WHAT IS ORGANIC CHURCH? AN INTERVIEW WITH NEIL COLE & FRANK VIOLA

organic_churchAs simply as you can, define what “Church” looks like to you in practical terms. (Looking for an example of how an “Organic Church” would function – how a typical meeting might look – in your version of “Organic” church). What is your definition of “Organic Church”?

Neil: Many scholars attempt to describe church with a list of ingredients that they believe are found in the New Testament. Here is a typical list: a group of believers that gather together regularly and believe themselves to be a church. They have qualified elders and practice baptism, communion and church discipline and agree on a doctrinal foundation and have some sort of missional purpose.

I have no problem with these ingredients being a part of church, though not all of them are indeed biblical (no where in the NT does it say that we have to consider ourselves a church to be a church—that is a cultural reaction to calling bible studies or parachurch organizations churches. There are also NT churches that have not had elders appointed yet on the first missionary journey—Acts 14:21-25). I believe that this understanding of church is missing the most essential ingredient: Jesus! If we can define church without Jesus than we can do church without Jesus and that is a tragedy at best and treason at worst.

In CMA, we have defined church this way: The presence of Jesus among His people, called out as a spiritual family to pursue His mission on this planet. Church begins and ends with Jesus among us. All the typical ingredients listed to describe church were in the upper room in Acts chapter one but the church really began in Acts chapter two when only one other important ingredient was added: the Spirit of God showed up! God among us is what makes us any different from the Elks Club.

For us church functions like a family, and family is not just for an hour and a half one day a week. We eat together and live together. We do get together, but not only for serious meetings. We meet up during the week for coffee or a meal and hold each other accountable to following Jesus in Life Transformation Groups. My spiritual family often get together to reach out to others, at cafes or with release time outreach at elementary schools and in the marketplace where we all work. We also go to the movies or on hikes together during the week.

Church is not an event, a place or an organization; it is a family on mission together. We must emphasize this shift in understanding. As such we are not defined by a meeting, though we do meet. When we meet we do not have a routine that must always be done. But for the sake of helping people get a feel for the ebb and flow of our lives I will try to describe what our time is usually like when we do get together.

When we do have meetings, we do not presume to have an agenda, but to gather, listen to God and one another. We worship, sometimes with music. About half of the songs we have are original songs written by people in our movement. In our meetings we do not have a set list of songs that are rehearsed, but rather we sing the songs that He puts on people’s hearts as the Spirit leads. We sing until we feel like we have changed our perspective of things from having been in His presence. We may then keep singing if that is what He leads us to do, but often we share next what is going on in our lives.

We have a little poem (not the height of poetry by any means) that is usually said by anyone in the group to start the share time. We do this so that even young kids can lead in the church and when people start a new church they know what can get the interaction started:

Does anyone have praises or prayer requests, a word from the Lord or a sin to confess?

We all share what God is saying and doing in our lives and we all pray for what is happening. This could be all we do for the entire evening as well.

We usually open the Bible, read a passage and discuss it. Right now we are going chapter-by-chapter through Acts but this is not routine and we often turn to something else at the leading of the Spirit. We do not have any preparation for this time, as we are not the ones in charge, Jesus is. Our time in the word, however, is not simply pooling ignorance because of the following reasons:

  1. We are all listening to the Head of the church and He is not ignorant, and
  2. Because of Life Transformation Groups, most of us are all reading large volumes of scripture throughout the week repetitively and in context, so our observations in the scriptures are actually quite insightful. The Spirit of the Lord working in each of us is the teacher, and we are all learners.

When a good question arises or even some false teaching, a leader of the group does not usually step forward and decide the issue for everyone. Rather, we pray and ask the Lord to help us out. Then we ask what insight the Spirit may have given to each of us. The body responds, not the pastor. This empowers everyone to react to false teaching or to find solutions to difficult questions, not just then but anytime. We are also quite comfortable with three little words: I don’t know.

We usually pray and sing and eat until it is time to head home. We may also watch the Lakers play a game or go to a movie. Hope that helps some. As you can see we are not set on a routine and do not have a formal agenda, though we do have some consistent but very flexible patterns. Oh, and we do not have an offering that is passed in my own church. Some of the churches in CMA do, but we do not have that as a set responsibility of church. What we do have is generous people of God who give, not just money but property hospitality and time, to those who are in need.

Frank: I’m of the opinion that the New Testament only knows one kind of church, and it’s organic. The ekklesia is a living organism not an institutional organization.

I’ve been using the word “organic church” or “organic expression of the church” for over 16 years. And I give credit to T. Austin-Sparks for the phrase. For Sparks and I, an organic church is a group of Jesus followers who are discovering how to live by Divine life together and who are expressing that life in a corporate way.

Jesus said “as the living Father has sent me, and I live by the Father, so he who partakes of me shall live by me.” Paul echoed these words in Colossians when he said that the mystery of the ages is “Christ in you,” and that “Christ is our life” (see also Gal. 2:20; Rom. 8:9-17).

Consequently, when God’s people learn how to live by the indwelling life of Christ together, a certain expression of community life naturally emerges. So for me, the word “organic” has to do with life – God’s life. The organic expression of the church comes up from the soil; it’s not mechanical. While it has organization (or an expression) – as all living organisms do – the organization (or expression) comes about naturally from the life, not through human manipulation, religious ritual, or legalism.

Put another way, organic church life is very ancient. It precedes Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Instead, it finds its headwaters in the fellowship of the Triune God before time. When humans touch that fellowship together, experience it, and make it visible on What Is Organic Church? Interview with Neil Cole & Frank Viola by Keith Giles page 4 of 17 the earth, you have the life of the ekklesia, i.e., organic church life (1 John 1:1-3; John 17:20-24).page39_picture0_slide_1328233279

I left the institutional church 22 years ago and have gathered with numerous organic expressions of the church (completely outside the religious institutional system) ever since. I’ve seen a lot during those years – experimented with a lot, experienced some of the high glories of body life, the difficulties and struggles, and have made lots of mistakes as well. I’m still learning and discovering.

Regarding what an organic expression of the church looks like, here are some of its characteristics:

*The members meet often, not out of guilt or obligation, but because the Spirit draws them together naturally to fellowship, share, and express their Lord (ekklesia literally means an assembly or meeting).

*Jesus Christ is their living, breathing Head. The members make Christ profoundly central, preeminent, and they pursue and explore His fullness together. In short, the church is intoxicated with the Lord Jesus.

*They take care of each other, have open-participatory meetings where every member functions, make decisions together, and follow the Spirit’s leading for outreach and inreach, both in their proper season.

*They are learning how to live by Christ and express Him corporately in endless variety and creativity to both the lost and the found.

*The condemnation and guilt is gone. The members experience the liberty and freedom that is in Christ, experience and express His unfailing love, and are free to follow Him out of genuine love rather than guilt, duty, obligation, condemnation, shame and guilt – the typical “tools” that are used to motivate God’s people.

*They are missional in the sense that they understand “the mission” to be God’s eternal purpose, which goes beyond human needs to the very reason why God created the universe in the first place. And they give themselves wholly to that mission. (I’ll speak more on the eternal purpose later.)

*After the foundation of the church is laid, it is able to meet on its own without a clergy or human headship that controls or directs it. The church can sustain herself by the functioning of every member; it doesn’t need a clergy system for direction or ministry.

These features are contained within the spiritual DNA of the ekklesia no matter where or when she is born. For they are the attributes of God Himself, the source and headwaters of body life.

Regarding your question about what an organic church meeting looks like, that’s really impossible to answer. The reason: authentic organic churches have an infinite way of expressing Christ in their gatherings.

Perhaps the best I can do is describe a few meetings that one of the organic churches that my co-workers and I are presently working with have had recently. None of these descriptions will do the gatherings justice, but perhaps they may give some impression of what a good meeting looks like (not all meetings are good by the way – some are unmentionable! 🙂 ).

Last month, the church had a meeting that it prepared for over the course of a month. The church broke up into groups of 3 and began to pursue the Lord Jesus outside of the meetings during the week. The members all came together at a scheduled day and time to worship, exalt, and reveal Christ. The theme of the meeting was Jesus Christ as the Land of Canaan. The meeting included a full banquet feast, which was really the Lord’s Supper (first-century style). The church feasted and then each group began to share Christ as the Land.

One group shared how the vine and the fruit of the vine were a shadow of Jesus. Another group shared Christ as the olive oil; another shared Christ as the milk and honey. Another shared Him as the wheat. Sprinkled throughout the sharing – which was incredibly rich – were prayers, declarations, songs, all of which were spontaneous.

This meeting went on for over 3 hours. It was a gully-washer. No human being led or facilitated the meeting. There were also elaborate creations and visual displays in the meeting place made by the church that went along with the theme.

I didn’t attend this particular meeting, but the reports I heard were amazing. People were profoundly touched. Visitors who came were blown out of the water. They had never seen a group of Christians put Christ on display like that, and without anyone leading, giving cues, or facilitating. The depth of insight, richness, and reality of Christ coming through the believers was without peer. Jesus Christ was revealed, declared, unveiled, glorified, and made visible by the every-member functioning of His body.

On another occasion, each member of the church took a name of the Lord in Scripture. (e.g., Bread of Life, Lion of Judah, Sweet Rose of Sharon, the Great Shepherd, Alpha and Omega, The Branch, etc.). During the week the members sought the Lord concerning the name they selected and came to share Him together in the gathering. The meeting was electric. Christ was revealed in a multitude of different ways. New light was shed on each of His names, all pointing to His glorious Person.

Another meeting was a rather unique way of expressing the Lord through Colossians. The church had immersed herself in the book of Colossians for four months (in some very creative ways). They then planned a meeting where they reconstructed the Colossian church.

Each member acted out a character from the Colossian church. Some created their own names (some names were quite comical). Others played the part of some of the Colossians mentioned in the New Testament (Philemon, Apphia, Archippus, etc.) For weeks the church broke up into pairs to plan and prepare for the gathering. They then had an entire meeting where they reconstructed the situation in Colosse. If you had walked into that meeting, you were seeing the Colossian church dramatized. People even dressed up for their parts.

At the end of the meeting, someone who played Tychicus came into the gathering with a letter from Paul and read the whole letter to the church. Incredible light was shed on the letter, as it addressed all the problems that the Colossian church (through drama) was shown to have had. We all awed at the Lord as Paul presented Christ in this magnificent epistle.

I could multiply many more examples, but I hope you get the drift. Note that the people who are part of these churches aren’t spectacular Christians nor are they professionally trained. They are “the timid, the weak, the lame, and the blind” . . . just like I am. Ordinary believers without any special titles, degrees, or formal theological education. In this way, they are much like the early believers we read about in our New Testaments (the exception being that most of us are able to read and write). 🙂

Some meetings are planned with a theme that the Lord gives the group (as the above examples). Other times the meetings are completely spontaneous without any planning or direction. But spiritual preparation normally takes place, else the meetings will be rather poor. The meetings are the overflow of the spiritual life of the community; hence, all the believers come to give rather than to receive. (In the institutional church system, this order is reversed.)

Again, these meetings have no leaders present directing, facilitating, or coordinating. The Spirit takes that job. I’ll add that I’ve seen unbelievers visit these sorts of meetings where no one said a word about “being saved,” and the unbeliever would fall to their knees and profess that “God is here, and I want to know Him!” Strikingly, this comes straight out of the New Testament (see 1 Corinthians 14).

Also, the churches have all sorts of meetings – some for decision-making, some where the men creatively bless the women and vice versa, some for the children, some for specific prayer, some for fun, some to share the gospel with the lost, some for spiritual training and retreats, etc. But everything is “in season.” (The seasonal nature of the body of Christ is a special feature of organic church life. All life forms pass through seasons. This element is virtually unknown in organized Christianity.)

Note also that the churches I’m speaking of have been equipped to know the Lord together, to pursue Him together, to express Him with unlimited creativity, and to function in a coordinated way under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Part of this equipping is “detoxification” from a religious and institutional mindset, and being equipped to know Christ in profound depths. (One of the most common remarks that people make when they get involved in this kind of church life is, “I thought I knew the Lord well; but I now realize I didn’t know Him well at all.”)

Thus the normative passivity that flows through the bloodstream of the typical pewsitting Christian has been drained out of them. Instead, they’ve been captured by a vision and an ongoing experience with the Lord Jesus that has dramatically affected them. I’ve been changed by the experience. Yet what impresses me just as much or more than the meetings is the remarkable way the believers take care of one another in organic church life. But that’s another story.

As you understand it, how would you describe one another’s definition of this same term? (I’m looking for how you two understand each other’s positions here)

Frank: I’m really not sure as Neil and I have never discussed this. But my impression is that the term “organic church” for Neil boils down to rapid multiplication of Christian groups with the goal of trying to win lost people by going to the places where they spend their time. It also includes a method of discipleship in very small groups which includes Bible reading and personal accountability questions. This may or may not be accurate, but it’s my impression.

Neil and I have shared the conference platform on two occasions, and from hearing him speak, it seems to me that the major difference is one of emphasis. I also think he may emphasize the church scattered where I tend to emphasize the church gathered. But in my world, the church gathered is nothing like an institutional church “service.” For us, the gathering of the ekklesia is related to God’s highest intention, i.e., His eternal purpose. God has had an “eternal purpose” that’s been beating in His heart from the beginning of time, l

ong before humans fell. That purpose is what provoked Him to create, and He’s never let go of it. The eternal purpose of God isn’t the salvation of humans or to make the world a better place. (Remember, the Fall hadn’t occurred when He created.) There was something else He had in His heart before He said “let there be.”

That purpose has to do with obtaining a bride, a house, a body, and a family, all of which are by Him, through Him, and to Him. The purpose of God is not centered on the needs of humanity, but rather, to meet a desire in God Himself. So God’s end is to have a bride, a house, a body, and a family in every city on the planet. The ekklesia – properly conceived and functioning – indeed benefits humanity and blesses the world that God made; but His goal for her is higher than that.

Having Christ formed in us is an important aspect of God’s purpose (Rom. 8:28-29; Ga. 4:19). But for us, we don’t use any of the typical discipleship methods to accomplish this. Instead, we have learned how to encounter the Lord Jesus in Scripture together, to seek His face, to fellowship with Him, to be in His presence, and to share and express Him to one another.

This typically happens in groups of two and three during the week (sometimes in the early mornings), but also in the corporate gatherings. I call these groups “pursuit teams” – teams that pursue the Lord. The focus is not on us but on Christ. Paul said that we are transformed by “turning to the Lord” and “beholding His glory” – so that’s a large part of our church life experience (2 Cor. 3:16-18). In short, we experience together – in pursuit teams and as a church – perceiving and following the Lord’s indwelling life, What Is Organic Church? Interview with Neil Cole & Frank Viola by Keith Giles page 8 of 17 allowing God to shape us by it. That, to my mind, is what spiritual formation/transformation is all about.

Watchman Nee once pointed out that when the Lord called people to His work, their God-given ministries were often prefigured by their secular occupations.

For instance, when the Lord called Peter, he was casting his net and bringing fish onto the shore. What was true in the natural ended up being true in the spiritual. Peter’s ministry centered on fishing for men. His emphasis was evangelism, and he brought many lost people to Christ (just think of Pentecost in Acts 2).

When the Lord apprehended Paul, he was building tents. And his future ministry reflected this. Paul was more of a spiritual builder, a “master builder” as he put it in 1 Corinthians 3. His emphasis was to build the church into the fullness of Christ. So Paul spent most of his time grounding and enriching the believing communities to gather under the Headship of Christ, establishing them deeply into Christ, unveiling to them God’s eternal purpose – or “the whole counsel of God” as he once put it.

When the Lord apprehended John, he was mending a torn net. We see in John’s later writings (1 John, 2 John, and 3 John) that he is bringing the church back to center . . . back to first things . . . back to “the beginning” of Christ as life, love, and light in a time when these elements had been lost. The tent that Paul built was falling apart during John’s day, so John prophetically began to repair it by restoring God’s original thought, bringing His eternal purpose back into view.

So Peter casts the net, Paul builds the tent, and John mends the tent. All three men were Christian workers in the Lord’s vineyard, but each had a different emphasis and disposition.

In my observation, Neil is a lot like Peter. His major focus seems to going out to the sea, casting the net, and bringing the fish on dry land and encouraging God’s people to do the same. Some have described my on-the-ground ministry to be more like Paul’s – the building of the tent – the constructive work of building the house of God to fulfill the eternal purpose “from eternity to here.” By contrast, my writing ministry in books like Pagan Christianity and Jesus Manifesto are very much along the lines of John’s ministry of repairing the torn net.

Whether that’s accurate or not, here’s my point. The ministries of Peter, Paul, and John are not to compete with one another. Instead, they are to complement one another. The body of Christ needs the ministries of Peter, Paul, and John. And each person needs the other.

That’s how the terrain looks from my hill, anyway.

Neil: From my reading, I assume that Frank and I are pretty close to seeing church as a body connected to the Head. Jesus is the main thing for both of us and we both emphasize that in our teaching. If there is a difference I believe that Frank exalts the purpose of the church and I tend to emphasize the purpose of disciple-making. Not that we don’t both teach both, but we do have our own priorities. These could be simply different focus rather than a difference of opinion. How organic church starts and multiplies is probably different in our minds.

Does the model of church really matter? Isn’t it more important what fruit is produced or how the people in the church grow spiritually?

Neil: Well, I tend to agree with this statement, but…if reproduction and multiplication is desired, model of church is an important consideration. More complex models will not empower ordinary people nor reproduce easily. Another important consideration is that many models tend to usurp the leading of Jesus with our plans, personalities and programs.

The more scripted the church is the less spontaneity will be possible. We cannot expect Jesus to lead if we are all busy maintaining the script and all our time together is scheduled down to the fraction of every second.

This may step on a lot of toes but a performance with preaching on Sunday mornings (or Saturday for some) is not conducive to a changed life or a responsive body. If the body wants to have a gathering where they praise, preach and pass the plate, fine, but if that is your sole model of church and where you think the most important work is done and than you have a bankrupt model of church. Our society today is reflective of that bankruptcy, and we must make some changes now. It is the forth quarter and we are down by twenty…it is time for a shift. I believe that organic church is not a model but a mindset that can work in any model…but will work better in some models than others.

I also believe that any model that is built upon a hierarchy of leadership is probably less healthy in most aspects. When a few are responsible to hear from God and tell the rest what God is saying the church is separated from God by a middle-man and that is not what Jesus died and rose to birth. We are all priests in His kingdom and we all have direct access to God. None are more spiritual, more connected or more responsible for the advancement of the Kingdom, but all are agents directly connected to the King Himself.

Frank: For me, organic church is a shared-life in Christ; it’s not a model. It’s not about a new structure; it’s about a new relationship with the Lord Jesus. One that is real, intimate, deep, and corporate. A common remark that my co-workers and I hear from people who attend our conferences is, “I came here to learn how to ‘do organic church,’ and instead, I received a revelation of Jesus Christ.”

The idea that church is an “event” or an “organization” was foreign to the New Testament believers. For them, the ekklesia was a community of people who lived a shared-life together in Christ and who gathered together regularly to express the fullness of Jesus. Their minds thought in terms of “us” and “we” rather than “I” and “me.”

Their identity was tied to their union with Christ and their bond with one another. They pursued their Lord together, expressed Him together in regular meetings, took care of one another, married one another, and buried one another. Think of it as an extended household . . . a new polis (city) that is blind to race, social status, economic standing, etc. They were a new kind of humanity . . . a new civilization . . . the “third race” as the ancient Christians called themselves, where all earthly distinctions, separations, and barriers were not recognized.

The church was a colony from heaven . . . a community of “resident aliens” on this earth . . . the corporate manifestation of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself . . . a microcosm of the kingdom of God . . . the house of the living God where the heavens and the earth intersect and meet . . . the foretaste of the New Jerusalem and the aftertaste of the fellowship of the Godhead that has been going on from before time. In short, a local church that is functioning properly is Jesus Christ on the earth (see 1 Cor. 12:12). And therein do you have yet another definition of organic church.

For those who are burdened for evangelism and being missional to a post-Christian country (as the USA now is), the ekklesia – when she’s functioning the way God intended – is the greatest evangelist on the planet. There’s nothing that bears witness more to the reality of Jesus as the world’s true Lord than a group of believers who share their lives together and demonstrate what the kingdom of God looks like. This point is completely overlooked by those who would argue that the expression (structure) of the church doesn’t matter.

By contrast, today’s Christianity is very individualistic – this is true both in and outside the organized church. But authentic Christianity is intensely corporate and therein was their power and testimony.

A careful reading of the Gospels, Acts, and the Epistles shows no distinction between being a Christian, being saved, being a disciple, and being a functioning member of a local body of believers. (I’ve discussed this point at length in another place where I added a plea to learn our history regarding modern discipleship methods.) Note that when Luke describes how Paul and Barnabas planted the church in Derbe, he says they preached the gospel to the city and “made many disciples” (Acts 14:20-21, NASB & NKJV).

The organic expression of the church in a given place is the true habitat of every child of God. Separating spiritual growth (“discipleship”) from the ekklesia (properly functioning) is like separating child-rearing from the family. This again touches evangelism. One of the young men in an organic church that I relate to was a leader in a very large para-church organization that’s known for evangelism. About a year ago, he said to me after one of our gatherings, “I just go back from one of our leadership conferences and the more they talked about saving the lost, the more disinterested I was. I come to these meetings here and while nothing is said about evangelism, I’m so excited about my Lord that I want to share Him with others. There’s no guilt or duty in it at all. I’m fired up about Him.”

Properly conceived, the ekklesia is the environment in with we live, move, and have our beings. While it will never produce perfect Christians who are beyond making mistakes (we will all make mistakes on this side of the veil), their depth in Christ is unmistakable. So for me at least, it’s not about a different model, but about a different habitat. Those interested in learning more may want to take a listen to an audio excerpt where seven members of a fairly new organic church answered common questions about organic church life at a recent conference (Threshold 2010). The excerpt contains only one question that they answered (there were 7 questions in all). The question was: How has your relationship with Jesus Christ changed since you’ve been part of organic church life? People can listen to it here.

How do you define – and better yet practice – the idea of leadership in the model of church you promote?

Neil: Leadership is not about a position, an office, or a title, it is influence. Leadership is not functioning as a delegated decision-maker for an absentee King. We are servants that distribute empowerment rather than delegate it. Leadership is all about connecting people to the King and allowing them to listen and follow His word. We do not need more servant leaders; we need more servants…period. Many leaders don’t mind being called a servant; they just don’t like being treated like one. To lead is basically to go first and let others follow your example. Often in the NT the words, “go before” or “stand before” is used to describe our leaders, but unfortunately they get translated as being above or over the others.

There is a form of servant that exemplifies maturity and can point to spiritual children and even grandchildren in their lives. We need more of these servants in the body. Their role is to equip others to function in the likeness of Christ together. These are apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers (Eph 4:11). They do not do the work but equip others to do it. For example: Evangelists are not called simply to reach the lost, but to equip the church to do so. Teachers are not called to teach the saints, but to equip the saints to teach. All are saints, so of course evangelists evangelize, that gives their equipping even more authority and practicality (besides, I can’t imagine an evangelist who wouldn’t). A teacher is good at teaching, but needs to be very good at training others to teach. We need to rediscover this type of leadership if we are going to change ourselves, and then the world.

Frank: In my experience and observation, leadership in an organic expression of the church seems to fall into three categories:

1) It’s expressed through itinerant traveling ministry where Christian workers lay the foundation for a new church, equip the believers to know the Lord deeply, to function together, to build community, and to have open-participatory meetings where Christ is made the visible, functioning Head. Their leadership is strong in the beginning, but then it literally leaves and moves to the periodic. You find this sort of leadership all over the New Testament in the ministries of Paul, Peter, Timothy, etc.

2) It’s expressed by consensual decision-making where the believing community plans how they will pursue and reveal Christ week by week, how they will handle problems, and how they will take care of one another and serve the lost in their city.

3) It’s expressed by the different giftings that will organically emerge in the community in time. Eventually shepherds will emerge who will care for those with needs, overseers will emerge who provide oversight, teachers will emerge who will bless the church with the ability to unveil Christ from the Scriptures, exhorters will emerge and function according to their giftings, etc. In other words, each person will lead according to their unique gifting. In this way, all believers lead in their own way.

The goal of each expression of leadership is to lead the church to Jesus Christ, the true and only Head of the body.

The interesting thing is that in this type of church life, we don’t use labels or titles. So the reality of the gifts and ministries are present, but in most cases, we don’t earmark or point them out. (Sometimes those who are engaged in itinerant ministry will acknowledge who the overseers are, but this is dependent on the specific situation of a particular church).

In my experience, the believers in these types of churches are so busy pursuing and expressing the riches of Christ that “leadership” never comes up as an issue or subject. Jesus is their Head, and they seek to know and follow Him together. That’s about as much time they spend talking about leadership in the churches. It’s really a non-issue.

I have the impression that it was this way for the early Christians too. Just count the number of times the words “elder”, “shepherd”, or “overseer” are mentioned in the New Testament, and then count the number of times Christ is mentioned or referred to. That says volumes, I think.

Which scriptures would you point to as being reflective of your views concerning organic church?

Frank: I’ve come to the conclusion that there are only two subjects in the entire Bible: Jesus Christ and His church. Everything else can be juiced down to those two realities.

Someone may object by saying that God the Father and the Holy Spirit are the subjects of the Bible. But remember, the fullness of the Godhead dwells in Christ. God is Father because He has a Son. The Spirit is the Spirit of Christ, and He has come to manifest and glorify Christ. Biblically speaking, there is no God outside of Jesus Christ. God is known in and through the Son.

Jesus Himself said that “all Scripture testifies of me.” So Genesis 1 to Revelation 22 is an unfolding of Christ and the church on every page. I add “church” because the church is never separate from Christ – it is His body and bride. She is depicted through many of the types of the Old Testament, such as all the brides of the Patriarchs, the tabernacle, the temple, the nation of Israel, etc.

Jesus Himself incessantly talked about the church. In fact, He did so more than He did the Kingdom of God. If you’re only counting the word ekklesia you’ll completely miss this.

Jesus never used the word “Trinity” or “Godhead,” yet every time He spoke of His Father and the Spirit, He was talking about the Triune God. In the same way, every time you see that little band of Twelve men and some women who lived in community with one another with Christ as Head, you’re looking at the prototype – the earthly embryo of the ekklesia – that Jesus Christ said He would build. And when the Lord spoke of the vine and the branches, “my brethren,” the light of the world, the salt of the earth, etc. He was referring to the church. If we understand what the Kingdom really is, we’ll discover that after the ascension of Christ, the Kingdom came in, with, and through the church.

So for me, it’s not a matter of going to certain proof texts to build a model for church. It’s seeing the whole sweeping, epic saga of the biblical drama from Genesis to Revelation. And that drama is all about the Triune God known and expressed through Jesus Christ and His eternal quest for a bride, a house, a body, and a family (which is the church). I unfold this thesis in From Eternity to Here, which seeks (in an admittedly frail way) to unveil the eternal purpose of God – the mission to which we are all called – throughout the entire Bible. Once our eyes are opened to see His eternal purpose, we suddenly have a new Bible in our hands and a new vision of the Lord before our eyes. The Bible turns from blackand-white to Technicolor, and the Lord becomes infinitively greater to us.

Neil: Wow, um, all of them? All scriptures are profitable for training in righteousness. In our training, we point to the parables of Christ a lot (especially Mark 4). Jesus’ usage of the word church in Matthew is important to us (2xs). Ephesians is a powerful treatise on church for us as well. Acts is foundational of our view of a church multiplication movement. The letters to the seven churches in Revelation is also very important to us.

Have you ever met one another in person and/or read one another’s books?

Neil: To my knowledge, we have met twice, emailed a couple times and talked on the phone once. I have read Pagan Christianity, How to Start a House Church, and Finding Organic Church. I skimmed Reimagining Church, but haven’t read it entirely yet. I think Pagan Christianity is Frank’s best work and we carry it in our online store. I am grateful that he invested the time to produce this seminal work. Thanks Frank. I have also listened to a couple of his talks online, visited his website a few times and read some of his articles. Frank: We’ve met face-to-face twice at conferences, but we didn’t have much time together. So far I’ve read one book by Neil and several articles.

We have a number of  good mutual friends. I have a lot of respect for Neil and am thankful for his contribution to the body of Christ. I’ve made this statement to a few people, but I’ll say it publically for the first time. I’d love to see a Summit that includes all those who are pioneering and influencing the missional church movement/phenomenon to be locked in a room together for 3 days. The first day would be an informal “get to know one another” time, very casual and relaxed. The next day, each person would have a solid hour to share their heart, their burden, their vision, and their present work with everyone else. A time of questions from the group and answers would follow.

We would all get to know one another better as people rather than from a distance as authors and speakers. If no homicides occurred during those 3 days :), it seems to me that the worst case scenario would be that we’d all better understand one another and what makes each of us tick. That alone would be worth the time, in my judgment. In the best-case scenario, we’d all be sharpened, adjusted, and perhaps we’d even see some colaboring going on in different degrees. And a lot of misunderstanding, assumptions, and confusion would disappear.

I am pessimistic that someone could actually put such a Summit together; but if they were able to, I’d move heaven and earth to attend and participate. (I’d even offer to help with the planning.) Incidentally, Pagan Christianity is fairly well known, but it’s not my most important or best work. It’s just the first half of a conversation – the deconstructive part. Its objective is to blow the rocks out of the quarry. But that’s all it does. Reading it by itself is like listening to the first fifteen minutes of an hour-long phone conversation, then hanging up the phone – never knowing what was said afterward. For this reason, Pagan was never meant to be a stand-alone book. It’s part of a multi-volume series. My most important and best book (hands down) is From Eternity to Here with Jesus Manifesto perhaps tied neck-and-neck.

What do you see as the most striking differences between your version of “Organic” church and the other person’s version? Why does it matter?

Neil: Frank does not seem to be as favorable to multiplication movements as I am. I gather that he sees church taking a long time to mature to the place where it can give birth to another church, while I see reproduction as able to occur much faster. Ironically, we both point to Acts to support our point of view.

I believe Frank teaches that one must be part of an organic church to start one and that an apostle must be involved. I think that is probably one of the best ways, but not the only way. It seems to me that Frank teaches that apostles start churches and that not everyone can do it. I tend to go the opposite direction and teach that anyone can start a family. Not everyone is an apostle and not everyone can lay a foundation for a church multiplication movement, but they can certainly reach their friends and start a spiritual family. Anyone that has Christ in them has what it takes to start a spiritual family. Some families are less inclined to reproduce rapidly and start a movement, because an apostolic and prophetic foundation is necessary for this.

I also see that an apostolic foundation can be extended without the apostle needing to be present. Colossians, Hieropolis and Laodicea were begun by Epaphras but it was Paul who laid the apostolic foundation so he could write to them as their apostle even though they’d never seen his face (Col. 2:1-3).

I see maturity for people and the church to be a life-long process so I believe that the church can reproduce throughout that process, even in the first year. We have experience in this as well. I have personally started probably six or seven churches, but grand-parented and great-grand-parented dozens more. Our training has catalyzed the start of thousands of churches. The church I currently am part of has been in existence for ten years and sent off 35+ church planters all around the world. It has birthed other networks and has several generations of churches.

Frank emphasizes the spiritual life together connected to Jesus, and I admire that. We do as well, but we tend to emphasize apostolic mission much more in addition to the presence of Jesus and our nurturing relationships. I see church as the fruit of disciplemaking, not the other way around. Our life together is better because each of us is connected to Jesus, each other and our mission to the world. We refer to this as the DNA of organic church, which stands for Divine Truth, Nurturing Relationships, and Apostolic Mission. We teach emphatically that all components of the DNA must be in every part of the church from the smallest unit of disciple in relation to another disciple. We teach that the components should not be supplanted, supplemented or separated. The organic life of the church springs from the DNA at work in the heart of disciples together.

Frank: I think the only way we can accurately answer that question is if Neil and I sat down for several hours to discuss our views, observations, and experiences.

I’m pretty convinced that Epaphras was a “sent one” who received training from Paul in Ephesus, then went back to his hometown in Colosse and planted a church there that met in Philemon’s home and in two other nearby cities in the Lycus valley. I detail this account elsewhere with documentation, but that’s a short riff.

Regarding church multiplication, I’ll simply say that I believe in the multiplication of the church (I usually call it “transplantation”). But I don’t regard it as a template or metric of anything. In my experience and observation, as well as my study of the New Testament, a specific church should follow the Lord’s leading on when and how to multiply. Like so many other things in organic church life, discerning the season is imperative.

Consequently, when and how to multiply a church is more of an art than a science. It’s dependent on the art of hearing the Spirit and rightly perceiving the season. Thus it will differ depending on the season of a particular church’s life, the spiritual maturity and development of the group, the kind of foundation that has been laid, and many other variables. If these elements are ignored, multiplication can easily lead to quick dissolution of one or both groups. That’s been my observation anyway.

It’s also not wise to push toddlers outside of the home and expect them to reproduce. So again, I’m of the opinion that there’s a danger of making multiplication a method, a science, or even a goal. I believe the goal should be God’s eternal purpose, the heavenly vision that Paul labored under and that provoked him to plant and nurture organic believing communities.

Regarding church planting, I don’t believe that an organic church can only come into existence by the hand of those who are called to plant churches. Organic church life can occur spontaneously . . . and it often does. As I write these words, it’s taking place right now among numerous college campuses across this country. The students who are touching and tasting it don’t know exactly what it is (except that it’s glorious), and they are probably not calling it “organic church life.” Yet the problem is that body life (the way I’ve been describing it) is extremely fragile, and it doesn’t last very long. It invariably dies within a short period of time. It either dissolves or it devolves into an institutional form and a clergy figure emerges to take it over.

Its chances of survival are much better if there is experienced outside spiritual input that knows how to center the group on Christ, help prepare and navigate it through the inevitable pitfalls, and give it the kind of equipping to sustain it in a spiritual way without human organization or control. This sort of spiritual input can take many forms, but the traveling ministry of broken, experienced, Christ-centered, humble, and non-sectarian itinerants who eventually leave the group to the Lord is one of the most common in the New Testament narrative. It of course isn’t a panacea (nothing is), but it can be a tremendous benefit.

As for the subject of movements, that’s too big of an issue to go into here, I think. And it’s quite complicated. (I plan to address it in the future.) I’ll just say that numbers don’t impress me at all. I grew up in a movement that stressed numbers and “counting.” The problem came with exaggerating the data (which is the scourge of virtually every movement – whether Christian or nonchristian). To get the “accurate/real” figure, you had to cut it in half and divide by two [Symbol] Einstein couldn’t be more correct when he said, “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”

I believe this applies to the work of God.

All told, my impression is that Neil and I probably agree more than we may disagree. Both of us are often associated with “the house church movement,” yet I get the impression that we share a common feature here. Neither of us makes the home our center. The living room isn’t our passion. As I’ve often said, meeting in a home doesn’t make you a church anymore than sitting in a donut shop makes you a police officer. 🙂

While a house has many advantages as a gathering place, there’s nothing magical about meeting in a living room. Not all house churches are “organic” (the way I’ve been using the word) – so “organic church” is not a synonym for “house church.” I suspect that Neil would agree with this.

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To review the studies included in the Framework and find out why we have concluded these things you will need to see the notes which are available for download here.

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Churches as God’s Flock, Following the Shepherd’s Voice (Part 3)

By Peter Thompson B.Theo Grad Dip Theology

74a2b24328b9fd29f4ca3bb09e32d68bIn Parts 1-2, we looked at how Yahweh shepherded Israel, especially by leading them using His voice.  Now, we will consider how Jesus, as the messianic Shepherd raised up by Yahweh, shepherds the church today in the same way.

The Messianic Shepherd

Yahweh will:

  • Himself as Israel’s Shepherd gather the remnant of His lost flock from the exile, from all the places they had been scattered to, bringing them back into their fold where their wounds will be bandaged, the weak strengthened, the lost found, and where they can be fed with good pasture and be fruitful and multiply (Jeremiah 23:3; 31:10-11; 50:17-20; Ezekiel 34:11-16; compare Micah 7:14-17; Zechariah 9:16-17);
  • set up post-exilic under-shepherds over His flock (like Zerubbabel and Nehemiah), but will eventually raise up one particular under-shepherd, the Davidic Messiah, the true Shepherd who will feed Yahweh’s flock and reign over them as a wise king to deliver them so that they will be totally secure, walking according to Yahweh’s rules, obeying His statutes (Jeremiah 3:14-18; 23:4-6; Ezekiel 34:23-24; 37:24-28; compare Psalm 2:9 noting “rule” there is literally “shepherd”); and
  • put His words in the mouth of the messianic prophet like Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15-19).

Note Proverbs 10:21 which states literally that the lips of the righteous shepherd/feed many.

Jesus the Messianic Shepherd

Jesus is the Great Shepherd of God’s flock (Hebrews 13:20; 1 Peter 2:25; 5:4), the Messianic/Davidic Shepherd predicted in the Old Testament, because He:

  • was born in Bethlehem just like the shepherd-king David (Micah 5:2; Matthew 2:1-11; 1 Samuel 16:1-5; compare Luke 2:1-7, 10-11; John 7:42);
  • will come forth for Yahweh at the appointed time, when she who is in labour gives birth, as the ruler in Israel, one whose origin was from ancient days (Micah 5:2-3; compare Luke 1:30-33, 35; 2:8-12);
  • was anointed by the Spirit (Isaiah 11:1-2, 42:1; 61:1; Mark 1:9-11; Matthew 3:13-17; Luke 3:21-22; 4:16-21; Acts 10:38);
  • was struck by both the elders/scribes/priests and the Roman soldiers, after which His disciples were scattered, denying knowledge of Him (Zechariah 13:7; Matthew 26:31, 67; 27:30; Mark 14:27; 65; 15:19; Luke 22:63-64; John 16:32; 18:22; 19:1-3; compare Matthew 26:69-75; Luke 22:54-62; John 18:15-18, 25-27; Mark 14:66-72);
  • shall shepherd His flock in the strength of Yahweh (Micah 5:4; compare Luke 4:14; John 10:37-38); and
  • shall be the peace of His flock, defeating all their enemies (Micah 5:5-6; compare Revelation 7:14-17).

Jesus the Good Shepherd

In contrast to hired hands who flee when danger approaches the sheep, Jesus is the good Shepherd who lays down His life for the sheep (John 10:11-13).  As such, Jesus:

  • knows His sheep, Jew and Gentile alike, as God’s one flock who listen to His voice (John 10:14-16, 27; compare Ephesians 2:11-16);
  • provides access to the safety of the fold for the sheep who follow and heed His voice (John 10:1-6); and
  • is the actual door of the sheep by whom entry is provided to find safety and pasture (John 10:7-10).

Jesus the Responsible Shepherd

As the good Shepherd, Jesus, like Yahweh:

  • seeks the lost sheep (Luke 15:1-7; Matthew 15:24; 18:10-14);
  • heals the lost sheep of Israel (1 Peter 2:24-25; Matthew 9:35-36; compare Acts 10:38);
  • teaches/instructs the lost sheep (Mark 6:34); and
  • sends His disciples out to also find and heal Israel’s lost sheep (Matthew 10:5-8; Luke 9:1-6; 10:1-9, 17).

The Risen Lord Who Speaks

If the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God at the resurrection (John 5:25, 28-29), how much more will the living now hear Him as the risen Lord.  For instance, after His resurrection, Jesus appeared and/or spoke to:

  • Mary Magdaline (John 20:11-18; Mark 16:9-11; compare Luke 24:1-12; Matthew 28:1-7; Mark 16:1-8);
  • Cleopas and another disciple on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-32; Mark 16:12-13);
  • all the disciples at least three times when they were gathered together in Jerusalem (Luke 24:33, 36-51; John 20:19-29; Acts 1:2-9; Mark 16:14-19; 1 Corinthians 15:5-7);
  • the eleven disciples on a mountain in Galilee (Matthew 28:5-10; 16-20; Mark 16:6-7);
  • seven of the disciples, including Peter, James, John, Thomas and Nathanael, by the Sea of Tiberias (John 21:1-24);
  • Peter (1 Corinthians 15:5);
  • James (1 Corinthians 15:7);
  • Paul directly on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:3-8, 27; 22:6-14; 26:12-15; 1 Corinthians 15:8-9);
  • Ananias in a vision concerning Paul in Damascus (Acts 9:10-15);
  • Peter in a vision on the rooftop at Joppa (Acts 10:9-16; 11:7-10);
  • Paul in a vision in Corinth (Acts 18:9-10);
  • Paul in a trance in the temple at Jerusalem (Acts 22:17-21);
  • Paul in Jerusalem (Acts 23:11);
  • Paul in a vision when he was caught up into the third heaven (2 Corinthians 12:1-4, 7-9); and
  • John when he was in the Spirit on the Isle of Patmos (Revelation 1:9-20).

Christ the risen Lord also spoke through Paul (2 Corinthians 13:2-4), especially considering that Paul’s gospel was given by special revelation (Galatians 1:11-12; 2:1-9).  Jesus even spoke through the Scriptures (Hebrews 2:10-13; 10:5-9), but it is important to emphasise that He also speaks directly to certain individuals, and can speak supernaturally to whole assemblies of believers through the charismatic gifts of speech.how_you_can_keep_volunteers_on_your_team_128727701

The Holy Spirit Who Speaks Directly

The Holy Spirit, in speaking on behalf of the risen Jesus (John 16:13-15):

  • spoke directly to a group of teachers and prophets at Antioch (Acts 13:1-4);
  • spoke directly to Philip (Acts 8:29);
  • spoke directly to Peter (Acts 10:19; 11:12; compare Acts 10:28);
  • guided Paul, Silas and Timothy directly by forbidding them to speak in Asia or to travel to Bithynia (Acts 16:6-7), and indirectly through a vision to travel to Macedonia (Acts 16:8-10); and
  • spoke through the eleven disciples/apostles initially, and then at times through church leaders of all ages, whenever they were dragged before the rulers of the land (Matthew 10:17-20; Mark 13:10-11; Luke 12:11-12; compare Acts 4:8-21, 29-31; 6:8-10).

The Holy Spirit Who Speaks Through Prophecy

The Holy Spirit also speaks through prophecy to:

  • the Christian assembly communally (1 Timothy 4:1; 1 Corinthians 12:10; 14:3-5, 29-33; Acts 11:27-28; 15:30-32; Ephesians 4:11-12; Romans 12:4-6; Revelation 1:3; 22:6-10; compare Acts 2:16-18 1 Corinthians 12:3); and
  • individuals (Acts 20:22-23; 21:4, 10-11; 1 Timothy 1:18; 4:14; compare 1 Corinthians 14:24-25).

Nonetheless, we must not diminish how the Spirit also speaks through the Scriptures (Hebrews 3:7; 10:15-17; Acts 28:25).  Note that the Spirit of prophecy is the testimony of Jesus (Revelation 19:10), so prophecy never contradicts the Scriptural account of the Gospel centred around Jesus.

Jesus the Second Moses

Notice Numbers 12:1-15, with Moses as a type of Christ (Acts 3:20-24; 7:37; Deuteronomy 18:15-19; 34:10-12).  Jesus is the only One who has truly spoken directly to the Father face-to-face (note especially John 5:36-40; compare John 1:1-2, 14, 18; 8:38), and He is the One through whom the Father now speaks to us, and Him alone (Hebrews 1:2; compare Ephesians 2:18; 1 Timothy 2:5).

Any other avenue for the Father speaking is leprous, contaminated, unclean/impure, and in context egocentric and insubordinate (note Deuteronomy 24:8-9; compare Leviticus 13:45-46; 14:1-32; and especially 2 Kings 5:1-27 noting verse 25 where Gehazi no longer stood before Elisha in submission but beside him, after robbing Yahweh of the sole honour of healing Naaman in order to procure goods/luxuries for himself and the school of prophets — on the basis of his own standard of what is good and proper — rather than trusting in Yahweh’s provision).

This means then that the Father speaks through Christ like He did through His under-shepherd Moses (John 3:31-34; 8:26-28, 40; 12:49-50; 14:10, 24).  Hence, Jesus shepherds the church now in the strength of how the Father had shepherded Israel through Moses.

Responsibilities of the Sheep

Consequently, the church, as sheep belonging to Jesus’ sheepfold, are to:

  • believe in their shepherd as the Christ (John 10:24-26);
  • listen only to the voice of their Shepherd, not to strangers, in order to be secure in the safety of the fold (John 10:3-5, 16, 27-28);
  • respond to their Shepherd’s voice when He speaks (Revelation 3:20);
  • beware the wolves in sheep’s clothing (Matthew 7:15);
  • give food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, clothing to the naked, and to visit the sick and those in prison (Matthew 25:21-40);
  • seek the kingdom of God, selling their possessions and giving to the poor (Luke 12:29-32); and
  • suffer with and for the Shepherd’s sake (Romans 8:17-18, 35-37).

Note that those who side with truth listen to Jesus’ voice (John 18:37).  This is not surprising since Jesus is the embodiment of truth (see Churches as God’s Household-Temple Revealing Truth Part 1).

In Part 4, we will tie together the implications of Parts1-3 for how churches should be structured as God’s flock.


To review the studies included in the Framework and find out why we have concluded these things you will need to see the notes which are available for download here.

Please also share our blog to allow others to review and contribute – we need everyone, not just leaders, to play their part in building a church that others want to come to.

Join our Facebook group to receive regular updates and daily updated content.


Peter “Thommo” Thompson was born in 1958 in the bulldust of south-western Queensland in the region around the township of Mitchell.  He was converted outside of the church through a supernatural encounter with the living God in Mackay, North Queensland, in February 1979, and embarked upon a long and arduous journey of God dealing with the figurative bulldust in his life.  In 2012, he completed a Bachelor of Ministry & Theology double degree, and in 2013, a Post-Graduate Diploma in Theology, all at Tabor Adelaide.  He currently lives with his two adult daughters in Ipswich, Queensland, and is writing a series of academic novels with the intent of hopefully helping to facilitate a church unifying movement through an unbranded form of Christianity in Australia.


Copyright 2015 Peter Thompson. Permission is granted to copy, forward, or distribute this article for non-commercial use only, as long as this copyright byline, in totality, is maintained in all duplications, copies, and link references. For reprint permission for any commercial use, in any form of media, please contact us.

Blueprint for Restoration of the Church (Part 2)

stockxpertcom_id6740201_size1As the CEO of the Church Excellence Framework, this has been an exciting year where we feel the Lord has given many a rough blueprint for what needs to happen to restore the reputation of the church. Here are a few things we believe in passionately and believe are highly backed up scripturally and in practice.

  • Principle that Quality Relationships result in Engagement more than content so reducing heavy listening content and more net weaving.
  • Allowing Debate and Questioning as a key tool for learning that allows doubt to be expressed.
  • Encouraging greater unity with other Christian denominations and Christian organizations by seeing more products advertised and working with other churches and city councils.
  • Encouraging Trust and Believing the Best in Others particularly new people moving from a “we need to get to know you” philosophy, which slows down disciplemaking and breeds resentment.
  • Moving from Teaching to Learning with emphasis on outcomes such as growth of believer not input such as how many are in small groups.
  • Multiplication and one-on-one Disciple-making (2 Tim 2:2) not just group discipling.
  • Encouraging more Church Transparency and Lives that Invite Feedback and Development.
  • Moving from “Shouting on the Mountaintop”, i.e. preaching in a church mainly full of believers to “Immersing in the Culture” and strong missional component that is based in the community not just in the church.
  • Encouraging lots of resources to be given to people even if from different parts of the Body of Christ to restore the view we are one body not a location or denomination.
  • Establishing a culture of Honouring People, evaluating how people are loved  and treated fairly, “All men will know you are my disciples if you love one another” (John 13:34).
  • Supporting Christians in the Marketplace (Being Salt and Light) with support in character, outreach techniques and calling or spiritual gifts.
  • Bringing the charismatic, contemplative, community care, evangelistic, mystic style churches into one church rather than churches specializing, on the basis that all elements are biblical and not to be excluded.

We have many other aspects listed in our framework if you would like to get more info at www.churchexcellenceframework.com


To review the studies included in the Framework and find out why we have concluded these things you will need to see the notes which are available for download here.

Please also share our blog to allow others to review and contribute – we need everyone, not just leaders, to play their part in building a church that others want to come to.


CEO. Jane Johnson B.Com Grad Dip LD, Dip Coaching,

Jane has worked in many different leadership capacities from being a professionally qualified Christian Leadership Coach for 13 years to many Christian leaders, to leading a ministry with the Navigators, to being a Senior Learning and Development Manager of a multimillion corporation, advising the management team on strategic approaches to get the best out of their people. She has developed considerable experience with Investors in People taking several companies through to successful accreditation and training as a consultant for them. Hence she understands the amazing impact a tool based on this principle can have.

Connect with her on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/profile/viewid=287940854&trk=nav_responsive_tab_profile

 

 

Blueprint for Restoration of the church (Part 1)

church-blueprintAs the CEO of the Church Excellence Framework, this has been an exciting year where we feel the Lord has given many a rough blueprint for what needs to happen to restore the reputation of the church. Here are a few things we believe in passionately and believe are highly backed up scripturally and in practice.

  • Returning the church to the original definition of Ecclesia; that all people have authority and involvement, not just leaders.
  • The church serving the people not the people serving the church vision.
  • Moving to the Senior Pastor as a facilitator rather than the person who must give permission before people are allowed to act in their area of passion.
  • Clarifying and serving the Calling of People vs Serving the Church vision, even if outside of the churches activities.
  • Priesthood of All Believers and Every Member Ministry (1 Peter 2: 9) to put less pressure on paid pastors.
  • Placing significant emphasis on the skill of the youth and children’s workers, as this is the area of the greatest fruit.
  • Bringing back the Five Fold Ministry (Eph 5) ensuring that every church has apostolic oversight, and that there is a role for the Evangelist and those with prophetic gifts. One could also argue for the removal of the Senior Pastor role biblically.
  • Increasing understanding of the heavenly court systems and unseen realities of heaven that have been hidden from traditional church teaching.
  • More effective methods of Empowering, Establishing and Equipping of the Saints, going beyond small groups and sermons to methods of multiplication, fathering and pathways to growth.
  • Moving from measures of “Connecting to a Church” to “Measures of Transformation.”
  • Moving away from the Attraction Model to the Discipling Model – Platforms for Community Engagement not Concert Attendance
  • Moving towards measuring “numbers of disciples effectively equipped and able to reach out” versus “Numbers attending Church.”
  • Changing the staffing structure from appointing ministry roles to appointment by critical Functions such as HR and Communications, Head of Spiritual Operations or Head of Evangelism. Avoiding pastors seeking to do numerous tasks not in alignment with their gifting and ultimately becoming blockers.

We have many other aspects listed in our framework if you would like to get more info at www.churchexcellenceframework.com


To review the studies included in the Framework and find out why we have concluded these things you will need to see the notes which are available for download here.

Please also share our blog to allow others to review and contribute – we need everyone, not just leaders, to play their part in building a church that others want to come to.


CEO. Jane Johnson B.Com Grad Dip LD, Dip Coaching,

Jane has worked in many different leadership capacities from being a professionally qualified Christian Leadership Coach for 13 years to many Christian leaders, to leading a ministry with the Navigators, to being a Senior Learning and Development Manager of a multimillion corporation, advising the management team on strategic approaches to get the best out of their people. She has developed considerable experience with Investors in People taking several companies through to successful accreditation and training as a consultant for them. Hence she understands the amazing impact a tool based on this principle can have.

Connect with her on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/profile/view?id=287940854&trk=nav_responsive_tab_profile

 

Prophetic Picture

This was a word/picture I was given. I believe we are suffering for not heeding these warnings.

I saw a large Bowl with water being stirred up. This represented the mixing of churches. The water was bubbling over and splashing on the surface making craters on the surface because it was so hot.

I see he wants a new level of collaboration of respect of trust for one another – no working alone not drawing on resources of others.

I see he wants leaders empowering others in such.

A way that they diminish whilst the youngsters rise. Where there is no longer the toil, new ideas will come and be birthed with speed.

No long labour and as some animals grow really quickly after birth so will some ministries.

Time for harvest is here-
Time for sowing is over
Reaping is at hand
So don’t hold back with
Faith
Meet collaborate , don’t judge
Open your hearts to new people who will have the key to your ministry
Take heed for their will be a period of grace after that I will come like Jesus turning the tables over in the temple
I will not stop till I have seen justice in my church. People no longer held back no longer ignored or unseen.

I want leaders to be held accountable and to allow inspection and challenge. People’s hearts are often where I myself am and so listen to them. You are not to take too much authority but recognise I have given you authority only by grace of god and not be abused. All my people contain part of me and you need them to make the picture whole

So come and do not keep yourself isolated from the people. Mix amongst them and see where your people hurt. There is much hurt in the church and frustration that I will no longer tolerate. These things must stop. Love is the overriding factor – not ministry – if my people are not loved their is no point.

Notice those not loved and seek to honour those.

For great is the person who lifts those above them- there is the honour –

The word has a place but not over other things. Prayer must be central as is providing leaders who can take over- home grown leaders are much better.

Open your eyes and see for The Lord is truly amongst his church

REVELATION ON THE OUTWORKINGS OF THE REFORMATION OF THE CHURCH

By Jane Johnson CEO of Church Excellence Framework

Hands on a globeI have had a great revelation given to me, which has built up over time and where God showed me that his heart was to restore Ecclesia and the Priesthood of Believers. Many are seeing Ecclesia as the “Called out Ones” but I think God is wanting us to understand a deeper revelation that is restoring all of us back to working like the council the word Ecclesia came from.

The case for reformation is compelling. George Barna, who I think was way ahead of his time when he wrote the Second Coming of The Church, articulates many of the arguments. Since understanding how to access the heavenly realms I have been given revelation first of all from Haggai, which revealed how Gods church is in ruin and the challenge to not carry on building our own houses but seeking to honour others ministries above our own and bring Kings, Priests and the People together, where there will be an increase in the glory of Gods House.

MEN IN WHITE LINEN ASSIGNED TO REFORMATION

I then learnt about understanding how we have men in white linen assigned to our case and saw in Heaven 5 men who were relevant to the story of reformation. As the Hebrew culture is to restore the earth back to “as it was in heaven “, I saw a timeline going back along the OT timeline. Zechariahs mandate was to establish a call to return to the lord. The second was Ezekiel where it talks about restoring David as the pastor over the church (ez 34).

Then came Moses whose calling is to release the people, which I understood to be releasing them from the institutionalised church. Then, this allowed Abraham’s calling to come into play by restoring a new generation of Gods people who are sons who understand their authority in heaven and take their place of responsibility to restore earth to the pattern as we see in heaven.

I also saw Joan of Arc who I believe is looking to see if the people are ready to become the army of God. It will no longer be a time of celebrities or well know authority figures but the ordinary people will rise up to take their authority and play a part in the government of heaven.

BENCH OF THREE AND SONSHIP OF MANiStock_000007212828SmallChristianity_lMkwuXmMwg_l

Part of this I sense is re-establishing the bench of three governmental structures in church life, the bench of seven and the sonship of man which will exceed the authority of apostles in the end as the Five -fold ministry will no longer be necessary in heaven.

I sense there will be a period of grace for the church to restructure in more heavenly forms and understand how heaven functions. There is only a short period where we may miss playing a senior role in heavenly realms. God is waiting for us to take responsibility and come to maturity so we are not waiting for God to act. But to take responsibility we must understand how the courts work and must bring a case to the court of kings which is then transcribed by the Court of Scribes and authenticated by the Court of Chancellors. When we have our papers/scrolls we can take it to our mountains and begin to rule and declare new Christlike ways.

I have humbly placed some practical ways of planning this in the Church Excellence framework, which is open to revision as we all get downloads from the Lord.

I sense a direct word from God for this time of immense change:-

“My people do not despair at the turmoil that is in your midst. There is a great wave of change happening in the heavens and I am seeking hearts that are pure, stable and open to this. Do not fear deception, do not panic when you see foundations begin to shake. I am teaching you how to do church my way and in a way that honours me and honours my people. Be still and know I am God “.

We have many other aspects listed in our framework if you would like to get more info at www.churchexcellenceframework.com


To review the studies included in the Framework and find out why we have concluded these things you can download the Framework and Notes here, free of charge.

Please also share our blog to allow others to review and contribute – we need everyone, not just leaders, to play their part in building a church that others want to come to.


CEO. Jane Johnson B.Com Grad Dip LD, Dip Coaching,

Jane has worked in many different leadership capacities from being a professionally qualified Christian Leadership Coach for 13 years to many Christian leaders, to leading a ministry with the Navigators, to being a Senior Learning and Development Manager of a multimillion corporation, advising the management team on strategic approaches to get the best out of their people. She has developed considerable experience with Investors in People taking several companies through to successful accreditation and training as a consultant for them. Hence she understands the amazing impact a tool based on this principle can have.

She is an author, has founded 4 businesses including 2 NFP’s and has a lot of experience working with volunteers. She also has board experience after being an MD. She has been a passionate Christian for 35 years and has experienced many different ways of doing church being involved in café church plants and different denominations.


Connect with her on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/profile/view?id=287940854&trk=nav_responsive_tab_profile

 

 

Structuring Churches to Come to One Mind, Will and Purpose (Part 3)

By Peter Thompson B.Theo Grad Dip Theology

church-people-clip-art-church-cartoonIn Parts 1 and 2, we discerned some similarities in four different contexts where a church community was either exhorted to fully agree with one another by coming to one mind together, or actually achieved such a unanimous agreement.

Certain things, I believe, begin to emerge from these accounts:

  • Coming to one mind, will and purpose in church community life is not an option, but is absolutely necessary if the Gospel is to continue to have its full, ongoing power and effect in the world;
  • Because God works within the Christian community to make His will obvious to them by the Spirit, and to effect obedience to that will, arriving at one mind together is a supernatural affair where God partners with His people to direct and guide them for His own good pleasure;
  • Church leadership structures do not make decisions for and on behalf of their congregation, and then impose those decisions upon them, because the only way for each church community to come to one mind is by God Himself (Father, Son and Spirit) making His mind, will and purpose blatantly obvious to everyone present at church assemblies; and
  • Contemporary churches need to urgently reconsider changing the function of their leaders from hierarchical authority figures to servants who, as those who belong to the church and not vice versa, facilitate the presence of the risen Lord Jesus Christ in order for the mind, will and purpose of God to be clearly made known (compare Colossians 1:24-29).

Hindrance of  Making the Bible an Idol

There are two theological issues, critical to this discussion, which I believe have tended to blind or hinder the contemporary church from understanding the God-given means for Christian communities across the world to arrive at one mind.

First, these days, the Bible tends to become an idol, what is called bibliolatry, because the Scriptures have become the primary and only truly authoritative means of hearing God speak today. This tendency has a number of serious problems, including:

  • While most Christian leaders claim to be under the final authority of the Bible, there is still so much difference of opinion in interpreting and applying the biblical text, usually because of what each one brings to the text in trying to understand it;
  • Different theologians and scholars with opposing theological perspectives tend to set themselves up as authorities over the Bible, becoming judges of what is acceptable and what may be discarded based upon what is relevant and meaningful to their own beliefs and understanding, which is usually based in each one’s particular denominational tradition;
  • The Bible then usurps God’s place as the ultimate authority as mediated by the abiding presence of Jesus, the living Word (compare Matthew 28:18; John 1:14; 17:2-3; Colossians 2:10; 1 John 1:1-3; 2 Corinthians 3:1-6); and
  • This downgrades the role of the prophet and the 5 fold ministries are meant to be the foundation of operation.
  • Jesus is not allowed to truly speak for Himself as the living Word and therefore challenge our interpretative approaches, beliefs and understanding (compare Luke 24:19-27).

Careful studies of the use of Old Testament Scripture in the New Testament clearly demonstrate that the narrative of God’s dynamic kingdom work in the experience of church communities was understood in tandem with the narrative of the Old Testament where both interpreted the other (as we have already seen occur in Acts 15). For instance:

  • Paul himself received his Gospel by a direct revelation of Jesus Christ which he later confirmed to be the genuine Gospel through the apostles in Jerusalem (Galatians 1:11-20; 2:1-2);
  • Jesus often reinterpreted the application of the law of Moses from His own experience of God’s activity, such as healing on the Sabbath (e.g., Mark 2:22-28 noting that nowhere does the OT actually speak of the Sabbath being made for humankind, not humankind for the Sabbath);
  • Paul found God’s activity of the Holy Spirit coming upon uncircumcised Gentiles reinterpreted the law of circumcision to be a work of the Spirit rather than that of human hands (Romans 2:25-29; 4:1-12; Colossians 2:11-14; Ephesians 2:11-15; Deuteronomy 10:16; 30:6; Jeremiah 4:3-4); and
  • The implementation of Jesus’ Last Supper as the Lord’s Table reinterpreted the significance of the Passover and the Day of Atonement (e.g., Mark 14:12, 22-25; Luke 22:14-20; 1 Corinthians 5:7-8; 10:16-22; Hebrews 9:1-28; 10:1-22; 13:9-16).

The Bible as a written text through which the Spirit supposedly speaks is not the ultimate authority at all, because determining what is of the Spirit and what is not is deeply disputed today. The Bible was meant to guide the Christian community to experiencing the authority of the living Word, risen and present in their midst. Rather, the written biblical text has become a source of deep division because it is not properly coupled with what God is actively doing in the midst of His church globally today.

Hindrance of Denial and/or Lack of Genuine Practice of Charismatic Gifts

Secondly, today, the genuine charismatic giftings as articulated by Paul (e.g., 1 Corinthians 12:7-11; Romans 12:6-8), are both poorly understood and rarely practised. However, in the early church, they were common place (e.g., Acts 5:12-14; Galatians 3:1-5; 1 Corinthians 2:4-5; 1 Thessalonians 1:4-5; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-2). It is clear that these giftings were supernatural manifestations of the Holy Spirit beyond normal human capability and functioning, because:

  • prophecies and other charismatic gifts of speaking had to be weighed and tested as ad hoc speech delivered on the spur of the moment (1 Corinthians 14:29-32; 1 Thessalonians 5:19-21);
  • charismatic gifts are always an expression of God’s gracious empowerment (for the word “charisma”, translated as “gifts”, stems from the Greek word for grace, “charis”), with God or the Spirit always being the subject (1 Corinthians 12:4-7; Romans 12:3-6; compare 1 Corinthians 4:6-7; 2 Corinthians 4:7; Ephesians 6:10); and
  • signs and wonders as demonstrations of God’s supernatural power were always associated with the charismatic gifts and the activity of Christian ministers (e.g., Hebrews 2:3-4; Romans 15:18-19; 1 Corinthians 4:20; Acts 2:43; 6:8; 7:36; 14:3; 2 Corinthians 12:12; Ephesians 3:7; compare Acts 2:22; 10:38).

I have personally experienced or witnessed the genuine manifestation of these Spirit-gifted expressions of God’s supernatural intervention in human affairs, including many undeniable physical miracles and supernatural healings. Arguments that such supernatural encounters either can’t happen today, or only happen when God has a unique, major, world-changing purpose to effect, are completely rendered void by my own fairly extensive experiences, let alone the experiences of so many others today, and so many more throughout church history. None of the supernatural encounters I experienced were associated with ground-breaking major moves of God, but occurred amongst ordinary little church communities in provincial areas of Queensland or around the outskirts of Brisbane.

Simple Proposal for How Oneness of Mind, Will and Purpose Was Achieved by the Early Church

With this in mind, I propose that the early New Testament church achieved, or sought to achieve, oneness of mind and judgment together through the mind, will and purpose of the Father, Son and Spirit (i.e. the “mind of Christ”) being manifestly obvious to all present in assembly through the combination of:

  • God’s ongoing gracious activity both in the midst of His church locally and world-wide, and out in the world, as properly confirmed to be genuine by Scripture; and
  • the operation of the genuinely charismatic gifts of speech expressed through the whole congregation.

This is, in my understanding, the only clear way to comprehend the biblical injunctions to arrive at the same mind and judgment.

Further Biblical Support

This proposal can be further supported as follows:Christianity

  • Jesus is Emmanuel, “God is with Us” (Matthew 1:23; compare Isaiah 7:14; 8:8-10);
  • Apart from Christ, from dwelling in Him and utterly depending upon Him, the church can do nothing (John 15:5; compare Colossians 2:19; Ephesians 4:15-16);
  • All true believers in God’s sheep-fold know and hear the shepherd’s voice (John 10:1-5, 14-16; compare John 18:37);
  • Jesus is personally present in power in the midst of the Christian assembly (1 Corinthians 5:3-5; compare Matthew 18:19-20 noting how “agreement” forms the immediate context; John 12:26); and
  • Jesus has been held to be personally present in the celebration of the Lord’s Table or Eucharist throughout church history.

Need for Urgent Change

It never ceases to amaze me why most contemporary Christian churches openly acknowledge the resurrection of Christ as a reality, but dismiss His ability to be personally present in the midst of Christian gatherings (and especially around the Eucharist) to express the one mind, will and purpose of the Father, Son and Spirit together through the supernatural manifestations of the Spirit in the community-wide expression of the charismatic gifts.

I have yet to find a church in Australia today that even remotely comes close to regularly experiencing the manifest presence of the risen Christ in their midst where Jesus Himself openly speaks and directs the congregation during their meetings and gatherings through the congregation-wide charismatic gifts. If the church is ever to come to one mind and judgment, this has to change, and rapidly so.


To review the studies included in the Framework and find out why we have concluded these things you will need to see the notes which are available by contacting us.

Please also share our blog to allow others to review and contribute – we need everyone, not just leaders, to play their part in building a church that others want to come to.


Peter “Thommo” Thompson was born in 1958 in the bulldust of south-western Queensland in the region around the township of Mitchell.  He was converted outside of the church through a supernatural encounter with the living God in Mackay, North Queensland, in February 1979, and embarked upon a long and arduous journey of God dealing with the figurative bulldust in his life.  In 2012, he completed a Bachelor of Ministry & Theology double degree, and in 2013, a Post-Graduate Diploma in Theology, all at Tabor Adelaide.  He currently lives with his two adult daughters in Ipswich, Queensland, and is writing a series of academic novels with the intent of hopefully helping to facilitate a church unifying movement through an unbranded form of Christianity in Australia.


Copyright 2015 Peter Thompson. Permission is granted to copy, forward, or distribute this article for non-commercial use only, as long as this copyright byline, in totality, is maintained in all duplications, copies, and link references. For reprint permission for any commercial use, in any form of media, please contact us.

Worship of the Bible is Idolatry

By Dr. Stephen R. Crosby

There was a Body before there was a Christian “Bible.” This is a threatening fact for many. It is none-the-less, an indisputable historical fact. The implications can, and have been, argued for centuries, but the fact cannot be.

The body of Christ is the result of Jesus’s life, death, resurrection, Spirit-outpouring, and Spirit-indwelling: the new creation. The Bible is the product of the Holy Spirit working in and through the body/church. In a historical sense, not a metaphysical one (the Church is eternal, as is the Logos), there was a community before there were writings. The writings came out of the experience of the community and the need to objectively capture the transmission of the apostolic proclamation of Christ, for future generations.

I am thankful for my heritage. By the grace of God, I have been devoted to Jesus as revealed in the scriptures for 40 years. To the best of my ability, I have given my life to the disciplined study, honest exegesis, and honorable application of the scriptures. I am not anti-scripture. I am anti-ignorance and anti-nonsense.

However, knowledge and love must always go together. Love must be informed by accurate knowledge, and knowledge must be infused by, and expressed in, love. We must honestly admit that the Protestant Evangelical passion for the scripture (which I share) is not without some inherent difficulties and risks.

Respect for, or Worship of The Bible?

While I am thankful for the “plus side” of what came out of the Reformation, there are some downsides as well. Bypassing for now the egregious misbehavior associated with some of the personalities involved in the Reformation, there is yet another downside consequence which is more contemporaneous. It’s the risk of bibliolatry: the worship of the Bible. Evangelicals and Fundamentalists would vehemently deny that this is an issue in their spheres, but it is a very present and serious issue.

For the majority of Evangelical Christianity the essence of our faith is presented as a set of propositional truths about Jesus, to which the unbelieving world must agree, or “go to hell.” “The Bible says” a lot of things. Understanding and applying what it says is always the issue. As Dr. Gordon Fee has succinctly said: “It’s all hermeneutics.”

I suggest, as did A. W. Tozer, that the specter of bibliolatry is always uncomfortably close at hand.  Tozer called it the “tyranny of the scribe” and “textualism from which the human mind revolts.” Tozer is not alone. Paul Tournier described the real essence of Christianity as: “. . . the building of a new civilization in which the spirit of Christ will be in the inner source of personal, family, social, and individual conduct.”

Peter Leithart says it like this:

Christian community . . . is not an extra religious layer on social life. The church is not a club for religious people. The church is a new way of living together before God, a new way of being human together. What Jesus and the apostles proclaimed was not a new ideology or a new religion, in our attenuated modern sense. What they proclaimed was salvation, and that meant a new human world, a new social and political reality .  .  . Conversion thus means turning from one way of life, one culture to another . . . it is the beginning of a re-socialization . . . In the New Testament we do not find an essentially private gospel being applied to the public sphere, as if  . . . it were a second story built on a private ground floor. The gospel IS the announcement of the Father’s formation, through His Son and the Spirit, of a new city—the city of God.

Paul’s gospel had an empirical test built into it; if no one was transformed, then the message that announced the transformation could not possibly be true. The first and chief defense of the gospel, the first letter of commendation not only for Paul but for Jesus, is not an argument, but the life of the Church, conformed to Christ by the Spirit in service and suffering. A community of sinners whose corporate life resembles Christ –that is the Church’s first apologetic. The very existence of such a “city” is our main argument.

Truth Has a Body

The scriptures declare that the world is not waiting to be persuaded from the Bible. The world does not care about our “Bible” and our opinions about it. The scriptures tell us that the unbelieving world has a right to “taste” of us, to savor us, to see if the aroma of Christ is present or not. The world is waiting to see a quality of life manifested on earth. The scriptures exist to reveal Jesus Christ for who He is, and to serve these ends. If we master the content of the scripture and have no savor or aroma of Christ, we are like a man holding a legitimate ticket, but who has missed his boat. It doesn’t matter how factual your ticket is, how everything on that ticket is true, how well you can explain the ticket, and defend its veracity. It exists to serve a purpose and you have missed it.

Truth has always had a Body. All  Christian truth is incarnational (embodied). The correct apprehension of biblical facts is not the same as possessing the life of Christ. It’s possible to flawlessly explain Paul’s theology and possess none of his life. The church, the ekklesia, is supposed to be the pillar and ground of all truth. That does not mean it is to a library for the accumulation of scriptural knowledge. It means that in the Body, Jesus is to be seen.

Coffee and Charcoal

Without beans you cannot have a cup of coffee, but with just beans you still don’t have coffee! You have the potential for coffee. Disciplined study of scripture is like a cup of beans: necessary, but not the end of the matter.  Scripture study is like charcoal. Without it, you won’t have a barbecue. But just having charcoal is not enough for a barbecue. The potential for heat and light that is in the charcoal must be ignited. It is our being knit together in love that turns beans to coffee and charcoal to heat and light.

Paul makes it clear in Colossians 2:2-3 that the unfolding of all the mysteries of God, the deep insights into His Person, plan and purpose, is not just a result of receiving the “preached word,” but is directly linked to our joining together in love (emphasis mine):

That their hearts might be knit together in love and UNTO all riches of the full assurance ofunderstanding, to the acknowledgment of the mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ, in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

Bible study can be intellectually intoxicating and lacking social context. Living well together in Christ is crucifying. There is more to our faith than the accumulation of teachings and a pursuit of “deeper understanding,” erroneously often called “revelations.”  I am not interested in novelty for novelty’s sake. I am not introduced in esoteric speculations from the scripture. I would like to live well in the sure things from scripture that I already understand. Mark Twain once said that he was not so much bothered by what he did not understand about the Bible, but by what he did understand! Me too.

Regardless of how right we might be on a point of doctrine, or how “anointed” the meeting is, or how “cutting edge” our insight is, we are worthless to God and humanity if these things do not ultimately lead to transformation of our lives before God and humanity. There is a love that surpasses knowledge. There is a power that surpasses what the natural can produce. There is a service that transcends human sympathy. These things are neither difficult nor complicated. They do not require argumentative (and often endless)  explanation. They require expression. For the world:

We are the message.

We are the argument.

We are the apologetic.

Jesus said: By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another. This is to be the outcome of our commitment to scripture. We are the One Loaf the unbelieving world is permitted to “bite into” to taste and see if God is good . . . or not. [xvi]  If our commitment to scripture does not result in an appropriate taste, our ship has sailed without us.

 


[i] Not the least of which is: “Who reforms the Reformers?” Every group thinks they have the last word from God – a fundamentally intoxicating proposition.

[ii] Rom. 8:19.

[iii] Ps. 34:8.

[iv] Matt. 5:13.

[v] 2 Cor. 2:16.

[vi] Rom. 8:19, 2 Cor. 4:10-11.

[vii] John 5:39-42, John 14:6, 1 John 1: 1-3.

[viii] A. W. Tozer, Keys to the Deeper Life, 1957.

[ix] Paul Tournier. The Healing of Persons. New York: Harper and Row, 1965, 42.

[x] Peter Leithart. Against Christianity. Moscow: Canon Press, 2003, 16.

[xi] Ibid., 99-100.

[xii] In the sense of utility for kingdom purpose, not in the sense of His affections.

[xiii] Eph. 3:19.

[xiv] Heb. 6:5.

[xv] Heb. 10:24.

[xvi] Matt 5:16; James 2:18, 20, 26. It is my understanding that the justifying works of James are not in conflict with Paul. The works James refers to are the works before humanity, not God. These works “justify” us in the eyes and ears of the world, and earn us a right to be listened to (e.g. Matt 5:16). Our behaviors will always speak more loudly than our philosophies:  “See how they love one another.”

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To review the studies included in the Framework and find out why we have concluded these things you will need to see the notes which are available by contacting us.

Please also share our blog to allow others to review and contribute – we need everyone, not just leaders, to play their part in building a church that others want to come to.

————————————————————————————————————————————–

Copyright 2015,  Dr. Stephen R. Crosby, www.stevecrosby.org Permission is granted to copy, forward, or distribute this article for non-commercial use only, as long as this copyright byline, in totality, is maintained in all duplications, copies, and link references.  For reprint permission for any commercial use, in any form of media, please contact stephrcrosby@gmail.com.

Structuring Churches to Come to One Mind, Will and Purpose (Part 2)

By Peter Thompson B.Theo Grad Dip Theology

In Part 1, we discerned some similarities in the Corinthian and Philippian contexts for Paul’s exhortation that those churches fully agree with one another by coming to one mind together.

With the Corinthian church, Paul exhorted them to be united in the same mind and judgment:

  •  on the basis that all the power and wisdom they need for their life in Christ together comes out of their intimate, corporate relationship with the risen Lord Jesus by means of the activity and empowerment of the Spirit;
  • under the motivation of genuine, self-giving love which builds up the whole church community;
  • because they have the mind of Christ together by means of the Spirit;
  • so that the Gospel is not hindered.

With the Philippian church, Paul exhorted them to set their minds and whole beings on the same thing together:

  • on the basis of the Father’s love, the comfort of Christ, and the sharing in the Spirit together in the face of persecution and suffering;
  • under the motivation that their self-giving love for each other needs to abound even more and more;
  • because God works in them (as a community) to effect obedience to His will, as they have full knowledge and moral insight by the Spirit to discern and approve the things which really matter;
  • so that they could effectively contend for the Gospel together as one person, holding out the word of life as true children of God.

Conclusions from Paul’s Two Calls for Oneness of Mind

From this, we can conclude that Paul’s call for community-wide unity had the following characteristics:

  • church leaders had indulged in various forms of self-seeking, ambition and domination, resulting in disputes, grumbling and community-destroying behaviours among the church community;
  • the expression of self-giving love within the Christian community was only truly complete and operative when they arrived at this oneness of mind and judgment;
  • community-building characteristics like humility, self-emptying, and seeking the interests of others were to be sought through the Spirit’s transforming work within them, and all community-destroying attitudes and behaviours were not to be tolerated;
  • church leaders were not to dominate decisions, but rather, as Christ’s slaves/servants, they were to facilitate the activity of the Father, Son and Spirit in order for the community to come to one mind over all decisions which really mattered; and
  • such oneness of mind in the wisdom of Christ as effected by the activity of the Spirit constitutes a manner of life by the church community which is worthy of the Gospel and doesn’t hinder its continuing effect in the world, and equates to the church community’s experienced, not just objective or theoretical, life in Christ which is sourced in the Father.

What Paul is calling for is not just arriving at one mind, but arriving at one will and purpose as well, that of God’s will and purpose expressed within the community, for they were to arrive at the same mind and the same judgment together as one, whole person. Obedience to God’s will is effected by God’s own efforts within the community, and this is how churches are to work out their salvation in real life — it is a true partnership between all the divine and human persons involved in the community and its decisions.

This is particularly important considering the church community is to mirror the perfect relational unity of mind, will and purpose which encompasses our three-in-one God.

The Common Problem Experienced by the Churches across Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia & Bithynia

The Apostle Peter wrote to the various Jewish churches across the Roman provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia (i.e. modern-day Turkey). The key issue was persecution against these churches by the neighbouring pagans and the suffering that persecution caused them (1 Peter 1:6-7; 3:14, 17; 4:1-4, 12-16, 19; 5:9-10).

In addressing this issue of suffering, Peter also exhorted them all to:

  • get rid of all malice, deceit/treachery, insincerity/pretence, envy/spite, and every type of slander (1 Peter 2:1);
  • have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love/fondness, compassion/tender-heartedness, and humility (1 Peter 3:8);
  • show hospitality to each other without grumbling/complaining (1 Peter 4:9);
  • live the rest of their days in the flesh for the will of God, not human desires (1 Peter 4:2);
  • above all, earnestly/constantly maintain love for one another (1 Peter 4:8);
  • serve one another as good stewards of God’s varied grace through their charismatic giftings of speech and service (1 Peter 4:10-11); and
  • be prepared to give a defence with gentleness and respect to anyone questioning them about the hope evident within their community (1 Peter 3:15-16).

Peter also exhorted the church elders to shepherd the flock of God under their care/oversight, not by domineering them or greedily seeking material gain, but by watching over it, humbly leading them through their own example (1 Peter 5:1-6).

Here we see the basic elements of how Paul dealt with divisions in the Greek/Macedonian churches now evident in Peter’s approach to handling the effects of persecution upon each church’s inner unity and functionality. It seems to me this is no mere coincidence, for Peter’s epistle (which was most likely written between Paul’s and Peter’s respective executions) was addressed to various Jewish churches within areas where Paul first initiated and pioneered contact with the Gospel. church-family-images-_4440318_orig

The Agreement Reached by the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15

Too many scholars and church leaders have looked too casually at Acts 15 and concluded that the Jerusalem meeting was just a human forum for all stake-holders to present their case after which some conciliatory process occurred, resulting in a compromise being reached between the various parties for the sake of the Gentile churches, a compromise in which the Spirit played a role. In my opinion, this interpretative approach mistakenly reads modern forms of church governance, based upon modern democratic forms of government, back into the text.

Rather, the actual elements of the text are that:

  • a strong and significant dispute, which is the significance of the Greek word used in verses 2 and 7, arose over the need for Gentile converts to be circumcised;
  • no specific mention is made of any contribution to the meeting made by those who upheld the need to circumcise Gentile converts other than the general statement in verse 7;
  • silence fell over the whole assembly in verse 12 after Peter spoke despite the strong disputes occurring in verse 7 immediately prior to Peter speaking;
  • after Paul and Barnabas related what God had done among the Gentiles (verse 12), James stood up to cite a text from Amos which confirmed that the Old Testament prophets agreed with what God had been doing in their midst to include the Gentiles within the church (verses 13-18);
  • the Holy Spirit and the whole assembly “resolved” the issue (verses 25, 28) by reaching “a unanimous decision” (verse 25) — the significance of the Greek words translated “seemed good to” and “to one accord” [ESV] — which signified a complete harmony, peace, wholeness and agreement had been reached; and
  • the whole assembled church in Jerusalem, not just the church leaders, was the vehicle in which the Spirit spoke (verses 4, 12, 22), noting that the apparent contradiction in verse 6 where only the apostles and elders came together to see about the matter probably only indicates, in the light of verse 12, that the leaders met first before calling the whole church to assemble.

Basis for the Assembly Reaching a Unanimous Agreement

A number of scholars are now observing that something more than a compromise or leader-imposed majority decision actually occurred in this assembly, because:

  • there was no actual discussion or debate recorded by Luke which resolved the issue;
  • James did not clinch the argument from Amos in verses 16-18, but simply pointed out in verse 15 how the words of the prophets agreed with what Peter, Paul and Barnabas had already observed God doing;
  • what actually clinched the argument was the reciting of the accounts of what God had already done to include the Gentiles within the wider church in verses 7-12;
  • the Holy Spirit is given prominence in verse 28 for the unanimous decision achieved by being mentioned first;
  • what James passed judgment upon in verse 19 as the chairperson of that meeting/assembly was a conclusion that verse 25 clearly states in retrospect was a unanimous agreement arrived at by the whole assembly;
  • no Greek words for commanding were used in conveying the unanimous decision — in fact, the only imperatives in the whole chapter occur in verse 13, “listen to me”, and in verse 29, “farewell”; and
  • when God clearly speaks in a way in which His declared will and purpose is obvious to everyone present, a unanimous agreement would naturally result.

No form of compromise or system of voting could achieve a unanimous agreement, because the whole nature of compromise or a majority-based decision always leaves some people dissatisfied with the decision.

How this unanimous agreement in Acts 15 could be achieved in light of the three passages in Paul and Peter calling for oneness of mind will be explored in Part 3.


To review the studies included in the Framework and find out why we have concluded these things you will need to see the notes which are available by contacting us.

Please also share our blog to allow others to review and contribute – we need everyone, not just leaders, to play their part in building a church that others want to come to.


Peter “Thommo” Thompson was born in 1958 in the bulldust of south-western Queensland in the region around the township of Mitchell.  He was converted outside of the church through a supernatural encounter with the living God in Mackay, North Queensland, in February 1979, and embarked upon a long and arduous journey of God dealing with the figurative bulldust in his life.  In 2012, he completed a Bachelor of Ministry & Theology double degree, and in 2013, a Post-Graduate Diploma in Theology, all at Tabor Adelaide.  He currently lives with his two adult daughters in Ipswich, Queensland, and is writing a series of academic novels with the intent of hopefully helping to facilitate a church unifying movement through an unbranded form of Christianity in Australia.


Copyright 2015 Peter Thompson. Permission is granted to copy, forward, or distribute this article for non-commercial use only, as long as this copyright byline, in totality, is maintained in all duplications, copies, and link references. For reprint permission for any commercial use, in any form of media, please contact us.

Structuring Churches to Come to One Mind, Will and Purpose (Part 1)

By Peter Thompson B.Theo Grad Dip Theology

There are a number of biblical principles which still perplex to some degree or another even the best scholars, and while those scholars manage to give something of an explanation, many of us can tell that something is not right.

One of these issues involves three New Testament exhortations for the whole church to come to one mind. These texts are glossed over today considering that the church is ridiculously splintered and fragmented, and the hope of the global church completely coming to one mind over even one basic issue is virtually lost, despite the noble efforts of the ecumenical movement over many decades. Something is indeed wrong.

But we need not despair just yet, as there is I believe a viable, and rather simple, solution. However, to begin to understand this properly will require three parts. In this first part, we will look at each of the two Pauline exhortations in some detail. In the second part, we will look at the third exhortation, this time by Peter, and then at an instance in Acts when the church did in fact come to one mind over a heated issue. Finally, in Part 3, we will look at what I consider to be a viable proposal on how the church was able to achieve this unity. church

The Corinthian Church Problem

It is well-known that division, segregation and strife significantly disrupted the Church at Corinth:

  • Most church members were declaring themselves to be followers of a particular leader over against other leaders which resulted in the formation of factions, causing quarrels and strife (1 Corinthians 1:11-13; 3:3-5; compare 2 Corinthians 10:12, 17-18);
  • Some church members were taking their fellow believers to secular courts to resolve their disputes (1 Corinthians 6:1-8);
  • The wealthy factions within the church were eating separately from the less fortunate members, humiliating them and causing them to go away hungry (1 Corinthians 11:17-22); and
  • Certain church members were declaring themselves spiritually superior to the rest of the church community because of their wisdom, knowledge or charismatic giftedness in tongues and/or prophecy, resulting in exclusive factions and causing weaker members to stumble (e.g., 1 Corinthians 3:18-20; 4:6-7, 18-20; 8:1, 7-13; 14:36-40; compare 1 Corinthians 1:20-31).

Paul’s Solution to the Corinthian Problem

What is not generally understood is Paul’s overall solution to the problem:

  • The Father has called all believers into the fellowship of His Son, and hence the Father is the source of the whole Church’s life in Christ Jesus whom the Father made to be their wisdom, righteousness, sanctification and redemption (1 Corinthians 1:9, 30; compare 1 Corinthians 12:6);
  • To all believers in their fellowship with Jesus Christ, Christ is the power and wisdom of God, and sustains them all to the end (1 Corinthians 1:4-9, 24; compare 1 Corinthians 12:5; Matthew 28:18-20; Hebrews 13:5; John 15:1-8; Colossians 2:19);
  • The whole Church community has the Holy Spirit who teaches them all, enabling them all to understand the things freely given to them, and empowers them all with various supernatural giftings (1 Corinthians 2:12-13; 12:7-11; compare 1 Corinthians 12:4);
  • Church leaders are not to domineer the flock of God, for the church belongs to Christ, not to them, and therefore the leaders belong to the church community as humble servants/slaves of Christ the rightful owner (1 Corinthians 1:2; 3:5-9, 21-22; 4:1-2; compare Ephesians 1:12-14; 4:30 [the seal speaks of ownership]; Acts 20:28-30; Ephesians 4:11-12; 2 Timothy 24-26; 1 Peter 5:1-4; Hebrews 13:7, 17);
  • Genuine, self-giving love is to motivate all that is done in the church community so that all are built-up (1 Corinthians 8:1; 13:1-8; 16:14; compare 1 Corinthians 10:23-24; Ephesians 4:12-16);
  • The whole Church is to agree and be united in the same mind and same judgment, for the church community has the mind of Christ by means of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 1:10; 2:10-16; 2 Corinthians 13:11); and
  • The Gospel is not to be hindered by self-seeking, greed, ambition for power and recognition, or strife (e.g., 1 Corinthians 1:17; 2:1-5; 2 Corinthians 4:1-8; 5:11-15; compare 1 Corinthians 9:18-23; John 13:34-35; 17:22-23).

Looking at the whole picture here, we can start to see something of a progression emerging in Paul’s method of dealing with the fragmentation and divisions within the Corinthian church — Jesus has become the church’s life, being all the wisdom and power the church needs through the Spirit, and He therefore allows us by His Spirit to access (supernaturally) His mind (and hence wisdom) to guide all decisions and judgments so that the whole church can, together, thoroughly agree with each other for the sake of the Gospel. After all, Jesus is Lord and Head over the church!

A similar sort of progression can be discerned in Philippians.

The Philippian Church Problem

Paul also had to deal with some divisive issues in the Philippian church community:

  • Some members of the church were acting out of selfish ambition, rivalry and empty conceitedness, thinking too highly of themselves (Philippians 2:3);
  • Others were also looking out for their own interests/concerns (Philippians 2:4);
  • There was a lot of complaining/grumbling evident within the community (similar to the early Israelites in the desert — 1 Corinthians 10:10; Exodus 16:7-12; 17:3; Numbers 14:17-29 etc.), which occurred in the context of disputes/controversies (Philippians 2:14); and
  • In particular, two important women ministers in the Philippian Church, Euodia and Syntyche, were not seeing eye to eye with each other (Philippians 4:2).

Paul clearly suggests that such self-seeking and disunity is not a manner of life worthy of the Gospel (Philippians 1:27; compare Ephesians 4:1-3).

Paul’s Solution to the Philippian Problem

In this case, Paul’s overall solution is:

  • Finding solace in the Father’s love in the midst of suffering (Philippians 2;1; compare 2 Corinthians 13:14);
  • Being comforted in Christ in the midst of persecution (Philippians 2:1; compare 2 Corinthians 1:3-5);
  • Sharing in the Spirit together (Philippians 2:1; compare 2 Corinthians 13:14);
  • Their love for one another abounding yet more and more (Philippians 1:9; compare Philippians 2:2; 1 Thessalonians 3:12; 4:9-10);
  • Their love for one another being accompanied by full knowledge (of God and His will) and moral insight so that they may together discern, i.e. assess for approval, those things that really matter (Philippians 1:9-10; compare Philippians 3:12-21; 4:8-9; Romans 12:1-2);
  • Humbly seeking the interests of others (Philippians 2:3; compare Romans 15:1-2);
  • Each one emptying themselves as Christ Himself did (Philippians 2:5-11);
  • Setting their minds, even their whole being (soul/person), on the same thing together (Philippians 2:2; compare Romans 12:16); and
  • Contending together as one person (soul) for the Gospel, standing firm in one Spirit (Philippians 1:27; compare Ephesians 2:18).

Summarising this Solution

This apparent progression is summed up in a careful assessment of Philippians 2:12-15. They were to:

  • continue to obey (presumably Christ — 2 Corinthians 10:5-6), for God Himself works in them to effect this obedience to His will for His own good pleasure (note Romans 7:7-25 which describes how a God-fearer before conversion is incapable of obeying God’s will revealed in Scripture);
  • by actively working out their salvation in how they live their lives together, for obedience characterises true faith (Romans 1:5; 15:18; James 2:14-26);
  • which is accomplished by ceasing their divisive disputes/controversies leading to complaints/grumbling;
  • which then allows them to be blameless and pure, children of God without fault, holding firmly onto the word of life in the midst of a crooked and depraved generation (unlike the crooked and depraved generation of blemished Israel who forfeited being God’s children — Deuteronomy 32:5), and in so doing, effectively presenting the Gospel, the message which brings life, to them (compare Daniel 12:3).

In other words, the Philippians needed to stop whatever squabbling was going on as a result of their self-seeking and get on with being God’s blameless children, shining as stars in pagan Philippi. They were to do this by setting their minds on the same thing in total agreement, for God empowers them to be obedient to His will. The way the Philippian church conducted themselves in unity without disputes therefore affected their capacity to present the Gospel in the midst of persecution.

Final Exhortation by Paul

This is given particular emphasis in Philippians 4:1-3, for Euodia and Syntyche had successfully, before their current disagreement, laboured together with Paul in the Gospel with Clement. Now, they are exhorted by Paul to agree with each other in terms which echo Philippians 1:27 and sum up Paul’s pleas so far:

  • Standing firm in the Lord (i.e. being steadfast, the concern of Philippians 3:1-21);
  • Agreeing with each other in the Lord (i.e. unity, the concern of Philippians 2:1-16); and
  • Contending in the cause of the Gospel (the backdrop to the whole epistle).

Only as the Philippians stood firm in the sphere of their relationship with the Lord Jesus were they empowered to obey God’s will, and consequently come into full agreement and be of the one and same mind together, thereby ceasing to hinder the effective spread of the Gospel.

There is a lot of similarity in these two exhortations by Paul for the Corinthian and Philippian churches to agree and come to one mind within their separate communities for the sake of the Gospel. This similarity will be explored further in Part 2.


To review the studies included in the Framework and find out why we have concluded these things you will need to see the notes which are available by contacting us.

Please also share our blog to allow others to review and contribute – we need everyone, not just leaders, to play their part in building a church that others want to come to.


Peter “Thommo” Thompson was born in 1958 in the bulldust of south-western Queensland in the region around the township of Mitchell.  He was converted outside of the church through a supernatural encounter with the living God in Mackay, North Queensland, in February 1979, and embarked upon a long and arduous journey of God dealing with the figurative bulldust in his life.  In 2012, he completed a Bachelor of Ministry & Theology double degree, and in 2013, a Post-Graduate Diploma in Theology, all at Tabor Adelaide.  He currently lives with his two adult daughters in Ipswich, Queensland, and is writing a series of academic novels with the intent of hopefully helping to facilitate a church unifying movement through an unbranded form of Christianity in Australia.


Copyright 2015 Peter Thompson. Permission is granted to copy, forward, or distribute this article for non-commercial use only, as long as this copyright byline, in totality, is maintained in all duplications, copies, and link references. For reprint permission for any commercial use, in any form of media, please contact us.

 

The Need to Restructure the Church to Mirror the Relationships within God

By Peter Thompson B.Theo Grad Dip Theology

The Paradox of the Christian God

Understanding the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit as being only “one” God has perplexed Christians since the early church some 2000 years ago. Many different concepts have arisen in popular Christian culture to help explain the paradox of how God can be three persons on the one hand, but only one God on the other. None of them have been successful (for reasons I won’t go into now), for they all falter in one way or another to differentiate the three distinct persons who are otherwise in perfect union. These include:

  • the ice/water/steam analogy;
  • the egg shell/egg white/egg yolk analogy;
  • the will/mind/emotions analogy and
  • the spirit/soul/body analogy.

Muslims have ridiculed Christianity for centuries over this paradox of the Christian God and the church’s weak attempts to explain it.

Demonstrating the Three-in-One God Relationally

Nonetheless, there is, in my opinion, one concept which successfully and biblically helps us comprehend this paradox, that of intimate human relationships in both Christian marriage and in church communities. Christians were never meant to explain the paradox, but to demonstrate it through their own intimate relationships where:

  • two individual persons, husband and wife, become one flesh together (Ephesians 5:28-31; 1 Corinthians 6:15-16; Matthew 19:3-6; Mark 10:2-9); and
  • church communities come to one mind, will and purpose together (1 Corinthians 1:10; Philippians 2:2; 1 Peter 3:8; compare Romans 12:16).

Unfortunately, neither contemporary marriages nor modern Christian church communities effectively demonstrate to the world the reality of our three-in-one God, because:

 

  • contemporary marriages tend to have either one spouse dominating the other, or each spouse exerting some measure of manipulative control over the other to accommodate their own self-centred desires;
  • the modern church is splintered beyond repair with over 33,800 known denominations, para-denominations and networks already existing in the world back in 2000; and
  • the ecumenical movement has basically failed despite several decades of intense effort, with many of the advocates who have devoted most of their lives to the cause in dismay over the limited progress made.

 

The Distinctiveness of the Three Divine Persons

 

This means that in order to understand the paradox of the three-in-one God, we have to comprehend the perfect, relational union of the three distinct persons of the Godhead as revealed to us through the course of human history, and particularly through Christ in whom “the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Colossians 2:9 ESV). I believe that the Bible clearly portrays God as three distinct centres of divine activity. For example:

 

  • it was the Son, not the Spirit or the Father, who became a physical human being some 2,000 years ago, bearing human sin in His own body and being resurrected from the dead (e.g., 1 Corinthians 15:3-8; Philippians 2:5-11; Romans 8:11; Ephesians 2:19-20);
  • it is the Spirit, not the Father or Son, who physically indwells humans today (e.g., 2 Corinthians 1:21-22; Galatians 4:6; 1 Corinthians 6:19; Ephesians 1:13-14; compare Ezekiel 36:14);
  • it was presumably the Father, not Jesus or the Spirit, who personally presented Himself to Moses on the top of Mount Sinai (Exodus 33:17-23).

 

The Relational Dependence of the Three Divine Persons upon Each Other

 

However, in the Bible, God is not portrayed as three distinct persons understood to be autonomous, self-conscious individuals, each independent of the other, as secular science has defined personhood over the past 400-500 years — none of them have their own, separate identity. This is because each divine person is defined by their relationship to the other two:

 

  • The Father relates as “father” to the Son;
  • The Son relates as “son” to the Father; and
  • The Spirit proceeds, is breathed forth, from the Father through the Son.

 

Each of the three persons of the Godhead have their personal identity in relationship, in their specific relationship with each other. Therefore, the Father, the Son and the Spirit are to be understood as dynamic, inter-dependent persons in such intimate relationship that they do all things together as one being. This makes sense because a human being:

 

  • can only find fulfilment and purpose when they are relating to others, whether positively or negatively;
  • cannot effectively have any personhood when they are completely devoid of relationships; and
  • ceases to be a person when there is absolutely no-one else they can relate to.

 

Even contemporary psychology is finally coming to terms with how any autonomy we as humans might find as distinct persons only arises in the context of our relationships. It is only through interaction with other individuals that human identity as a unique person actually occurs.

 

God’s Perfect Union Together

 

This means that each divine person is understood in terms of their perfect capacity to give and receive love to and from each other — as my favourite lecturer at Bible College would say, they are perfectly complete in their union together, and they have no need for anything or anyone else to complete them.

 

This loving relationship between the Father, Son and Spirit is so perfect that they have one mind, one will, one purpose. Scripture clearly suggests this. For instance:

 

  • Jesus states that He raised Himself from the dead by His own power (John 10:17-18), and yet, elsewhere, Jesus was raised by the Spirit in accordance with the Father’s great strength and through the Father’s glory (e.g., Romans 6:4; 8:11; Ephesians 1:19-20);
  • while the Father created all things through and for Jesus, Jesus also created the heavens and the earth, and still holds the universe together by the word of His own power (1 Corinthians 8:6; Colossians 1:15-16; Hebrews 1:2-3, 10); and
  • just as Jesus preserves those who follow Him so that no-one can snatch them out of His hand, so does the Father (John 10:28-30).

 

Jesus is much more than just an echo of the mind of God:

 

  • He has His own identity;
  • He expresses His own will and purpose;
  • Yet He is in perfect harmony with the Father and the Spirit.

 

This means, to me at least, that every divine act is an action of all three together in such a way that their coinherence, i.e. the way they perfectly intertwine with each other relationally, results in each divine person being in Himself wholly God, as Jesus was wholly God in His human form (Colossians 2:9). There is a shared consciousness, a mutual self-giving which is always enriching and fresh as each divine person continually encounters each other in perfect union. Jesus, the Father and the Spirit are distinct yet one.

 

God’s Perfect Equality Together

 

I am also convinced that the Father, Son and Spirit are also completely equal in power and authority because:

 

  • Jesus was equal with God before the incarnation, and consequently, He did not insist on strictly maintaining that equality during the time He voluntarily surrendered Himself to human form (Philippians 2:5-11);
  • Jesus voluntarily offered Himself in sacrifice, which means that He was not coerced to do so by the Father (Hebrews 9:13-14; John 10:17-18; Isaiah 53:10), which was clearly evident in the Garden of Gethsemane scene where Jesus willingly accepted the cup of suffering (e.g., Matthew 26:36-45; Luke 22:39-42); and
  • Jesus clearly expresses equal authority with the Father where Jesus not only gives life to whomever He wills just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, but also has been given all authority to execute judgment, even though He can do nothing on His own (John 5:19-30).

 

Yet:

 

  • Jesus had to learn what obedience to the Father entailed in His death for all humanity in order to become our High Priest (Hebrews 2:9-18; 5:7-9); and
  • Jesus only ever completed the works and will of the Father who had sent Him (John 4:33-34; 5:36; 6:38-40).

 

This was not the imposition of the Father’s will upon Jesus, but the undertaking of a common cause, the salvation of humanity.

 

When we think about what Paul really meant when he said that the entire Godhead resides completely within Jesus bodily (Colossians 2:9), we must realise that the idea there is a “chain of command” within the Trinity can’t possibly work. Arguments by other theologians holding that a hierarchical structure of authority exists within the Trinity are not sustainable in my opinion.

 

Paradox Solved

 

This then means that the goals, intention and objectives of each of the three divine persons are perfectly united without any conflict, enabling them to work together inseparably. Hence, they only ever have one mind, one will, one purpose together in their perfect union, even though they have distinctive minds, wills and activities. It is a perfect union which is obviously physically unattainable between two or more organic human-beings, because God is spirit.

 

Modelling the Trinity on Planet Earth

 

The church itself then, like Christian marriages, in all its various congregational expressions should mirror the relational unity of God in all its decisions, activities and general life together (1 Corinthians 1:10; 12:12-15, 24-27; Romans 12:4-5; compare Ephesians 5:25-32). This unity comes as Jesus functions in His proper place of being the Head over the church, a subject to be addressed in my next blog.

 

Only then can the reality of God as Father, Son and Spirit be modelled upon planet Earth. The church must overcome its absurdly ridiculous lack-of-unity problem, largely caused by its hierarchical structures, and return to being of one mind, one will, one purpose together (Philippians 1:27; John 17:11, 20-22; John 10:16; compare John 13:34-35). How this can be achieved practically will be the topic of another day, for I am convinced that it is not impossible despite the deeply splintered state of the church in the world today.


To review the studies included in the Framework and find out why we have concluded these things you will need to see the notes which are available by contacting us.

Please also share our blog to allow others to review and contribute – we need everyone, not just leaders, to play their part in building a church that others want to come to.


Peter “Thommo” Thompson was born in 1958 in the bulldust of south-western Queensland in the region around the township of Mitchell.  He was converted outside of the church through a supernatural encounter with the living God in Mackay, North Queensland, in February 1979, and embarked upon a long and arduous journey of God dealing with the figurative bulldust in his life.  In 2012, he completed a Bachelor of Ministry & Theology double degree, and in 2013, a Post-Graduate Diploma in Theology, all at Tabor Adelaide.  He currently lives with his two adult daughters in Ipswich, Queensland, and is writing a series of academic novels with the intent of hopefully helping to facilitate a church unifying movement through an unbranded form of Christianity in Australia.


Copyright 2015 Peter Thompson. Permission is granted to copy, forward, or distribute this article for non-commercial use only, as long as this copyright byline, in totality, is maintained in all duplications, copies, and link references. For reprint permission for any commercial use, in any form of media, please contact us.

 

Healthy Fathering God’s Original Design for Making Disciples

By Jose Bosque

First let me make it clear that my use of the term “spiritual father” as it relates to earthly fathers is intended to be gender neutral while carrying a specific relational truth. As I use or imply the words “spiritual fathers” and/or “spiritual sons” in this article my full intention is that you, the reader, would view these words to mean sons and daughters of our heavenly Father – the children of God. Women are Sons in the Kingdom and men are part of the Bride. God the Father doesn’t have the issues we have.

Again, I write this article fully intending to be gender neutral. In a politically correct world this article would be littered with phrases like “him and or her,” “him/her,” “sons and daughters,” “spiritual fathers and spiritual mothers” and the like. All of this to say what I intend with the use of two terms: “spiritual fathers” and “spiritual sons”. I am not trying to be politically correct in this article. Rather, I am trying to be scripturally accurate.

I have spent a good part of this week counseling young leaders in the Kingdom. They were all full of passion, drive, boldness, determination and perseverance. Yet, almost without exception all of them are having problems of a very similar nature. Their Christian walk is very similar as well. Each has surrounded themselves with people to whom they are ministering but these young leaders are still lonely. Ministry demands that these leaders teach and demonstrate God’s love for people. And while spiritual leaders spend their lives helping people know the love of God, they often come up short in this area themselves. They need to know the Father’s love for themselves. They need God’s plan for discipleship.

I’ve found that leaders who have left the institutional church system and have become free of its often abusive authority, run in the opposite direction so hard and so fast they run past the Father’s intended authority. Almost all of them, in one way or another, think they are to be fathered directly by our Father in Heaven. They love God, but they have been so hurt by men they mistakenly close the door to any attempt by an elder brother to speak regularly into their lives. It’s not that they wouldn’t listen; it just is not high on their priority list due to their lack of trust in human father figures.

Spiritual fathers are also in a very difficult time as the Lord’s Church goes through this season of transition. It certainly has not helped these spiritual fathers when many spiritual sons have yet to value them as a gift to the Body. These fathers are full of wisdom forged in the fire of patient endurance as the Lord threshed the floor of their hearts from the chaff of religion. They are pillars of truth in the House of God created for such a time as this.

Young leaders would be very blessed to find and connect with a spiritual father at this hour. I am not talking about some surface relationship based on position or a shallow fly-by type of relationship with occasional interaction. Rather, I’m talking about an intentional, God designed, father-son relationship where love flows freely back and forth without an agenda.

See an article I recently received from a young leader I helped father in the early part of the ministry; http://angelcasiano.com/2013/08/31/in-honor-of-seven-men/ as you will read in  this article God uses different men throughout our life to help form it. I have even learned what not to do from some of the tyrants I had in my life. I have had to learn not to throw out the proverbial “baby with the bath water” in this most important issue. For the record, I hold no animosity against the bad ones. I understand they were never properly fathered and could only repeat what they had seen.

Today, in the religious church world if anyone even shows any sign of life or passion for Christ they will be shipped off to the seminary. Jesus chose a different plan and it’s called “follow me”. It’s not how many bible verses you know but how many you actually believe and live out before this generation.

Most Christians don’t need more information they need to see the Christ Life modeled before them. This discipleship model can only be “fleshed out” as we walk together daily with another elder brother. Real love must be tested in the fire of real life.

Let’s look at some of the reasons as to why this is God’s multi-generational design for making disciples:

  1. God chose a pattern based on a Father/Son relationship to reveal His nature to humanity. In essence the Godhead dressed himself in a concept that the human race could understand. Then the Lord Jesus came to earth and modeled obedience to His Father before us so as to leave us an example to follow. If this was Gods best way to reveal Himself and make disciples what do you think will be our best way?

John 14:6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. NKJV

  1. 2. We have the example of the first century church and how the Lord himself raised up men like Peter, James, and Paul, each with their particular gifting. If you are still confused as to the role of a spiritual father, here is a verse to clear the cobwebs of religious abuse.

2 Cor 12:14-15 Now for the third time I am ready to come to you. And I will not be burdensome to you; for I do not seek yours, but you. For the children ought not to lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children. 15 And I will very gladly spend and be spent for your souls; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I am loved. NKJV (Emphasis mine)

  1. We can also have the beautiful relationship between Paul and Timothy. They are the epitome of a pure scriptural father-son relationship. It has always blessed me to note what we consider important in a young leader’s resume today compared to what Paul left out of Timothy’s resume when recommending him to others. See for yourselves what Paul felt was important:

Phil 2:19-23 But I trust in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you shortly, that I also may be encouraged when I know your state. 20 For I have no one like-minded, who will sincerely care for your state. 21 For all seek their own, not the things which are of Christ Jesus. 22 But you know his proven character, that as a son with his father he served with me in the gospel. NKJV

  1. Paul and Timothy in their apostolic journeys, exampled the need to apostolically appoint elders in every city. I say “apostolically” because the terms “pastoral epistles” and “missionaries” are two inventions of the religious system used for propagating their human programs. Who were the elders but older mature men – spiritual fathers – who were assigned to model before the new disciples – spiritual sons – the pattern which had been taught to them by the apostles.
  2. Spiritual Fathers led the church throughout the first 300 years of church history. Before Constantinople men such as Clement, Polycarp, Irenaeus, Tertullian and Origen could all point back to the spiritual fathers that had discipled them. This was a pattern and lifestyle in the early church that Constantinople and the clergy system of the Roman church all but did away with.
  3. 6. We have the recent train wreck of the false apostolic movement. This movement clearly shows us the fallacy of father/son relationships based upon position rather than love. Our enemy wants to mimic God’s real apostolic concept. In an effort to slow down the work of the Lord and leave wounds in many young leaders hearts. The enemy sowed some bad seed in the Lord’s vineyard as in all things, bad seed can only reproduce after its kind.

A remnant of the false apostolic movement is still alive and well growing alongside the good plants of the Lord. But God is using His genuine apostolic pattern to set real spiritual fathers in place with spiritual sons. Our Father knows once His people taste and see His pattern of real apostolic fathers and sons, they will never again allow themselves to serve the taskmasters who flaunt their “apostolic anointing” and run around flashing their titles.

  1. Now, we have the example of the real Apostolic- I am talking aboutrelationships based on the love of God. These are fathers who will not demand your tithe in trade for their attention. They will never require any title other than brother. They will never ask to be recognized as your spiritual father. They will see you with the Heavenly Fathers eyes and work alongside the Holy Spirit to produce the best in you. They will never abandon you in the midst of your mess. They like Christ will weep, will entreat but will also patiently trust Gods time with your growth.

You have NEVER seen what I am talking about? Maybe it’s because when they came near they didn’t have the glitter and bling like those you look up to and follow now.

If you are reading this you would do well to take these words to heart and ask the Father what He wants at this time in your life. I feel spiritually complete. I have a spiritual family, I have a spiritual father. I have spiritual peers and I have spiritual sons whom I am relating to in God’s love. The future is bright. The world is yet to see the power of the army that is, even now, locking elbows as the love of God grows among us.

This army is also known as the Church – the ekklesia – the called out ones. The real Church is fueled by the love of God and is incredibly powerful. She is comprised of spiritual fathers with spiritual sons who relate to each other with love and respect. Don’t try to judge the force or power of the real Church with your Wall Street measurements. That which the Lord is building is divine and cannot be judged by human means.

1 Cor 1:26-30 For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. 27 But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; 28 and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, 29 that no flesh should glory in His presence.

Maybe sometime I will take time to discuss the whole God-ordained process of how spiritual fathers know who are their spiritual sons and visa-versa. In the meantime quit measuring with human measurement and see who makes himself available to love you! I am not talking about a weekly greeting. I am talking about a daily walking out life together.

May the Lord bless your search for a true spiritual father.

Jose Bosque


To review the studies included in the Framework and find out why we have concluded these things you will need to see the notes which are available by contacting us.

Please also share our blog to allow others to review and contribute – we need everyone, not just leaders, to play their part in building a church that others want to come to.


Copyright 2013 Jose L. Bosque http://www.JaxChristian.com. Permission is granted to copy, forward, or distribute this article for non-commercial use only, as long as this copyright byline, in totality, is maintained in all duplications, copies, and link references. For reprint permission for any commercial use, in any form of media, please contact   JaxChristian1@aol.com

Restoring a Relevant Church in the 21st Century

As the CEO of the Church Excellence Framework, this has been an exciting year where we feel the Lord has given many a rough blueprint for what needs to happen to restore the reputation of the church. Here are a few things we believe in passionately and believe are highly backed up scripturally and in practice.

  • Returning the church to the original definition of Ecclesia; that all people have authority and involvement, not just leaders.
  • The church serving the people not the people serving the church vision.
  • Moving to the Senior Pastor as a facilitator rather than the person who must give permission before people are allowed to act in their area of passion.
  • Clarifying and serving the Calling of People vs Serving the Church vision, even if outside of the churches activities.
  • Priesthood of All Believers and Every Member Ministry (1 Peter 2: 9) to put less pressure on paid pastors.
  • Placing significant emphasis on the skill of the youth and children’s workers, as this is the area of the greatest fruit.
  • Bringing back the Five Fold Ministry (Eph 5) ensuring that every church has apostolic oversight, and that there is a role for the Evangelist and those with prophetic gifts. One could also argue for the removal of the Senior Pastor role biblically.
  • Increasing understanding of the heavenly court systems and unseen realities of heaven that have been hidden from traditional church teaching.
  • More effective methods of Empowering, Establishing and Equipping of the Saints, going beyond small groups and sermons to methods of multiplication, fathering and pathways to growth.
  • Moving from measures of “Connecting to a Church” to “Measures of Transformation.”
  • Moving away from the Attraction Model to the Discipling Model – Platforms for Community Engagement not Concert Attendance
  • Moving towards measuring “numbers of disciples effectively equipped and able to reach out” versus “Numbers attending Church.”
  • Changing the staffing structure from appointing ministry roles to appointment by critical Functions such as HR and Communications, Head of Spiritual Operations or Head of Evangelism. Avoiding pastors seeking to do numerous tasks not in alignment with their gifting and ultimately becoming blockers.
  • Principle that Quality Relationships result in Engagement more than content so reducing heavy listening content and more net weaving.
  • Allowing Debate and Questioning as a key tool for learning that allows doubt to be expressed.
  • Encouraging greater unity with other Christian denominations and Christian organizations by seeing more products advertised and working with other churches and city councils.
  • Encouraging Trust and Believing the Best in Others particularly new people moving from a “we need to get to know you” philosophy, which slows down disciplemaking and breeds resentment.
  • Moving from Teaching to Learning with emphasis on outcomes such as growth of believer not input such as how many are in small groups.
  • Multiplication and one-on-one Disciple-making (2 Tim 2:2) not just group discipling.
  • Encouraging more Church Transparency and Lives that Invite Feedback and Development.
  • Moving from “Shouting on the Mountaintop”, i.e. preaching in a church mainly full of believers to “Immersing in the Culture” and strong missional component that is based in the community not just in the church.
  • Encouraging lots of resources to be given to people even if from different parts of the Body of Christ to restore the view we are one body not a location or denomination.
  • Establishing a culture of Honouring People, evaluating how people are loved  and treated fairly, “All men will know you are my disciples if you love one another” (John 13:34).
  • Supporting Christians in the Marketplace (Being Salt and Light) with support in character, outreach techniques and calling or spiritual gifts.
  • Bringing the charismatic, contemplative, community care, evangelistic, mystic style churches into one church rather than churches specializing, on the basis that all elements are biblical and not to be excluded.

We have many other aspects listed in our framework if you would like to get more info at www.churchexcellenceframework.com—————————————————————————————————————

CEO. Jane Johnson B.Com Grad Dip LD, Dip Coaching,

Jane has worked in many different leadership capacities from being a professionally qualified Christian Leadership Coach for 13 years to many Christian leaders, to leading a ministry with the Navigators, to being a Senior Learning and Development Manager of a multimillion corporation, advising the management team on strategic approaches to get the best out of their people. She has developed considerable experience with Investors in People taking several companies through to successful accreditation and training as a consultant for them. Hence she understands the amazing impact a tool based on this principle can have.

Connect with her on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/profile/view?id=287940854&trk=nav_responsive_tab_profile

How to ensure your sermon is engaging and people are learning

We all know that listening to sermons can be a poor way to learn. In the framework we have a lot of methods to allow engagement of people and ensure they are experiencing quality learning. For more info sign up for our email blog at www.churchexcellenceframework.com. The framework without the notes is now on the website without cost for a limited time.

Here are some more suggestions taken from the notes to the framework: –

  • YouTube
  • Invite people to SMS Questions to pastors phone who filters them and answers relevant ones for 10 mins after message. This allows people to concentrate and engage with the material and for us to get feedback about what people care about. Questions can always be returned to the next Sunday if  they are challenging!!!
  • Webinar software
  • Q and A from microphone, ensuring themes to build on material
  • Books and handouts recommended on a theme to ensure the learning is reinforced for those interested.
  • Props
  • Banner at back of the stage to reinforce a theme
  • PowerPoint presentations with main points which are then reinforced at the end of the sermon
  • In the e newsletter –  application questions to ponder through the week – this keeps the theme fresh. People like lots of communication to keep them engaged with their church and feel they are moving forward. This makes testimonies easier to get of what people have learnt.
  • Asking for a response for people to come forward after a message and offer ministry in-line with the sermon
  • Moving the worship so that it can be used as a reflection time for God to speak after the sermon.
  • Interspersing testimonies in between a message (a page on the website can collect testimonies on an ongoing basis). Video testimonies can be powerful.
  • Panel discussions.
  • Sheet given to guest speakers as to the minimum requirements in terms of presentation( eg title, summary, application, Powerpoint, bible references)church growth