate to use that narrative to suggest that Jesus could well say to many ‘born again Christians’ that they need to be born again or they will not ‘see’ the kingdom of God. Like so much of our language we reduce in meaning what it seems to me the original phrases implied. (Classic is where we reduce ‘being saved’ to something along the lines of ‘will not burn in hell at the end!’)
So what is the good news that is centred in the death and resurrection of Jesus? It is that there is good news. God is not condemning the building project that we have messed up so badly. The plans remain, our contribution to the debt has been resolved. It’s a new day, indeed so great is the transformation that those who can believe this will enter a ‘new world’ being energised in incredible ways to work on this project. The project being transformation. Those who likewise – even with other beliefs – but carry the same core values will be found to be ‘for us for they were not against us’.
Evangelism then is living and communicating in that context. It is living out an incredible generosity that invests in friendships even when there is no return (not even a ‘they came to Christ as a result of friendship evangelism’). It is being energised by a convinced hope. It is not proselytising but it is seeing the image of God in one and all. Evangelism is not seeing the only thing that counts as people coming to ‘salvation’ but the need to be consistent in faith. It does not mean no sharing of faith, no leading of people to Jesus, far from it, but it does not reduce evangelism to that level, which at its worst is simply a marketing exercise.
Now are those two just variations on a theme? Or are they two different Gospels. One Bible in common, one Jesus that the believer declares to be ‘Lord’ but some huge differences in application.
Here are some of the potential differences:
Jesus is Lord
- personal Saviour whom I worship and this will affect my personal morality
- or Lord of all whom I owe my allegiance to and has implications for my lifestyle in the light of global issues and my allegiance to all other powers including the state
Enemies of the Gospel
- those of other faiths, and sinners in general
- or those who oppose the values of the kingdom, those who align with the powers who rule
Sin has been paid for
- Jesus died for our sins and I am no longer under wrath and guilt, and one day will not burn in hell
- or, all the powers have been broken. Powers that were in place as a result of sin. Now we are free
- Evangelism is witnessing and bringing people to a point of decision
- or co-operating for the outworking of God’s order in and through all things
So dependent on the lens that it is viewed through will depend on what is seen. As for two pages or two Gospels, I currently think there is a small overlap. There is common ground but not too much ground where there will be happy and mutually-beneficial co-working in the same space.
Different pages – same Gospel?: 1 August 2015 (Click to read post) Different pages – same Gospel? (Click to close post content)
Words are a means of communication. What they mean will determine what is communicated. And the complex part of communication is in closing the gap between what I meant and what was understood by the hearer. So the word ‘Gospel’ and related words such as ‘evangelism’ I am finding are increasingly becoming challenging words. We can find ourselves using the same words but mean something different – certainly this can become evident in terms of the outworking. Maybe it puts fellow-believers on different pages, sharing belief in the same Gospel. Maybe it is not simply different pages – it might also be different Gospels. I am not sure on how to describe the differences, hence the question in the title.
In presenting positions there are very many varied nuances that are not represented, so forgive me for making a more rigid presentation than it deserves. However, a fairly ‘normal’ Gospel set of beliefs would include (and I take the quotes from The Gospel Coalition’s confessional statement):
1) Humanity is lost:
As a result, all human beings are alienated from God, corrupted in every aspect of their being (e.g., physically, mentally, volitionally, emotionally, spiritually) and condemned finally and irrevocably to death—apart from God’s own gracious intervention. The supreme need of all human beings is to be reconciled to the God under whose just and holy wrath we stand; the only hope of all human beings is the undeserved love of this same God, who alone can rescue us and restore us to himself.
2) Some are foreknown / elect to salvation:
We believe that from all eternity God determined in grace to save a great multitude of guilty sinners from every tribe and language and people and nation, and to this end foreknew them and chose them.
3) Jesus died for our sins – paid the price
We believe that by his incarnation, life, death, resurrection, and ascension, Jesus Christ acted as our representative and substitute. He did this so that in him we might become the righteousness of God: on the cross he canceled sin, propitiated God, and, by bearing the full penalty of our sins, reconciled to God all those who believe.
So given the above typical framework when I view the world – all are lost, and their ultimate destiny is one of ‘hell’. Jesus took the punishment due us (God’s wrath) and those who respond in faith to him (and only those foreknown can do this) are saved. Our task as those saved is to evangelise which of course means using appropriate language, and preferably through building a bridge for friendship to share the core ‘Gospel message’ and provoke a response. When the chips are down there is not a lot of value in other activity as there is a primary activity. If one likened it to knowing that people were inside a burning building and if they stay there they will all perish then anyone with a level of compassion is going to warn them, seek to persuade them, and perhaps even come close to dragging them out. Not to do so would be to knowingly allow people to perish.
Of course there are variations on the above, but probably that is not too far away from capturing the core.
But what if the ‘Gospel’ is understood differently? What if the above is not considered to be representative of the ‘Pauline’ Gospel? That is why it seems to me that either we end up on different pages, or maybe end up with different Gospels.
For the Gospel: 31 July 2015 (Click to read post) For the Gospel (Click to close post content)
I have been provoked a lot these past months about how we understand the Gospel. Partly it is, in a season of being practically busy, it also gives time to reflect on other matters. So I will get to this in due course – like so many other things ‘in due course’. Then there are aspects that made me think about the Gospel. Why do we pray and have a focus on issues historical, issues political and are very positive about the shutting down of bull-fighting in Spain? Why? Well they all tie to our understanding of the Gospel.
First bull-fighting. In my first visit to Spain, probably in 2002, I prophesied two things as being signs in the land of a turning. 1) bull fighting would no longer be legal and 2) Gibraltar would no longer be British. Both received the ‘pigs might fly’ kind of response.
Little by little there is a squeeze coming on the issue of bull-fighting. The small Spanish town of Villafranca de los Caballeros (80 miles south of Madrid) has for more than a decade, has celebrated its local fiesta with a bullfight. Now the council has said it would direct its annual subsidy for the bullfight towards books and school supplies for the town’s students. Yesterday Palma de Mallorca officially declared itself as an anti-bullfighting city, the motion being approved by the City Council.
Other places – Cataluñia has already banned bull-fighting… there is a shift. Gibraltar – maybe a bigger issue. Rooted in the Spain war of succession the territory was ceded to Britain under the terms of the Treaty of Utrecht of 1713, in recognition of the British support for the support of the House of Bourbon (the current royal family of Spain). A tax haven it is also part of the bigger economic issues that affect global trade. So a much bigger issue.
So other than the deeply interesting material above what is the connection to the Gospel? In answer to that – it depends a lot on how we understand what the Gospel is… and that I will post on later.
Expectations – the final shape: 27 November 2013 (Click to read post) Expectations – the final shape (Click to close post content)
So we have some revelation, some of which is more influenced by other people than we probably realise, but one way or another they translate into convictions. Somewhere in it all the true revelations will conflict with our expectations, and we either allow our expectations to be updated, or we lose our original convictions… or we refuse to change either and deny the inner conflict that results. So having suggested we should allow our expectations to be reshaped here are a few I reflect on.
Having come through 1994 and then the ‘Marsham Street’ meetings where do I now stand on ‘revival’? Just a note first, I am aware that there are also different definitions of revival, particularly when we cross the pond. I am not using it in terms of a style (‘revivalism’) nor in terms of something church bound (‘we have been in revival since 19xx in our church’) but along more classic lines of community / outside the church experiencing the presence of God.
Post 1998 I began to travel and focused on cities/ regions not church. I had an emphasis on one church in the city. That brought a slight change to my expectations. Then I began to see the need for the engagement in and through society, then the post-christendom perspective led me to consider that the issue is not that we have the wrong people at the top / place of influence but that the ‘top’ by definition is wrong. Empire is not wrong because the emperor is not a believer.
So let’s get right in with what do I expect now, given that I do believe we are on a journey toward transformation. I see a (not straight) line over these past years.
- The increasing demise of christendom
I start here as I see this as a major context that is and has to disappear. I believe Islam’s fuel is that of christendom. I see the church’s weakness as being christendom, which eventually connects us to the two blockages to heaven: having a source of protection and provision that is not rooted in heaven.
In moving to Cádiz there were two ‘goals’: to sow into the restoration of a first-century apostolic Gospel, and to help with the more rapid demise of christendom. The two are related as I see them as being mutually resistant.
So a weakening of certain forms of church – either willingly or unwillingly.
However, this weakening is in order to strengthen. As I have written many times on this blog, the two issues always that faces the people of God is to come to the confident place where they know and experience that God is a) their protection and b) their provision.
- A greater evidence of God’s presence / values in community
I expect a revaluation within life. So a simple money-based economy being challenged and as a result partnerships that will be diverse between the community of faith and those who do not profess Christian faith. I see this primarily demonstrated in Acts 19 and Ephesus.
Put the above together and I expect a lot of unhappiness among those who want to preserve their comfort, but amazing new opportunities for those who will stay true to their faith and lose fear but connect with those who might be coming from a different background, but are looking for a new shape.
- A greater scattering and disconnection
Ever since the pulling up of the Roman way in 2004/05, culminating in the prophetic walk led by Steve Lowton that hit St. Peter’s Sq on 21/12/05 (US: 12/21/05) I consider there has been a release of fresh winds to blow, and one of the evidence of being born of the Spirit is that they are like the wind (NB Jesus did not say, in that context, that the Holy Spirit is like the wind.
We expect that this will result in believers being seeded in new lands, sometimes without a knowledge of why that has happened or how to connect. But as they seek God it will become clear to them. We can tie the words ‘Exile’ or ‘forerunner’ or ‘relocation’ to this experience though most will associate the words ‘desert’, ‘loneliness’ and ‘dislocation’ to their experience.
Tied to this a comment on immigration. Biblically people movements come at climax times in history, when stewardship has failed there is a cleansing of the land through people movements as new stewards are brought in.
- We are in an era shift
Era shifts are not as regular as season shifts. We are coming to the semi-end of the Western world as we know it. This decade is set for the rebalancing of the Western world. The shifts from North to South and West to East will continue. By the end of the decade I anticipate some significant shifts, with the Western world challenged economically in the global arena.
Organic unity and diversity of structure will increase. So (right) calls for independence will be matched by fresh ways of being together, that do not enhance the centre but allow for better distribution. The internet is a good prophetic symbol. Who owns it? Who controls it? Is there a centre? Can it be switched off? Is there a freedom for information? Perfect – no. Open to exploitation – totally.
- And of course… Europe’s day
How could I not end with this. The issue is not primarily political nor economic. It is spiritual. Just as the Gospel’s cradle was Europe in that third day (and this was also a day of christendom) there is coming a new day for Europe. The connecting point here between Christianism and Islamism is very strong. As a new day of repentance, simplicity of vision grows so it will pave the way for a shift in Islam.
The women in Islam (Malala Yousafzai – another woman through whom we are seeing fulfilled the instruction we heard in 2009: ‘Watch the women in Islam, they will be the sign and the means through which Islam will come down’) will continue to make headlines. Although Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, has incorporated all who are in Him into the covenants of God, there still is a distinctiveness for Jews. However, any way ‘back to Jerusalem’ is through the Islamic world.
So back to where I started – revival?
No I do not look for full buildings and the community coming in. There will be manifestations like that. Be encouraged by them, but I believe God is pushing for something much bigger. I see people of humility, ‘small’ people, living on the edge, away from the spotlights, marginalised, but buoyant with the Presence of Jesus. A church that is ‘hard to find but present everywhere’.
A return to something more akin to the first century. Not belonging to the system (Paul a prisoner of Jesus not of Rome, a slave of Jesus not of Rome) but embedded in the community and at times in the system.
We are in an amazing move of God’s Spirit. In one sense since the 90s and in another sense since the original Day of Pentecost. Slow but consistent growth (40% per decade) could be ours again?
Expectations and inner conflict: 22 November 2013 (Click to read post) Expectations and inner conflict (Click to close post content)
So my thesis!!! Vision / revelation comes from the future… but our expectation is shaped by the past – this is how I understand Peter and his ‘the promise is for all afar off’ and his inner conflict that results in ‘never have I done anything like that’ response, or in the Matthew 16 dialogue.
We can receive genuine faith-releasing revelation about what is coming, but the process of responding to it is shaped by the past. Hence we hit the inner conflict that becomes more evident as time progresses. We must develop expectation that is part of how we move forward. It is both a necessary step toward fulfilment and the final barrier to our participation and embrace of what comes. Inner conflict is necessary for a conversion has to take place internally to embrace fresh aspects of the activity of God.
So how do we handle the inner conflict.
1) We can change (some might say compromise) the revelation, so that the expectations that came from that revelation are subdued. It is right to question revelation, for everything must be weighed and we can weigh the same thing again and again. Weighing though is not something that should be done in a vacuum. It is not something to be done on a bad day, but needs to be done in the context of prayer – in whatever way that takes place. Bad days, disappointments come and go.
Has everything that has been released as revelation truly been revelation? I doubt it. Though I do think that the greater problems have been at the wrong expectation level of things. So if we drop the revelation we can resolve the inner conflict.
2) We can keep the revelation and the expectation alive without changing them. Personality types. And I am now an expert on this issue having been one of the top students in a recent enneagram weekend. Whatever!! Unable to self-reflect, unable to be self-critical individually or corporately is a recipe waiting for a disaster. Strong leaders have an incredible ability to keep ‘faith’ and optimism alive. I admire that, but at the same time to continue to bring out the same publicity poster that was brought out 30 years ago, simply with a change of the dates and an updating of the language won’t bring a fulfilment any closer.
In this approach we normally find that those who run with the revelation / expectation change in any corporate group. Some are burned off and became weary… others (hopefully) make the response I will outline in level 3. New ones come in, and the revelation / expectation is perpetuated / kept alive. In talking with leaders who have made a transition it seems the most common factor was inner crisis related to what they were investing in, and a resultant honest re-appraisal.
I met some years ago with an ‘apostolic’ team leader in the UK. We had breakfast together on a few occasions before I moved to Spain. He had moved into a neighbourhood where he was ‘pastoring’ his neighbours. He said – if and when they come to faith I will not be bringing them to the church that I have planted. That is a good honest appraisal.
3) Expectations can change while the revelation stays the same. I do not have difficulty with expectations, but I have many times confused my expectations and my revelation. Indeed my expectations have probably been a lit higher than my revelations, and eventually in such scenarios expectation will eventually bring a limitation to the level of fresh revelation that can come.
In this third response I believe is the resolution of the inner conflict. Revelation – weighed – is held on to, but the expectation changes.
I write this on the basis that ‘something great is coming… and is now.’ So what do I expect? Good question…
Wrong expectations… again!!!: 21 November 2013 (Click to read post) Wrong expectations… again!!! (Click to close post content)
Peter expresses some very deep revelation, that clearly resonates with truth. We might see in part but Peter has seen a mammoth part. Revelation is so key. It unlocks the future. Making an adjustment to bring it in line with the NT: God does nothing without first revealing it to those who are carrying the Spirit. Maybe not everyone will ‘see’ it but there will be sight before God acts.
The pathway as I wrote yesterday might be through what others have been saying, but assuming now that we can answer with a heartfelt conviction of ‘this is what I see’ then we have to live by that conviction. When, just over five years ago I had felt the strong conviction about Spain, I wrote to a number of people I respected to submit to them what I had in my heart, there was a key response that did not agree with the move. I am glad they were able to disagree. I would be disappointed in me if I would have stayed at the level of what others said. My convictions are my convictions and I have to live according to them.
So for a moment let us assume we have some clear revelation from heaven. It unlocks the future… and unlocks an internal clash. How we handle that will be key.
I suggested yesterday ‘a great move of God is coming – and is here’. If Peter is a useful paradigm, he quickly came to resist the future that he was involved in unlocking. ‘Not so Lord’ he replied. The reason? He had expectations.
We must have expectations. That is part of what it means to be human. Expectations are based on our historical experience, personal and corporate. I grew up with ‘revival’ stories so have carried an up-beat expectation of those.
Revelation leads to a response that is based on our framework. It is based on the past. Revelation is related to the future. The clash is inevitable: past and future. We end up shaping the future expectations from the past experience (add world-view, personality-type, fears etc. to the list). Inevitably our expectations will be wrong. Not maybe… inevitably. They might be wrong, but the process is right. We are meant to develop expectations, but we are not meant to hold them as if they are truth. We will feel they are true, that they carry the same weight of insight that the revelation does – hence with Peter he is clear enough to rebuke Jesus.
Yet, for Jesus, the expectations that were sparked into a coherent form through heaven-sent revelation were in opposition to the future.
I had specific expectations. I don’t think they were correct. They were how I saw things through those eyes. I now have expectations that are different to those former ones. The ones I have now are, of course, correct at every level. One minute, let me re-read that and think again!!!
Expectations change. Revelation, if it were true does not. When our expectations are not met then we can make the mistake of:
- stating those expectations even more strongly. The future is still almost here as I spoke those years ago type attitude, thus keeping the future close enough that we force a hope to stay alive, but having no conviction that it will actually break in.
- losing true hope and abandoning the revelation that gave us life and buoyancy.
Rather we need to, at strategic times, re-assess our expectations.
Revelation leads to expectations: 20 November 2013 (Click to read post) Revelation leads to expectations (Click to close post content)
I have considered Jesus’ dialogue with his disciples in Matthew 16 again. ‘Who do you others say I am?’ ‘Who do you say I am?’ Followed by a rather straight, no beating about the bush ‘Get behind me Satan!’ rebuke to Peter. Peter had come up with a great response to a direct question and then was rebuked for his wrong expectations.
First the two questions. We need personal revelation (maybe that is the ‘on this rock’ I will build my church?) but Jesus comes to that gently. His first question is ‘what are others saying?’ It is great to get something direct from heaven, but I suspect that we get most stuff through the influence of others. Raises the question of who we let influence us. Influence can vary from voices that we listen to and weigh to people that we basically think are right on everything. It was 10 years ago this next Monday that I first visited Stoke on Trent, and one of their numbers told me a few days ago that I gave them this word – beware of the map salesman. The one who comes and shows us how to walk the path and where it will lead to. And that piece of revelation? I first heard it from Stuart Lindsell. What are others saying?
It is a good place to start, and yet the immaturity in the body of Christ is because it is many times the finishing point as well. A strong ‘teaching’ community will probably have conformity and right answers. A strong ‘learning’ community will have much more diversity, less answers and more questions.
So I can legitimately repeat what others are saying in response to the question. And there are always some I want to know what they are saying. Respected teachers and prophets… but it only gets me to the ‘what are others saying’ level. But pause for a moment and do not be too worried about hearing the convictions of others who seem to have the marks of Jesus on their lives.
The ‘What do you say?’ level is not so easy to articulate. And among the disciples only one responded. Who knows how many were there that day – only 12 or a bunch more. It highlights that the response to this question is not easy. On many issues we cannot swing in with ‘glad you asked I have the low-down on that.’
Yet seeking to answer that we must. Let’s assume that we break through as Peter did and see something very personal and the revelation is from heaven. We are excited, Jesus is well-pleased too, for once true revelation comes there can be major progress. We see, we prophesy and we declare. People come on board and there is a groundswell of prayer and enthusiasm. The ‘there is coming a great move of God’ movement is alive. (And I subscribe to this… or maybe I subscribe to ‘it is coming and now is’.)
Where to from there? Expectations. Revelation releases expectations. Yippee. More tomorrow.
Pentecost as paradigm #3: 12 November 2013 (Click to read post) Pentecost as paradigm #3 (Click to close post content)
In the final of these three videocasts I focus on the challenging aspect that the spirit is ‘for those who are afar off’. Many moves of God never connect with this aspect. Not surprising for there is a ‘I’ve never done this before’ aspect to it. The challenge is of a world-vew shift, a conversion as Peter experienced in waling into the surprising (shocking) fulfilment of his own apostolic declaration. God is at work in the world, and the Spirit is not coming to bring the world into the church but rather to sow the church into the world. The Temple is not being built somewhere, but is being built in and through all of society.
Company of Burning Hearts have also released as a podcast the thrust of this as I shared in Wales in July. You can find the podcast here:
Here is the final video.
Pentecost as paradigm #2: 10 November 2013 (Click to read post) Pentecost as paradigm #2 (Click to close post content)
In the second of these three videocasts I focus mainly on the generational aspect of the Spirit’s trajectory. At each stage we can pull what the Spirit is doing to enhance who we are rather than flow on and out. It is important to understand this so that we can be prepared for the final aspect of the Spirit’s trajectory.
Company of Burning Hearts have also released as a podcast the thrust of this as I shared in Wales in July. You can find the podasts here:
Here is the second video.
Pentecost as paradigm #1: 8 November 2013 (Click to read post) Pentecost as paradigm #1 (Click to close post content)
As most readers of this site will be aware earlier this year I came to the conclusion that we had shifted into a third phase of the trajecotry of the Spirit. From ‘for me’, through ‘for the generations’ to ‘those who are afar off’. I have put together three brief videocasts that take this theme forward.
Justin and Rachel have also released as a podcast the thrust of this as I shared in Wales in July. You can find the podcast here:
Here is the first video.