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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?
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.
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.