This morning at church, we looked at the first six verses of Colossians chapter one. Our pastor titled the sermon, “The marks of a genuine Christian”.
He’s a good communicator and preached well. But this morning did expose a weakness in the evangelical desire to chunk the Bible up into ‘bite size chunks’ and preach verse by verse exposition. The Bible was not written in chapters and verses – and there is a danger that we impose an artificial structure onto God’s Word that distorts its meaning.
I don’t want to sound like a whiner about this, but it really does irritate me when evangelical presuppositions result in glaring omissions from Biblical exposition. To put it simply, I think our pastor got it wrong this morning – not in what he did say, but in what he didn’t.
Today’s sermon gave us three marks of a genuine Christian: Faith in Jesus (v4); Love for other Christians (v4); and, Hope of heaven (v5). But what about verse 6 – that the Good News of the Gospel is bearing fruit? The New Living Translation helpfully translates verse 6 as the Good News “is bearing fruit everywhere by changing lives, just as it changed your lives since the day you heard and understood the truth about God’s grace.”
This emphasis on changed lives in the here and now is then reiterated powerfully in verses 10 and 11.
In fact verses 8 through 13 just repeat what was said in the first six verses. The “three marks of a genuine Christian” are repeated again, but it seems to me that there is clearly at least a fourth sign: that our lives are meant to demonstrate that the Gospel has come (I also think there is something there about growing in our depth of understanding of what God has done for us – but I’ll leave that for another day). If everything we believe makes no difference to how we live now, what is it worth? And that does not simply mean some spiritual longing for a better life somewhere else. It means that we strive hard to “make it on earth as it is in heaven” – just as Jesus taught us to pray!
Faith in Jesus, love for others and the saints, and hope in heaven are definitely signs of being a genuine Christian. But they are not enough. The Bible is clear and consistent in its witness that you prove your Christian beliefs by your good works. Colossians 1 itself is clear on this. Why do evangelicals so easily and consistently miss the “good works” theme of the Gospel when it is in such plain sight?
Originally Posted on 23 June 2009
I was sent an email today that contained an excellent manifesto from one of my favourite thinkers and authors, Len Sweet.
It’s titled: “A Magna Carta for Restoring the Supremacy of Jesus Christ, a.k.a. A Jesus Manifesto for the 21st Century Church”
by Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola
You can read the original at their blog: http://ajesusmanifesto.wordpress.com/
It really is worth it. Thought-provoking and powerful. I like it a lot, and think we need to take our Christ-centric nature more seriously.
Originally posted on 22 June 2005
Too much of what happens in the typical local church is focused on the activities of that church and its people. I believe that this is due to a fatal flaw in the way most people think about church. They tend to see church as an end, as an entity that exists for its own purposes.
But church is not an end. Church was never meant to be the goal of Christian endeavour. God is not interested in empowering us to create better churches. No. Church is simply a means – a means to an end.
God is interested in extending his kingdom throughout the whole world. He is interested in empowering his church to impact of the world. In particular, God is interested in empowering local churches to impact local communities in very practical ways. After all, Jesus came to “preach good news to the poor… to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19)
Churches that focus the majority of the time, resources and facilities on their own internal programs, including worship, preaching, youth ministry, Bible study, young adults, women’s groups, etc, have lost sight of the purpose of their existence.
I believe this is one of the primary emphases of the emerging church movement – to bring the church back to its primary calling to be a vehicle for the establishment of God’s kingdom in this world. The church is not the end, it is only the means. It is not an institution – it is a strategy to assist us become the people of God.
The senior pastor of our church, Richard Coekin, is the national co-chairman of “A Passion for Life”. This is a month long programme of events in hundreds of churches around the UK, leading up to Easter 2010. The goal is to share the Gospel with friends, family and neighbours, and create a multitude of opportunities for them to connect with the church and its message.
It has taken two years to work up to this point, getting different churches interested and involved. It seems that a great spin off is the collaboration between churches, and the sharing of resources that is taking place.
You can find out more at: http://www.apassionforlife.org.uk/
It’s not too late to get involved. And, if you’d like to find out more about how Christians view life, and their passion for it, connect with a church near you and ask them.
First published on 1 September 2007, updated on 1 March 2010
Is it ever OK to live a lie in order to tell the Truth?
Yesterday, 19 South Korean missionaries who had been held hostage by the Taliban in Afghanistan were freed after a 6 week ordeal. If you haven’t been following the story, and the controversy around the reported $ 2 million ransom paid, then read the New York Times article here or the Reuters report here.
This has brought to bear a HUGE issue that has been bubbling away just below the surface for many years. The Emerging Church has not quite wanted to touch this topic publicly, although many coffee shop discussions have spoken about it. The issue is now in stark relief. As part of the negotiations between the South Korean government and the Taliban, the Koreans promised to send no more missionaries to Afghanistan (South Korea has more missionaries abroad than any country other than the USA). I am guessing that not every church in Korea was complicit with that decision, but it is nevertheless a binding international public promise. (Read a Korean newspaper report on this issue).
Will the church comply? Those churches that have no intention of stopping sending missionaries surely have a duty to the truth to immediately come public and say, “We will not stop. We don’t agree with the decision.”
The issue that lies at the heart of this situation is the conflict between telling the truth and spreading the Truth.
More recently, in 2010, we have seen the case of some American church workers who went to Haiti to help in the aftermath of their terrible earthquake. But they tried to help by attempting to smuggle 30 or so children out of the country. They initially claimed that these children were orphans. It later emerged that many were not, but that their parents had consented to them being taken away by the church workers in order to live better lives in the USA. Besides the cultural imperialism going on in this story, there is an underlying current of dishonesty and lying that appeared to pervade the situation.
Doing good, but being deceitful in order to do so! Is that ever OK?
Continue reading Telling the Truth vs Spreading the Truth
Originally posted on 7 May, 2007
I attended a conference in Uganda in 2007 which was a significant moment in my “emerging church” journey. It as the first time I really understood that the “stories” of my faith were incomplete, and that a future church would need to find new ways of expressing what it meant to be church. The talk I make available below was one of those “aha” moments for me. I hope it can be for you, too.
A message by Claude Nikondeha, from Burundi, delivered at Amahoro Gathering in Uganda
Download the MP3 recording here
The sections marked (GC) in italics are my commentary, not Claude’s words.
The problem with a Gospel that only promises release when Jesus returns, is that Jesus has not yet returned. The people are not released – they live in suffering, poverty, famine and wars.
“The Gospel is not a doctrinal formula for the salvation of the individual but it is the Good News of God’s movement through Jesus Christ to carry out his purpose for the entire human race.” Rene Padilla
Jesus did not come to announce an evacuation plan, but a transformation plan.
Continue reading The Transformational Gospel vs the Evacuation Gospel
Originally posted in 2002, and then updated in July 2009
It has been a tremendous privilege over many years to be able to (almost) seamlessly blend my ministry and work aspirations. This is something many people spend their whole lives striving for – to integrate what they do for a living with the passion in their hearts. I fell into this very young, and have been privileged to continue to do so.
Specifically, the work I do on different generations, and seeing the world through other people’s eyes (see http://www.graemecodrington.com) has application in many different areas – from schools and churches, to marketing and HR departments of large corporates, and even government institutions, too.
A few things have happened recently to remind me of work I did a number of years ago on evangelising the next generation. I wrote a chapter on “Generations at church” in my 2004 book, “Mind the Gap”. Now, EE3, the global evangelism movement, will be providing my book to its members. I have also been in contact with the organisers of the upcoming Lausanne Congress on World Evangelisation, to be held in Cape Town 2010.
So, previously unpublished on this blog, is an article I wrote in 2000 for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association magazine.
Continue reading Evangelising the generations