Defining Your Terms

I’m sure we Salvationists could add a few more … What do we mean by ‘quality’, for example?

Thinking Out Loud

When you say you’re a Bible & Science ministry, does that mean

  • you believe in a literal six-day creation and a young earth?
  • you believe in an old earth; that Genesis is allegorical, that evolution is probable
  • you focus on intelligent design and try to skip the subjects above ?

When you say you have a prophetic gift, does that mean

  • you speak forth with a prophetic voice concerning issues facing the church and/or the world in general
  • your ministry almost exclusively revolves around end-time predictions
  • you counsel people and help them find where they are to live, what should be their vocation, who they should marry, etc. ?

When you say your church is charismatic, do you mean

  • the music is loud and lively, and people clap and rejoice during worship
  • your church emphasizes belief in the limitless power of God and has an active desire for a manifestation…

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The Growth of Love

The Growth of Love

The Growth of Love

Let me say it straight away: This book is highly recommended for anyone who works with children, lives with children, or has any contact with children whatsoever. But it is also recommended for anyone who wants to reflect a little on what “the good life” might be, and what sort of premises it might build on. If you buy it now you can skip the rest of this post 🙂

Keith White’s “The Growth of Love” is ostensibly a book about children, and about what contributes to their healthy development. From that point of view, it can be seen as a counterpoint to theories about cognitive development and “stages of growth”, and White makes it clear that this is quite deliberate. But it becomes apparent as you read the book that White’s five themes are just as relevant to adults. The themes that characterise a healthy environment for children are the same themes that characterise a healthy environment for adults – and this, too is a point that White makes deliberately. Children are not prototypes waiting to be made into adults. They are already individual people, who, just like adults, relate to their environment by both contributing to and receiving from it. Of course, what they contribute and what they receive will change over time, but they are not empty vessels waiting to be filled. There is a reciprocity about White’s themes which makes children active agents in their own lives, at whatever “stage of development” they may be. White uses the concept of “the village” – by which he does not mean a rural community, but any community which makes room for his five themes and is characterised by healthy patterns of life. Small enough that everyone knows each other (at some level), but large enough to provide room for intergenerational relationships beyond the nuclear family.

The five themes are perhaps not very original – although some of what he means by them might be. But in a sense that is the point. These are ideas which we instinctively recognise as healthy and desirable – and yet can easily be overlooked in our theory-driven society, precisely because they are so obvious. More credit to him for bringing them to the fore.

 

Security

Meaning not so much safety from physical harm, as psychological and emotional security: The existence of a safe base from which to explore the world. This base begins with the physical experience of being held – an experience which remains just as vital for adults in times of insecurity. “Being held” becomes a metaphor for the internalised sense of security which enables us to rely on our safe base, even as we distance ourselves from it. This safe base is built primarily through relationships and attachment to people (parents, teachers, neighbours), but White points out the often overlooked fact that the safe base may include places as well.

 

Boundaries

We often associate boundaries with discipline, and of course that is a part of it. But in White’s thinking, the idea of boundaries is more about predictability and structure: And so it involves daily routine and the annual festivals that give life rhythm and direction, learning to play games by the rules, and by extension, learning to participate in social life. It also includes our own boundaries – the right to define our own physical and emotional space and decide for ourselves who may or may not enter that space.

 

Significance

Do I matter? This is about recognising myself as a person with individual worth – and learning to recognise the worth of others. And it is about unconditional commitment: “My clinical experience tends to confirm the principle that, in order for a healthy sense of self to develop, there must be one other person on earth who is totally and unconditionally committed to me as an individual for a significant part of my life … I do not have to behave in a prescribed or positive way to maintain it. I do not have to deserve affection and love. They are simply a fact, non-negotiable and rock-like.”

 

Community

We live in an age that values “independence” almost above all else, and yet we know that in reality there is no such thing. White writes instead of “interdependence”: “Social life is the content, stuff and daily reality of human development and identity”. We can only be aware of ourselves as individuals through contact and interaction with others, and community is therefore an ever-present reality. Interestingly, White introduces the idea of “covenant” as an important basis for family and community life. A covenant is a public commitment which at least in intention has life-long consequences. In our day such covenants are rare, although the marriage covenant is still the most common (Salvation Army soldiership is another), and this naturally affects the way we relate to each other. Covenants help us to publicly recognise our interdependence, saying at the same time that there can be bonds between us over and above our individual and temporary needs or desires.

 

Creativity

The importance of play in learning and development is now widely recognised. White wants to broaden that idea so that “play” is not simply about games or “lets pretend” (that, too!) – but about the human urge to create. Creativity is at the heart of what it means to be human. Not only is it essential to the early development of the child, language-learning and the like – but it is also to a large extent how we process reality. Story-telling, humour, dance and music are all ways of relating to the world, learning about it and coping with it (which is why many jokes deal with “unsuitable” topics).

 

White links his five themes to research into child development, sociology and psychology, but as a Christian, he also links them in a natural and unforced way to biblical ideas and ideals. The book will therefore be of interest to children’s workers in both secular and faith-based environments. But White is no utopian. He is concerned not with creating ideal communities providing ideal environments, but with what might be “good enough”. No family is perfect, but a family can still provide children with what they need for healthy development. No community is perfect, but a community can still provide an arena for healthy relationships and creativity. White argues that being aware of these five themes will help us to do that.

 

You can buy the book and find more resources on Keith White’s website:

http://www.thegrowthoflove.org.uk/wp/

The Rise of the Dones

Interesting comment. And I’m sure most church members know someone who ‘used to belong’. Not that they all made conscious decisions that they’d had enough. I think many just ‘fade away’ because of circumstances, or a vague feeling of not ‘finding their place’… Or a hundred other reasons. I think we sometimes lose people just through carelessness, through not paying attention, through being too focussed on our own needs and not being aware of what’s happening in people’s lives. It certainly wouldn’t hurt us to ask the questions this blog suggests…

Holy Soup

John is every pastor’s dream member. He’s a life-long believer, well-studied in the Bible, gives generously, and leads others passionately.

But last year he dropped out of church. He didn’t switch to the other church down the road. He dropped out completely. His departure wasn’t the result of an ugly encounter with a staff person or another member. It wasn’t triggered by any single event.

John had come to a long-considered, thoughtful decision. He said, “I’m just done. I’m done with church.”

John is one in a growing multitude of ex-members. They’re sometimes called the de-churched. They have not abandoned their faith. They have not joined the also-growing legion of those with no religious affiliation–often called the Nones. Rather, John has joined the Dones.

At Group’s recent Future of the Church conference, sociologist Josh Packard shared some of his groundbreaking research on the Dones. He explained these de-churched were among…

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Universal Lord 3

International Theology and Ethics Symposium

3: Christ, Universal Lord of the Church

(Back to Introduction and Post 1, Post 2)

 

To call Christ “the Lord of the Church” is in a way a truism. Christ is by definition the author of our faith, the head of the Church. The Church is in turn the body of Christ, the community of those who profess Christ as Lord and Saviour. Yet we know that alongside these truths we must take account of the reality that the Church – whether in its organisation or individual members – has not always demonstrated the spirit of Christ, has often misunderstood his will, and has not always done his will even when we have understood it. In one sense, then, we could say that Christ is Lord of the Church in the same way that he is Lord of the World – whenever and wherever his Lordship is not only acknowledged, but also truly reflected in action. However, this would be to deny an essential aspect of the Church, and indeed of our relationship with Christ as individuals: The Church belongs to Christ, even when it goes astray. The Christian belongs to Christ, even when s/he fails in obedience.

Salvationist doctrine states that “continued obedient faith” is necessary for us to remain in a state of salvation. In the Norwegian translation, this has become “one must continually obey and have faith”. The translation is unfortunate, because it can imply that any act of disobedience will lead to losing our salvation. This is surely not what we believe. A soldier who rejects the call to officership, for example, is not therefore “a backslider”. Nor is obedience to Christ primarily a matter of obeying laws or commandments. Instead, “obedient faith” describes our personal relationship with Christ. Because I have faith in him, I want to be like him, I want to reflect his spirit in the world. I may not, in my human weakness, have the courage to say “yes” to every opportunity for service that he shows me. I may struggle to make a sacrifice that he asks of me. And yet my innermost desire is to be like him – and it is this that constitutes obedient faith. There is obviously a connection to our holiness teaching here. If we reduce holiness to a legalistic avoidance of deliberate sins, it may be easier to be “holy”, but we are more likely to be seen as self-righteous. A holiness that focuses on living in relation with Christ and growing increasingly like him, will certainly be more fruitful, even when we do not succeed in every aspect of our lives.

In the same way that we as individuals live in this tension, so does the Church as a whole. Christ is Lord of the Church, even when it fails in practice. But just as individual Christians need to grow in holiness, so must the Church. We must strive to narrow the gap between what the Church actually is and does, and the ideal of the body of Christ living his life in the world. This is a challenge which calls us not only to seek personal holiness – but also to consider the way we do business, our management structures, our communication, the way we exercise leadership: In other words, every aspect of our organisation. Do we, in fact, seek the Lord’s will in our decision-making, or are we merely guided by the same considerations as any other agency? Do we allow office politics to dictate our actions, or are we aware of Christ in our midst? Does our leadership reflect the spirit of Christ and the values of the Kingdom – or administrative expediency and current management culture?

The challenge for the Church, then, is the same as it is for any Christian: to be in practice what God has declared we are in principle. Christ is Lord of the Church – but still we must make him Lord in practice. Faced with such a challenge, however, we recognise that Christ is not only Lord, but also Saviour, and it is in his grace that we find the means of fulfilling his calling.

Universal Lord 2

International Theology and Ethics Symposium

Post 2: Christ, Universal Lord of Mankind

(Back to Introduction and Post 1)

There is inevitably an eschatological aspect to the title “Universal Lord of Mankind”. We look forward to the day when “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Phil 2:10-11). The implication of this is naturally that the Lordship of Christ is not universally recognised in the present age. But in what sense can we say that Jesus is Lord, even when he is not recognised as such?

Again we must make a contrast with the Reformed view that God is the ultimate cause of everything that happens – and everything we do. Such a view, although not perhaps consciously thought through, may lie behind phrases such as “God willing” (as in – “I’ll see you tomorrow, God willing!”) or the song text “the days I cannot see have all been planned for me”. It is however one thing for God to have a plan for my life, and another to believe that I have no choice but to follow that plan. Although the Bible does occasionally give the impression that people are not entirely masters of their own actions (e.g. Genesis 45:4-8), there are far more references to people making choices, and specifically choosing either to obey God or reject him. It is quite clear, throughout the Bible, that people are held to account for the choices they make, and that they are responsible for the consequences of their actions (e.g. Joshua 24:15, John 3:18). Wayne Grudem, in his “Systematic Theology” maintains that our choices are real, and that we are therefore responsible for our actions – but that God nevertheless is the ultimate cause of everything that happens and everything we do. This is self-contradictory. If God is the ultimate cause of all of our actions, we cannot be said to have made real choices – and therefore we are not accountable. In the end such a viewpoint must undermine the gospel, for if we are not accountable, our sin is not real, and there is no need for forgiveness or atonement.

The opposite of this is viewpoint is the Pelagian heresy that we are entirely free, and that by consistently choosing the good we may attain salvation. Pelagianism has in a sense resurfaced in Existentialism, so that Sartre, for example, can insist that mankind is bound only by itself. Each individual has the freedom to make choices in life, regardless of other influences, and in this way we can construct our own unique identity. It is not hard to see the extent to which this individualist philosophy has influenced Western society in recent years, but the idea is nevertheless flawed because it fails to take into account that people’s choices are not, in the final analysis, entirely free. We are naturally influenced by our genetic history, our environment, and by our (and our parents’) previous choices, which may develop into habits of thought and action that we no longer question.

The Salvation Army, then, has again maintained a middle position. We insist that people are accountable – and this must mean that our actions are not determined in advance, or entirely directed either by God’s agency or sociological determinism. Despite everything that influences us, we have a genuine choice – or at least an element of choice – in what we do. Habits may be broken, circumstances overcome – at least to some extent. But we also recognise that our choices are not entirely free and unfettered. In many ways we are caught in the patterns of behaviour that our background and circumstances dictate, and, humanly speaking, our freedom of choice will always be limited. Nevertheless, as Salvationists we also believe that mankind is influenced by God’s prevenient grace – the work of the Holy Spirit who calls us to Christ and makes it possible for us to break free from our circumstances.

All this means that the Lordship of Christ in the present age is in a sense a matter of potentiality rather than an actual fact. Although as creator God he could force his will on mankind, he has chosen to limit himself. His power is revealed not in his controlling people or events, but in his spirit of love and self-sacrifice, and it is when this spirit is evident that we can recognise his lordship. Each individual has the opportunity to accept or deny his lordship over their life – and it is ultimately this choice which will be decisive when Christ is finally acknowledged to be Lord indeed. (At this point it would be relevant to explore what form this choice takes for those who have not heard the gospel, or who have only heard a caricatured version of Christianity, but that lies outside the field of this post).

In addition, Christ asserts his lordship over mankind in a number of ways. The first of these is his universal standard of behaviour: The dual command to love God and our neighbour. This command is not just a matter of discipleship, but sets the bar for all mankind. This is what God expects of us, and but for redemption through Christ, it is the standard we will be judged by. In a sense, then, we can say that Christ’s lordship is visible whenever anyone acts in a way that reflects his spirit – whether or not they are conscious of following Christ. An example might the act of mercy in which an Iranian couple forgave the man who killed their son, saving him from the death penalty, or a simple act of kindness for a colleague at work.  Secondly, then, Christ’s lordship is apparent in universal judgement. Although the Bible speaks of a final judgement at the end of the world, Jesus also made it clear that the most important judgement is the one that happens in this present age. By choosing to follow him or to reject him, to acknowledge his lordship or to cling to our supposed freedom, we in fact judge ourselves. The eschatological lordship of Christ is in this sense a present reality. Thirdly, however, we assert that Christ’s redemption is also universal. Not universal in the sense that “everyone will be saved in the end”, but universal in its potential application. Whoever responds to Christ’s invitation, will be saved, and Christ’s desire is that everyone will respond to him. It is the tragedy of our world that some, at all times, reject him, but the atonement is nevertheless universal in its scope and intention.

Again we see that the dual roles of Lord and Saviour come together in the person of Christ, and are ultimately inseparable. He is our Saviour because he is also our Lord, and in his lordship we find salvation.

Universal Lord

Last weekend The Salvation Army hosted an International Theology and Ethics Symposium, considering the statement

Jesus Christ, Universal Lord and Saviour.

In the run-up to the Symposium, they invited Salvationists to comment on what this phrase might mean to them, and this and the next two posts were my contribution. Obviously, these posts only scratch the surface of some of the issues that the subject raises – but for what they are, here they are…

International Theology and Ethics Symposium

On reading the title of this symposium, I was first drawn to the phrase “Universal Lord”. Thinking about what that means raises all kinds of questions, and I have tried to categorise some of them below:

  1. Christ, Universal Lord of Creation
  2. Christ, Universal Lord of Mankind
  3. Christ, Universal Lord of the Church

I will attempt to say something about all of these aspects in separate posts: In this post I begin with the first:

 

  1. Christ, Lord of Creation:

Col 1:15-17  He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

In the New Testament, Christ is several times linked directly to God’s acts of creation, and so when considering his Lordship, it is appropriate to consider also what we mean by his sovereignty over the created universe as Triune God.

At one end of the spectrum, we have the theistic view of the “watchmaker God”, who creates the universe with its regularities and laws and then lets it live its life without further intervention. This is a view which is very convenient in the context of the natural sciences, as it allows room for theories about the development of the Universe and the evolution of life on Earth which are independent of theology. It also to some extent lets God “off the hook” in relation to the human pain and suffering that natural events can cause. This view of God as inactive and distant is however very problematic in relation to Christ, who in the incarnation represents God as active and involved in the World.

At the other end of the spectrum is the Reformed/Calvinist view that God’s sovereignty is absolute and specific, so that every event in the natural world, whether harmful or beneficial from a human point of view, is seen as a reflection of God’s will and purpose. This is a view which fits well with the general view of the Old Testament, but which may be offensive to modern ears, both because we can demonstrate the natural causes of most events, and because we are reluctant to admit that God would wish to cause the pain and suffering that follows from natural catastrophes or epidemics.

As I understand it, the Salvationist understanding has been a middle way between these extremes. We believe that God has created the Universe, and sustains it – which is to say that its continued existence is dependent on his continuing creative will. But for the most part the Universe has developed according to laws and regularities that are part of God’s original creation, so that any particular event may be seen as the outworking of the mechanics of the Universe, rather than a direct “act of God”. Nevertheless, we also believe that God can and does from time to time intervene directly in his creation, so that an unexplainable healing or other “unnatural” event may be seen as a sign of his active presence in the World. The laws of nature belong to God and may be bent to his will.

The question that then arises is whether this middle way is genuinely the consensus view in the Army, as I have supposed, and whether we have a biblical foundation for it?

Finally, of course, the Bible promises that there will be “a new heaven and a new earth” (Rev 21:1). Exactly what this phrase means is impossible for us to know, but it emphasises that creation belongs to the Lord, and that (regardless of “natural laws”), it is in his power to renew it when his purposes are fulfilled. From this point of view, the dual roles of Lord and Saviour eventually come together in Christ’s ultimate victory.

 

How should we pray for ISIS?

‘Love the sinner, hate the sin’, we used to say. Can that be applied to radical islamists, too?

God and Politics in the UK

ISIS MarchToday’s guest writer is the Revd. Canon J. John.

J John is an internationally recognised Christian speaker and author. He has written over 50 books and spoken in 69 countries, teaching the Christian faith and addressing over 300,000 people in person each year. His series Just 10 (on the Ten Commandments) has now exceeded one million people in attendance.Canon J John

You can find out more about J John and his work through his website and also follow him on Twitter.

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My son asked me last week, ‘How should we pray for ISIS?’A good question and one that needed pondering for a few days! It is hard not to feel very strongly about the rise of ISIS in the Middle East and the brutal and very public barbarities it has carried out. This all raises many questions for the Christian. How should we respond? And what should we pray: ‘Lord, destroy them!’ or ‘Lord, forgive…

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