A God for the Marginalized

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” (Luke 2:8–10)Merry Christmas Everyone!

Tomorrow is Christmas, and I want to personally wish each one of you all the love, joy, and peace the birth of Jesus, 2000 years ago, brings. I want to take a moment this week to begin laying a foundation for looking at the actual teachings of Jesus—which we will be doing throughout 2013—by grounding those teachings in a detail about the birth of Jesus that many today miss.

What is this detail?

I’m going to say this and, if you are like most, you’re not going to get the significance at first. But stay with me. I promise it will be well worth the few minutes it takes to read through this.

What is this detail of which so many miss the significance?

The good news, the euaggelion that God had come to rescue us from our enemy, was first announced by heaven to earth to . . . shepherds.

Among the occupations of first-century Israel, socially, shepherding filled one of the lowest roles and bore the brunt of their low place in society. Shepherds were considered untrustworthy, and their work—according to Levitical Law and all the myriad of laws of the Pharisees—made them continually unclean. What is the significance of Heaven choosing shepherds to FIRST learn of the birth of Jesus? The most obvious implication is that the good news of the Jesus story first came to the social outcasts of Jesus’ day. Modern, Westernized Christianity has equated Christianity for so long with “respectability” that today the Church (praise God for the few exceptions) has often missed out on people on the fringes. Some would argue that this is too kind. To simply say we have “missed out” ignores that reality that, for some, they have been more than simply “missed.” They have been driven to society’s fringes, having been themselves marginalized by the very ones who carry the name of this Jesus.

It matters how we understand the story of Jesus’ birth. Historically, in my opinion, we’ve spent countless hours on apologetics defending a virgin birth when we’ve missed the biggest implications of the story surrounding this birth. How we hear the Christmas story, read the Christmas story, and interpret the Christmas story matter! The Christmas story has within its details (being born into immense poverty, being announced to the socially outcast, bypassing the religious of the day, and so on.) the entire framework in which to lay a foundation for revealing, to this world, the radically different picture of God that Jesus came to bring us. Interpret the details of the Christmas story rightly, and you get everything; miss them, and you miss all.

What do the details of the story say to us? In brief, all the poor, the insignificant, forgotten, the marginalized—all those who have been judged as morally inferior by the religious of any time period—are the very people of the world who can gather around this lowly manger and dare to believe that the Babe who lies there really belongs to them.

” . . . Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people.” (Luke 2:8–10)

Jesus did not come to affirm the religious in their religiosity but to gather the outcast, the socially marginalized, and those judged by the religious of his day as being morally inferior. Those who encountered His radical other-centered, self-sacrificial love and embraced His love for them (a love like living water) were awakened and began reaching out to others around them who had been marginalized as well.

At the heart of Luke’s retelling of the Jesus story (and I believe it was the reason he—unlike Mark and John—included the details of Jesus’ birth) was his understanding that in Jesus, the excluded had been included and the “outsiders” had been brought within the Kingdom of God.

“. . . remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, [outsiders] without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near . . .” (Ephesians 2:12–13)

Especially during this holiday season, in the midst of all that has taken place recently in the news, and in light of the details of the Christmas story itself, we must not forget what the details of the very story we are celebrating shout to us.

People are of infinite value to Him who made them and then came to them to give all He had to rescue them. The God we see in Jesus is a God to whom people are of immeasurable value: From the woman at the well to Simon the leper, from the woman about to be stoned for breaking the law to the thief on the cross. Jesus Himself never looked at people as transgressors in need of punishment (like the Pharisees) but as victims in need of a Savior. This was true even of the “”worst”” he encountered. If we can catch it, the God we see in Jesus changes everything.

I’ll close this week with a quotation a friend of mine shared with me last week. I pass it on to you. I believe it captures that essence of what the details of the Christmas story are saying about God, about you dear reader, and about everyone else in this world.

Remember, the coming of God was first announced to those judged by the religious of Jesus’ day as some of the lowest on the social scale, the outcast, and, by occupation, unclean.

“Never confuse the person, formed in the image of God, with the evil that is in him; because evil is a chance misfortune, an illness, a devilish reverie. But the very essence of the person is the image of God, and this remains in him despite every disfigurement.”

—St. John of Kronstadt

Again, Jesus never looked at those around him as transgressors in need of punishment but as victims who had been taken captive and needed a Savior.

In all the hustle and bustle of this season’s celebrations, traditions, and revelry, we must not allow even these things to prevent us from realizing and remembering the scandal that God came into human history completely helpless, as a newborn, into abject poverty, being laid in the feeding trough of a stable, and announced only to a group of socially outcast and unclean. Poverty itself was looked at as a judgment from God upon sinners. Those who were poor were not looked upon as less fortunate but, according to a misinterpretation of Deuteronomy 28, getting what they deserved. And shepherds, according to culture of His day, would be the ones you would expect God to pass by when announcing Jesus’ coming. By entering human history this way, God identified with the powerless, the oppressed, the poor, the marginalized, the unclean, the judged, and the disdained. Again, the insignificant, the forgotten, those who fail at playing the religious games, those judged as morally inferior—they are the very ones that can gather around this lowly manger and dare to believe that the Babe who lies there really belongs to them.

God is radically different from what we have assumed.

The God we see in Jesus changes everything.

Merry Christmas to each of you!

Keep living in love and loving like Christ.

I love you guys.

We’ll see you in ’13.

Parallel-a-mania

“Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.”—Luke 2.11

This holiday season, as many Christians around the globe celebrate the “virgin birth” of Jesus, I want to embark on a series that seriously addresses the challenges that have surfaced since the late 19th century concerning the historicity of the Jesus story itself. This is an extremely relevant question, one that I continually revisit. After all, on a deeply personal, philosophical level, if there is a God, for me, this God must look like the Jesus we see in the canonical gospels; to be honest, I find it very difficult to want to “spend eternity” with a deity of any other description. I will be transparent from the very start; all my eggs are in one basket. I could be wrong about everything else I believe and teach, and at the end of the day, I would be okay—save for this one belief. This belief is everything to me. It is the belief that not only is there a God, but that this God looks just like the Jesus we find in the “Jesus stories” of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and yes, even John. But as with everything else we teach at Renewed Heart Ministries, we want to hold this belief in a relationally responsible way, where relationships with others, even those who believe differently than us, are fostered rather than sacrificed, and we also want to hold whatever beliefs we have in an intellectually honest way. So let’s be honest. Christian history does not fare well when compared with the actual Jesus story. In other words, the religion that today bears the name of Christ is, in so many ways, on a completely different plane, living in a radically different paradigm than the plane or paradigm we witness being taught by the Jesus we find in the gospels.

I know those words are strong, and praise God for the few exceptions, but to a large degree, when I view the damage Christianity has done in the lives of so many today (I know, I know, Christendom has done some good as well, but the good it has accomplished is almost wholly eclipsed in the perspectives of many of the non-Christians I meet, some who still choose to believe in Jesus but who no longer call themselves “Christians”), I believe these words are more than warranted.

A week does not go by where I do not find myself on my knees deeply troubled by another sincere story of someone who has been driven to the brink of agnosticism or atheism, not by some “heathen,” but rather by someone claiming to be “believer.” Sometimes I too wrestle with the question of how so much misrepresentation can be overcome. If I am honest, I too moments of transcendent clarity where I become keenly aware of just how out of harmony modern Christendom is from the principles of the Kingdom Jesus came to establish. I too wonder how God is going to be able get through to people that He actually does look like Jesus when there seems to be such a formidable obstacle in the way of so many by what we have labeled “Christianity.” Don’t get me wrong. I believe He will. But I would be amiss if I did not confess moments of being overwhelmed when I talk with others who Christians would label as “outsiders.” Actually, I am convinced they are closer to the Kingdom that what some have assumed.

Which leads me to a preliminary word I need to preface this series with. Yes, within this series we will be looking at why the Christmas story can be historically reliable. BUT, this series is not about simply calling skeptics to follow Jesus; rather, it is a call to those who call themselves “believers” to be open to the possibility that if this story is true, we, as believers in this story, may be in greater need of repentance than many of those we have judged as outsiders. Again, I know those words are strong, and I can already feel the backlash I will receive in my inbox, but please remain open. This series is much less about calling unbelievers to become believes and much more about calling those who claim to be believers to go beyond “believing” in the details of a “story” as beautiful as we may feel that story is, and to actually become a “follower” of the “teachings” of the person this story is about!

So without further ado, let’s embark on this week’s eSight. This week, I want to talk about parallelism, especially the claim of many Jesus myth theorists that the Jesus story we find in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John is riddled with blatant parallels of other pagan mystery religious legends to the extent that the Jesus story itself is completely untenable, being far from original, but rather completely borrowed and therefore just another legend or myth in the long history of legends and myths.

First, let’s discuss parallelism in general and then explore parallelism in the context of the canonical Jesus story and the claims that it is simply borrowed, based on parallels, from the mystery religions.

Today, we are witnessing a heightened interest in conspiracy theory after conspiracy theory (some of which may be true, but many of which are completely bogus) and some conspiracy theorists focus on what others are calling paralellemania. Parallels are fascinating because you can, to some extent, draw parallels between almost any two things. Let me give you an example that was shared with me. Below, are the top ten parallels between Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy; follow closely:

10. Both Lincoln and Kennedy were concerned with civil rights;

9. Lincoln was elected president in 1860, Kennedy in 1960;

8. Both were slain on a Friday and in the presence of their wives;

7. Both were shot from behind and in the head;

6. Their successors were both named Johnson;

5. Andrew Johnson was born in 1808. Linden Johnson was born in 1908;

4. John Wilkes Booth was born in 1839. Lee Harvey Oswald was born in 1939;

3. Lincoln’s secretary was named Kennedy. Kennedy’s secretary was named Lincoln;

2. The names Lincoln and Kennedy both contain seven letters; and

1. Lincoln was shot in Ford’s Theater. Kennedy was shot in a Ford car, which, ironically, was a Lincoln.

Now, these parallels closely follow the pattern we find with many conspiracy theories based on parallels. We find some of these parallels are exaggerated to contain more significance than what actually exists. For example, in numbers 10 and 1, many presidents have been interested in civil rights, and during the Kennedy years, Ford cars were VERY common. Another tactic of parallelism is, and I want to be kind here, to simply make up parallels out of thin air, a phenomenon reflected in numbers 4 and 3. Booth was actually born in 1838 not 1839, but rounding up makes it sound better, and we have absolutely no record of the either president having a secretary with the above names.

But what I want you to notice is that even with the factual parallels between these two presidents, NO ONE believes that one of these characters is a completely fictional character, made up based on the other. Again, parallels are fascinating because you can draw parallels between almost anything two things to some extent.

Now let’s take a quick look at some of the parallels that are claimed to exist between Jesus and some of the mystery religions previous to the story of Jesus. The list that I will be using, just for simplicity sake, is a list based on the Internet-hyped, 2007 documentary, Zeitgeist. It must be noted, however, that even skeptics agree that the parallels made in this film are very suspect. Skeptic magazine’s Tim Callahan, criticizing the first part of the film (on the origins of Christianity), wrote, “Some of what it asserts is true. Unfortunately, this material is liberally—and sloppily—mixed with material that is only partially true and much that is plainly and simply bogus” (emphasis added).

First let’s take a look at the list of other stories that the Jesus story is claimed to imitate:

Baal

Mithra

Attis

Dionysus

Krishna

Horis

Thor

Prometheus

Hercules

Beddru of Japan

Let’s take a quick look at each of these, and I apologize in advance for the brevity of the following descriptions. Given the nature of eSights, this week’s devotional is already going to far exceed the intended length of our weekly articles. But I do want to say a few words, at a bare minimum, about each and you can conduct your own research as well. If you use Google, just check your sources. Take nothing for granted (there is a lot of unscholarly garbage floating out there on the Internet), and make sure you read more than one source.

Baal

Baal’s battle with Met is the closest parallel of any in this list; nevertheless, it is a far stretch. The story follows Baal, the god of rain, as he descends to the underworld and is challenged by Met. Met set a trap set for him, and when Baal arrives, Met swallows him whole. Meanwhile, Baal’s mother realizes that it has stopped raining, puts two and two together, and goes to see what has happened. In short, she convinces Met to vomit Baal back up, after which, Baal returns to the skies and the rains come once again. So, you have Baal going away and coming back again, but that is the closest we ever come to ANY parallels to the Jesus story. In my opinion, this parallel is not even close!

Mithra

The only parallel is a miraculous birth. Mithra was born out of a rock, which is in itself a bizarre birth, but it is not a virgin birth, unless you really want to argue the point that all rocks are technically “virgins” since rocks do not have sex. Nevertheless, Mithra’s story contains no crucifixion and no resurrection whatsoever.

Attis

Attis’ mother was impregnated after eating semen-embedded fruit. Again, bizarre, but nothing even remotely similar to what we find in the gospels of Matthew and Luke about Jesus’ birth. Some versions of the story also have Attis dying in a hunting accident from a spear that was intended for a boar. Other versions, which most scholars agree are most reliable, state that Agistis, Attis’ father, created turmoil during Attis’ wedding. Attis’ bride somehow dies (the cause varies by versions), and Attis reached down, ripped off his own gentiles, ran off, and bled to death under a pine tree. Again, bizarre, but not really a parallel. Agistis then goes to Zeus, feeling responsible for his son’s death, and begs Zeus to resurrect Attis. But please notice Zeus’ response. Zeus says, “No, I can’t. The fates have already spoken.” But Zeus does offer a consolation. Zeus preserve the flesh of Attis so it never decays, and although Attis remains dead, his hair perpetually grows and one of his little fingers will move perpetually. Again, bizarre.

Dionysus

Dionysus was born multiple times in the stories, one time out of Zeus’ thigh, but there was no virgin birth or crucifixion

Krishna

Krishna was born to Devaki, who had seven children previously. Clearly, she was not a virgin. To be fair, Krishna’s birth was miraculous, but it was not a virgin birth. Krishna, according to the stories, also dies in a hunting accident and is reincarnated, but not resurrected. Again, a bizarre story, but there are no parallels between Krishna and the actual Jesus story events whatsoever.

Horis

The parallels many claim between Jesus and Horis are completely made up and based largely on the work of Gerald Massey. Massey claimed to be able to read story details in the hieroglyphics concerning Horis at the Temple at Luxor. Massy was not an Egyptologist. He was not academically trained in Egyptology. He saw in these hieroglyphics what no other Egyptologist had seen. His findings could not be verified at the time or since.

Massey claimed that the Horis contains the following parallels:

Three kings present at Horis’ birth;

Horis was baptized at age 30 by Annup;

Horis had twelve disciples; and

Horis’ mother was named Mary.

First, no kings were present at the birth of Jesus in the Jesus story. When Jesus was a toddler, He was visited by the Magi, but they are never referred to as kings and there number was not given. But even if three kings were somehow present at Jesus’ birth, Horis did not have three kings at his birth. There is absolutely no record of this happening. Also, Horis is never seen with twelve associates or even friends, much less disciples. There is no number twelve in Horis’ story. Horis died of dismemberment, not crucifixion. He was not baptized by Annup at age 30 either. When Massey was challenged on this point by the academics of his day, stating that there was nothing that even looks like a baptism for Horis anywhere, Massey claimed he did not get that story detail from the hieroglyphics but from the Egyptian Book of the Dead. Scholars combed these records and found no record of a baptism at anytime for Horis. Baptism was not even an Egyptian custom; it was strictly a Jewish practice. Lastly, Horis’ mother was called Isis Mary. In Egyptian, Mary means beloved—”Beloved Isis.” That would be the equivalent of calling my wife, Crystal, Mary. It is a title, not a name, but even at that there is no linguistic connection between Jesus’ mother Mary and Isis. Mary is the English transliteration of the Hebrew name Miriam, which means sea of bitterness in Hebrew. There is no connection between the Hebrew name “Miriam” and the affectionate title of the Egyptian word “mary.” It is a linguistic pun at best. Again, absolutely no parallels when each of Massey’s claims are examined.

Thor

No genuine parallels whatsoever.

Prometheus

No genuine parallels either.

Hercules

Again, no parallels (As discussed above, one of the techniques of parallelism is to simply invent parallels, but the next example takes the cake!)

The Beddru of Japan

Completely fictional character. There is no record of the existence of a Beddru of Japan anywhere in any history at any time.

I want to begin wrapping things up this week with a look at where the idea of creating parallels between the Jesus story and known myths came from as an attempt to weaken the credibility of the Jesus story. It all started in 1875, with a book by Kelsey Graves, entitled The World’s Sixteen Crucified Saviors. It was dismissed and discredited by the scholars of the time, both secular and religious, but it is still fodder for those prone to outlandish conspiracy theories.

Secondly, I believe the real party to blame for the claim that the story of Jesus is borrowed from pagan mythology is, and this may surprise you, Christians themselves. Let me explain.

We have actually set the stage for Jesus mythicists by focusing on the story arch of Jesus almost to the exclusion of Jesus’ actual teachings. Jesus’ teachings in themselves establish that there was a Jesus. This is why the Jesus myth theorists NEVER address the actual teachings of Jesus. NO ONE can argue that the teachings are borrowed. They are unique. These teachings are new, original, “unborrowed.” And while radical to all previous religious teachings, they are still thoroughly enmeshed in a Jewish world-view. In other words, what you have are revolutionary teachings, unique even to Judaism, but still growing out of the root system of a very Jewish belief system. Everyone agrees these teachings have existed from the first century. And these teachings did not just appear out of thin air! Someone had to actually teach these teachings back then. And I do not care whether that someone’s name was Bob or Jesus, call him Bob for all I care; I want to follow whoever was teaching this stuff (it just so happens that Bob is not a very first century, Jewish name)! Joshua on the other hand is, and the Greek version of Joshua is, you guessed it, Jesus. But this is my point. The details of the story become insignificant when you embrace the actual teachings of Jesus. The solution to the myth theorists is simple. Establish the birth of these new teachings in the first century (which no can argue), then the existence of the actual teacher becomes moot. We can then discuss the details of his life. But this is an entirely different discussion now. Since it is Christmas, let’s take virgin birth for instance. I mean really, if you were in God’s shoes, and you could only have one, which would you rather have? Someone who believes in Jesus’ virgin birth but does not follow Jesus’ teachings? Or someone who actually follows the teachings of Jesus but might have significant questions about whether the virgin birth really occurred? If I had to pick one or the other, I would pick the “follower” any day over the “believer.”

But this is not the path reflected in the history of Christianity. The councils and creeds created through Christian history have, without exception, centered around and focused exclusively on theology concerning the details of the “story arch” of the Jesus story while wholly ignoring the actual “teachings” of the center person of this story.

Let me illustrate this with the Apostles’ Creed itself.

1. I believe in God, the Father almighty, Creator of heaven and earth.

2. I believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord.

3. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary.

4. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.

5. He descended to the dead. On the third day, He rose again.

6. He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

7. He will come again to judge the living and the dead.

8. I believe in the Holy Spirit;

9. the holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints;

10. the forgiveness of sins;

11. the resurrection of the body; and

12. life everlasting.

Did you catch it? What’s missing? This creed jumps from the “virgin birth” all the way down to Jesus’ Crucifixion. What about all that happened in between? There is a whole ministry filled with teachings that are not even represented here defining what a Christian is and what a Christian is not. This definition of a “Christian” says nothing of the teachings of Jesus, but centers wholly and exclusively on the details of the story arch. And this creed is not an exception, but rather the pattern we find throughout all creeds; the Nicene, Chalcedonian, and Athanasian creeds. And it is completely unacceptable for a Christian to try and excuse this reality by claiming that during this time, Church leadership had to fight deadly heresies of belief! At the time these creeds were created, there were serious heresies of LIFESTYLE as well, where Christians followed a completely opposite ethic than taught by Jesus, with Jesus’ teachings on nonviolence being a key and central ethic. But as we said last week, in the fourth century, with the baptism of Constantine and the Battle of the Milvian Bridge, the actual teachings of Jesus became marginalized. Christianity became, almost overnight, a persecuting majority rather than a persecuted minority. The ethics of Jesus became abandoned to such an extent that many scholars admit that Christianity after the fourth century was completely and wholly unrecognizable with the Christianity that existed before the fourth century. Some even claim that Christianity was “birthed” with Constantine, claiming this time period as the time when the Jesus story was invented, paralleling other pagan myths. The problem with that theory again is the actual teachings of Jesus which are, rather than supporting, completely counter ethical to the ethics we find being followed by Christians post Constantinian shift. After Constantine, what determined if someone was a Christian was simply if one believed certain details about the “story” of Jesus. Following the actual teachings of Jesus became relegated to a small few. And the world’s picture of God and His character became grossly corrupted. When those who claimed to be the “light” of the world came to power, we embarked on a period of time today referred to as the “dark” ages. If there is any concern that others would see God for who He really is, by contrast to how Christianity has misrepresented Him, never has there been a more crucial time for those who embrace Jesus’ name to re-embrace Jesus’ actual teachings. It was through these teachings that Jesus gave us a revelation of God before. And today, within these teachings we find the only hope of this planet being “lightened” with God’s beauty put on display once again.

As a side note, taking this all into account, during this holiday season (and please forgive me), it may be more advantageous for the Kingdom to stop fighting the cultural war over whether to say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays,” or to cease fighting to keep “Christ in Christmas” or to defend Jesus as the “reason for the season” (which historically is not true if you understand where Christmas even came from). It may be more advantageous for the Kingdom to spend less time defending the “story’s” details and much more advantageous to take time reconnecting with and recommitting to being a follower of Jesus’ teachings, rather than simply a believer in the story’s details.

We can continue to debate whether or not there are parallels in the story arch of Jesus with other mythical figures. Again, even the supposed parallels are not as strong as some would have us believe. The elements of virgin birth, crucifixion and resurrection originated with the Jesus story. Although this point can be debated, it still stand that these elements themselves are not borrowed. But what cannot be debated is that there are no parallels between the “teachings” of Jesus and any other previous teachings. These teachings are unique, radical, new, and not borrowed from any pagan religious system. How do you explain the origin of these teachings in the first century if you take away an actual historical teacher? You cannot. Someone was teaching this stuff back then. I believe his name was Jesus.

I know that some concerned reader out there will ask, “But Herb, do you believe in the virgin birth yourself?” And the answer is yes. The virgin birth is original to the Jesus story. Even the report of the virgin birth of Alexander the Great, all scholars today agree, comes from a source much later than the Jesus story. So if “borrowing” occurred back then, Alexander’s “virgin birth” was borrowed from Jesus’ virgin birth, not the other way around. Nonetheless, given that only two out of the four gospels even mention a virgin birth speaks volumes to me. Mark and John did not think it was necessary to know about the virgin birth, much less to believe in it, to be a Christian. What all four gospels do have in common are the actual teachings of Jesus we find repeated over and over in each version of the story.

In closing, this is why I believe so many have a deep interest in disproving the Jesus story. You have a simultaneous push and pull if you will. You have the Holy Spirit pulling each person to take an interest in Jesus, while the intensely violent history of a religion bearing Jesus’ name keeps pushing sincere people the other away. There has been more bloodshed committed by Christians in the name of Jesus than any other name in human history. This, among other things, for many is unacceptable. G.K. Chesteron is reported as saying, “The history of Christianity does not prove the teachings of Jesus have been tried and found wanting. The history of Christianity proves the teachigns of Jesus have been found difficult and left untried.” Today, we have many who have experienced abuse from others claiming to follow Jesus. We have a religion that today is taking the story arch and name of Jesus but wholly ignoring Jesus’ actually teachings regarding priority of beliefs, lifestyle, the nature and character of the “church,” and how we are (and how were are not) to engage with our surrounding society. Just stop for a moment and imagine what would happen if Christians actually started following the teachings of Jesus once again. Before the teachings of Jesus were marginalized in the fourth century, Christianity was growing exponentially, even though those who became followers were threatened with death. Can you imagine what would happen if we actually began following Jesus’ teachings once again? You would no longer see a pull/push phenomenon, but rather a PULL-PULL Christian renaissance! How many would follow Christ if Christians themselves could truly get in harmony with what their Christ was genuinely all about.

So this Christmas season, stop for a moment and let’s not only revisit the “story” of Christmas; let’s take some time to become reacquainted with the teachings of the Man the Christmas story is all about. Celebrating the story once a year while we ignore Jesus’ teachings on violence, greed, idolatry, religion, and the value of others regardless of their lifestyle or beliefs, to me, is meaningless. The story only becomes special if I have bought into the teachings themselves. In other words, I fall in love with the Teacher, only after I have fallen in love with His teachings.

We will begin looking at those actual teachings next week!

Happy Holidays, everyone!

Keep living in love, loving like Christ.

I will see you next week.

 

HeartGroups Series; Part 5 of 5

For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. — Jesus (Mark 10.45)HeartGroups Series

Part 5

This week, I want to conclude our five-part series on our new HeartGroups, modeled after the function and form of the New Testament ekklesia. It still amazes me how deeply the nature of the New Testament church has been buried under 1,700 years of religious tradition. But this week, I am going to try and strike some middle ground between institutional “church” and the New Testament’s more organic gatherings. Something both institution and organic gatherings have—or should have, rather—is a strong sense of other-centered mission. This is rooted in the example Jesus gave us in the Jesus story itself.

For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Mark 10.45)

I have had some of the best conversations with our various HeartGroups coaches over these first two months, and one thing that comes out loud and clear, in perfect harmony with New Testament ekklesia, is that HeartGroups should also have a strong sense of Mission. I want to be clear, though. This is not the typical emphasis on “evangelism” we find in so much of evangelical Christianity today. Evangelism is not the goal of our mission focus; evangelism is the means to reach our goal. (I’ll explain this in a moment.) Turning people into mere believers was never the end goal (see Matthew 28.18-20). Helping others within the community become followers of Jesus and His teachings was!

Ever since the fourth century (with the Baptism of Constantine), we have witnessed a decisive shift (and successive drift) away from the teachings of Jesus to beliefs about Jesus as that which defines what a “Christian” is. Praise God for the few exceptions, but to a large degree, in our current culture, being a “Christian” simply means someone who holds certain beliefs about Jesus, and very rarely do those who call themselves “Christians” resemble the person or teachings of Jesus. Statistics today prove that although the worldview of those who “believe” in Jesus is different, the life of a person who sees him- or herself as a believer, in most cases (again, there are a few exceptions), is no different in reality (except for attending a weekly service) from those who are labeled unbelievers. Christians are just as prone to gluttony as non-Christians. Christians are just as prone to greed as non-Christians. Christians are just as prone to materialism as non-Christians. Christians are actually more prone to violence than non-Christians. Christians are more prone to pride and arrogance than non-Christians. And today, the divorce rate among Christians is for the first time higher than the divorce rate of non-Christians.

How did we get here?

I believe it began in the fourth century (actually probably a little earlier, but the fourth century is close enough), when those who bore the name of Christ made a clean break with the actual teachings of Christ. Those who called themselves Christians actually chose an ethic that marginalized Jesus and His teachings. Up until this time, what defined whether a community was following Christ or not was whether that community sought to follow the ethical teachings of Jesus. But once those ethics (non-violence being a key Christo-ethic) were abandoned, overnight, everyone in Europe became a Christian (literally). One of the fruits of focusing now on beliefs about Jesus rather then the teachings of Jesus was that Christianity became a hybrid of institutionalism and individualism (Clergy vs. Laity). And what determined whether a person was a Christian or not was no longer reflected in a set of principles by which a group sought to live their lives, but rather by a set of intellectual beliefs (theology) to which an individual person intellectually subscribed or not.

This epidemic remains with us today. Today, we see a religion that to a large degree is still using run-around logic to find ways to avoid applying the actual teachings of Jesus, and in those teachings’ place, we find division on top of division over beliefs about Jesus that define us. All the while, the world at large, all around us, is starving—both spiritually and physically. Today, we still witness a strong marginalization of the actual teachings of Jesus, followed by a community accompanied by a heavy emphasis on doctrinal beliefs about Jesus instead. (An example of this, especially during the time of year that is just upon us, is that we as Christians today can live lives of consumer-driven materialism in our American culture [a direct abandonment of the teachings of Jesus], but question the virgin birth for a moment [a belief about Jesus that is actually in only two of the four versions of the Jesus story that we have], and we are no longer considered “believers.”)

Please don’t misunderstand. Believing the right things about God is of vital importance for every one of us! But stop for a moment and consider whether this is the ultimate end or the means whereby we experience God’s end for us. Pay close attention to Jesus’s words in John 17:

“Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known IN ORDER THAT the LOVE you have for me may be IN THEM and that I MYSELF MAY BE IN THEM.” (John 17.25-26)

We can gather the following points from Jesus’s statement above:

1)Revealing the truth about God’s character was “in order that” an ultimate goal might be accomplished.

2)What was that goal? There were two. First, so that the Love of God might be restored in us. In short, if our picture of God doesn’t also change us into a more loving people, then no matter how correct we may be in our beliefs about God, we simply become resounding gongs, clanging cymbals, empty nothings, gaining nothing (see 1 Corinthians 13.1-3). I want you to also notice the word “Them.” Jesus never called upon His disciples to follow Him all on their own, but to do so in an authentic community of fellow followers! The Love that He wants to recreate in us is in just that location—us! This love cannot be experienced “flying solo,” so to speak. Other-centered love requires experiencing life with others, in addition to ourselves. But even in saying all of this, even these groups of Jesus followers, following Jesus together, were not only to strengthen, instruct, encourage, and build each other up. The groups themselves, as a united whole, was to have an outside-of-the-group focus. Together, they were to live communal lives that were radically self-sacrificial for the blessing and benefit of others, putting on display the beauty of God’s other-centered love to the world around them.

3)Goal number two was “That I myself may be [dwelling] in them.” We find “them” here again, now also as a dwelling place for Jesus Himself. We have been guilty of reading this statement through the lens of our Western, individualistic culture. Jesus was not praying that He would be able to dwell in His followers individually or uniquely as isolated little dwelling places (plural). NO, no! Jesus wants to take the plurality of individuals and, by restoring love among them through the revelation of the character of God, take this plurality and turn it into a singular community that becomes the home or dwelling place of Jesus. The group is the place Jesus desires to dwell. Let me illustrate this with the metaphor used by Peter.

Peter uses the imagery of taking living stones and assembling them together to become a living dwelling place for God.

As you come to him, the LIVING STONE—rejected by human beings but chosen by God and precious to him—YOU ALSO, like LIVING STONES, are being built into a SPIRITUAL HOUSE to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (1Peter 2.4-5)

Let’s get back to my statements earlier about evangelism. Evangelism, according to the New Testament, is simply the telling of the Jesus story (i.e., the Gospel). Those who embraced the Jesus of this story would find new life born within them. It was if they have passed from death to life, they were no longer a dead stone. They had now become a LIVING stone. But then an apostle would take those living stones and put them together in such a way that they fitted together properly and would become an actual LIVING HOUSE built out of these living stones! It wasn’t enough to just bring someone from death to life. They must, in being brought to life, now be connected with a community marked by an open, mutually participatory communal nature that not only reflected the other-centered, self-sacrificial love of God, but thereby put on display to the world around them the beauty of this love for all to see. (I know this is a far cry from what history records as happening by the institutionalizing of a “religion” that today we call Christianity. But what this simply reveals is that what today is called Christianity might be the furthest thing from what Jesus intended His followers to become.)

Today, we embrace beliefs about Jesus as individuals. And even when we come together, we come together in such a way as to maintain our isolation from each other (the historical purpose for which pews themselves were actually invented in the sixteenth century). We gather together as isolated individuals to “participate”—which many times simply means remaining quiet and listening—in a program centered around the moment where we passively listen to a discourse with a heavy emphasis on doctrines about Jesus rather than the ethical teachings of Jesus. (Jesus spent precious little time addressing people’s “doctrinal” beliefs. Jesus spent a large portion of time revealing to us the truth about the Father’s character by giving teachings on how His followers should live.) Even in the songs we sing, the lyrics are too often marked by the pronouns “I” versus “we,” both older hymns and recent contemporary worship songs alike, which only further reveal how far we have drifted. Again, these are generalizations of what we find on the whole. There are beautiful exceptions to this that I have witnessed, but to a large degree, these exceptions are just that—they are exceptions to the overly common rule.

This leads me to the point of this week’s eSight regarding HeartGroups and Mission, and an honest confession of failure on the part of myself and the ministry of RHM in the past.

As a ministry, and as the director of this ministry, I have become convinced that it is not enough to simply uplift the truth about our Heavenly Father as it is revealed in Jesus and then leave those who have embraced this new picture of God in passive isolation. It is as if we have traversed the globe, turning dead stones into living stones, and then just left them strewn across the field, each alone and lying there. These living stones must be assembled together in such a way that they TOGETHER become a dwelling place for Jesus Himself.

This is the reason we at Renewed Heart Ministries have added to our ministry what we are now affectionately referring to as HeartGroups, equipped with insightful coaches to help those who feel more like isolated stones assemble together in a meaningful way to experience God and His love for us and to put on display to the world around us the beauty of who God is, together!

“But those who embrace your teachings, Herb, are usually connected somehow to a local church,” someone may object. And yes, that is true in a contemporarily defined sense. I want to be clear: there is nothing wrong with “going to church,” in my opinion, even as “church” has grown to be defined by us today. I speak in a different institutionalized church around the globe almost every weekend. But no matter how faithful one may be in his or her “church” attendance, one can attend what we in our culture call “church” seven days a week and still never experience or encounter the reality of what the New Testament referred to as the church.

Within New Testament Ekklesia:

A building is no longer the Temple. The Open Mutually participatory gathering of followers is now where God dwells among us, putting on display, through this group, the beauty of who He really is (see John 1.14 and 1 Peter 2.5; churches were not buildings in the New Testament).

An animal on an alter is no longer the Sacrifice; the Common Life of Believers, together following the teachings of Jesus with THEIR lives, lived out in self-sacrificial love, is now the “living” sacrifice (see Romans 12.1 and 1 Peter 2.5; gatherings were not centered around sacrifice, sacrament, or sermon in the New Testament).

A hierarchical male authority figure filling an “office” is no longer a Priest, Rabbi, or Teacher, but rather, we as followers of Jesus and members of His Kingdom have together become a priesthood (or priestesshood) of ALL believers alike! See Matthew 23.8-12 and 1 Peter 2.5: All believers alike, themselves, were what we today call “Pastors” and any leadership that did exist [Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Elders, and Teachers] was marked by servanthood, serving the larger mutually participatory group, in contrast to hierarchical authority (see Luke 22.25-27).

In the New Testament, Temple, Sacrifice, and Priest have been transformed by the coming of Jesus, making what these three where in the past obsolete, replaced by something far superior! (See the epistle to the Hebrews.)

What does all of this have to do with HeartGroups and Mission?

In perfect harmony with New Testament ekklesia, HeartGroups also have a strong mission focus. What is their mission? Not to go to church, but to BE the church by putting on display the radical, other-centered, self-sacrificial love of God as revealed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, re-incarnated again as Christ’s body in visible form for all to continue to see.

If you are already meeting in a HeartGroup and you feel your group is in need of a more other-centered focus, this week, I want to challenge you to not just merely meet to encourage, instruct, and bless one another (although this too is vital and should not be belittled), but also spend some time, in prayerfully submitted brainstorming, considering how your group can possibly make a difference in the community around you. At bare minimum, find someone in your area who is in need and pool your resources together to make a difference in that person’s life. Jesus didn’t go around trying to get people ready to go to heaven when they died. On the contrary, Jesus went around doing good, setting captives free, making a difference in this age, creating change for the better in peoples’ lives NOW and then announcing, His Kingdom had come!

This is our mission too: to enlarge His Kingdom! Not merely by turning people into “believers” who believe differently now about certain topics. No, no! Once those stones are alive, we are called to assemble those stones together in a way that becomes a dwelling place for God Himself, incarnate once again—a living demonstration, putting on display the beauty of God’s character of love, once revealed in Jesus Christ and now revealed through His visible embodiment (Body, see Ephesians 4.16) for the world around US to see!

If you are currently not part of a HeartGroup and you would like more information on participating in a group or even hosting a group, please contact us at:

https://renewedheartministries.com/heartgroups.aspx

As always, keep living in love, loving like Christ, and together, let’s go enlarge the Kingdom.

This marks the end of this series. Next, we begin a special series based on the Jesus story, which we believe will prove especially relevant during this upcoming holiday season.

I love you guys, and I’ll see you next week.

Herb

HeartGroups Series; Part 4 of 5 – Appendix

Matthew 20.25-28—Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Matthew 23.8-12—”But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called ‘teacher,’ for you have one Teacher, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.HeartGroups Series

Part 4 – Appendix

Due to a small number of objections and questions that have come in from last week’s eSight on how our rejection of hierarchical leadership styles within the church is one of the ways we put on display that the rule of The Powers has come to an end, I felt that this week, rather than progressing with this series, I would share a portion of the New Testament research that collaborates and supports last week’s statements.

What I am offering this week is a ten-page document that is a basic compiling of some of the best New Testament scholarly research that we have available to us today on what the New Testament ekklesia actually looked like and how it functioned. Again this document is a compilation of the brightest and best research out there that I have been able to find to date. I have simply re-structured this research for easier reading, so that it can be passed on to you and to others in a more easily digestible fashion. This document reflects not simply my own conclusions (only a small portion of this material is from my own personal research) but of a vast majority of other scholars as well. (In other words, for those of you who are saying I’m a dreamer . . . “I’m not the only one.”)

This document is too lengthy to be posted in this email. But for those who are interested in the scholastic evidence for last week’s eSight (where we rejected all forms of hierarchical leadership styles rather than baptizing them) please check out the pdf I have posted at this link:

https://renewedheartministries.com/Sermons/lu/outlines/16hierarchy.pdf

(If this does not show up in your email as a link, please copy and paste this url into your internet browser.)

It is my prayer that as we continue to process this information, in the light God’s character of radical, other-centered, self-sacrificial love as revealed in the person of Jesus Christ, that God will have a people who finally reject Constantinian Christianity in favor of becoming those who look like their Master once again. 1700 years is far too long. The time has come for those who carry Jesus’ name to resemble, once again, what Jesus and His Kingdom where truly all about.

For those who were looking forward to a “devotional” this week, I want to offer you my humblest apologies. We will return to that format next week. This week, please take some time and give this information prayerful consideration. This is research our intellects can rest upon, so that our hearts can passionately embrace the “New Creation,” the Ekklesia, we have in Jesus (2 Corinthians 5.17).

Happy Reading and keep enlarging the Kingdom!

I love you guys,

I’ll see you next week.

HeartGroups Series; Part 4 of 5

“His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms . . .”— Paul, Ephesians 3.10HeartGroups Series

Part 4

Embracing The “Mission” of New Testament Ekklesia.

Far from being a whipping boy in an effort to appease an angry God, Jesus’s death (and resurrection) was the result of a life lived in utter rebellion against the Powers. These Powers had claimed that WE belonged to Them. And Christ’s life, death, and resurrection have brought to us salvation, redemption, ransom, reconciliation, and yes, even atonement (see Leviticus 16 for how atonement fits within a “Victory against the Powers” paradigm).

I want to challenge you to take some time and read through the entire New Testament, but not in the order we find it in within most of our Bibles. I’d like you to read it in the narrative order in which it was written (or at least the most likely order by the estimation of most scholars). There are some great tools out there for doing this. One of the many that has received much acclaim recently is Frank Viola’s The Untold Story of the New Testament Church. And though I never agree entirely with any author that I read, I believe this resource will prove itself invaluable to you in simply getting your head around the narrative order of the New Testament alone.

When we take Paul’s writings within the context of when, where, and why they were written, we see a series of terms that I would love to unpack for you this week.

These terms are:

“principalities and powers”

“thrones and dominions”

“angels and archangels”

“elements”

“heights and depths”

and even “law” and “knowledge”.

Paul’s words in his letter to the Ekklesia in Colossae, with these in mind, are astounding:

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things IN HEAVEN AND ON EARTH, visible and INVISIBLE, whether THRONES OR POWERS OR RULERS OR AUTHORITIES; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (Colossians 1.15-17)

The Greek word here for “hold together” actually means “systematizes.” There is an organizational structure, or “system,” to how Christ “created” this world to function. What we begin seeing in Paul’s epistles is that although there is a reign of order among creation, and it’s an order which in its original intention was a Divine gift, most of the references to the “Powers” in the New Testament consider them as now fallen from their original intent. They are still present, still ruling, but now in a fallen state. They are no longer active as mediators of the loving, creative purpose of God; now we find them usurping an unascribed authority, gained through humanity’s rebellion, and using both their original and newly gained authority as follows:

1) We find them seeking to separate us from the love of God (see Romans 8.38).

2) We find them ruling over the lives of those who live far from the love of God (see Ephesians 2.2).

3) We find them holding us in servitude to their rules (see Colossians 2.20).

4) We find them holding us under their tutelage or instruction (see Galatians 4.3).

And although the authority of these Powers is not limitless, we still find them, in the mind of Paul, exercising their power, again, within both their original ordered function and the usurped dominion gained through humanity’s fall.

C.S Lewis referred to this reality in the following words:

“I freely admit that real Christianity . . . goes much nearer to Dualism than people think . . . The difference is that Christianity thinks this Dark Power was created by God, and was good when he was created, and went wrong. Christianity agrees with Dualism that this universe is at war. But it does not think this is a war between independent powers. It thinks it is a civil war, a rebellion, and that we are living in a part of the universe occupied by the rebel.”— C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity.

Some today refer to this cosmic conflict as a Great Controversy.

It was to deliver us and to defeat these Powers that Jesus came, lived, died, and was resurrected:

“When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own house, his possessions are safe. But when someone stronger attacks and overpowers him, he takes away the armor in which the man trusted and divides up his plunder.” (Luke 11.21, 22)

“Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil . . .” (Hebrews 2.14)

(I have written at length concerning this theme in our four-part Christus Victor series earlier this year. Please feel free to go back and reread that series if at any time you get “lost” while reading this week’s eSight.)

Notice the contrast between the Enemy’s words during the temptations and Christ’s words after the Resurrection:

“The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, ‘I will give you ALL THEIR AUTHORITY and splendor; it has been given to me [by Adam, See Genesis 3 and 1 Corinthians 15], and I can give it to anyone I want to. If you worship me, it will all be yours.’” (Luke 4.5-7)

“Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘ALL AUTHORITY IN HEAVEN AND ON EARTH HAS BEEN GIVEN TO ME. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’” (Matthew 28.19-20)

Jesus had come to gain this authority back for us, but not by bowing to these Powers as the Enemy had tempted. Jesus would gain back this authority rather by the long and slow process of living a radically subversive, other centered life, dying a cruel self sacrificial death at the hands of these Powers, and then through the final, glorious climax of a resurrection. By these methods and these methods alone, Jesus would establish His Kingdom in the place of Theirs. (A Dominion that at its core exists as a new way of doing life based on the character of God itself, i.e., the radical, other-centered, self-sacrificial love of God as revealed through the person of Jesus Christ. See Daniel 7.9,13-14 cf. John 12.31; Matthew 26.64)

Jesus’s message was:

“From that time on Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent, for THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN HAS COME near.’” (Matthew 4.17)

The message Jesus sent His disciples out with was:

“As you go, proclaim this message: ‘THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN HAS COME near.’” (Matthew 10.7)

Jesus’s last words to Pilate were:

Jesus said, “MY KINGDOM is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now MY KINGDOM is from another place.” (John 18.36)

Paul’s message till the end of his life was the same:

“He proclaimed THE KINGDOM OF GOD and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ—with all boldness and without hindrance!” (Acts 28.31)

The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus had been victorious! Paul’s letter to the Colossians again tells us of this victory:

“For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into THE KINGDOM of the Son he loves . . . ” (Colossians 1.13)

“. . . having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed THE POWERS AND AUTHORITIES, he made a public spectacle of THEM, triumphing over THEM by the cross.” (Colossians 2.14,15)

Again the words of Jesus in reference to the purpose of His own death and resurrection:

“Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the PRINCE OF THIS WORLD will be DRIVEN OUT.” (John 12.31)

And lastly the words of John:

“Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: ‘Now have come the salvation and the power and THE KINGDOM of our God, and THE AUTHORITY of his Messiah. For THE ACCUSER of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been HURLED DOWN.’” (Revelation 12.10)

But how does this relate to HeartGroups and New Testament Ekklesia?

This is the most exciting part of this week’s eSight!

“His intent was that now, THROUGH THE CHURCH [the Ekklesia], the manifold wisdom of God should be made known TO THE RULERS AND AUTHORITIES IN THE HEAVENLY REALMS . . .” (Ephesians 3.10)

WE, plural, together as the Ekklesia, in it’s original New Testament form, have been called to put on display, the accomplished reality of Christ’s defeat of the Powers on the Cross (God’s manifold wisdom; See 1 Corinthians 1.23,24). We have been called to put on display the radical beauty of God’s character of love which is at the core of this New Kingdom, to put on display the defeat of God’s (and our) enemies (see Epheisans 6.12), and that under this new Kingdom there is a new way of doing life!

But what does how we do Ekklesia have do with putting on display the Character of God and God’s Divinely accomplished defeat of the Powers? (In other words, what we are really asking is, “How does our form really relate to our function?)

Let’s start slow.

Ephesians 3 is at bare minimum, clear that we have been called to make known this “manifold wisdom of God,” (God’s accomplishment on the Cross) together, IN COMMUNITY to these Rulers and Authorities for all, both on earth and in heaven to witness.

I want to submit to you this week, something that I know is challenging to many, but if we are to be honest about taking the teachings of Jesus seriously we must take, even this into consideration. Please remain open minded. Even the form in which our gatherings take, in light of the God ordained function that we as His Body are called to, really does matter more than some realize.

Let me explain.

The Ekklesia is made up of Jesus’ followers that are announcing to The Powers that their reign has ended. Their very existence is to announces to the Stoicheia (Greek for “The Elements”, or rather The Powers: Galatians 4.3 and Colossians 2.8) that we who “used to live when [we] followed the ways of THIS WORLD and of THE RULER OF THE KINGDOM OF THE AIR” (see Ephesians 2) are now free from Them, because of Jesus, to live out our original design once again. What was that original design? Follow carefully:

Then God said, “Let US make humankind in OUR IMAGE, according to OUR LIKENESS; and let THEM have DOMINION . . .” (Genesis 1.26, NRSV, See also John 17.)

Remember from part 1 of this series:

“Within the Godhead we discover mutual love, mutual fellowship, mutual dependence, mutual honor, mutual submission, mutual dwelling, and authentic community. In the Godhead, there exists an eternal, complementary, and reciprocal interchange of divine life, divine love, and divine fellowship. There is an absence of command-style leadership. There is an absence of hierarchical structures. There is an absence of passive spectatorship. There is an absence of one-upmanship. And there is an absence of religious rituals and programs.”

When we mimic the Godheads form, when we return to the original intent of what the New Testament Ekklesia was supposed to be, we are rejecting a form that by contrast mirrors the power structures of the kingdoms (and thus the “Powers” behind them) of this world.

This is why Jesus so strictly forbid the church from, even in it’s form, looking anything like this world:

“Jesus said to them, ‘The kings of the Gentiles LORD IT OVER THEM; and those who exercise AUTHORITY OVER THEM call themselves Benefactors. [Remember we do not find this among the Godhead itself] BUT YOU ARE NOT TO BE LIKE THAT. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. (Luke 22.25-26)

“But you are NOT to be called ‘RABBI,’ for you have only one Master and you are all brothers [equal]. And do not call anyone on earth ‘FATHER,’ for you have ONE Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called ‘TEACHER,’ for you have ONE Teacher, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. (Matthew 23.8-12).

We find in these passages a stern forbiddance of hierarchal, “power over” structures within those who claim to part of Christ’s new Kingdom. Remember in Jesus kingdom, temple, sacrifice, and priest are no more. (We, as a living Ekklesia, are God’s dwelling place, how we do life, modeled after Jesus, is a living sacrifice, and we together as equals are a “priesthood” of all believers.) The Old Testament Levitical system is NOT what we are to patterned after, but rather, we are to be patterned after the original design of the Godhead itself (See Genesis 1.26) of mutual love, service, and participation. Christ came to restore us to this.

Again, we are not to have among us the hierarchal, power over, power structures we find all round us among the kingdoms of this world. We are called to put on display something radically different. We are called to the open, mutually participatory nature of the Godhead (our original Parents) Itself!

Our FORM in itself is a proclamation, a sign, a token to the Powers that their unbroken dominion, Their way of doing life, has come to an end! The Ekklesia, done properly, does not function under Their hierarchal power structures anymore (with passive spectators who passively submit, mirroring the kingdoms of this world which in turn mimick the Powers of this world.) The Ekklesia even by its form is to put on display that WE ARE UNDER NEW MANAGEMENT! We are now under the direct Headship of Christ, marked by mutual, open, every-member-functioning-participation like what we find within the Godhead and thus a demonstration of the Kingdom that is rooted in Their Love. Just the very existence of Ekklesia, when our form is in harmony with the teachings of Jesus, is an aggressive act against the Powers in a world still claimed to be ruled by those Powers. Ekklesia is an act of protest, saying we are no longer Their slaves, but freed ones, following a NEW rule, the rule of Christ. Just the mere presence of the Ekklesia is a sign to the Powers of the coming end, of Their emerging encirclement and Their imminent and final defeat.

Paul continues in his letter to the Ephesians:

“For our struggle is NOT against flesh and blood, but against THE RULERS, against THE AUTHORITIES, against THE POWERS of this dark world and against THE SPIRITUAL FORCES OF EVIL IN THE HEAVENLY REALMS.” (Ephesians 6.12)

This is a new kind of community (Kingdom/Ekklesia) conceived within the Godhead (John 17), given birth on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2), established and enlarged by the Cross (both Christ’s and ours; Luke 9.23) Genuine Ekklesia is a far cry from being “religious.” True Ekklesia is about putting on display the radical, other-centered, self-sacrificial love of God! But how we do Ekklesia is not mysteriously exempt from any of this.

Seeing that how we do “Church” is itself a protest against the “Powers” is loaded with meaning for those who are seeking to return to a more New Testament form of Ekklesia. All resistance and every attack against the “gods of this age” will be unfruitful, unless the Ekklesia, itself, IS resistance and attack. It is imperative that the Ekklesia itself demonstrates, in its own life and fellowship, how believers can live freed from the Powers. We can only “make known” the manifold wisdom of God to the Powers if our communal life together displays something radically different than how the Powers themselves demand life should be done. We do this, together, in so many ways. But NOWHERE is this more evident than by our absolute rebellion against the hierarchal power structures of this world and the “Powers” behind them. When we deliberately choose NOT to pattern our gatherings after the kingdoms of this world, but after the Godhead itself, when we choose to conduct our gatherings with an open, mutually participatory nature, under the Headship of Christ, this again put’s on display the Victory of Christ and that a NEW Kingdom has arrived!

(To be fair, I want to express again, this is not the only way we put on display Christ’s victory, but it is foundational to all else that we do. To be fair, we also do this too when we, as a community, choose to live radically self-sacrificially so that we might reach out in our larger communities to make a difference with our resources. (We put on display that we are now freed from “Mammon’s” clutches.) We do this when, in our gatherings, we no longer recognize any difference between peoples, whether by class, economic status, race, gender, or nation. (Galatians 3.19; James 2.1-4; Ephesians 2.13-16) We do this when justice, mercy and love prevail in our own gatherings and social differences (or any other differences for that matter) lose their power to divide us. Our manifestation of the manifold wisdom of God to the Powers is meaningful only insofar as it springs from an Ekklesia whose inner life is itself a proclamation and demonstration of a new way of doing life together. Through all these ways, it is as if we are screaming to the Powers, “This world is under NEW management! And we are the PROOF!”)

But let’s be careful not to go too far. Our duty is NOT to bring the Powers to their knees. Christ has already done this through His Cross! Our duty is to simply but firmly put on display Their already accomplished defeat! Our duty is to put on display, as a community, that we are no longer under Their rule! Ours is to put on display the beauty of our new King’s character of Love and His way of doing life. We are, together, to put on display what this NEW kingdom, NEW reign looks like. And, in the face of Their empty claims, which are now nothing more than a grasping at straws, to declare the reign of the Powers has come to an END!

Wherever the Cross is genuinely preached, the unmasking and disarming of the Powers takes place. And wherever genuine Ekklesia is accurately practiced through open participatory gatherings, the church demonstrates to other realms that Jesus Christ—God’s manifold wisdom (see 1 Corinthians 1.23, 24)—is alive enough to lead a fallen race who used to belong to God’s enemy.

Genuine Ekklesia is much more than simply how one does “church”. It’s about doing life, together, in such a way as to put on display the radical character of our God and the defeat of His Enemies, even to those very Powers themselves, for all both in Heaven and on Earth to see.

Lastly, this cannot be done by individualistic, personal, solo efforts, but rather by communities that mirror the relationship the Triune God, Itself, of mutual love, acting as one. (See John 17.20, 21.) Too many of us are still living as if we are just passing through. We are living as if our goal is to accept Jesus as our “personal” Savior (i.e., “get saved”) before we die, so we, individually, can “go to heaven.” This is a far cry from the New Testament’s paradigm. “Heaven” is not our home. THIS EARTH is our home! ITS DOMINION has been given back to us through Christ’s life, death, and resurrection! I’m sorry to have to say, we aren’t going anywhere. In the age to come, God is NOT taking us “home” to be with HIM! No, no. God is coming HERE to make His home WITH US via Return and Resurrection! (See Revelation 21 and 22 and 1 Corinthians 15.)

What does all of this mean? It means simply this:

1)The Cross declares that Jesus is already the Savior of the World! God’s Enemies have been defeated!

2)We, as the Ekklesia, have been called to embrace Him now as Lord, and to live out the radical beauty of His NEW Kingdom in community with one another, and by thus putting His Character and Kingdom on display, to declare God’s enemies are defeated, a new Kingdom has arrived, and we are to enlarge the borders of this New Kingdom, His Kingdom, one humble, loving relationship at a time.

This is EXACTLY what Jesus taught in the parable of “the mustard seed.” The Gardener planted it in HIS garden till it grew, subversively underground, sometimes even unnoticeably, and un-measurably, until it took over “the whole garden.”

“Then Jesus asked, ‘What is THE KINGDOM of God like? What shall I compare IT to? It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his garden. It grew and became a tree, and the birds perched in its branches.’” (Luke 13.18,19)

“He told them another parable: ‘THE KINGDOM of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it GROWS, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.’” (Matthew 13.31, 32)

Remember, we have not been called to conquer the world for Jesus, but to simply love the world (and one another) like Jesus, via Ekklesia!

So in light of God’s Victory on the Cross against the Powers, and His Glorious purpose for His Ekklesia, His Bride, in putting that Victory on display, go forth this week, and as community, live like Christ, think like Christ, serve like Christ, and love like Christ and thereby, go enlarge the Kingdom.

I love you guys.

We’ll see you next week.

For information about our new Renewed Heart Ministries’ HeartGroups please look us up on the web at:

https://renewedheartministries.com/heartgroups.aspx

HeartGroups Series; Part 3 of 5

Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another . . . – Paul, Colossians 3.16The HeartGroups Series

Part 3

The Sufficiency of Christ

This week, I want to move even closer to communicating the New Testament basis for Renewed Heart Ministries’ new HeartGroups, especially in the context of the Sufficiency of Christ. Again, we are basing the nature of HeartGroups on the nature of the New Testament Ekklesia (which was really just an extension of the relational nature of the Godhead itself. See Part 1).

To the early church gatherings, Christ was EVERYTHING!

Christ was their FOCUS.

Christ was their HEAD.

Christ was their PURPOSE.

What does each of these mean? Let’s take a closer look.

Christ as Focus

These small groups (early New Testament churches, the “ekklesia”) were rooted and grounded in the story of Jesus (the Gospel). They were not focused on a person with a charismatic personality, nor were they elitist, gathered around some nifty doctrine. Jesus, His story, His resurrection, and His Kingdom became EVERYTHING to these gatherers. Jesus was the central focus of each of their gatherings. Even when they studied together, the subject they studied was the story of Jesus. Why?

It’s simple. First, Jesus was their doctrine. Anyone who sought to share with these gatherers a “new” doctrine faced the test of the story of Jesus. In Paul’s letter, notice his definition of a sound doctrine. A sound doctrine is one that conformed to the story of Jesus as they heard it from him.

“…the sound doctrine that conforms to the gospel [i.e. the story of Jesus].” – 1 Timothy 1.10,11

Second, Jesus was their NEW moral standard. For the Jews, their standard of morality was no longer the law of Moses but the teachings of Jesus as revealed within the Jesus story (i.e., the Gospel). The Gentiles were also called to leave their immorality and idolatry to follow the teachings of Jesus. However, JESUS was their new definition of morality, not their culture (Gentiles) or the Law of Moses (Jews); Jesus Himself was the new standard by which they sought to understand how they were to live their lives. (Reread Galatians, James, and Hebrews. Yes, the entire letter, each of them. When you read these letters in one sitting, the point of each letter becomes overwhelming. Jesus was the new standard of morality.)

The Story of Jesus (the gospel) was everything to the early church!

Christ as Head

As we covered last week (see Part 2), nowhere in the New Testament does Paul or any other author state that any other person is to be the Head of their gatherings. Their only Head was to be Jesus Himself. Therefore, these early gatherings were not glorified Bible Studies in which the same person led out each week. Nor were they simply, “Honey I shrunk the church,” as we know that term today, where we gather simply to hear a sermon. No no! These early gatherings were marked by the open, mutually participatory, every member sharing, functioning, and expressing whatever gift Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, had given to edify the group as a whole. (Please see last week’s eSight for more on this topic.)

Paul makes this clear:

Instead, speaking the truth [to one another] in love, we will in all things grow up into Him who is the HEAD, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and HELD TOGETHER BY EVERY SUPPORTING LIGAMENT, grows and builds itself up in love, AS EACH PART DOES ITS WORK. Ephesians 4.15,16

Some will ask, “But didn’t the early church have leadership?” Of course! However, notice its style of leadership. The overseers (the older, more experienced individuals in each group, i.e., the elders) were simply to serve the group (for Jesus’s command of servant leadership, see Luke 22.25,26) by making sure the Headship of Christ was not hijacked by any one person, a group of persons, or even themselves during their gatherings.

Christ Himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors, and the teachers, to EQUIP HIS PEOPLE FOR THE WORK OF MINISTRY so that the body of Christ may be built up … Ephesians 4.11,12

These early gatherings were marked by a group of people coming together (assembling, the ekklesia) in an authentic community in an open, mutually participatory manner, an every member functioning, priest (or priestess) hood of all believers’ style, (Jesus had done away with Temple, Sacrifice, and Priest) coming under the Headship of Christ and letting HIM lead each of their gatherings. (Note that Paul never writes to individual believers about what they need to do to grow in Christ. On the contrary, Paul always writes to the assembly, the ekklesia, encouraging the body in regards to what the body needs so that each “member” might grow up into Christ, who is their Head. More on this in upcoming weeks. Maybe.) No hierarchical leadership existed in these gatherings save for the Headship of Christ Himself.

Christ as Purpose

Today, we are a conglomeration of church hoppers and church shoppers. We are a community that has been culturally conditioned by the paradigm of our functioning, first and foremost, out of our consumer-driven needs. Although this may or may not be acceptable in other forms of our life (that debate is still raging), a consumer needs-based drive is never acceptable as a motive for ekklesia. We are not gathered together to meet our own needs or desires but the eternal purpose and strong desire of Christ Himself (see John 17, as well as Part 1 again).

Again, this means that, first, these gatherings are not times for glorified sermonizing or bible studies during which only one person’s agenda each week is being pursued and the rest of the group simply spectates for the entire time. Again, the gatherings of the early church were not marked by the same person sharing each week while the rest just listened and then went home. Not at all! These gatherings were marked by each person taking turns listening and sharing, within the same gathering, as they together came under the direction and Headship of Christ. (They actually allowed HIM to direct their gathering.)

What happens when someone in the group has a truth or a doctrine, or something lengthy, that they feel is important and would like to share with the group?

Such a situation may be handled in many ways. For me to simply tell you what to do would be so easy right now. However, I’d like to suggest, instead, that first and foremost, at this moment the group needs to stop and pray together. Submit the idea to the Headship of Christ and ask how He wants your group to handle this. (Recently, I saw a group handle their dilemma with “child care” during their gatherings this way and the solution that God gave that group was beautiful!)

All that said, one possible solution could be (again, this is just one possible way, submit it together and see what your HEAD, Jesus Christ says to the group) as follows:

If someone in your group has a pet doctrine or a theological hobbyhorse that he or she continues to peddle in your meetings, and that detracts everyone else from Christ, you can try this. Set aside a special meeting (one event) during the week at which this person presents his or her doctrine to the group without interruption. Make an agreement with this person ahead of time. After this person has shared his or her heart, the group will react. If the person has convinced everyone about his or her doctrine, then he or she must agree to no longer bring it up during your meetings. Everyone is convinced, so there is no need. If the person does not convince everyone, then he or she must agree to stop talking about it altogether. Remember, your meetings are centered on the story of Jesus; in other words, the Gospel and Christ IS sufficient. These gathering are not to be used as a platform to expound your favorite doctrine. Therefore, leave any other specialized doctrine that does not conform to the Story of Jesus (i.e., the Gospel) at the door and do not monopolize your gatherings with them.

Again, these gatherings in the New Testament were neither bless-me clubs (where people came to have their own needs met) nor were they elitist by nature. Nothing even close. These groups were assembling to fulfill, together, the strong desire and longing of Christ Himself that reaches back all the way to the beginning.

Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness …” (Genesis 1.26)

“I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (John 17.20,21)

As we have covered in previous weeks, this is God’s strong, original, and eternal desire. It was lost through humanities’ belief in lies about the Father. Jesus came to restore to us this life of Love. THIS is the eternal longing within God; for us to experience His radical, other-centered, self-sacrificial love in a community that lives and breathes the very ebb and flow of the love found within the Godhead. Just as this was lost through lies about the Father, Jesus would restore to us this experience by revealing to us the truth about God’s character of Love (see John 17.25,26 and John 8.32).

Again, God’s strong desire is that we will, together, as ekklesia, enter into the pleasure of His eternal ebb and flow of self-sacrificial, other centered, radical Love, the very love of the Triune God. This He longs for us to experience with Him and with each other. This is HIS Desire. His eternal purpose! And thus the PURPOSE of our gatherings.

When we come together, we are to hold Christ’s desire for ourselves to enter into the Godhead’s love (see John 17) as paramount above all other possible agendas. Through our expressed love for Christ and our expressed love for one another, we are gathering to give to Christ Himself the fulfillment of His eternal desire. Our aim is that HE will feel overjoyed as we too become simultaneously the conduits for and the recipients of Their other centered love. In our gatherings, we are there to testify OF HIM. We are there to, together, give praise TO HIM. We are there to, through mutual prayer, engage the enemy on behalf of those whom we know, and who have inestimable value TO HIM. (And to help and bless those very same ones as we have means and opportunity.) We are there to “teach” and even “instruct” one another (Ephesians 2; Romans 15), sharing with each other HIM as He has, and continues to, share Himself with each of us.

We are assembled to practice the “one anothers” of the New Testament in an authentic community, not to meet our own needs or our own desires, but through entering into the very “one another” love of God, the “one anothers” of the New Testament, again, that God Himself might feel over-loved and overjoyed, as He sees His strong desire for us experienced, encountered, and fulfilled in our ekklesia! Christ is not simply our focus, He is not simply our head, but He and His desire actually is the very PURPOSE for which we have gathered.

We become the ekklesia, the assembly, the dwelling place [house] of God, His LIVING sanctuary, His LIVING temple, His body, the living manifestation of God’s dwelling among us for all to see. (As a side note, the evangelistic power of these kinds of gatherings is astounding! But that is an entirely different topic. See 1 Corinthians 14.24,25)

Does a gathering of this nature by a group of mutual Jesus followers in someone’s living room resonate with you this week? It does with me! If you would like to hook up with a HeartGroup in your area, or if you are interested in hosting a gathering like this in your own living room, drop us a line here at Renewed Heart Ministries. (304.520.0030 ext. 100 or heartgroups@renewedheartministries.com)

As always, keep living in love, loving like Christ, and together let’s enlarge the Kingdom.

I love you guys.

We’ll see you next week.

Herb

HeartGroups Series; Part 2 of 5

“What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up” (Paul, 1 Corinthians 14.26, emphasis added).

HeartGroups Series

Part 2

Mutual, Open Sharing in Living Rooms versus Passive Spectatorship in Auditoriums

This week, I want to build upon what we looked at last week: the relationship that exists among the Godhead (as taught by Jesus) is the clearest example we have been given of the God-intended nature of our gatherings.

From the very beginning, I want to say that this in no way a critique of any church fellowship, tradition, denomination, or institutional church. HeartGroups (as introduced by our Ministry Update news email last week) are not in competition with, nor meant to be a replacement for, whatever institutional religious experience someone may (or may not) already be engaged in. HeartGroups are only intended to be supplementary. HeartGroups are modeled after the early New Testament-era church gatherings. Yet, this should not be taken to mean that God cannot or is not working through other modes of gathering together as well. At Renewed Heart Ministries, we have modeled our HeartGroups after the early church, simply because 1) we have the clearest instruction for this type of gathering from the text of the New Testament, and 2) we have seen it to be the most holistic way for followers of Jesus to experience real and mutual growth, within the context of genuine fellowship and an authentic community.

But enough about all of that! Let’s dive right in to our topic this week by looking briefly at a few texts.

1 Corinthians 14.26: What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up. (Some have suggested that this was the problem with the Corinthian church, but a quick survey of the entire New Testament disproves this. This was how all churches in the New Testament operated. Paul, in his letter, does not seek to squelch the open, mutually participatory nature of the Corinthian gatherings that turned the majority of those gathered into spectators. On the contrary, Paul gives guidelines on how to exercise mutual respect, so that the mutual, openly participatory gatherings will be done orderly and respectfully.)

Romans 15.14: I myself am convinced, my brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with knowledge and competent to instruct one another.

Colossians 3.16: Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.

Hebrews 10.24, 25: And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Matthew 20:25, 26: Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.”

Matthew 23.8, 9: “But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven.” (This is not a gender exclusive statement. The early church included sisters too, some of whom were Apostles themselves; but at this stage, Jesus is talking, literally, to twelve “men.”)

Ephesians 4.15, 16: Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

Meditate on these passages, if you will. This week, I want you to notice that, in each of the above passages, the nature of the early New Testament church is clearly described. They were open, mutually participatory gatherings where each person was free to share. They were not marked by command-style leadership. There were no hierarchical structures; no passive spectatorship; no one-upmanship; and no religious rituals and programs. Rather, just as we witnessed among the Godhead last week, these groups were marked by complementary and reciprocal interchanges, love, and fellowship.

These early New Testament gatherings were marked by mutual love, mutual fellowship, mutual dependence, mutual honor, mutual submission, mutual dwelling, and authentic community.

This actually explains that the role of a New Testament Apostle is so unique from anything we have today. (Apostles were church planters, but in a very unique fashion; see Ephesians 4.12, 13). After the Gospel had been preached and there were those who had genuine encounters with God through the person of Jesus, the Apostle would stay in the area for a temporary time, with one goal in mind: Establish and develop a group with an open, mutually participatory nature, and once it’s off and running, leave it! These fellowships were not to be led by the Apostle. No, no! They were to function with mutual participation, with Christ as their head (Ephesians 2.14, 15).

With the help and encouraging of the Apostle, those within the group who had a natural tendency to take over would have to learn, over time, to listen more to others in the group and to submit more to the headship of Christ Himself in each gathering (Ephesians 4.15, 16). Those who were not comfortable sharing needed time, encouragement, and support from the group, as they became more comfortable, and over time, confident, in sharing and edifying the group with the ways in which Jesus was leading them as well. From a human view point, the work of the Apostle was about teaching those who like to share to also listen more, and for those who are not comfortable sharing to become more comfortable. From a Divine viewpoint, it was about teaching a group to, together, submit to the Headship of Jesus Himself; it was not just having a gathering about Jesus, but actually allowing Him to sit in the driver’s seat and serve as the leader of each gathering (Again, see Ephesians 4.15-16).

The early church was marked by the very traits that we find in the triune God, particularly mutual love, mutual fellowship, mutual dependence, mutual honor, mutual submission, mutual dwelling, and an authentic community. The church’s gatherings were marked by:

•face-to-face community

•the functioning of every member

•open-participation meetings (as opposed to preacher-to-spectator services)

•non-hierarchical leadership

•the centrality and supremacy of Jesus Christ, not just as the central subject, but the functional leader and head of each gathering as well.

It’s such a paradigm shift to discover that almost all of Paul’s letters (Ephesians is the only exception) were written to open participatory “churches” that were in crises. He never addresses the “clergy” or “leadership offices” of those churches but always the churches themselves:

Galatians 1.1: Paul, an apostle . . . to the churches in Galatia.

1 Thessalonians 1.1: Paul, Silas and Timothy, to the church of the Thessalonians.

2 Thessalonians 1.1: Paul, Silas and Timothy, to the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

1 Corinthians 1.1,2: Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes, to the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours.

2 Corinthians 1.1: Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, to the church of God in Corinth, together with all his holy people throughout Achaia.

Romans 1.1-7: Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God . . . to all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be his holy people.

Colossians 1.1, 2: Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, to God’s holy people in Colossae, the faithful brothers and sisters in Christ.

Ephesians 1.1: Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to God’s holy people in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 1.1: Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, to all God’s holy people in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons. (This is the only letter that includes “overseers” (plural) in whom the letter is addressed to, and even this occurrence mentions them only in passing. Following this greeting, Paul talks to the church about its present problems. And he never again mentions the overseers. This trend is highlighted in the book of Hebrews. Throuought the entire epistle, the writer addresses the entire church. Only at the very end does the writer offhandedly ask the believers to greet their “overseers.” Hebrews 13.24 We’ll talk about “leadership” in just a moment.)

Why? Because there were no “clergy” as we know it today in these small gatherings. Why? Because there were no laity in Paul’s headspace, but rather a priesthood (today, it would be called “pastorhood”) of all believers.

Today, we are at the tail end of centuries of teaching the members of God’s church to simply function as weekly “spectators.” This is so deeply ingrained and has been done to such a degree that many don’t even have the confidence to embrace a gathering where they could take a more active, participatory role in exercising their own spiritual gifts. Many don’t even know what their gifts are (Some, on the other hand, are dying for this kind of mutual fellowship). But the mere fact that we have to resort to “tests” to discover our spiritual gifts, rather than letting them become obvious to everyone in an open, mutually participatory gathering, is proof within itself of how far off the path we have strayed.

Let’s take a look at another revealing passage that tells us how these gatherings were conducted:

Acts 2.42-47: They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship; to the breaking of bread and to prayer…They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God…

In light of this passage, one possible “HeartGroup” format (and I want to stress, ONE! Each HeartGroup will be a mixture of folks with different spiritual gifts; no two HeartGroups will ever look the same, just like the early church), is as follows:

Meet ahead of time for prayer. Mutually open, participatory gatherings require more prayer, not less. Then, as more people begin to show up, take time to actually eat together. Each person should bring a dish. This breaks the ice and gets things started. It’s what Acts 2.42 refers to as the “Breaking of Bread” together. Then, once everyone has eaten, you could move into a mutual sharing or praise time. Although this will be done in a way that respects each person (no one interrupting another), this is a time of spontaneity and open sharing, whether through song, something Jesus has shown you in his word that week, an experience where Jesus has taught you something that week, or periods of mutually participatory prayer. A unique but fun example would be if someone wrote a song about Jesus this week and wanted to share it with the group. This could easily become a sing-along. Or, if someone had some cool insight into one of the Gospels, then the group could openly discuss it, or even some life experience that Jesus was speaking to them through. Most of all, we want God’s direction to be first and foremost and for ours to always be held as secondary. Each person is open to share or even stop and pray. This is when we practice the 52 “One Anothers” of the New Testament.

One exercise I am extremely fond of that binds a group together is what I call “Encouragement and Affirmation Time.” This is a time where each person is, in turn, affirmed and encouraged by the group. This is the unique time when we get to, in a very unique and purposeful way, express our love for one another, encourage one another, and build each other up (1 Thessalonians 5.11).

Again, many of us don’t even know what our gifts are. For many of us, it’s going to take time for us to even work up the courage to share. Let’s face it; we have spent our lives, most of us, in training to be nothing more than weekly spectators. But, as each week passes, we will get closer to the mutually participatory nature that the gatherings of Jesus’ followers were originally intended to possess. Be patient with yourselves. This will not happen overnight. It’s a journey, not a destination. Enjoy it!

Over time, leadership will evolve in your group. (This is not a leadersless model.) But even when leadership evolve, this leadership is NOT hierarchal. It’s not top-down. It’s not one person leading out and everyone else “spectating”. New Testament “leadership” was “servant” leadership. The role of a leader/overseer was to protect the group’s mutual open sharing from being taken over by one or a few. The role of an “elder” or “overseer” in a group was not how they are defined in many churches today. Rather, overseers were to serve the group by protecting the mutual, open sharing of each gathering. (This was the role of the New Testament Elders. This was not an office in the early church, but a function of the older more experienced (i.e. “elders”) followers of Jesus in the group. This is our hope for HeartGroups as well. When leadership arises, and it always will, that those leaders realize they are simply overseers, theirs is a “role”. They do not hold an “office” but serve a “function.”)

Let’s finish up this week with a look at just three more texts:

Romans 16.5: Greet also the church that meets at their house.

1 Corinthians 16.19: The churches in the province of Asia send you greetings. Aquila and Priscilla greet you warmly in the Lord, and so does the church that meets at their house.

Colossians 4.15: Give my greetings to the brothers and sisters at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house.

Without entering into the endless debate about the necessity of “church” buildings, the fact the early church met in the homes of followers of Jesus is a point that must not be overlooked (For the first three hundred years of Christian history, followers of Jesus met exclusively in “homes.” The first “church” buildings did not appear until the fourth century after the “conversion” of Constantine. This, too, was a time when the church was growing exponentially). Why is this noteworthy? A HeartGroup can meet anywhere, but I personally know of no other environment that is more conducive to open, mutually participatory gatherings than a living room. It’s informal. It’s designed around relationships. And, it’s where the early church met too! There is no other setting that encourages, in my experience, a gathering of this nature to simply just “happen” as effectively.

This week, I also want to add that this type of gathering not only requires that one’s picture of God looks like Jesus, but also, like no other gathering to my knowledge, the fostering of fellowships and gatherings that, by their very nature, demonstrate most effectively the radical, other-centered, self-sacrificial love of God, as revealed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Remember, we demonstrate the truth about God, not just by our beliefs, but how we “do life” too! When it comes to how we do life “together,” this is no exception.

If you would like to try a HeartGroup on for size, or if you are already gathering in early New Testament style, please drop us a line (heartgroups@renewedhearministries.com). We’d love to spend some time either encouraging you, helping you start a HeartGroup in your area, and/or just listening to how God is blessing your already existing group. Remember, just like the children of every parent, (See last week where we discussed how the early churches were simply the “children of the Godhead.”) each HeartGroup is going to be just as unique from one another as two children can be who are from the same set of parents. But no matter how unique those children are, they will carry within them the same DNA. What is the common thread, DNA for a HeartGroup, that we also find in each of the early churches? The “One Anothers” of the New Testament. The every-member-lovingly-sharing, mutually open participatory (verses passive spectatorship) nature of the Godhead itself! No two HeartGroups will look the same. But what all HeartGroups should have in common, is what we have covered in this eSight at the very minimum. These are not glorified Bible Studies (although each person is sharing from their Bibles) where the same person leads out each week. Nor are these just “church” on a smaller scale. (Think of it like a church “Potluck” where everyone brings a “dish.” This is just Christ centered, praise and fellowship, Potluck style, where everyone has prepared and brought something (Not a whole meal (i.e a Sermon), but just a dish remember, of what Jesus has been teaching you that previous week) to share and edify the group with. Again, this is a gathering where Christ Himself is the head, and any human leadership that is present is simply ensuring that that Headship is not taken over by anyone else.

“But speaking the truth [to one another] in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.” Ephesians 4.15-16

It’s a new paradigm for some to think about, for sure. But, you don’t have to think too hard. Try starting a HeartGroup in your area and see where Jesus leads it. You don’t have to be in charge; He’ll take care of that. You simply provide the location. The group itself, through the leadership of Jesus Himself, provides the food, the fellowship, and the mutual teaching, instruction, encouragement, and edification.

As always, keep living in love, loving like Christ, and keep enlarging the Kingdom, one relationship at a time.

I love you guys,

I’ll see you next week.

HeartGroups Series; Part 1 of 5

I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours . . . I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one . . . As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world . . . My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me . . . Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them. — Jesus (John 17.9-26)

The Gospel, the Church, and the Nature of the Godhead.

This week, we are beginning a series on what I consider, when properly conceived and practiced, to be the most powerful proclamation to the world of God’s character of Love as revealed through the person of Jesus Christ that we have been given. But, just as our understanding of “God” is turned on its head when we encounter the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, so does our understanding of this. What am I referring to?

I’m talking about the Church. BUT I want to be quick to add that just as so many have misconceptions of the character of God, we have just as many misconceptions of the character of the Church. For now, let it suffice to say, that when I use the term “Church,” I am most likely referring to something completely different than what many think of when they hear the word church.

Let’s begin here:

The Church was conceived within the Godhead and given birth on the day of Pentecost.

I want you to take a moment and meditate on that sentence.

When I use the term “church,” I am not speaking of a particular denomination, nor an institution, nor an organization. The church is not an organization; it’s an organism. It is referred to in the New Testament as the body of Christ, with Christ as its Head. (We’ll speak more about this in a moment.)

I also strongly recommend, as a foundation for what we will be covering in this series, the material in chapter 3 “Eternal Longings” in my book Finding the Father.

You also may wish to listen to Discovering Your Purpose (or Finding Your Purpose, depending on which version of the series you are listening to) from the newly updated Life Unlimited series that we have online. You could also listen to the presentation “Repenting of Religion” from The Jesus Dialogue series that is online as well.

Although the Church is never explicitely defined in the New Testament, many images are used to try and depict Jesus’ vision for the church, including:

A Body

A Bride

A Family

The New Man

A Vineyard

A Field

An Army

A City

All of these reveal, again, that the Church was never intended to be a dry, hierarchical, corporate organization, but rather a living, breathing, organism!

Some have objected to this idea by saying that not all images of the church in the New Testimant are organic (with this term, I am simply referring to the church as a living organism). There is one image that is not a living breathing organism, and that image is the church as the Temple. But I would like to quickly point out that even that image (and that image is the only possible exception), even that image is not really an exception at all. Please note how the image of the Church as a Temple was understood:

Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 2:4, 5

Yes, the image of a temple is used. But it, too, is a living temple, made up of living stones.

Why is this idea so important?

All life forms carry a certain resemblance to their “parents” with them. (Science refers to this as DNA, but for the sake of simplicity and a sincere desire to show that this is truly rooted in the teachings of Jesus Himself, we will not be using this modern term.) When it comes to the living, breathing organism of the church, there is no exception to this principle of “resemblance” to “parentage.”

Notice the following statements made by Jesus.

Matthew 10.25—It is enough for students to be like their teacher, and servants like their master.

Luke 6.40—Students are not above their teacher, but all who are fully trained will be like their teacher.

John 15.18-20—If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘Servants are not greater than their master.’

These statements of Jesus find no greater application than Jesus’s words in John 17 above. Again, the church was conceived within the Godhead itself. And we are to resemble it. Follow closely.

A person’s heritage largely determines his or her “traits.” A person’s parentage does not necessarily determine who that person will be, but it does determine what obstacles or advantages he or she inherits on the journey to becoming whoever he or she chooses to be. When this idea is applied to the “church,” the whole concept of the “church” is revolutionized. This week, I want to begin this series by actually taking a look at the nature of the Godhead itself and seeing what it whispers to us of what the nature of the Church itself was originally intended to be.

The followers of Jesus uniquely proclaim a triune God.

Matthew 28.18, 19— Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit . . .”

Paul also ended his second letter to the Corinthian church with these words:

2Corinthians 13.14— May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

God’s triune nature means that God is social or relational—some have said that God is the “social Trinity.” For this reason, we can say that God is “community.” God is the community of the Father, Son, and Spirit, who enjoy perfect and eternal fellowship.

For years, I have given teachings on the doctrine of the Godhead. But I never found any practical application of these teachings to my life. I found even my own studies on the Godhead highly abstract and impractical. Later, I discovered that understanding the activity within the triune God was the key to grasping everything, from start to finish, in terms of what it means to follow Jesus and to be a part of His Kingdom—including the church.

Let me share with you, in addition to the chapter I referrenced in my own book, the following statements that others have made:

“The Trinity is the most comprehensive and integrative framework that we have for understanding and participating in the Christian life.”—Eugene Peterson

“The doctrine of the Trinity is ultimately a practical doctrine with radical consequences for the Christian life.”—Catherine LaCunga

“The triune God stands at the beginning and at the end of the Christian pilgrimage and, therefore, at the center of Christian faith.”—Miroslav Volf

Jesus’ teaching of the Godhead is not an exposition of the abstract design of God. Instead, it teaches us about God’s nature and how we too are to operates in a community that is endeavoring to follow Jesus. The Godhead should not be relegated to the position of some abstract doctrine that we simply attach to a dry statement of beliefs or as an endnote to the gospel. Rather, it should shape our communal lives as we seek to follow Jesus together. We are to do life “together” in the same way that They do life together. Jesus’ teaching on the Godhead is most likely the single greatest model that we have to inform us of His idea regarding the practices of His “church” that we have been given.

Let us begin by pondering these two statements made by Jesus alone:

“Father … you loved me before the creation of the world” (John 17:24).

“The world must learn that I love the Father” (John 14:31)

From these alone, we learn that a mutual love was flowing within the Godhead, even before the foundation of the world.

In the opening chapters of the Genesis narrative, we discover that there is also fellowship within the Godhead:

“Let us make man in our image, in our likeness” (Gen. 1:26. Here we see the triune God taking counsel and planning.)

Of all of the Gospel proclaimers, John teaches us the most about the nature of the community of the Godhead.

The Son lives by the life of the Father (5:26; 6:57).

The Son shares and expresses the glory of the Father (13:31–32; 17:4–5).

The Son lives within the Father and the Father lives within the Son (1:18; 14:10).

The Son lives in complete dependence upon the Father (5:19).

The Son reflects the Father in His words and deeds (12:49; 14:9).

The Father glorifies the Son (1:14; 8:50, 54; 12:23; 16:14; 17:1, 5, 22, 24).

The Son exalts the Father (7:18; 14:13; 17:1, 4; 20:17)

Within the Godhead we discover mutual love, mutual fellowship, mutual dependence, mutual honor, mutual submission, mutual dwelling, and authentic community. In the Godhead, there exists an eternal, complementary, and reciprocal interchange of divine life, divine love, and divine fellowship. Amazingly, through Jesus, this same relationship has been restored, passed on from the Divine into the human once again. This communal mutuality has moved from the Father to the Son, from the Son to THE CHURCH! (John 6:57; 15:9; 20:21). It has moved from the eternal Godhead in the heavens to THE CHURCH here on earth. For the Church is simply the body of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. The church is to be an extension of the triune God themselves. The Church was conceived in Christ before time (Eph. 1:4–5) and was born on the day of the Pentecost (Acts 2:1.). Properly understood, the Church is a gathered community that shares God’s life and expresses it on the earth. Put another way, the church is the earthly image of the Godhead, the character of God, put on display for all others to see. (Eph. 1:22–23; 3:10). It is to be the natural expression of what God is, not just in its beliefs, but in its practices as well.

What does all of this mean?

It means that when a group of Jesus’s followers actually submits to its spiritual “parentage,” its spiritual “genes,” so to speak, the members of the group will gather in a way that matches the mutual life of the Godhead itself—for they possess the same life that exists among and is possessed by the Godhead. (While we as followers of Jesus, collectively, are by no means divine, we have been called to be “partakers of the divine nature”—2 Peter 1:4 NASB.)

Consequently, the church is to be marked by the very traits that we find in the Godhead, particularly mutual love, mutual fellowship, mutual dependence, mutual honor, mutual submission, mutual dwelling, and authentic community.

“The ultimate basis for our understanding of the church lies in its relationship to the nature of the triune God Himself.” —Stanley Grenz

“[The] model on which ecclesiology should be formulated. On this premise, the inner life of the divine Trinity provides a pattern, a model, an echo, or an icon of Christian communal existence in the world.” —Kevin Giles

“The Godhead is the paradigm for the church’s native expression.” —Frank Viola

“The oneness of God is not the oneness of a distinct, self-contained individual; it is the unity of a community of persons who love each other and live together in harmony.… They are what they are only in relationship with one another…. There is no solitary person separated from the others; no above and below; no first, second, third in importance; no ruling and controlling and being ruled and controlled; no position of privilege to be maintained over against others; no question of conflict concerning who is in charge; no need to assert independence and authority of one at the expense of the others. Now there is only fellowship and communion of equals who share all that they are and have in their communion with each other, each living with and for the others in mutual openness, self-giving love, and support; each free not from but for the others. That is how Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are related in the inner circle of the Godhead.” —Shirley Guthrie

Look again at the triune God. And notice what is absent. There is an absence of command-style leadership. There is an absence of hierarchical structures. There is an absence of passive spectatorship. There is an absence of one-upmanship. And there is an absence of religious rituals and programs. Command-style relationships, hierarchy, passive spectatorship, one-upmanship, religious programs, and the like were created by fallen humans. And they run contrary to the LIFE of the triune God as well as LIFE of the Church. Sadly, however, after the death of the apostles, these practices were adopted, baptized, and brought into the Christian family. Today, they have become the central features of an “institutional” church.

Pay close attention to the “mutual” nature of the Church in the New Testament. (We’ll be unpacking more about this in upcoming parts.)

1Corinthians 14.26— What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up.

Romans 15.14— I myself am convinced, my brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with knowledge and competent to instruct one another.

Colossians 3.16— Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.

Ephesians 4.16— From Him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

Hebrews 10.24,25— And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Matthew 20.25-26— Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.”

Matthew 23.8-9— But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven.

The open, mutually participatory nature of the New Testament Church, again, was conceived in the Godhead itself and given birth on the day of Pentecost. In the early church there were no Clergy. There were no Laity. There WERE gifts. And each of those gifts were exercised by each person present. What we see in the early church is a priesthood (or pastorhood) of all believers, mutually living the 52 one anothers of the New Testament together in community, just like the Godhead. (We’ll be exploring this more in the upcoming weeks, but for now, go back and reread the beginning passage from John 17 again with these glasses on.)

Does this resonate with you? It does with me, too! This week, we will be sending out a news email (make sure that you are signed up not just for our eSights, but for our Ministry Updates as well) announcing an exciting new opportunity for Renewed Heart Ministries that we are thrilled to offer all of you. Keep your eyes open. We will be announcing this new opportunity in just a few days.

Wherever this finds you this week, keep living in love, loving like Christ. And keep enlarging the Kingdom.

I love you guys,

Herb

 

The Active Nonviolence of Jesus: Taking Up The Cross (12 of 12)

PART 12 OF 12

Taking Up The Cross

BY HERB MONTGOMERY

Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for you to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit your very self? If any of you are ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of you when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God” (i.e. the Cross). (Luke 9.23-27)

This is it! This is the last installment of our 11 part series on the Active Non-violence of Jesus. I’m quite sure there is so much more that could be said, but I’m quite confident that for now, at bare minimum, enough has been said. Over the course of this series, I have watched many come on board to partner with RHM in the Picture of the Father we are endeavoring to proclaim and demonstrate to the world. (Sadly, I’ve seen a few walk away too.) We’ve had such positive feedback from so many of you.

This week, let’s begin by taking a moment to define some terms, as we wrap things up. So many of you have shared the wonderful paradigm shift you have encountered by seeing your “enemies” as someone Christ died for too. Some of you have embraced Jesus’ teachings on “non-violence” through this series for the very first time. Non-violence, at ground level, means non-LETHAL force. Please don’t think for a moment that, through this series, we have defined non-violence as also including other forms of “force” that preserve the value, worth, and life of the assailant. This is why I have gone to great lengths to define Christian pacifism as still doing SOMETHING (it’s NOT passive!). But we must also allow the fact that Jesus died for all parties involved to govern HOW I stop whatever violence I encounter. Do I respond to violence with more violence, or do I, as a Christ follower, endeavor to overcome evil with good (See Romans 12). My goal, again as a Christ follower, is twofold—not just to stop the violence, but to do so in a way that leaves open the redemption of the one who is committing the violence as well.

Now, that doesn’t absolutely leave us in the clear yet. What types of non-lethal force are appropriate for a Jesus follower? As you read authors on this topic, you will find a whole gamut of opinions out there on what sincere Christian pacifists believe is acceptable. I’m going to be very transparent with you—I’m not saying that I’m right, I’m simply saying that I’m in the process of finding out what forms of non-lethal violence are acceptable and what are not. I’m convinced that the answers are still out there. These are the very questions that we need to be asking as followers of Jesus.

What forms of “non-lethal” force are acceptable to a Christ follower and what forms are not? To say we believe in non-violence is only saying that we don’t believe LETHAL force is acceptable for a Christ follower. But what forms of NON-LETHAL force are acceptable? And this is where we can agree, disagree, discuss, argue, and go back and forth. (While I personally have no problem with a Taser, in certain situations, I do have significant issues with a gun. More times than not, guns lead to lethal force, even when not intended.) I have no problem with restraint or Aikido, but (and this is just me personally) I do have a problem with physically striking someone, and I would be quick to say that you and I are perfectly fine to disagree on what forms of non-lethal force we deem to be appropriate.

Yet, even if we disagree on some of the finer details, please be careful to note where our disagreement actually lies. It’s on what TYPES of NON-LETHAL force is acceptable for a Christ Follower! I’m ecstatic that we have even gotten to the place where THIS is the question that we are wrestling with! This is exactly why I did this series. Until we, as Christ followers, reject LETHAL force, we don’t even move to ask the questions of which forms of non-lethal force are acceptable or not. If “Christians” would truly embrace just this (stop killing each other), there would have to be deep repentance to the world for YEARS of “killing others” in Jesus’ name. Untold damage has been done to the world’s picture of God (producing atheism, agnosticism, etc.) much more through Christianity’s ethics than through its theology (although I do believe one produces the other and vice versa). But, this is the point of the series.

Christ’s teachings in Matthew 5 (see part 3 and part 10) clearly illustrated nonviolent ways of “forcing” the assailant in each example to come to terms with what they were doing. Therefore, Christian pacifism is NOT about never “forcing” a situation. No, no! It is about doing so in a way that leaves open the chance to redeem the assailant too! Therefore, Christian pacifism IS most definitely about non-LETHAL force. So, if your opinion about “killing” has changed through this series—and so many of you have freely admitted that it has—I’m stoked! Whether you actually like the term or not, each of you have, like me, become a Christian pacifist (which can be different from other forms of pacifism). You have become a Christian pacifist who, like other Christian pacifists (including me), is now in the process of answering the questions revolving around “what forms of non-lethal force is acceptable and what forms are not?” (The fact that we are even wrestling with this question, rather than whether it is ok to kill or not, IS THE POINT!) So let’s wrestle on!

It doesn’t matter whether we all agree on what forms of NON-LETHAL force are acceptable or not. Those who reject LETHAL FORCE (i.e. pacifists) have NEVER agreed on the fine details of how to apply NON-LETHAL force (and I have no desire to split hairs on that one now). My burden is simply to get those who claim to follow Jesus to stop killing others in Jesus’ name, including other Christians and, hopefully, even their enemies. Then maybe, just maybe, we can rediscover what it actually means to LOVE our enemies. I know that goes far beyond not killing (I cannot kill someone and still hate their guts), but I don’t see how we can love our enemies while still feeling that it’s ok to end their life. We have to start somewhere. I believe that just getting followers of Jesus to say that “killing someone is never acceptable” to a Christ follower (and that we would rather suffer death than inflict it) is where the early church was and where we must return.

Again, if you, through this series, have come to embrace the reality that, for a Jesus follower, killing our enemies is opposed to what Jesus’ kingdom is all about, then whether we like the term or not, you have embraced Jesus’ teachings on pacifism. Now, we can move forward to wrestling with determining which forms of non-lethal force are acceptable and which forms are not. You know, we may never agree on that one (we’d be the first in history to, if we did). I will be perfectly open and honest that I, too, am in the process on this, just as many of you are, and I’m ok with that.

If you would like to purse this topic further, then let me share with you some great material that I believe you will find helpful:

The Politics of Jesus—John Howard Yoder (Not an easy read.)

A Faith Not Worth Fighting For—Various Authors (A much easier read.)

The Myth of a Christian Nation—Gregory Boyd (Excellent!)

Non-Violent Atonement by Denny Weaver (Profoundly challenging.)

There are others, but these are a great place to start.

Let me also address just a few other comments that have come in regarding this series. Some have responded with, “Usually the love of God has been your thing; why are you now talking about non-violence?” I want you each to know that I hear you loud and clear. Please let me explain what is taking place. It’s not that I “usually” focus on the love of God and now I’m talking about something else. I have been over this ground before. What you may be used to from me is a focus on Jesus’ revelation of God’s character of love and how that revolutionizes our “theology.” In this series, I have simply sought to focus on Jesus’ revelation of God’s character of love and how that revolutionizes our “ethics.” The picture of God that Jesus gives us radically affects BOTH.

I remember the strong objections by some that I received years ago when I began truly allowing what Jesus reveals about the Father (on the Cross) to be embraced and fleshed out “theologically” among us. I remember many people saying, “We are so used to you presenting God’s love; why are you trying to apply that to our other beliefs?” (They were quite upset.) Some of you today have experienced profound blessings through our efforts to stick with it and truly flesh out what the Cross is saying about other theological beliefs.

What I want you understand, and hopefully see, is that we are traversing that same, exact ground in this series too, but not with how Jesus’ revelation of God turns our “theology” on its head. What we are dealing with in this series is how the truth about God’s love, as revealed in the person of Jesus, also turns our “ethics” on their head too. And really, theology is important, but our actions speak way louder about the God we believe in than our words and ideas ever will. When Jesus spoke the loudest about God’s character, it was not in a Bible study or a sermon. It was when He was actually hanging on a cross, being put to death by His enemies. This is how Jesus won back humanity’s dominion from the devil and gave us back dominion of this Earth. God’s plan for humanity has never been translation, but redemption, restoration, and transformation.

I want you to each know that, on a deeply relational level, I’m truly sorry that some (and, I emphasize, only some) feel the subject of the truth of God’s character and the ethics of non-violence are unrelated, or at minimum, separate topics. This is fruit, or evidence, if you will, once again of the changes that took place in the fourth century. Just as a person’s picture of God and their theology cannot be separated, as they are intimately related to each other, so too are a person’s picture of God and their ethics. The subjects of God’s love and non-violence are more interconnected and intimately related than, I’m afraid, many have yet to realize. The Cross was God’s nonviolent act of defeating His enemy in the great cosmic conflict (see the podcast series entitled Christus Victor and the new book coming out next fall entitled Whom Do You See?). God’s love, when one truly encounters it, doesn’t just revolutionize our beliefs (our theology); it also revolutionizes how we live (our ethics).

I know it’s way more comfortable to just sit around and debate theology, but at some point, the world has to SEE that we have a different picture of God, not because of how we preach, but because of how we live. The early church did not grow through multiple evangelistic series, but through simply loving their enemies. Again, we are all in process. None of us have all the answers. But, if I have simply challenged someone to think about and begin living in a way that reflects the Jesus we claim to be following, I feel it’s all worth it. At some point in Christian history, those who bear the name of Christ have to not only “believe” like their Jesus, but actually live as he did too (1 John 2.6).

Let’s wrap things up with a look at a few of Jesus’ statements, which I believe really demonstrate that Christian pacifism is more central to communicating the truth about God’s character than many have yet realized.

Matthew 10.38:

Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me.

Matthew 16.24:

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.

Matthew 27.42:

“He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him.

(Again, Jesus was not passive. He continually went around “saving others,” but not by violence; He always interposed His own safety and well-being. See John 8. It’s pacifism, NOT passive-ism.)

Mark 8.34:

Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.

Luke 9.23-27

Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for you to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit your very self? If any of you are ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of you when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God” (i.e. the Cross).

Luke 14.27

And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

Luke 14.33

In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.

John 15.20:

Remember the word that I said to you, “Servants are not greater than their master.” If they persecuted me, they will persecute you.

What does it mean for you to want to be like Jesus?

What does it mean for you to, in your own everyday life, take up the cross as not just your message, but also your way of life, as your method of relating to others?

What does it look like for you to choose to be mentored (be a disciple) by the one you want to be like?

Isim: A distinctive practice, system of belief, philosophy, or ideology.

Ismatic: Someone who thinks according to, and lives by, a certain “-ism.”

Cruc: Cross.

Crucsim: The only “-ism” worth dying for (Christianity and the world has been victim of too many other “-isms”).

Crucismatic: Someone who lives by the practice, system of belief, philosophy and ideology of the cross.

A Crucismatic movement: A group of 2 to 12 people placed all over the world who seeks to influence society, not through wielding a sword, but through the practice, the system of belief, the philosophy, and the ideology of a cross instead.

What both the world and the church need today is a decidedly Crucismatic movement. May it start with me! May it start with you! Who’s with me?

I have a HUGE announcement to make soon in October! This is going to be BIG. We, at RHM, have been praying and working out all the details. Please pray that God will give us wisdom as we endeavor to know how to move forward into what it really means to follow Jesus and proclaim and demonstrate God’s radical, other-centered, self-sacrificial love.

Keep living in love; keep enlarging the Kingdom. Vive la Révolution! Lift high the Cross!

I love you guys.

 

The Active Nonviolence of Jesus: Domestic Violence (11 of 12)

PART 11 OF 12

Domestic Violence

BY HERB MONTGOMERY

But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. (Matthew 5.39)

This week, we discuss a topic related to Jesus’ peace teachings for which we have received many requests to address. The topic is domestic violence.

I have witnessed significant abuse to both women and children because of a complete misunderstanding of Jesus’ meaning in the passage above. Now, I want to say from the very beginning of this week that I have not been trained in counseling. I do not have a PhD in psychology or psychiatry. Therefore, I will not approach this topic academically. I believe that my qualifications for speaking on this topic go much deeper than mere academic training. (Moreover, those very qualifications may have caused me to drag my feet on this topic. For me, the topic is very personal.)

As many of you know, I grew up in a broken home. I share a little of my story in the first chapter of my book, Finding the Father. However, the part that I have yet to share publicly is the story of the next man that my mother married after my father. He is not the man to whom she is married now. Her current husband is the most humble, self-sacrificing, gentle man I have ever met. However, her marriage after her divorce from my father was a quite a different story.

I have memories—some of which are fuzzy and I have purposely pushed them away—of a time when my mother and I went to live with my grandmother across town because of a beating that my mother received from my stepfather. My grandmother was a quiet, other-centered follower of Jesus. She was a praying woman whom I pictured as never able to hurt anyone. I was quite shocked on the night that this story took place. I remember my stepfather attempting to break down my grandmother’s back door to storm in and get to my mother. I remember being very scared. I was hiding just around the corner, able to see only a little—but I saw enough. I too often experienced my stepfather’s temper, and I knew that if he got through that door, something terrifying would happen. Then, I remember my little grandmother appearing out of her bedroom and striding toward the door. She unlatched the chain and then the dead bolt. She swung open the door and put a bullet in the wall next to the door. (I didn’t even know my grandmother owned a gun!) I heard her say in a tone of voice I had never heard from her, “You touch my daughter tonight and the next bullet will be in you. You just think long and hard about what you do next. Jesus loves you, son, but you’re real close to meeting him personally.”

I remember that my stepfather backed up and left. I never looked at my grandmother the same after that day.

I remember being eight years old and seeing my stepfather’s temper again. My mother’s back was turned to him. She could not see what was coming but I did. I remember jumping over the kitchen counter to intercept his blow in mid-air. The blow intended for her fell on me. He then turned his rage on me and left bruises on my back that took more than a month to heal.

I remember spending a year on the road, living out of the trunk of our car and in and out of one women’s shelter after another. I was often afraid. I also went to six different public schools that year. Sometimes we stayed in women’s shelters, some nights we slept at the home of friends, and other nights we just slept in the car. When my stepfather found us—and he always did—we moved on.

Finally, my mother left when I was twelve. I remember my stepfather leaving for work and then, ten minutes after he was gone, the movers showed up. Previously, my mother was left with nothing, and she was not going to find herself in that situation again. The movers packed up all of her belongings and we left. We moved back to West Virginia to live with my grandmother, but this time things were different. My mother was finally done with him and she never returned to him.

I have personally seen well-intending pastors and friends use the previously described passage to justify women staying in dangerous domestic situations. I have seen this passage used in ways that make the woman living with a violent husband feel like a doormat. I have seen this verse abused in ways that only enables violent husbands to inflict years of emotional and physical damage on the women and children in their lives. I want to say, first and foremost, right now, if you are in danger and are being victimized at home, get out! Take yourself and your children to safety.

What does the passage really mean? I want to be clear. Nowhere in Jesus’ words in Matthew 5 does He belittle the worth of a person who is being abused at home, and His words never encourage her to just “take it.” In fact, Jesus is teaching quite the opposite. Jesus’ words in Matthew 5, when understood correctly and applied to domestic violence situations, are about responding to violence—even domestic violence—in ways that do not belittle the value of either party involved; instead, the parties should respond in ways that respect and restore the value of both individuals. Typically, we see within domestic violence situations only one party who needs to be rescued, and although Jesus’ teachings do not deny that, Matthew 5 calls on us to see not just one party in need of being rescued, but two.

Again, let me share with you what I shared in part 3 of this series, but with special application to domestic violence:

We must be clear. In Matthew chapter 5, Jesus is showing that the goals of His Kingdom cannot be accomplished by violence. Rejection of violence, however, ought not be interpreted as passivity. Far from counseling a woman who is being abused by her husband to simply become passive, Jesus’ statements about turning the other cheek, giving the cloak, and going the second mile actually teach an assertive and confrontational nonviolence that provides her abuser with an opportunity for transformation. With suggestions such as these, the oppressed woman has the potential to seize the initiative, and if taken literally, sometimes even shame her offender (not in the heat of the moment though mind you), and strip her abuser of the power to dehumanize her. Let me show you how.

Jesus said, “But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also.” The only natural way for a blow to land on the right cheek is with the back of the hand. Such a blow would be a show of insult by a superior to an inferior. Jesus was using this example in a culture that did not accept one to strike an equal in such a humiliating way. Doing so carried an exorbitant fine. Picture the scene in your head. In that culture, because the left hand was only used for unclean tasks (have you been to a developing country?), hitting a person’s right cheek with the left hand did not occur. One never touched another with the left hand. However, with respect to striking another using the right hand, several options existed. Using a closed right fist indicated that the person being struck was viewed as an equal and the blow landed on his or her left cheek. Again, the blow was from a closed right fist onto the left cheek, acknowledging that the striker viewed the person being struck as an equal. Thus, a supposed superior—master over slave, husband over wife, parent over a child, Roman over Jew, man over woman—specifically did not want to strike an inferior with a fist. To be struck on the right cheek, to which Jesus referred, required the striker to strike not with a closed fist but with an open, backhanded slap. The backhanded blow to the right cheek was done specifically to humiliate, and a blow in retaliation invited retribution. However, notice that Jesus did not say to just roll over and take it. Jesus told us to respond by turning and, in rebellion, offering your oppressor the proper cheek, or the left cheek, as proof of the supposed inferior’s refusal to be humiliated. With the left cheek bared, the striker was left with two options: a left-handed blow and thus be regarded as unclean, or a blow with the right fist to imply that the person being struck was an equal. Because neither option was acceptable to the supposed superior, he lost the power to dehumanize the other. Therefore, Jesus not only taught the theory of non-violence, but He also gave us real examples of how to apply the theory in a way that does not dehumanize the victim. Notice that the response is still a nonviolent one and restores the dignity of the one being struck. This simple example does not even begin to look at how He then modeled this theory throughout His entire life and, ultimately, His death.

Let’s look at Jesus’ next example. A court of law constituted the setting for Jesus’ injunction regarding giving the cloak or undergarment along with the outer coat. The law allowed a creditor to take the coat (or outer garment) from a poor person who had no means to pay a debt as a promise of future payment (Exod. 22:25-27; Deut. 24:10-13, 17). Only the poorest person had just an article of clothing to surrender as security. Because the coat was likely the debtor’s sole remaining article of clothing, the wealthy creditor had to return it each evening for the owner to sleep in. Further, in that society, the shame of nakedness fell more on those viewing it and causing it than on the naked person. (Remember Noah’s son, Ham?) Recall that most people had only two articles of clothing and they did not wear underwear in those days. Thus, stripping off the undergarment in the public setting of the court, along with the required outer garment, effectively turned the tables on the wealthy creditor. Such action put the poor person in charge of the moment and exposed the exploitative system, shaming the wealthy and powerful person who took the last object of value from a very poor person. Yes, Jesus is actually endorsing public nudity! Such an act was a radical but non-violent protest! Whether we like it or not, Jesus recommended streaking with a cause as a viable option rather than returning violence with more violence.

Let’s look at Jesus’ third example. Going the second mile had great power to embarrass the soldier who compelled the first mile. Roman law allowed soldiers to command at will the forced labor of carrying burdens for one mile, but limited to one mile. The limitation provided some protection for the occupied people. However, if one followed Jesus’ words and cheerfully carried a burden beyond the required first mile, the soldier was put in the awkward position of not complying with the limit posed by his superior. As a result, the soldier ended up in the embarrassing position of begging the civilian to put down the burden lest the soldier be disciplined. Imagine a follower of Jesus saying, “No, no, I’ll cover for you. If you get in trouble, I’ll vouch for you that I volunteered!” Then, imagine the discussion that took place between the soldier (remember that the soldier was a Roman soldier deeply despised by the Jewish people; get your head around what Jesus is actually teaching here) and the follower of Jesus for that entire second mile.

In these cases, Jesus’ instructions are NOT commands of passive nonresistance. The phrase “resist not an evildoer” may be problematic if Jesus did not then demonstrate in these stories exactly what He meant. The actual Greek word for “resist” is anthistemi, which indicates resistance by returning violence for violence, overcoming evil with evil instead of overcoming evil with good. Anthistemi indicates violent resistance. However, Jesus was teaching that, in rejecting violent responses, we should not resist evil in any way! He was not telling His followers to simply do nothing! Absolutely NOT! Jesus was teaching nonviolent methods that enabled the oppressed to take the initiative, to affirm their humanity, and to expose and neutralize exploitative circumstances. Jesus demonstrated non-violent methods for people at the bottom of society or under the thumb of imperial power—and, I would add, even precious people abused by their spouses—to learn to recover their humanity while simultaneously reaching out to redeem and even restore those who, although “oppressors,” are also victims of the systemic evil and violence of our culture.

Let me be clear. If your spouse is abusing you, get yourself and your children to safety. I cannot say this strongly enough. You MUST get others involved! You cannot do this alone. Let me also add that you should not respond to your abuser with violence. Violence will only escalate. A violent response to your abuser will only fuel his or her anger and make matters worse. However, remember that Jesus did not teach that you should just “take it.” Although you should not respond with more violence, their abuse of you demands a response. Love demands that you respond and dictates the manner of your response. Jesus demonstrated in principle the ways to force the abuser to recognize your worth and value. His illustrations cause the abuser to face the ways they dehumanize you, even through means that may cause them shame and embarrassment. However, please remember that Jesus died for you. You must submit to the value that Jesus places on you, regardless of your spouse’s treatment of you. I know that you love him, and I know that this part is very difficult, but Jesus also died for them. If your motive is to help your spouse, you must set in motion realities that will enable them to see their own victimhood in their temper, their own addiction to violence, and their own enslavement through their acts of belittling and dehumanizing women and children through their treatment.

Again, you cannot do this by yourself. You need help from others. At the very minimum, get a counselor involved. Stop protecting and enabling your abuser and begin today to move in a direction that will make him accountable and, hopefully, even rescued and redeemed from his own behavior. (At the same time, you must be careful not to take on guilt if he fails to respond. You are not to blame.) Remember, two people need to be rescued. (If children are involved, then even more people need rescuing. Please see the note at the end of this eSight.*) As a victim of domestic violence, I can say from first-hand experience that the one who is the conduit of the abuse needs to be rescued just as much as the ones who are being abused. However, you must respond in a way that truly rescues and does not allow further abuse. You are right to remember that your spouse is not the enemy; instead, the enemy is simply using him to hurt you (Ephesians 6.12). If you truly love the spouse who is hurting you, you must respond in a way that makes him accountable. I have witnessed too many women who continued to put themselves and their children in harm’s way because they “cared” about protecting their husbands. If Jesus’ words in Matthew 5 mean anything in the context of domestic violence, he is calling you to: 1) protect yourself and your children, and get to safety; 2) do not respond with violence, but do not allow yourself to be dehumanized, and 3) set in motion realities that will cause your spouse to wake up, become accountable, and embrace change, even if doing so shames and embarrasses him. If doing so requires beginning with separation from your spouse, then so be it. Your spouse must come to terms with the reality that he is destroying his family. When you stick around, it only hides the situation and allows your spouse to pretend that things are what they are not.

I have seen abusive spouses change with Jesus’ help as a result of the steps they take. I have also seen spouses who were unwilling to change. (Again, see the note at the end of this eSight.) Regardless of the outcome, Jesus never taught that women and children should passively allow themselves to be dehumanized by domestic violence and abuse. I know that doing so takes courage. I know that change is scary. Do not do this alone. Involve others you trust. You are of infinite worth to Jesus. He gave everything for you. I know that you love your spouse, but you are also Jesus’ most prized and precious daughter. Wherever these words find you today, embrace how much you are truly worth. Get help without denying the worth of the one who is hurting you and with God’s strength given to you through Jesus Christ. Break the cycle, for you, for him, and for your children.

Wishing each of you who are reading this the restorative and nonviolent peace and love of the Kingdom.

I love you guys,

I’ll see you next week.

Herb

*Without negating the sanctity of marriage, for children to live in a peaceful home with one loving parent is better than living in an abusive home with two parents. An abusive parent is a horrible burden for a child to bear. Moreover, for the parent being abused to give tacit permission for such abuse to continue by not doing whatever is possible to prevent it—even at the cost of separation—sends a message to the child that abuse must be normal and, very likely, that child will grow up to abuse your grandchildren or allow himself or herself to be abused. I know that change takes courage. I know that you love the spouse hurting you, but you must also teach your children that abuse is clearly not acceptable, even—and especially—at the hands of a parent. You can stand for the sanctity of your marriage and your vows without allowing physical or verbal abuse to hurt yourself or your children. You can communicate to your spouse that you love him and want your family together, but because the abuse is damaging the family, you and your children need to live separately from him. You must set and keep boundaries. If your spouse insists on defending rather than turning from his abusive behavior, then he is the one who is breaking up the marriage, not you. Don’t take on that guilt. God also has experience with domestic violence. Sometimes when we set healthy boundaries and then reach out to an abusive spouse, even with the best intentions of reconciliation, we get the same response that God did when He reached out to Pharaoh. Sometimes, the act of calling attention to the situation causes the abusive spouse’s heart to harden. However, again, whether his response is to dig in his heels and become more entrenched or to embrace, restore, redeem, and reconcile, you are not called to be “passive.” Christian Pacifism is about pacifying, not being passive! To pacify means to bring peace, restoration, and redemption. When domestic violence exists, peace is not present.