Appealing to the Artistic in the Apostolic

My last post dealt with apostles and the apostolic and the extremes and misunderstood notions prevalent within the church. Freedom and grace, not fear and control are the necessities needed in apostolic work. The great misunderstanding is that the apostolic work will yield similar results regardless of place or culture. That’s the fear and control talking. When a gospel of radical grace and freedom takes root in a community, the results will look differently depending on the context. Granted the expression of that discipleship community will be (hopefully) an expression of Christ, how that church expresses Christ will be manifold.

The apostolic writers in the New Testament used a variety of metaphors to express the church in her growth. The notions of a temple being built, a family coming together, the functioning of the Body of Christ, among others provides a plethora of ways the church is expressed in the world. Variety and uniqueness should be in the very DNA of every local church. This is why I would appeal to those with apostolic callings to be artistic in the work they do.

In Eph. 2.10, it states we are God’s workmanship, the handiwork of the eternal craftsman. The church is a work of that Jesus builds through the Spirit. This is the poema of God. The lyrical poetry crafted before creation that finds expression in the earth through the church. The context and culture a church finds herself in will offer different canvases and different media to express the reality of Jesus Christ. Some canvases may be small, others large. The media may be oils, acrylics, watercolor or collage. Some may very well be sculptures or even a dramatic work or poetry incarnate. Whatever creative raw materials are found in a given area, Jesus Christ will build His church through the Spirit, the finger of God.

The out working of such expressions of Christ in the world should challenge, stretch and transform us. If we find ourselves only agreeing with the art, the artistic expression is not doing the work of unveiling truth and beauty but merely becoming something petty but pretty. Something ‘pretty/petty’ is nothing more than a sanitized version of the God revealed in Jesus Christ. Sugar coated works of art belie the unrestrained passion the God of creation has for His Bride. Why should we as followers of Christ settle for something less? Why should we stifle or even kill the arts and artists?

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Apostles and the Apostolic

The meaning of the person as an apostle strikes either a new understanding of church leadership or something that died off nearly 2000 years ago. On one hand, some charismatic churches embrace the notion of the apostle as a much needed restoration within the Body of Christ. How this is defined and worked out in these churches is for another discussion. On the other hand, other churches (often those that hold to the cessation of certain spiritual gifts) scoff at the idea that apostles could come back to play a particular and needed role in the church. Both of these views express extremes in the Body of Christ yet I believe a middle path can be found between the two perspectives.

The apostle is defined often as one sent forth (with certain orders), a messenger or a delegate. If you consider the life of Paul, he was sent forth with the Gospel as a representative of Jesus Christ. Now for those who think the apostolic lifestyle is full of signs, wonders and massive conversions, please think again and reread 2 Cor. 11.23-28. Paul along with other apostles knew suffering which few ‘apostles’ here in America would know. The pattern that Paul roughly followed was this: bring the message of Jesus Christ (Jews first then Gentiles), gather together disciples, teach them for a period of time, i.e., lay a foundation, leave. How many bearing the ‘apostle’ title would dare do such a thing? Sadly, many have missed the main point that Christ is the head of the church and not some apostle.

Some of those that have missed the point seek to establish a new hierarchy with apostles at top then trickling down with prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, of course with the apostle having the greatest authority. I find it exceedingly ironic that those coming from a Free Church background would embrace such an idea. This again sets up an authority structure that the Free Church sought to abandon as seen in Roman Catholicism. This also flies in the face of Paul’s example. He gave the disciples in the churches the freedom to discover how to meet, how to organize and who, if anyone, would be a leader. Eph 2.20 speaks of apostles and prophets as foundational in the church. If foundational, they would occupy the lowest place in the church by providing support for building up and being of service to all in Christ. Such a person is difficult to find these days…

While speaking of someone as an apostle these days might seem pretentious, misguided or downright silly, the need for apostolic people is a great need in the church today. This is a call that takes the great commission in Matt. 28 as applicable to all disciples. (Others may argue that this only applies to apostles.) Whether the application of ‘Going into all the world…’ is for all disciples or only for those called as apostles is open for debate. The greater need is for all disciples to love God and love neighbor. This fleshing out before others the love of God by loving neighbors could provide an apostolic flavor that many churches lack though they seek to attract people through branding and spectacle.

My gut tells me the era of self-preservation in the church is coming to an end. The end may result in some kicking and screaming, but the embrace of the cross will lead to the emergence of new life in some unexpected places. These places that emerge to express the new creation in Christ may look radically different than what we expect. Where would Jesus, Peter, John, Paul and Timothy hang out today? Who would they try to reach? What would those discipleship communities look like? If we are honest, I think the answers might surprise us.

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The Prophetic – Speaking Truth to Power

This one aspect of the prophetic ministry to the church takes a turn from the upbuilding of the church. One could see this as the prophetic witness of the church to speak to those in places of power. Speaking truth to power has it roots in the OT prophets in the varied calls to embrace justice and care for the poor and marginalized. This is the simultaneous call for the people of God to reflect the alternative community of theKingdomofGodand to address those institutions in the world system that would hinder the cause of justice and compassion.

We can’t expect the world system to reflect the justice of God. However, we can call the powers that be into account when justice is not worked out and the people on the margins are neglected. This is often viewed as meddlesome by some Christians who think our only task as the church is to save lost souls. Saving lost souls is only the beginning of God’s purposes in the earth. Salvations is not only about individuals but also communities and the transformation of God’s creation. The church is an expression of the new creation which is (or least should be) a glaring contrast to the system of the world.

One way to speak of this new reality is through the arts. Keith Giles wrote a blog post regarding the role of the prophetic in the arts.  This may provide a way for those creative types in the Body of Christ to speak prophetically and speak truth to power. In addition, this can provide a way of envisioning the alternative community that the world needs to see. Creativity in the church should not be limited to the sugar coating of some pop culture expression but express that deep and burning longing found in the very heart of God for humanity that bears His image. So what would such art look like?  Ultimately, such artwork will challenge and inspire the church and the world. For the church, it would be a reminder to rise to her calling. For the world, a reminder that all is not okay and transformation is needed. For those in power, a reminder that the power they have is fleeting and is subject to the power of God in the cross of Christ.

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The Prophetic Voice

The prophetic ministry is one area of gifting in the church that is controversial yet worth investigating in greater depth. From Moses to Paul, the prophetic gift was something that they wished all God’s people had. That being said, the gift of the prophetic much less that of the function of a prophet has led to a wide range of responses in the church. On one hand you have those that deny outright that such a gift even functions within the Body of Christ today. On the other hand, you have those calling for a restoration of the prophet and the prophetic that is taken to extremes with to much emphasis on prophetic words over the living Word.

Rev 19:10 states, ‘The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” Yet all too often, the spirit of prophecy overlooks Jesus for the personal, strategic or big word that makes us feel better without pointing us to Jesus or encouraging us in our growth to Christ-likeness. Granted this is an extreme among certain charismatic folk but the problem remains something not even addressed among cessationist Christians or pointed out as to why such gifts should be avoided. Ultimately, balanced prophetic words will point to the living Word, encourage us in our Christian maturity and play a part in Christ being formed in us.

1 Cor. 12-14 provides a great deal of insight into the prophetic gift and the story of Acts also provides the role of the prophets in the early church. From these two examples one can see two different types of prophetic words, the personal/corporate word and the prophetic word regarding events effecting regions or nations. The words for an individual or a church provide a source of encouragement for the building up and assembly of the Body of Christ. Such words can come from a prophet or from one having a prophetic gifting to provide the right word at the proper time. The main point in receiving such prophetic utterances is not about ‘us’ but about the formation of Christ in us and the establishment of the Body of Christ.

The role of the prophet as told in the book of Acts focuses on the future events that would affect nations and the believers in those nations such as the famine predicted by Agabus. This is probably the trickier type of prophetic word that I have not had the opportunity to see this in action. I say trickier, because of the future orientation and the often conditional nature of such prophetic words. This would seem to place a great burden on the one functioning as a prophet. The book of Acts records prophecies that came to pass. However, if the word is mistaken or does not come to pass, do we as the church allow for grace and restoration or do we quickly condemn the ‘false prophet’?

Others in recent times have spoken prophecies on a national scale. Often phrased in terms of blessing or wrath, such prophecy is problematic by its very nature. We expect such things from an OT style prophet but we are now under a new covenant; again, tricky stuff. The big question is does such prophecy have a place in the church?  I believe people (even large groups of people) should be called to repentance, but should this apply to nations as well? Under the new covenant, should prophetic words still be framed in language of blessing and cursing? Maybe the bigger question is this, if one has a prophetic function in a church, what language and character would they express under the new covenant?

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The Gift of the Evangelist

The evangel is the announcement of good news.  For the Christian, the evangel is Jesus Christ. Some will say the gospel is justification by faith through grace. Others will say it is certain verses from the book of Romans. Another will say it is the 4 spiritual laws. More will say it is repentance, belief and saying  a certain prayer. These things are good but the reality of the person of Jesus Christ eclipses them all. The problem is these things make the gospel a something and not the person of Jesus Christ.

Mass evangelism – Many an evangelical is familiar with this. Fill a stadium, theater or church building, bring in a great preacher and have a time of decision. The problem is getting people to the event.

Salesman evangelism – This is the method for sharing the things of the gospel in a manner much like a (used car) salesman. The trick is to make the sale by getting the decision. Atheists, agnostics and other religious practitioners are the hard sale, i.e. brush up on your apologetics. The problem is the reduction of Jesus to a commodity.

Rude evangelism – This is similar to above but ignores the qualities of love expressed in 1 Cor. 13, e.g. patient, kind, not boasting, not rude and so on. This is similar to the cold call and we know how we love telemarketers. Why anyone thought this as an effective way to share Christ is beyond me even though I was guilty of this in my younger days. The greater problem is you ignore the love of God. The lesser problem is you look like a jerk. That often causes problems for the rest of us.

Alternatives:

Bar/coffee shop evangelism – Show up regularly to a bar or coffee shop, develop relationships, share your life (which is rooted in God’s life) with others. This takes the love of God into account by showing up and loving others. You don’t force the door open for the gospel but present the gospel in the midst of your life.

Relational/friendship evangelism – Develop friendships with those outside of the flock and provide a safe place to discuss the problems of life. We can express the love of God in friendship by being there and saying, ‘I enjoy the time we spend together and you are important to me.’ Making time for others gets the focus off ourselves, which is something all us Christians need.

Servant evangelism – Serving the poor or those in need with no other motivation than to love the least of these. You come along side of them in their time of need and share in their suffering. This reflects the quote, ‘Preach the gospel always, and if necessary, use words.’

The future of evangelism will take seriously the notion of going into the world. This reflects Bonhoeffer’s view for the future of Christianity: Pray and help those with the problems of this age and enter into their suffering. Can you think of other examples that reflect such an approach to sharing the gospel? How can we share the good news of Christ in the midst of a postmodern culture?

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Teachers in Church Life

Next up is the role of teacher in the church; how this works out traditionally and possibilities in an emerging/organic context. Teaching is oft associated with transmitting knowledge, from teacher to student via facts, figures and later evaluation (read here, testing). The teaching that occurs from kindergarten to high school and on is of this sort. Granted the higher one goes in education, the more one has to show and defend independent thought and research. Yet teaching in the church is more than just passing along knowledge but also the passing on of wisdom. Wisdom is that richness of life experience that has put the knowledge to work by discerning the why and how. I like to think of it as knowledge tried by fire.

The church passes along her wisdom in a variety of ways. Need we look further than Sunday School? Growing up in a Southern Baptist Church, Sunday School was the morning preface to the worship service. Bible stories were taught to the children, (often sanitized for safety reasons) while teens and adults ventured deeper into the text. Application and theology come together though not at an academic level.

The teaching for those called to ministry takes a different turn. The place of Bible schools, Christian colleges and seminaries is a ministerial rite of passage for many churches and denominations. Considering the disciples in the 1st Century, not all were as educated as Paul. Yet most denominations require an M.Div for ordination. Is this necessary for those called to ministry? What of the many called in developing countries who neither have the education nor the finances to pursue such education? This may be an oversight that Western churches need to rethink. Above all else if the academic work has no traction in the real world of practice why continue on such a path? Must we preserve the ivory towers?

Teaching in an emerging/organic context might look a bit different. First, the teaching will be practical, modeled and illustrated in the life of the one teaching. Next, the teaching may not even look like ‘traditional’ teaching but more like a conversation. Openness and participation are common requisites in such a faith community. Third, teaching can be more inviting for those on the fringes of the flock. Having an open time of discussion regarding scripture, doctrine or theology over coffee, beer or cigars could reach people who would never darken the door of a church house. The leadership expressed in the work of a teacher is that of influence and friendship along with the shaping of the concepts, ideas and language of the faith community.

Whether academic or fiercely practical, the teaching of the church should reflect the head of the church, Jesus Christ. Teachers likewise should reflect the character and style of the Rabbi Jesus. Above all else is the need for utter dependence on the Holy Spirit in teaching. That Spirit leads us to all truth, the fullness of Christ.

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