Pure Speculation

There are beliefs that are pretty much clear in Scripture, though not without being challenged (what Scriptures / canon are we referring to and how do we interpret those Scriptures). There are others that are less easy to defend so allow me a speculation… though it is a ‘pure’ one so must be OK! Speculative in parts it may be but it actually reflects more than that for me – it is a belief, maybe not an absolute core one but a very important one that shapes a lot of my approach.

I have always been interested in eschatology. Brought up with an implicit secret rapture perspective, later adopting a restorationist viewpoint (five-fold ministry, church growing to a mature bride etc.) and now… Abandonned the unsustainable secret rapture viewpiont, along with a future antiChrist, literal millennium, but maybe still influenced by aspects of the Restorationist viewpoint which of course lends itself to progress (‘God is doing a new thing in our day’).

Most eschatologies have a deliberate or an implicit set of ‘untils’ involved. (Dispensationalist:) the world carries on until… until the scene is set with ‘wars and rumours of wars\’, Israel in her land, gog and magog poised, oh and don’t forget the EU! (Restorationist:) until the church reaches maturity for Christ is coming for a bride without spot or wrinkle. The weakness of the latter is it is hard to avoid the final mature generation being the bride, with the question remaining concerning the identity of the former generations of saints. I too have an ‘until’.

I have an until partly to try to find an answer to why the Lord has not returned. His promise is delayed as he wishes all to come to repentance not wishing any to perish (2 Pet. 3:9). Unless we hold to a universalist perspective the longer the delay the more who perish. The longer the ‘delay’ the more opportunity for repentance, but are there other factors?

I consider the work of Christ to be the finished work of Christ but it is not the finished work. ‘As the Father sent me, so I send you.’ ‘I make up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ.’ ‘Of all that Jesus began to do and to teach…’ We cannot add to the work of Christ, but we can flow from it. We cannot lay another foundation, we cannot actually construct the building but we can (and must) contribute the materials for the project.

Matthew’s Gospel is one of fulfilments. He loves to quote Scriptures being fulfilled and it seems there is an overall framework to his Gospel from the opening lines with ‘the genesis of Jesus to the closing lines of the Great Commission that echo the words of Cyrus in 2 Chronicles 36 and his ‘great commission’ to send Jews back to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple. The Great Commission is reasonably well known (Go, make disciples…) but Cyrus words less so. I will quote them below, and they are all the more remarkable as 2 Chronicles was normally the final ‘book’ of the Jewish ‘bible’. (Law, prophets and writings.) The opening words of Matthew’s Gospel echo the first book, the closing words the final book. Truly Matthew is writing to show that there are fulfilments of Scriptures and of Scripture. Here are Cyrus words:

This is what Cyrus king of Persia says:
The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah. Any of his people among you may go up, and may the Lord their God be with them.

All kingdoms… go up… with them… // All authority… go into… I will be with you – all seem to be deliberate parallels.

The Jews re-entering the land were commissioned to rebuild the Temple, ironically something that the radical Stephen said was never desired by God! Jesus sends his disciples out to get to work on the rebuilding of the Temple, not in Jerusalem but somehow of living stones, regardless of ethnic background across the planet. This is our task that as yet is unfinished.

So that is my ‘until’.

So when will this happen? Here is the little twist. The building does not come up visibly from the earth but comes down from heaven from the throne of God. God is the builder. The building is in heaven waiting a manifestation here. The materials though are provided from the earth, the ‘gold, silver and precious stones’ are mined and deposited in heaven as we work.

Christ came at the fullness of times – when Jew and Gentile alike had no hope. He took the curse of exile so that there might be an outpouring of the Spirit on both the Jew and ‘those afar off’. His return, parousia, will come at the fullness of times: when sufficient material has been mined.

Now a little more, cos all the above is straightforward for me, but I have been making a few more speculations these past weeks. What if the age to come (in the sense of the New Jerusalem) could be a little unfixed. It will be complete, but maybe there could have been more. If art is needed has enough real quality art been ‘mined’? What about the films in the age to come – do we have enough material so that…

Yes, now we are in the realms of speculation. But this is the sphere of hope. Love is primary, but faith and hope are vital.

Maybe I am going too far… However, there is a fundamental question about the continuity / discontinuity element of the age to come. How like this one? How radically different? If there is a very real element of continuity then we need art, politics, education, business that is so reflective of heaven’s values, otherwise we will continue waiting for the parousia, or we could have had an even better age to come.

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Why the focus?

Gayle and I have had a focus on shifts in society for a long time. Gayle was involved in education and taught in schools that were not rated highly in government statistics. In that context she saw people come to faith, and early one morning when having arrived before anyone else was in the school she then thought someone else was also in and playing music… but no, simply some angels had also (got up early?) and come to add some music to the prayer. My push was simple: through prayer the church would shift demonic powers, discover the gift of the city / region and people would come to faith. As I developed that focus I moved from a simple vision of something that might look similar to classic revival (Finney, Welsh, Hebrides etc.) to a presence of God’s Spirit and people throughout all society. Influenced by Anabaptism the challenge was how to see that outwork practically. Thankfully the journey of understanding the nature of the imperial spirit ran parallel to the push toward the emphasis on salt in society. So an understanding that was in contrast to anything top-down developed.

Three years ago, this month, it became clear that a sharp focus for us was to be the opening up of space for a new politics to grow in Spain (and beyond in Europe). This was something left of field as neither of us have a background in politics. And if we were to see some kind of shift here so what? Why this focus? If we did have a top-down perspective this might be easier to understand, but we see the drive to get the Christian PM / President as misplaced. We do not think that all that is needed is to get the right party in power. The party governing can change but unless the very shape changes nothing really changes.

CamisetaWe will soon have lived in Spain 9 years and in this apartment for almost four of those. In the past 9 years we have dug deeply into the history of the land, both recent and ancient. We have witnessed an increasing exposure of corruption, of cases going to court. (Fancy buying a T-shirt with an extract from handwritten notes printed on it? The handwritten notes of the governing party’s illegal accounts and who was paid. This T-shirt has the extract of one of the many names: ‘M Rajoy’, and one of the payments he received from an account that has been run for decades.) There is a long way to go but there are shifts. We sat recently with a senior bank employee who told us in no uncertain terms that we needed to understand that ‘corruption is part of Spain and will always be here’.

The mainline press and TV channels do not cover a lot of the corruption. Thank God for social media and some very honest journalists. This past week a set of conversations have been recorded between a ring of at least 100 national police. (Thankfully there are many good and honest people involved in law and order.) However the conversations have not only been highly negative about the Catalan situation, but have talked one to the other of their hope that certain people will be destroyed and blown up. They have named journalists and the mayoress of Madrid among others.

The Catalonian crisis continues. Are the current Catalan political leaders ‘political prisoners’ or not? Even Amnesty International has said that they are not. At the same time as this goes on, greater clarity is coming into one of the big corruption cases, with the clear implication that many politicians in the governing party, including the PM, have received large illegal payments. The same party has failed to give an explanation for 40billion euros that has disappeared from public funds. The other main historic party has just had a huge debt written off by the banks. (Contrast this to a 42 page letter we received from the government saying that if we did not respond within 10 days we would be fined 70,000euros. Our crime was to send some money to a friend who was threatened by the banks and had no money to buy food.) The Catalan leaders have not been granted bail while a member of the governing party was granted bail and the next day one of his houses (in Mexico) was raided and 5million in cash was discovered. I could go on – almost 900 senior members of the governing party are either now in jail, court, indited or suspects in corruption. Our banking friend was correct – corruption is part of Spain… Corruption continues! But the future?

Anyway I am a little off track with this post. We are committed to seeing the corruption exposed and old ruling families from the Franco era no longer shape the future with that agenda. But so what? Why the focus? In making a response I note that something continues for us both – shifts in society; but the change of focus indcates that there have been some paradigm shifts.

  • The levels of corruption indicate that there is the presence and effect of the demonic that is unacceptable. Demonic powers do not just focus on one area but look to destroy humanity. We are their nemesis, created in the image of God. They look therefore for all kinds of partnerships, all of which focus on the dehumanisation of humanity. The corruption indicates their presence. That is almost reason enough to focus this way!
  • We see the body of Christ carrying responsibility for the world. This is God’s world, everything is in God, for in him we live and move and have our being. We owe it to the world so that living within boundaries they might seek and find him. That is certainly a significant reason.
  • Justice is called for and this has led to a new word – we are not looking to Christianise the world (as per Christendom) but to heavenify it. By this I mean a greater measure of heaven’s love, freedom, servanthood and justice to be made visible. All good gifts come from heaven.

We are deeply grateful to God for both evangelical and charismatic foundations. We pray that those we meet and increasingly share life with will find Jesus in a not-too-dissimilar way. We continue to seek to be a witness, bearing testimony to new creation realities… but our focus is on the politics, to push back space so that those who, knowingly or not, partner with demons will no longer be able to do so, and those who manifest love and justice will find space to yield their gifts for others. That is our focus in the foreseeable future as we believe that is our responsibility.

We have been here almost 9 years, by the end of 12 years we expect to see something shift beyond recognition. The next years… a focus that needs to stay sharp and a bumpy ride!

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No, not an advocate of Christendom!!

Had a few responses to the post ‘Toward the vacuum’ and also Steve Lowton re-posted it on his facebook page soliciting a few more comments. In the post I was both reflecting back on the dream from years back on the opening up of the façades, the response of a number of believers in the public sphere and the danger of the ‘familiar’ being our default response. In the post – now some 8 years on from the dream – I suppose there were a few paradigms that crept through that I am becoming increasingly aware of. So I thought I would outline what I think they might be below.

Surprisingly (!!) I am not an advocate of Christendom. I have been too heavily influenced by anabaptism, the new church movement and the like to be in that camp. I see Christendom as an aberration of the apostolic faith, not as some sort of fulfilment of eschatological hope. And given the nature of God (another paradigm here) this does not mean that God did not use Christendom… he works in all things for a purpose. His work ‘in’ does not mean his approval ‘of’.

Paradigm 1: the church is here for society

The primary role of the church is not to evangelise society (keep reading…), but to, as witness to God, create / fashion / hold a shape where something redemptive can fill it. It is our responsibility as royal priesthood to stand to mediate the presence of God to the world and to allow the world to grow up into a healthy space. This is not a) withdrawal to a spiritual realm (sorry to one stand of anabaptism there) nor b) to impose some kind of theonomy on the world (sorry to that strand of Calvinism, Reconstructionism, Kuyperism, 7 mountains etc.). The latter is ultra-Christendom. Not all come to faith, but there are those who will grasp the Jesus’ values and fill space in a Jesus-like way, even if some of those were to be atheists. (I see this in the reference to the Asiarchs in Acts, for example.) The former (a withdrawal) is to deny the intensely political nature of the Gospel. Not political in the sense of party politics, but carrying an all encompassing vision for society. The kind of vision we have been trying to capture with the word ‘convivencia’.

(Now don’t read ‘don’t evangelise’ into the above but do read ‘some evangelism is not a witness’.)

Paradigm 2: the world is not the church

My background of course left me very clear on that… however, the two realms are related. One has been redeemed, the other, not being evil but fallen, is there to be redeemed. The church that resorts to the familiar and does not connect with the era in which it is placed and participate with God’s redemption of the world might not be able to fully own the term ‘church’. Church is political (the ekklesia of Christ in every geography was a provocative term when the cities of the empire already had their ekklesia shaping the city and future). We have to somehow engage with the tension that not everything is in Christ but everything is in God. In him we move, live and have our being…

In Jeremiah 22: 16 Josiah is honoured because

He judged the cause of the poor and the needy; then it was well. Is not this to know me? says the Lord.

The chapter begins with a call to:

Act with justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor anyone who has been robbed. And do no wrong to the alien, the orphan, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place.

Jeremiah did not say that Josiah’s behaviour was indicative of someone on the way to knowing God, nor that someone who knows God will seek to behave in this way. His words are too strong for that. Someone behaving in that way is showing the evidence that they know God! (And Jesus promise was not that people who followed him would know God… but that they would know who this God was.)

Paradigm 3: God is not in control

A little strong maybe? But what on earth do we mean by ‘in control’. Love and partnership have to be the ways in which we understand God at work in the earth, not omnipotence. Love means he is at work. It means he will work in and through whatever he is given. But he does not act in isolation – we are partners with heaven.

In all the above I am not an advocate of Christendom, I do see a distinction between the church and the world. I am not looking to Christianise society, but to heavenify it. That kingdom that comes from heaven does mean that convivencia has to manifest. Space for those who are not believers in Jesus to express their gifts for the sake of others. It means any wall that is built is a sign of failure, that any bridgebuilding will mean we are trampled on from both sides.

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Propaganda

I have been reading Norman Davies history book Europe trying to get some fresh perspectives on the Thirty Years’ War (1618-48), a war that involved so much of Europe, shaped the nation-state, and many of the boundary lines in Europe spring from that era. A little, or not so little, sidebox on ‘Propaganda’ seemed worth posting here.

 
Theorists of Propaganda have identified five basic rules:

  1. The rule of simplification: reducing all data to a simple confrontation between ‘Good and Bad’, ‘Friend and Foe’.
  2. The rule of disfiguration: discrediting the opposition by crude smears and parodies.
  3. The rule of transfusion: manipulating the concensus values of the target audience for one’s own ends.
  4. The rule of unanimity: presenting one’s viewpoint as if it were the unanimous opinion of all right-thinking people: drawing the doubting individual into agreement by the appeal of star-performers, by social pressure, and by ‘psychological contagion’.
  5. The rule of orchestration: endlessly repeating the same messages in different variations and combinations.

In the political realm very easy to see the guilty parties. (The cynic says are there any innocent of the label?) What about in our realm. The realm of the followers of Jesus? Maybe we need some safeguards…

How about the message of Jesus is not for our success, or for making us great. It is not to be twisted to put us on the ‘good’ side of the line. Maybe if we saw it as aligning us to exist for the benefit of others, and that the only measure that can safely be applied is the difference we make around us?

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Toward the vacuum

A number of years ago I had a dream where I was standing in a city square and on the opposite side of the square were buildings. I knew each one represented an institution that had been shaped by, and in turn, shaped the public square. Then at the same moment all the façades of the buildings came forward and then up so that what was inside became visible. Then at a point of time they all shut down again, with everything back to ‘normal’.

Have we entered a season again of the façades opening?

  • The paradise papers… tax evasion / tax avoidance
  • The sexual scandals in Hollywood and now in the British parliament
  • Spain… (more immediately below!!)

Restoring law and order. Really? Proclaimed by the party who have currently just under 900 national or regional delegates in court, on the way to court or suspects of breaking the law! Accusing the Catalan government of rebellion, sedition and misappropriation of money – so proclaims the party that have given no answer to where the 40 billion has disappeared…

Democracy means we can declare independence. Not a small change, but based on a turnout of 43%!

Law, order and democracy – all words that will have to be re-defined if the above continues.

(I think many political situations could be added here: the Brexit also far from going the way promised. I seem to remember wonderful suggestions of so much extra money on the way to support the NHS.)

Have we entered a season again of the façades opening? I think so.

Back to the dream. The reason why the façades all closed up again was that the church began to sing a well-known song. The familiar was the place of safe retreat. I think it is vital that we grasp the role of the church in the public square. If Jesus has, and delegated, all authority it seems what the church does, how it positions herself is very key. The fallback to the familiar was what caused the problem. The closure then was cemented by the statement that:

It is the familiar that brings things back to normal.

So maybe we have a fresh opportunity at responding differently to singing the old familiar songs. Seems to me that the challenge of nor resorting to the familiar is that we have to travel on to ground that we do not know how to navigate – it is unfamiliar.

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A well is opened

In a recent newsletter I managed (with no special effort on my part I add) to misspell the (ex-)President of Catalonia’s name (Puigdemont) as Puidgemont. Samuel Rhein who was praying into the situation and working with the French language he could hear in Puidgemont’s name both ‘well’ and ‘can I?’. Making no suggestion that Mr P was good or bad he suggested that in some way a well of demons had been opened. So here comes a nice light post!!!

I am in agreement with Sam’s suggestion. I have been struck by Puigdemont’s demeanor, his openness while in Brussels and I have no doubt his passion for what he understands as ‘the nation’ of Catalonia. At best some of what he has initiated has been unwise, aspects certainly have been illegal, some of the narrative of course not accurate. I have sympathy with their ’cause’ but am convinced that Catalonia belongs within Spain, though Spain has to be re-configured significantly. It is not right to deny a distinct people their right of self-determination. That right is contained both within UN and EU statutes – but explicitly denied in the Spanish constitution. Spain aligns itself with both those institutions.

A well of demons has been opened, or maybe a host of demonic powers have been revealed. This issue is not really on who is right (Spain’s central government or Catalonia’s elected government) but on undoing the demonic strongholds on the nation. Prior to the death of Franco he put a process in place that ‘tied everything up, tied it up well’. The shift of the reigns from the dictatorship to the king, and then into the transitionary period (75-78) with the establishment of the Constitution saw to that. This week the head of the armed forces spoke out that ‘history shows us in Spain that the army knows how to defend the nation’. The context is of the threat to the nation by Puigdemont and his colleagues action. That is the language that undergirded Franco’s coup d’etat, as he set out to reconquer Spain for God and for Spain. The current crisis is probably the biggest crisis in Spain’s democratic period of existence, and underlines why the praying into the ReConquista which conquered Spain for God and established Spain as Spain was so important.

Now we come to a well of demons, a time when things will become visible. For some time we have focused on the re-working of the Constitution but only now this past week realised that next year will be 40 years since it was established. In 2015 we prayed at Franco’s tomb asking for an earthquake to go through the land as a sign. Two months later many of the main press carried a headline that a major political earthquake had gone through the land, with the biggest shifts in the political scene in Spain since democracy had begun. There was also a headline that Franco had died for the third time. Something began in 2015 and as we enter 2018 we will soon be 40 years on in the final year of the transition. What was tied up has to be untied. We do not anticipate Spain will have an easy path this next year, but it will be a necessary one.

Seven years ago European airspace was totally closed down due to the eruption of a volcano in Iceland. Scientists are watching that space again. Almost certainly there is coming another major impact from Iceland. Eruption or not, what is certainly coming is huge disturbance to the spiritual air space over Europe next year. A bumpy ride is ahead!

To see permanent change there seems to be a pattern. What is on earth has to shake. And if something shakes on earth then it is because the heavens are shaking.

I do not believe we can hide behind a theology of ‘God is in control’ but we can participate with a God who will work in and through all things. What amazing opportunities we have in this season. We are looking for political change, a different kind of politics, not a change of political party in charge. The real change comes as the body of Christ partners with heaven so that society changes. So the well is open… what has been invisible is becoming increasingly visible and obvious. Painful but fun times are ahead. Discussions of taking back sovereignty can give way to servanthood: true convivencia. And there lies a challenge. I do not believe Islam is another way to God… but in the cross there is a whole aspect of protection of the other. The cross preserves the right of those who so choose to reject the Jesus’ way. That is convivencia – co-habiting the same space. If we wish to see society changed another level of Christendom will unravel. A well of demons in Spain… maybe a few demons will also be unveiled that have invaded the ‘church’ space in this next phase. And probably a few will also be unveiled that have invaded the ‘Martin’ space.

We look for a shift in the politics, for a shift in the inter-relationship of nations within the European framework. We look for a greater manifestation of convivencia. And we think in doing so we are aligning with heaven. But it will be important to remember that all demons are first pushed back at a personal level. So all in all we probably have a focused season ahead!!

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