This was originally posted on 19 April 2006
I have enjoyed interacting with my father over the past few years. For most of my life, he has been many miles ahead of me on the spiritual journey we’re all on. But, in the past few years, we’ve found ourselves journeying together on a new path.
He recently sent me some thoughts he had put together after reading a book I think I have him for Christmas last year. He calls these writings his “Wooden Spoons” (for stirring).
Here is what he sent me.
Developing Kingdom Vision
The Wooden Spoon, No. 10: Feb 2006
by Dr Reg Codrington
In a recent study, I found it fascinating to note that, although the term “kingdom” can be found in the teachings of Jesus over a hundred times in the four Gospels (as “kingdom”, “kingdom of heaven” or “kingdom of God”), He only mentioned “church” a mere three times. Yet today if you were to ask the average Christian for a definition of “the kingdom”, he or she may be hard put to describe it accurately. As Reggie McNeal notes in his book, “The Present Future”, the “church culture has become confused with biblical Christianity, both inside the church and out.” (page 1)
In fact, McNeal goes on to bemoan the fact that all too many Christians have begun to confuse Christianity with Churchianity. In all denominations we have allowed the customs and traditions of the church to become prescriptive and, in many instances, to blind us to what the Scriptures actually say on various issues.
Now if this sounds fairly critical of today’s church, it is only because I am convinced that the Emerging Church Movement is asking some very serious and significant questions about what the church SHOULD look like. Let me start by outlining some of the developments over a considerable period of time which have led, so I believe, to a diminution of the church’s effectiveness, both for Christians and for the society in which it finds itself:
1. Rampant denominationalism
- There are many today who would argue that denominational barriers are crumbling, assisted greatly by the cross-denominational charismatic movement of the latter part of the 20th century. Why is it, then, that there is still such competition between churches? Why is so much so-called ecumenicism a “surface-only” claim, as long as there is no “sheep-stealing” of “our” members? Why is church membership still so critical to being either “in” or “out” when it is not mentioned anywhere in Scripture?
2. Lack of servant leadership
- Can the church be healthy when a local minister urges his congregation not to attend a Christian event in another church, and not even to give information about it in the cell groups, for fear that he may lose control of what they hear? Is it wise that the peculiar doctrinal stance of a pastor should be allowed to dictate what does, or does not happen in his local church, regardless of whether or not there is a sound Biblical basis for his position? Did the Lord really intend church to become a group of sheep, highly controlled by one under-shepherd?
3. Lack of missionary zeal
- The days of the missionary in a pith helmet hacking his way through the jungle may be far gone, but what has happened to the Great Commission in most of our churches. Sadly, it has become the Great Omission. Looking after the home base (and especially the church buildings) has carried much more weight in budget discussions than pouring funds into missionary or evangelistic efforts. Is that what our Master would call Kingdom Vision? “An honest search for God today would lead the church back into the world.” (Reggie McNeal, page 56)
4. Lack of compassion
- Why is it that the upliftment of the poor, the hurting, the AIDS victims and orphans, and the societal misfits is so often the work of NGOs and secular Good Samaritans rather than the church? Our young people are encouraged to wear the WWJD armband, but do we as the people of God ask the question often enough, “What would Jesus do?”
5. Lack of forgiveness
- When I read the God who forgave High Priest Joshua in Zechariah 3, although his sins were described as “filthy”; when I re-read the passage of Jesus’ response to the woman caught in adultery; when I hear him say to failed Peter, “Feed my sheep”, I weep at the unforgiveness of the modern church, always quicker to condemn than to restore. Sure, there must be true repentance, but after that? Exclusion? Penance? Excommunication? Discipline? How would Jesus handle it?
6. Lack of Biblical knowledge
- The plethora of good-feeling Christian books flooding the market has given rise to “Bible” studies which are nothing of the kind. The average Christian just does not know the Book anymore, although he or she may well be able to quote Rick Warren, Bruce Wilkinson or Nicky Gumbel. How will we ever be able to ascertain what is truth and what is error if we are not steeped in the Word?
If we are to confront these lacks, and ensure that the church is truly equipped to meet the challenges of the 21st century, many things have to change. Through the centuries, as society has changed, believers have gone back to the Word and found it more relevant than ever, although sometimes requiring a new hermeneutic. We are abroad in the postmodern society and to hear many Christians speak about this, one would think that it’s a terminal disease we must avoid at all costs! Like it or not, that’s our society, and we need to ensure that the unchanging Word and the unchanging Gospel are made relevant to challenge the issues of the day. This means re-evaluating EVERY practice in thelight of carefully-exegeted Scripture.
My strong feeling, to address the issues outlined above, is that the Emerging Church of the 21st century will be non-denominational (emphasising function not form), characterised by a servant leadership in churches with every-person ministry, focusing funds and manpower on reaching the lost (“here” and “there”), genuinely getting our hands dirty in the community, cherishing restoration of sinners above rebuke, and returning to REALLY study what the Word says on every issue.
As I pondered these matters, I was forcibly struck by the fact that NONE of these issues raises its head in the Grace College environment. Think about it for a moment:
- Denominationalism is a non-issue; we are Christians working together with a common goal, outlined in the school’s vision statement and in our Statement of Principles.
- Leadership is (hopefully) not autocratic, but taking consideration of all views through regular consultation.
- Missionary zeal is at the heart of our longing that every pupil should come to faith in Christ. In fact, it is my strong feeling that local churches should free Christian teachers from all other responsibilities and support us as missionaries as we enter the classroom to share Christ every day. Few other places of work have as their main aim the salvation of the people with whom there will be interaction on a daily basis!
- Compassion for the needy undergirds our whole Community Development programme and achieves a high “buy-in” by staff and pupils at Grace College.
- Forgiveness and the expression of Grace has become a by-word in our school, as we endeavour to help youngsters work through their moral and other failures to a position of strength and victory. The expressed desire of staff members again and again is to “give him another chance”. The Lord’s heart must be warmed!
- While there is always room for greater exposure to the Word, the involvement of so many staff members in Bible Studies, Evening School and similar opportunities for studying the Scriptures is a great encouragement.
The kingdom is people. To develop a Kingdom Vision is to see what God wants to do NOW in the world which will have eternal consequences THEN in heaven. Our question should not be “how is your church doing?”, for that is inward-looking and as helpful as ingrowing toenails! We should rather be asking, “How is the Kingdom doing?” The kingdom is “out there” and that is where Christians have to be, helping people develop, as Jesus did as a young man, physically, intellectually, spiritually and socially (Luke 2:52).
Allow me to finish this thought-stirrer by quoting yet again from McNeal’s book:
- “It is absurd that schoolteachers who have contact with dozens of students every day be underdeveloped as to their missionary potential. They usually have more face time with students than anyone else (even parents). Why in the world would we do anything that would make them feel or believe they have to pursue their personal spiritual development down at the church and away from the classroom? … Imagine helping people see how God can get into the life they already have instead of asking them to give up their life for the church.” (p 79)