Trinity

THE TRINITY AND ESCHATOLOGY OF THE CHURCH

1. The church cannot be thought of as merely like-minded individuals voluntarily coming together for the purpose of worship but rather understood in the framework of God’s mission. Just as the Father sent his Son and the Son then sent his Spirit, so now the Spirit empowers the church to contribute “in bringing about the world into communion with God.” One reading states, “The church, the community of God’s people in the world, is the place where faith is formed and forgiveness of sins is extended. The church stands at the crossroads between God and the world.” This community “is discontinuous with the world, exposing the powers of sin and darkness that permeate human, social and cosmic life, but also a bridge for God’s love to spread into the world in order to call peoples, cultures and nations into the eschatological gathering.” With this in mind, the church has to intentionally protect herself from being swayed by commercialization and personal independence. Instead, the focus should be on reflecting and representing the message of Jesus Christ through both one’s language and lifestyle.

2. The Trinitarian God established the church as a community of faith, as the body of Christ, in whom the people of God anticipate the fullness of the coming kingdom. This might have been what the Apostle Paul had in mind when he prayed, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” Another author proposes, “The triune God who is a community of persons in unity of essence and purpose, is the basis for koinonia, both in the mutual fellowship we have with God and each other in the Church, but also the basis of our koinonia with the world, as we are sent out to be light and salt of the good news of the coming kingdom.” In other words, there is an absolute unity amongst the Godhead. Personhood is drastically different to that of individualism. There is no personhood without community. In much the same way, the church ought to be made up of people who “while maintaining [distinct identities], define themselves by those who [they share] community with. [Each one has] been formed by [their] community and every person is involved in every action of the Godhead.”

The church is to be the body of Christ. They are to live out the love of Christ with one another. Love does not come without cost but “the risk of love is to not be loved back – to have the possibility of being the recipient of rejection. In this way, hate is a function of love. Indifference and apathy are the opposites of love.” Just as Christ was prepared to suffer on behalf of humanity, willing to be make himself susceptible to being grieved, so ought his disciples make similar sacrifices in the context of community. One of the readings warned, “The lack of unity in the body means that the church is not complete, not whole – not living out who we are as Christ’s righteous body and bride . . . Disunity . . . communicates to the world that God has not sent his Son.” The means by which we value others is in direct correlation and connection with how we value the Godhead.

Along with that, the eschatological imagination makes all expressions of the church provisional through a proper understanding of the Kingdom of God. One author proposes, “The church does not establish the parameters of God’s reign; the parameters of God’s reign defines the role of the church. The church has not always gotten this sequence right.” In other words, the Kingdom of God ought to be the basis for developing any teaching, strategy or understanding of a Christ-centered community.

Trinity

Sabbath

What situations tend to take you most out of your comfort zone? Hear some of my own experiences at hhttp://mca.byoaudio.com/files/media/launch-sabbath.mp3 or by subscribing to the “Merge Ministries” podcast on iTunes.com and listening to the March 24, 2010 message. I would love to hear about your own experiences. Feel free to respond below.

Sabbath

Models

Models of the Church

1. According to this week’s lecture, the functional and organizational approaches to the church include the Church as an Institution, Mystical Communion, Church as Sacrament, Church as Servant, and Church as Herald. With this in mind, Van Gelder proposes that “the church also exists as a social reality with human behaviors organized within human structures. But this human behavior, through the redemptive work of God, is empowered by the Spirit. This is the duality inherent in the church’s nature.” The first three models come out of Catholicism. The Institutional model largely existed previously to Vatican II and pictured a “’perfect society’ in that nothing is lacking and is institutionally complete.” Though this model enjoys a rich history and strong identity; the Church as an Institution often neglects the biblical mandate of every believer being a part of the royal priesthood which states, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” Such a model surely does not foster a laity that is able to serve in the Christ-centered community nor free to shape or sharpen their theological perspectives.

The second of the Catholic models is that of Mystical Communion. This model might be a direct reaction to the previous one as the importance is now placed on intimate relationships – both with God’s Spirit and with smaller groups of people. That being said, there is great danger to make the church to be more than it ought to claim as the church of Mystical Communion lacks the proper structures of authority and accountability. Such a group might thus quickly lose sight of the biblical instruction concerning order and mission. The final model to come out of Catholicism is the Church as Sacrament which aims to be a living sign of God’s character on earth. This community of people wishes to correct where the church has often drifted in the wrong direction as well as convey an unwavering devotion to Jesus Christ here on earth. However, this model has the tendency to ignore “the inward mystery of the church . . . [and struggles to include] service of the church’s mission to the world.

One of the first models to come out of the Protestant reformation was the idea that the Church was a Herald to the world. In other words, the church has been commissioned by Christ to proclaim his love and life to a world that is disconnected from him. The author proposes, “The Spirit-created church lives as the very body of Christ in the world. Its existence declares that the full power of God’s redemptive work is already active in the world through the Spirit.” The glaring weakness of such a model has been the disregard of good works to compliment and cooperate with the good news. As a consequence, the Church as Herald has done little in the areas of racial reconciliation, rampant poverty, or environmental conservatism. In direct contrast, there is the Church as Servant which proposes that a Christ-centered community focus on gaining understanding from political secularism and scientific achievement. However, such a model holds an incomplete view of the biblical term of being a servant. The church is not to serve for service sake but rather to first and foremost be a servant of God. He has directed his church to serve him and others with the motivation of heartfelt worship and cultural transformation.

2. After a thorough study of the previous models, one can see that the Pentecostal church draws a bit from all of them. For example, the longer that the affiliation of the Assemblies of God is in existence, as is the tendency with most long-standing denominations, the greater the temptation to become Institutional in solidifying their doctrinal differences with other movements as well as to slowly become ingrained in certain cultural norms and thus become irrelevant in their presentation of the gospel. Likewise, many Pentecostals lean toward the Mystical when they mistakenly identify spiritual gifts as equal to or as a direct sign of spiritual maturity or scriptural authority. Along with that, the Church as Sacrament can be seen in Pentecostalism’s Holiness heritage. There is still that enticement to find one’s sanctification in outward actions rather than in the inward work of the Holy Spirit.

That being said, Pentecostalism being historically Protestant, has largely been influenced by the Church as Herald and Servant. In regards to the Church as Herald, since the inception of Pentecostalism, there has been great emphasis placed on the centrality of Scripture in proclaiming Jesus as Savior, Healer, Baptizer, and Coming King. However, due to eventual alignment with evangelicalism and the recent embrace of modern church growth strategies, many Pentecostal churches have elected to downside the general practice of reading of the Word and simultaneously gravitated towards messages that are more topical in nature. In response, there seems to be a propensity amongst many emerging leaders to return to an expository or textual study of the Scriptures. Many of these churches spend several months and maybe years dedicated to one book of the bible. In regards to the Church as Servant, the beginnings of twentieth century Pentecostalism did seem to propel missionaries to go to the ends of the earth. As one example, the missions department of the Assemblies of God has often coupled the proclamation of the gospel with good works such as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and housing the homeless. That being said, Pentecostalism has rarely seen acts of kindness as an ends to itself and just recently has rediscovered the importance of social justice on a local level.

3. The aim of the Pentecostal church ought to be to embrace and integrate the insights of a missional ecclesiology. The essence of church is where “we encounter the living God in the midst of our humanity. We encounter the Spirit of God dwelling in the midst of a people who are created and formed into a unique community.” In short, one of the greatest tasks of the missional church is to be able to share a biblically and theologically sound gospel in a specific and static cultural landscape all while learning from the successes and failures of history and while leaning in the direction of the Holy Spirit.

Models

Orphans

Our trip is nearing the end. We are now in the city of Moscow and one step closer to home. We fly out early tomorrow morning. Yesterday was a difficult day. Our final orphanage visit. These boys are so special. How do you even begin to communicate the loving loyalty of Christ when you know that you are leaving them in an hour’s time and that you may never see them again? How do you display a genuine compassion for them as you prepare to be added to the long list of people who have left them in their lifetime? Who are in their life one moment and out the next? How do you leave your heart in a place when you have to keep on telling yourself that you are leaving in a few hours and will probably not return for about a year and a half? I guess I have to trust that God is at work even when I am not. That he is actively involved in his creation even (and especially) in the midst of such human limitations. That he loves with a love that I cannot explain, fathom, or even begin to replicate.

I am reminded of when the Psalter sang, “Sing to God, sing praises to his name; lift up a song to him who rides through the deserts; his name is the Lord; exult before him! Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation. God settles the solitary in a home; he leads out the prisoners to prosperity, but the rebellious dwell in a parched land” (Psalm 68:4-6, ESV).

Before our departure, one of our teammates said something to the boys that was so greatly powerful and profound. He said, “In heaven, there are no orphans.” This simple statement will help me and haunt me all at the same time. In one phrase he contrasted the beauty of the Kingdom with the depravity of our empires. I can never again pray for or remember my Russian friends without having that exact phrase echo in the back of my mind over and over and over again. This is not how it is supposed to be. This is not how it will one day be. Our God truly wishes to be our Heavenly Father. A Father to the fatherless. Now this truth does not excuse the church refusing to bring about hope and healing in this present age – as if we can just go about our merry way because the world is the world and that is just how it is. Far from it! We cannot and will not ignore the cries of the widows and the orphans for another minute. May we have the sense of urgency to live out his care and compassion in a world that is ravished and void. Even so, I look forward to the Kingdom. To adoption. To family.

Orphans

Supper

There are several passages of Scripture that I have read, studied, and even preached from so many times that I walk away from my reading believing that I understood everything there was to know about that certain text. An example of this might be when the bible reads, “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles.44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2:42-47, ESV).

This has become, for one reason or another, the supposed proof text for small group ministry in modern church growth systems. Isn’t this what fellowship is indeed supposed to look like as a part of church life? Call it what you want – community or friendship – the biblical truth might far surpass a mere model of ministry. I have enjoyed fellowship before. A traditional meal in Swaziland. A good old fashioned potluck in a rural church setting. But I have never been exposed to the depth of fellowship that I saw in a small village church located on the outskirts of Kursk, Russia. They know what family and connection are really supposed to look like.

We were invited to share a meal with the pastor, his family, and a small group of his closest friends. We crowded around a table and quickly filled the room with the sounds of stories and laughter. I was invited to another person’s home where they fed me more food than I knew they could afford. Time and time again I was absolutely blown away by their unreserved hospitality and unwavering generosity. Eighty-five percent of Russian money is located in the city of Moscow. That means that one of the most populated nations in the world is absolutely impoverished. And yet, they give. They share. They care. Probably because they have to. They would not and could not survive on their own.

Maybe the things that make the United States so great are also the very things that make us not so great? Independence. Individuality. Identity. We thus miss out on inter-dependence. Community. Integrity. Now I am not saying that I wish that the government would impose such legalities. That does not work either. Just ask Russia throughout her history. I am not talking about a governmet system. I am speaking of a heart issue. No, the church can freely give to each other. The church can live these heavenly principles out for the entire world to see. Graciously. We must rediscover family. We must find again the art of passing bread in tight quarters. Will we as the church teach a culture to share?

Supper

Naive

We were invited today to one of the youth director’s homes. He is the one who we have worked so closely with over the past few days. He has devoted so much of his time each and every week to disciple orphans, facilitate youth ministries, and direct summer camps (all for about nearly a decade now). It was truly an honor to be welcomed into his home. Just as he is a good leader in the church he also seems to be as good a leader in his home. He seems to adore his wife and children as they show the same adoration in return. His family is wonderful. Three children by birth and two others through adoption – the newest addition joining them as recent as November. This is a refreshing sight as less than ten percent of orphans are ever adopted in the entire nation of Russia. This leader is worth following in every respect of the phrase.

Similar to my past experiences abroad – whether it be Mexico or Swaziland – I was again reminded of the preciousness and innocence of children all over the world. Before our politics and pursuits can get to them – I am convinced that children can have a whole lot more in common with each other than we give them credit for. The bible reads, “At that time Jesus declared, ‘I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will'” (Matthew 11:25-26, ESV). I wonder how many land disputes and religious wars could be avoided if the world leaders would first be forced to spend a day or so in the homes of those they wish to occupy? I wonder what perceptions and desires would change if these presidents and dictators were showered with the same hospitality that I was and heard the laughter that I heard? I am afraid, in the world that we find ourselves, not enough. I am afraid that we often have to learn the hard way.

In fact, before my thoughts could run away towards a false Utopian paradise, the reality of a fallen humanity brought me down with quite a thud. Later that day I had quite the disagreement with another teammate over certain theological position and really more about specific practical methodology. It was quite an unfortunate incident. Our team worked through the situation and I do not believe that it compromised our ministry with that church that we were partnering with. However, there was a level of trust that I felt was broken between us. Nevertheless, I hope that the both of us can continue to uphold our friendship and approach future discussion with a generous amount of humility and honesty. I was reminded that we live in a broken world and in many respects serve as part of a broken church. May Christ some how and some way be glorified as he works out his will in and through us all. And may he have mercy with us in the process.

Naive