Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Kingdom work

He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets prisoners free, the Lord gives sight to the blind, the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down, the Lord loves the righteous. (Psalm 146:7, 8 NIVUK)

As I read this Paslm this morning by spirit was touched with a knowledge that this is what we are co-workers with Jesus.

This Psalm so articulates our calling as a church at West Auckland Vineyard.... It could be the model for our ministry through The Well ... 

It's exciting to know that The Lord is moving us into different premises not primarily to grow a bigger church ( although that will happen) but to extend the scope and effectiveness of kingdom work.

The heart of the church has grown and continues with a passion to see the hungry fed, the oppressed and the imprisoned freed, and those bowed under many weights and pressures lifted up...

It is so good to be engaged in real Kingdom ministry rather than the religious busy-ness that a number of us have move from, (have been set free from)

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Signposts and boundary stones

Listening to a message at Spring Harvest 2014 (Skegness) by Peter Wilson (Hillsong) @pwilsong brought to mind a saying I remember from when I studied for my MTh :

'We preach (or communicate) not simply to be understood but also, so as not to be misunderstood.'

Perhaps, when the communication in question is preaching or teaching the Christian message we may express this as:

There must be sufficient accessible theology to clearly signpost the truth AND to point out the boundaries beyond which the truth is in jeopardy. 

There are borders or crossing points that signal us having left the signposted path and moved, or about to move, into a space where the implications and potential application of the communication can take us into areas of half truth and falsehood. 

1.'God desires all people to come to a knowledge of the truth' 

2.'If you have a drug / alcohol addiction God desires that you should be freed from this' 

3.'If you are in abject poverty God desires that you should be freed from that tyranny' 

4.'If you are having financial difficulties in your particular circumstances, God desires you to have more financial resource to meet those needs' 

In 4, if the reason for the difficulty was blatant and sustained 'living beyond our means' (spending what we have not got) He is surely more likely to ask us to radically change our attitude and lifestyle.....the results of which may not seem 'good' or 'blessed' to the world (downsizing, sell a car, less holidays, state schools, non branded clothes -  no Super Dry for some worship leaders)

I do not at all intended to prevent exploration nor to stifle questions or testing of previously held understandings of the truth but simply to alert us to the fact that there are boundaries, and that sometimes they are not entirely obvious especially when something  begins on the signposted pathway.

So what gave rise to these thoughts?

The scripture upon which the message was based was Psalm 84:5-7 and it was one of those messages in which little if anything was said that could be labelled as absolutely wrong but there was enough unsaid to actually make it quite easy for new or not yet mature believers to add 2 and 2, come up with 5 and head off across a boundary that jeopardised the truth.

Psalm 84:5-7 NIV
[5] Blessed are those whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage. 
[6] As they pass through the Valley of Baka, they make it a place of springs; the autumn rains also cover it with pools. 
[7] They go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion.

The aim of the message ( which was both inspirational & motivational) seemed to derive primarily from v7 'they go from strength to strength'. 
In Christian preaching and teaching inspirational and motivational are good - would that more of it was. However the communicator must take account of the fact that these two characteristics, especially when combined with pretty high octane, culturally relevant, sung expressions of praise can easily cause people to drop their guard and allow pure emotion to become the sole faculty for discerning the truth, or lack of, in what is being heard. 

The message dotted about in the passage ( not in a bad or unhelpful way) and began to deal with the topic of from where, or whom, does our strength proceed. A clear answer was given - Jesus.
I think insufficient consideration and explanation was given to what it means to have a 'heart set on pilgrimage' and the relationship to our 'strength in Him' but this was certainly not 'error' so much as it was an unhelpful omission. 

Comment was made about passing through the dry places (v6) in which it was noted that they only passed through rather than resided there permanently. This seems to me to be a very important observation but requires sufficent attention to what it might or might not mean ( which it was not given) As a result it became an area where an important signpost almost becomes an invitation to cross a boundary. The place to which this boundary crossing may lead is that we not only always pass through the dry or difficult places - but that do so pretty quickly and always victoriously. 
I must emphasize that this was not specifically stated, but neither was anything said to question it as a legitimate, or in the context of the message, perhaps the obvious, implication.

More serious alarm bells began to sound with attempts to explain the meaning of 'blessed' in v5. During the explanation the 'amplified translation' of the bible was frequently referenced ( I am aware of the Amplified Bible and suspect it is often used when other translations don't say what we would prefer them to say) One of the words used to convey the meaning of blessed was 'lucky'! 
I believe, in the context of the message, what was meant was that from the perspective of the world, Christians who were being blessed in certain ways would appear to be 'lucky', This is probably true, but to leave the word hanging without some clarity is, in my opinion, poor communication given the opportunity for boundary crossing that it represents. 

Bearing in mind I am operating from memory and from hastily taken notes the subsequent comments about blessing were the areas that perhaps pointed to far less helpful theological implications.

He talked about the fact that ' blessed' Christians would (or should?) be the envy of the world who would see these Christians as (quote) 'always landing on their feet'. He then proceeded to 'sort of illustrate this' with reference to a number of life situations which included our finances. Links were then made between 'going from strength to strength' and being victorious in these life situations, whilst 'being the envy of the world' was still ringing in our ears.  There were also phrases such as 'God is good so He would not bring bad things to us in order to test us' This would seem to be a fair statement ( if we leave the difficult themes of Job aside) but with no definition of good or attempt to differentiate it from a worldy perspective on 'good'. 

It's always good to win the lottery 
(The World) , 
I have learned to be content in all circumstances 
(which by clear implication from the context, is a good place to be - Paul , Phil 4)

It was at this point in the message where, for me, the signposts from the pathway were turned if not directly over the borderline then most certainly in its general direction. It was the point at which, without expressing or directly teaching it, the old 'word of faith prosperity teaching' seemed to be an influence or significant element of the message and the direction of travel.

Was anything said that was absolutely wrong? Probably not ( need to listen to the recording when available)
Was anything said that was more, rather than less, likely to jeopardise the truth? 
In my opinion Yes.

I am not at all anti Hillsong, far from it. I am certainly not anti blessing nor am I anti good things happening to Christians. I am simply trying to be pro truth and pro preachers who clearly signpost the pathway and equally clearly alert us to the boundaries.

During this particular message, because of what was not said rather than what was actually said, people were not so much given permission to cross boundaries as they were simply not warned about boundaries at all.

Saying that:
'in all things God works for the good of those who love Him 
and are called according to His purpose' 
is so very different from saying that:

'God works to bring about what the world recognizes as good 
in the lives and circumstances of Christians' 

It is very difficult to sustain any argument for the second if we see the lives of Jesus or even Paul as examples. 

The first is very definitely truth whereas the second is equally definitely inviting a boundary crossing expedition.

Did the message I heard last night give people permission to cross boundaries and jeopardise aspects of the truth? It certainly appeared to come very close and didn't seem to pay sufficient attention to the dangers of being easily misunderstood.