Last month we looked at the spiritual state of Britain and saw that there are both some positive signs and disturbing trends. This month we ask, what action does God want us to take? What are priorities of the hour?
We must face reality ? we are failing our nation. We cannot cocoon ourselves in spiritual complacency. We must not disengage from society, thinking that at least things in our denomination are not so bad, or that, at least our group is growing. We do not want to be like Hezekiah, the ultimate backslidden king of Judah. He was relieved to hear that though disaster was waiting for the nation, there was going to be relative peace and security in his time. A significant reason to fight the battle for the soul of our nation is concern for the spiritual health of our children and grandchildren.
But before we act, we urgently need to reflect deeply and develop fresh sensitivity to the Spirit. Under his guidance, we must carefully analyze the roots of spiritual decline, digging deep beneath the surface. Superficial, above-the-surface solutions will not work. Merely stepping up the usual Christian activities will not be effective. The nation needs to see genuine spirituality not mere activism. There is a hunger for reality and authenticity.
The usual truisms we glibly pronounce will not work: more repentance, more prayer, more fasting, more evangelism. We need a fresh examination of what these things actually mean. A root and branch examination looks at the deeper issues of church spirituality as well as church structure. Our churches may be growing but are we building authentic communities of Christ-followers? Only robust churches, rooted in Christian beliefs and values, can express the authentic lifestyle of Christ. Only this can save our nation from secularism, atheism and insidious false religion. However it is easy to drift into forms of community which are quasi-Christian where personal blessing is more important than genuine conformity to Christ.
Kenneth Kantzer, formerly of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, said in 1996, ?No church can be effective to bring clarity and commitment to a world when it is as ignorant of its own basic principles as in our church today. Unless we engage the church is a mighty program of reeducation, it will be unable to transmit a Christian heritage to its own children or to the society around it.?? Since then, society both in the U.S. and the U.K. has slipped even more drastically further away from its Christian heritage and, as yet, no consistent programme of Christian reeducation has been forthcoming.
Christians are the only people on earth capable of demonstrating the genuine life of Christ. But for generations now, the trend has been away from radical Christian discipleship towards a softer, more flexible approach where the individual is king and the Bible is only a rough guide to belief and practice.
In his excellent book The Connecting Church, Randy Frazee asks the penetrating question ?Does the Christian faith offer a basic set of beliefs, values, practices, and virtues that can be classified as absolutely true and totally essential for a constructive and fruitful life?? Few professing Christians would like to deny that it does but, for many, this is merely a notional nod in the direction of Bible teaching. When it comes down to it we reserve the right to make our own choices which are often more influenced by popular opinion than the preaching of the Bible. Do we really believe that the Bible way is both true and essential for fruitful and satisfying living?
It is a deeply disturbing fact, but the people who sit in our pews are not necessarily persuaded by what is preached from the platform. Post-modernism exerts a far greater influence on their belief and behaviour than we realise. It is wrong to assume that the members in our churches are with us because they have embraced our beliefs and purposes. They are highly likely carrying their own individual set of beliefs and purposes, for that is what we have allowed them to do.
Understanding this helps us see the roots of the new ?tolerance? both in the wider society as well in Christian communities. If a group of people does not deeply embrace the beliefs and purposes of the Scripture, then the highest virtue must be to tolerate each person?s beliefs and behaviour.
But what if the decision is to divorce one?s spouse, to sink irresponsibly into debt, or to accept all religions as equal? Are we to receive all this with a benign smile? Or do we believe sufficiently in the values and common purpose of Christ to be gracious enough to speak the truth. Churches must provide more than occasions for individuals to focus on themselves in the presence of others. We must provide true Christian community within the boundaries of Christian belief. After all, should a group of people who do not share the Bible?s beliefs, values, practices, and virtues even be considered a Christian community?
Randy Frazee speaks of the social contract that binds many church members together as we experience it today. It asserts only the weakest of obligations: ?Come if you have time. Talk if you feel like it. Respect everyone?s opinion. Never criticize. Leave quietly if you become dissatisfied.?
No community can exist without common beliefs and common purposes. It is true that people often need to feel that they belong to a community before they can adopt its beliefs and values, but these beliefs and values must be present in the first place, otherwise there is no community to belong to.
When we see the Christian consensus being eroded daily in our society we throw up our hands in horror, and rightly so. What we are dealing with here is nothing less than what created Western Civilization. But deeper reflection leads us to ask a more painful and personally challenging question:? If all we ever had was the kind of influence coming from churches today, would there ever have been a Western Civilization in the first place?
Dallas Willard, professor at the University of Southern California?s School of Philosophy, offers this observation: ?By the middle of this [20th] century, [the church] had lost any recognized, reasonable, theologically and psychologically sound approach to spiritual growth, to really becoming like Christ.?
The 21st Century church must immediately initiate this re-education process and reverse the trend in contemporary biblical illiteracy. The urgent solution is to produce genuine disciples of Christ by providing strong biblical boundaries and promoting healthy principles of community. We must once again come together around the shared beliefs and values of Christ. Our passion must be for God?s kingdom, not human institutions. Our organizations, disciplines and structures must be made to serve uniquely the purpose of Christ – making, maturing and mobilizing disciples. Everything we do must flow from this.
We must courageously address the two big issues in contemporary ecclesiology bringing us back to the fundamentals of New Testament teaching on the church?s purpose. The first has to do with ekklesia, the New Testament word translated as ?church?, and diakonia, referring to ?service? or ?ministry?.
By pure derivation, ekklesia means ?the called out ones?, but this does not give us its true definition. The best translation is ?gathering?. The church is made up of believers who have responded to God?s call to gather to Jesus. We are in a permanent ?gathered relationship? with Christ and his people.
Taking this into account, we can easily see that the biblical understanding of the word ?church? does not refer to ?a place of public Christian worship?, as the Oxford English Dictionary defines it. Neither does it primarily mean the Christian meetings that take place in church buildings. Rather, it is the permanent 24/7 connectedness of God?s people to Christ and to each other. Nothing that we do together makes us the church. We gather together, we worship, we serve and we share because we are the church.
Gathering in formal church services is a natural expression of ekklesia, but so is gathering in every other way possible. The big mistake is to think that the congregational worship we enjoy on Sunday is either the essence or totality of church. No wonder people think they have done ?their bit? when they have ?gone to church? on Sunday.
The other great error of our time is how we define diakonia or ?ministry?. Traditional church goers will immediately identify ?the minister? as the person who stands before them Sunday by Sunday. He or she may not be alone ? there may be a team of ?ministers? and even an extended team of ?lay leaders?, but the definition of the ministry remains the same. The ministers are the ?professionals?, the ?experts? who do it for us.
This tradition neutralises the powerful New Testament teaching that the ministry of Christ must be exercised by the whole body of Christ. Just as we must work through our own bodies, living, moving and acting in the world, so Christ must work through his body.
All this shows that Christianity is mono-vocational. That is, it unites the whole of life into a seamless whole.? There is no sacred-secular divide and every calling is a holy calling. Church is not about what you do in your spare time. It is an entire life of consecrated connectedness, becoming like Christ in everything you do along with your brothers and sisters in Christ. Travelling this transformational journey alone is unthinkable. It is simply not authentic church.
This is our great journey of mission – the whole church together moving forward and spreading outward, penetrating every corner of society with the influence of true Christian community. The work, urgent as it is, will not be done in an instant. In fact, what we have lost will take generations to rebuild. But the spiritual restoration of our nation cannot even begin until the church first restores her authenticity.
see the first article here :