A New Social Order

warisover

by Herb Montgomery

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” (Mark 1:14–15)

This week we are still, momentarily, in the
first chapter of Mark. I want to focus on a few details that are often overlooked in our featured text.

Jesus Came to Galilee

If the scholarly data concerning the timing of when Mark’s gospel was written is true, this is a time when the future of Jerusalem was not promising. Political tensions with Rome had been high and were continuing to escalate. It is during this time that Mark draws our attention away from a Jerusalem-centered movement of violent insurrection against the Romans, to a Galilean- centered movement following the teachings of the itinerant Jesus. Mark’s gospel also redefines the “kingdom” of Daniel’s “son of man.”[1] In Mark’s gospel, Jesus is the long-awaited “messiah.” Jesus is the “son of David” who would restore the “Kingdom.” Jesus is still the “son of God,” the anointed one to whom God is “pleased” to give the Kingdom.[2] But a few things have changed. In the Old Testament, this restoration located “Jerusalem” as the center to which the entire world would flock.[3] In Mark’s gospel, the Kingdom of the son of man would follow, instead, the destruction of Jerusalem, and rise out of Galilee rather than Judea.[4] We do not have the space here to elaborate any further on this point, but it is a study well worth your time to contemplate the differences between Judea and Galilee in the first century ethnically, geographically, politically, economically, culturally, linguistically, and religiously, contemplating what these differences might have meant for the beginnings of the early Jesus movement.

Proclaiming the Good News

This next point is so well known and agreed upon by so many that I will not spend much time on this, but it is worth noting. The term for Good News or “Gospel” in the Greek is euaggelion. This originally was neither a religious nor a Christian term. Instead, this was a political term that announced a new social order. Whenever Rome would conquer a territory, Rome would send out an “evangelist” who would proclaim to the conquered territory the “gospel” or good news that they were now under the rule of the peace of Rome (Pax Romana). The messenger would announce that Caesar was the son of God and Rome was the savior of the world. This messenger would proclaim to this newly conquered territory that Rome’s dominion would give this territory a newfound prosperity and peace just as Rome had accomplished for other places as well.

Here are a few examples of the political nature of Rome’s use of the term “gospel.”

“Even after the battle at Mantinea, which Thucydides has described, the one who first announced the victory had no other reward for his glad tidings [euangelion] than a piece of meat sent by the magistrates from the public mess” (Plutarch; Agesilaus, p. 33, 1st century).

“Accordingly, when [Aristodemus] had come near, he stretched out his hand and cried with a loud voice: ‘Hail, King Antigonus, we have conquered Ptolemy in a sea-fight, and now hold Cyprus, with 12,800 soldiers as prisoners of war.’ To this, Antigonus replied: ‘Hail to thee also, by Heaven! but for torturing us in this way, thou shalt undergo punishment; the reward for thy good tidings [euangelion] thou shalt be some time in getting’” (Plutarch; Demetrius, p. 17, 1st century).

“Why, as we are told, the Spartans merely sent meat from the public commons to the man who brought glad tidings [euangelion] of the victory in Mantineia which Thucydides describes! And indeed the compilers of histories are, as it were, reporters of great exploits who are gifted with the faculty of felicitous speech, and achieve success in their writing through the beauty and force of their narration; and to them those who first encountered and recorded the events [εὐαγγέλιον – euangelion] are indebted for a pleasing retelling of them” (Plutarch; Moralia [Glory of Athens], p. 347, 1st century).

The term Gospel originally communicated the arrival of a new social order.

The Arrival of the Kingdom

The Jesus of Mark’s gospel would take this same word, but instead of announcing the Kingdom of Rome, it would announce the Kingdom of God. It is a profound realization when it dawns on a person that the Jesus of Mark never once is found offering people a way to get to heaven. Rather, Mark’s Jesus is traveling the Galilean countryside announcing a new social order, here and now, that is “of God.”

Part of this new social order is not just a recasting of the term “gospel,” but a redefinition of the very term “Kingdom” as well.

In Mark chapter 10, Mark tells us the story of James and John wanting the honorable position of sitting next to Jesus on his left and right when Jesus’ Kingdom becomes established (Messiah’s Rule). Notice the traditional hierarchical nature of James and John’s understanding of the term “Kingdom.” Kingdom refers to a social order wherein humans are exercising dominance over others, and James and John want in on that dominance!

But Jesus is redefining the nature of the “Kingdom” promised by the Old Testament prophets. It’s as if Jesus is saying, yes, the new social order that I’ve come to inaugurate is what the

prophets were pointing to, but it won’t fit your traditional understandings of how “Kingdoms” are ordered.

“Jesus called them and said to them, ‘You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are exercising authority over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve . . .” (Mark 10.42–45).

Jesus’ new social order would not involve humans exercising dominance over one another, but rather, serving one another instead. This would be a social order characterized, not by the privileging of some at the subordination of others, but by love, equality, and justice. Jesus’ new social order would be a complete and total dismantling of the present social order. It would involve egalitarianism in matters of race, gender, and economics specifically. And, for it to become permanent, it would be a slow process where even the new social order’s enemies were won to it, through confrontational, enemy love, rather than being conquered by it. Human hierarchies would be abandoned, for brother- and sisterhood.

Everything about this new social order would be different, not simply compared to Rome, but even when compared to the political and economic social order that existed in Jerusalem at that time, which was centered on the Temple. (It was Jesus’ confrontation with the Temple and the social order centered there that got him lynched.)

Repent and Believe the Good News

The Greek word for Repent is metanoeo. It means to think differently or to reconsider. What Jesus was calling us to was a radical rethinking of how we had structured and ordered our human societies. He was calling us to reassess our values, placing our fellow humans at the top of those values. This rethinking applied to both those being oppressed by the current social order as well as those who were doing the oppressing. Things could not continue the way they had or humanity would cease to exist. The ever-burning fire of violence between oppressors and the oppressed was escalating. Jesus was first and foremost calling us to rethink everything.

Secondly, he was asking us to believe in the reordering of the human society he was proposing.

The Greek phrase for “repent and believe” is metanoesein kai pistos. Scholars today have discovered this phrase used also in other contexts than simply by Jesus in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Josephus, in his autobiography, records an event that took place in his life when he endeavored to “to put an end” to various Galilean seditions “without bloodshed.” Josephus engages with the “captain” of the brigands “who were in the confines of Ptolemais” and tells this captain that he would forgive “what he had done already, if he would repent of it, and be faithful to me [Josephus] hereafter.” Josephus was, according to scholars, requiring this brigand, to abandon his violent revolutionary inclinations, and trust Josephus for a better way. The phrase Josephus uses is “metanoesein kai pistos emoi.[5]”

This is the same phrase Jesus used in asking those in his day to rethink their present course, and forsake both the violence of oppression (economic oppression of the Temple against the poor) as well as violent forms of revolution (Jewish zealotry against Rome), trusting in and being faithful to Jesus’ alternate way forward to a new social redistribution.

Today

Today, humanity is still struggling with its addiction to establishing social orders of dominance and hierarchies, privilege and subordination. We live in a world where whites are privileged over nonwhites; where men are privileged over women; where the rich are privileged over the poor; where those who are defined as “straight” and “cis” are privileged over those who self-identify as LGBTIQ; where the formally educated are privileged over those who, in many cases, have equal intelligence, but have not had the same opportunities offered.

What is the Jesus narrative saying to us today?

In 1971 John Lennon released the single, “Happy Xmas (War is Over).” The billboards read “War is over, if you want it.” Today the Jesus narrative is saying, “A new social order has arrived . . . if you want it.” The Jesus story announces the arrival of a whole new world. It has arrived in subversive relation to the present order of things. It involves a radically new way of thinking about everything. It is a new world centered on love, mercy, forgiveness, equality, and justice . . . for all. It is “near,” if we want it.[6]

HeartGroup Application

1.  Any time one human seeks to subordinate a fellow human, whether on the basis of race, gender, economic status, formal education (or the lack of it), orientation, even if it carries the label of “Christian,” nothing could be less like the Christ. This week, first, I want you to look up the definitions of Metaphysics, Cosmology, and Ontology and then look up the definition of Ethics. Then I want you to go back and read the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 57. Many today are “Christians” based on a cultural definition of the first three. But what will change the world is when Christians return to following Christ according to the last meaning. The Jesus of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John spent precious little time teaching about Metaphysical realities, Cosmologies, and Ontology. I’m not saying he never mentioned those. But by comparison, the lion’s share of Jesus’ teachings centered on Ethics. Today we have a Christianity that possesses a strangely opposite emphasis. Many (thank heaven for the exceptions) define themselves and others with a prioritization on the first three (one’s beliefs when it comes to metaphysics, cosmology, and ontology) while revealing a strange ignorance about what the Jesus of the canonical gospels taught concerning our ethical practices in relation to our fellow humankind. When one encounters the ethical teachings of Jesus, one can see why he was a threat to the then present social order of his day, and why he was removed.

2.  Journal what you discover.

3.  Share what you discover with your HeartGroup.

 

Till the only world that remains is a world where Love reigns. Many voices, One New World. I love each and every one of you. Thanks for giving this a read.
I’ll see you next week.

1 Daniel 7.13–14— In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.

2 Mark 1.11—And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” Daniel 4.17—“The decision is announced by messengers, the holy ones declare the verdict, so that the living may know that the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms on earth and gives them to the one with whom He is pleased and sets over them the lowliest of people.”

3 Isaiah 2.2—In the last days the mountain of the LORD’s temple will be established as the highest of the mountains; it will be exalted above the hills, and all nations will stream to it.

4 Mark 13.24—“But in those days, following that distress, ‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’ At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.” Daniel 7.13–14—In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.

5 The Life Of Flavius Josephus, (Thackery 110); cf. N.T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God [Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996, p. 251; NT Wright, The Challenge of Jesus (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999), p. 44

6 Matthew 3.2—And saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” Matthew 4.17—From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” Matthew 10.7—As you go, proclaim this message: “The kingdom of heaven has come near.” Mark 1.15—“The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” Luke 10.9—Heal the sick who are there and tell them, “The kingdom of God has come near to you.” Luke 10.11—“Even the dust of your town we wipe from our feet as a warning to you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God has come near.”

Communities of Origin and Internalized Self-Hatred

by Herb MontgomeryReligious Man

They went to Capernaum; and when the Sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee. (Mark 1:21-28)  

Within the holy hours of the Sabbath, and within the holy walls of the Synagogue, we find the story of a demoniac who encounters Jesus. Few stories are scarier to the human psyche than stories of demoniacs. Mark is careful to place this one at the beginning of his Jesus narrative, and he does so for a reason.

This is a story that takes place within the most sacred boundaries (in both time and space) of religious communities, not outside them. The social phenomenon we are going to be discussing is not reserved for only religious communities, though. The unity of religious as well as nonreligious communities alike is maintained by this phenomenon. Mark’s point is that religious communities are not immune to it; in fact, they actually fare just as equally in this regard as their nonreligious counterparts. Unless there is a clear rejection of the phenomenon we are about to discuss, the religiosity of one’s community holds no advantage over nonreligiosity. Both kinds of communities become virtually the same—one simply happens to be religious.

What social phenomenon are we referring to? It’s the social phenomenon that Jesus refers to as the way of “sacrifice.”

What is the way of sacrifice? Communities (including religious ones) rooted in exclusivity depend on a unity that is created around an agreement on whom should be excluded from their society. They need a “sacrifice,” someone to expel from within their borders in order for society to function properly. It is essential to the community’s smooth operation to find unity in being against what they define now as “other.” In fact, finding unity in vilifying someone is the very thing that gives communities of this nature their life. They depend on the existence of a “demoniac” [1].

Much is lost in our rationalistic society today when we throw out the stories of demoniacs and exorcisms within the Jesus narratives simply because we cannot find a naturalist explanation for them. A Girardian [2] interpretation of the demoniac stories offers much in the way of providing an understanding of human societies as well as the stories of demoniacs that should not be dismissed too quickly. Demoniacs, within a Girardian reading, are more than merely those whom the community has chosen to expel. They are not merely innocent victims, scapegoats, or sacrifices. They are expelled victims, scapegoats, or sacrifices who have internalized the hatred of the community as a form of self-hatred. They have embraced and accepted the assessment of the community (legion) that they are deserving of being “stoned.” (To understand more fully how demoniacs have created this self-hatred, see here.) They have come to agree with the community that they are truly evil and should be driven outside the camp.

Let’s look at each piece of the story and then put them all together:

1. The demoniac encounters Jesus.

2. The demoniac refers to Jesus as the “Holy One of God.” This title is specific and included by Mark with purpose, too. Not only was this a title that David, the King, used for himself [3], it was also the title given to Aaron [4] who was the chief priest of a system of sacrifice with a scapegoat at its heart [5].

3. The demoniac assumes Jesus, as this chief holy one, has come to execute the sacrificial destruction.

4. Yet Jesus has come not to destroy lives but to liberate, heal, and restore.

The demoniac encounters Jesus, and within the context of his internalized self-hatred the demoniac has received from his community of origin, he sees Jesus as the head or chief priest of this system of sacrifice who has come to destroy rather than heal him [6].

Jesus rejects the title given to him. Although Jesus had come in the lineage of David, he had come not to sacrifice scapegoats but to do away with the entire system of establishing societies on the sacrificing/scapegoating of those considered to be “other.”

Jesus had come to destroy not demoniacs but the very system that creates them.

We can see this in the fact that there are two “authorities” repeatedly being contrasted here. What does Mark want us to see?

Mark wants us to notice the uniqueness of Jesus’s exorcisms rather than the exorcisms attempted by the priests. First, let’s see what these latter exorcisms looked like:

“The manner of cure was this: He put a ring that had a root of one of those sorts mentioned by Solomon to the nostrils of the demoniac, after which he drew out the demon through his nostrils; and when the man fell down immediately, he adjured him to return unto him no more, making still mention of Solomon, and reciting the incantations which he composed. And when Eleazor would persuade and demonstrate to the spectators that he had such power, he set a little way off a cup or basin full of water, and commanded the demon, as he went out of the man, to overturn it, and thereby to let the spectators know that he had left the man” [7].

Priestly exorcisms were full of ritual. They sought to expel the demon from the individual in a way that preserved the very system that produced demoniacs rather than allowing the system itself be called it into question. By contrast, Jesus completely bypassed the entire temple system of sacrificing innocent victims along with all the system’s rituals. Jesus sought to liberate the demoniac with no ritual and no preservation of the way of sacrifice, calling all who were present to reassess the way of sacrifice (both religiously and sociologically) and offering to everyone in the room that there is another way for human societies to form and function. This is what is mean by Jesus’s “New Teaching.” He used NO RITUAL—no preservation of sacrifice. What Jesus did was exactly the opposite.

What does this have to do with us today?

Demoniacs are the narrative markers within the Jesus story who designate not only those whom the community has “cast out” or driven off, but also those who have adopted or internalized the community’s image of them as their own self-image, thereby producing within themselves a self-destructive self-hatred. (See here.)

As we see in this story, internalized self-hatred can cause an outcast to view those who attempt to liberate them from their self-hatred as “the enemy.”   The demoniac, who had internalized his community’s estimation of himself viewed Jesus and Jesus’ liberation from internalized self-hatred, as an antagonist and adversarial.

I believe this story applies to matters of race, economics, gender (male/female, cis or trans), education, or orientation. This does not mean that I consider those who have been labeled as “other” to be possessed. Not at all! But many times they do internalize a self-hatred that was given to them by their community of origin.

I don’t know how many times I have witnessed the following:

  • People of a different race (or from a different geographical location) internalizing and believing that they are “less than” only because they are the minority within a larger group
  • Women internalizing and genuinely believing they are “less than” men
  • Those of lesser economic status believing they really are “less than” those who possess more wealth
  • Those who possess less formal training than others in academia yet are truly amazingly intelligent and brilliantly open minded but still believe they are “less than” others who are more formally educated though also domesticated by the conventional status quo
  • Those who are transgender believing they are “less than” others within a world built for and by cisgender people
  • Those who identify as LGBTQI being afraid to “come out” even to themselves because of an internalized self-hatred bestowed upon them by their community of origin (religious or nonreligious) that says they are “less than,” evil, or—as some have arrogantly and ignorantly put forth—“possessed”

The Jesus narrative offers a Jesus who has come not to destroy us or who we are but to liberate us from the self-hatred and the internalized low self-estimation we have been given from our communities of origin because of who we are. (See here.) This is a Jesus who has come to liberate us from our own helpless captivity of believing that we are “less than” others simply because we may be different from those at the top of our societal privilege structures.

The Jesus story is whispering to us that:

  • We were all made in the image of God.
  • We are all children of the same Divine Parents.
  • There is room at the Family Table for us all.
  • There is a place in Jesus’s new world for us all.

The demoniac was delivered that day. But the congregation was, too. Maybe the world can operate differently from simply continuing to find people to expel. Instead of driving the demoniac away, Jesus both delivered him from his captivity to self accusation (think accuser) and abhorrence, and restored him to his rightful place within the new world Jesus came to announce and invited the demoniac’s community of origin to embrace this new world as well.

This is the beginning of the Liberation stories of Mark’s Jesus narrative.

 

HeartGroup Application

1. Spend some time this week in contemplation asking Jesus to show you where you, too, have internalized an evaluation of yourself that is different from what is true about you. According to the Jesus story, regardless of what your community of origin may tell you, you are of infinite, estimable, immeasurable worth, and there is room in Jesus’s new world for you.

2. Journal what you discover.

3. Share with your upcoming HeartGroup.

Till the only world that remains is a world where Love reigns, where each voice is valued and every person’s story is heard.

Many voices, one new world.

Keep living in Love.

I love each of you dearly.

I’ll see you next week.

[1] For a more detailed treatment of the way of “sacrifice,” please see these three links:

https://renewedheartministries.com/Esights/06-02-2014

https://renewedheartministries.com/Esights/06-23-2014

https://renewedheartministries.com/Esights/08-04-2014

[2] Rene Girard, I See Satan Fall Like Lightning.

[3] Psalm 4:3—But know ye that the Lord has done wondrous things for his holy one: the Lord will hear me when I cry to him. Psalm 15:10—Because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.

[4] Psalm 106.16 LXX—They provoked Moses also in the camp, and Aaron the holy one of the Lord.

[5] See Leviticus 16.

[6] John 3:17—Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be healed* through him (*Definition of the Greek word “sozo”).

[7] Josephus, Antiquities VIII, ii, 5.

Liberation Descending in the Form of a Dove

The Liberation dove and the difference between nonviolence and peace.

By Herb Montgomerywoodendove

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:9–11) 

This week I’d like to invite you to step back into a world that revolved around Jerusalem within the first century, and to draw your attention to a few significant details in Mark’s retelling of Jesus’ baptism.

Especially focus on the spirit’s descent in the form of a dove; Jesus’s declaration of Sonship; and “the Voice’s” declaration of love for Jesus, with whom he is “well pleased.”

Some Observations

Let’s first tackle this declaration of Sonship.

Jesus’ favorite title for himself was the Son of Man. He uses this title for himself more than any other within the four canonical gospels. The roots of this title, and its apocryphal usage, go back to Daniel chapter 7. In Daniel 7:13–14 we find,

As I watched in the night visions, I saw one like a Son of Man coming with the clouds of heaven. And he came to the Ancient One and was presented before him. To him was given dominion and glory and kingship, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, and his kingship is one that shall never be destroyed.

Jesus took this text, held dear by an oppressed people who themselves dreamed one day of world domination,[1] and announced that he was this Son of Man finally come. However, the world he was bringing was going to look a little different to what the Jews had expected (more on this in a moment).

This is the cultural significance to a first century bestowal of the title “Son of God” within a Jewish context. The one declared to be “Son of God” would be the new king of Israel just like David of old. This was the “Son of Man” who would be declared the king (“Son of God”) of an everlasting kingdom. (Jesus, though, would even turn the notion of human hierarchies, including “kings” and “kingdoms,” on their heads.[2])

Notice the use of “Son of God” for the world-dominating King of Israel:

Why do the nations conspire, and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and his anointed [David], saying, “Let us burst their bonds asunder, and cast their cords from us.” He who sits in the heavens laughs; the LORD has them in derision. Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying, I have set my king on Zion, my holy hill. I will tell of the decree of the LORD: He said to me [David], “You are my son; today I have begotten you.” (Psalms 2:1–7, emphasis added)

The title of “God’s Son” was a deeply politically charged title within the culture of oppression for first century Jews.

Mark knows the political significance of what he is retelling. He pushes the point home even further by mentioning the phrase “with you I am well pleased.” This, too, was a politically charged phrase within an apocryphal context. Notice the book of Daniel’s point, which the foreign kings, through uncomfortable means, came to know:

And they shall drive thee from men, and thy dwelling shall be with the wild beasts of the field, and they shall feed thee with grass as an ox: and seven times shall pass over thee, until thou know that the Most High is Lord of the kingdom of men, and he will give it to whomsoever he shall please. (Daniel 4:29, LXX, emphasis added)

And he was driven forth from men; and his heart was given him after the nature of wild beasts, and his dwelling was with the wild ox, and his body was bathed with the dew of heaven; until he knew that the most high God is Lord of the kingdom of men, and will give it to whomsoever he shall please. (Daniel 5:21, LXX, emphasis added)

Mark is ensuring that his audience does not miss the point when he calls Jesus the son of God. This is the return of the long-awaited king of Israel, the son of God, the one in whom God is pleased to give the kingdom.

Now comes the first twist in Mark. The spirit of the Lord descends on Jesus just as it did on the Judges of old who, according to the ancient stories, repeatedly delivered the Hebrew people from foreign oppressors.[3] But rather than a violent portrayal, such as in the book of Judges, this delivering spirit of the Lord descends on this new “judge/deliverer” in the form of a nonviolent dove.

A DOVE!

The Jesus narrative announces the arrival of a new world where humans are no longer going to practice dominance over other humans (much to the dismay of those who longed for the day when Jerusalem would rule the world[4]), a world that will be birthed through the nonviolence of a dove.

I do not mean that this world will be born peacefully. No, this new world will not come in peace to the status quo. It will discomfort the status quo. It will challenge the status quo. It will even shame the status quo.[5] This is a world that will turn the present world upside down.[6] This is a world where those who are last in the present order of the world will be first, and those who have been privileged as first in the present order will be treated equally with the last.[7] It will provoke the present order to pick up a sword to defend itself.[8] Yet it will remain resolute. It will triumph over raised swords with dovelike nonviolence that will set the present order of things on fire.[9]

And what hope does this deliverance, this liberation that comes in the form of a dove, bring?

A new order. A new world. A new humanity where the presently marginalized, excluded, and oppressed are blessed while the insiders, the privileged, the powerful, and the advantaged are invited into an existence that is, at bare minimum, problematic for their current status quo (see Luke 6:20–26). This is a world where radical transformation is offered to oppressors, while radical liberation is offered to the oppressed. (Although it looks different to both, it genuinely is liberation for both those who are on top as well as those who are at the bottom.) This is a new world where privilege is not simply offered to those to whom it was previously denied, this is the arrival of a world no longer founded on the very principles of privilege and subordination. This is a humanity where, regardless of race, gender (male or female; cis or trans), wealth, education, or orientation, we see and embrace one another as part of ourselves. Each a beautiful reflection of the divine in a human kaleidoscope of wonder. No more us and them. We begin to discern how we are all siblings, all children of the same Creator, destined to sit around that same family table once again.

Mark’s Gospel does not begin with a Jesus who settles metaphysical, ontological, and cosmological debates. This is a Jesus who appears by a river along side of an announcement of the arrival of a new world where everyone is welcome, where everyone will be treated with equity and justice, which will bring beautiful liberation descending in the form of a dove.

HeartGroup Application

  1. This week I want you to contemplate the difference between peace and nonviolence. Yes, peace is the end goal. Yet, as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is reported to have said, “True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice.” We must not mistake the disruption of the current order of things as somehow being a negative. The dove is nonviolent. Yet it does not come in peace to the present order. It seeks to subversively undo the present order. True, it would rather have its own blood shed than stain its hands with the blood of another, yet blood is shed—its own. Conflict between the present order and the new is where this path begins. And although the present order may place martyrs on crosses, the narrative doesn’t end there. The present order will melt in the fire of the radically (and sometimes counterintuitively) different ethic of the liberated new world proclaimed in the Jesus narrative.
  2. Journal what you discover as you contemplate the difference between peace and nonviolence.
  3. Share what you discover with your upcoming HeartGroup.

Till the only world that remains is a world where love reigns. Keep living in love, loving like Jesus.

I love each of you dearly.

I’ll see you next week.

  1. “At that time Jerusalem shall be called the throne of the LORD, and all nations shall gather to it, to the presence of the LORD in Jerusalem, and they shall no longer stubbornly follow their own evil will” (Jeremiah 3:17). “In days to come the mountain of the LORD’S house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it” (Isaiah 2:2).
  2. “But he said to them, ‘The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves’” (Luke 22:25–26).
  3. “The spirit of the LORD came upon him, and he judged Israel; he went out to war, and the LORD gave King Cushan-rishathaim of Aram into his hand; and his hand prevailed over Cushan-rishathaim” (Judges 3:1). “But the spirit of the LORD took possession of Gideon; and he sounded the trumpet, and the Abiezrites were called out to follow him” (6:34). “Then the spirit of the LORD came upon Jephthah, and he passed through Gilead and Manasseh. He passed on to Mizpah of Gilead, and from Mizpah of Gilead he passed on to the Ammonites” (11:29). “The spirit of the LORD began to stir him in Mahaneh-dan, between Zorah and Eshtaol” (13:25). “The spirit of the LORD rushed on him, and he tore the lion apart barehanded as one might tear apart a kid. But he did not tell his father or his mother what he had done” (14:6). “Then the spirit of the LORD rushed on him, and he went down to Ashkelon. He killed thirty men of the town, took their spoil, and gave the festal garments to those who had explained the riddle. In hot anger he went back to his father’s house” (14:19). “When he came to Lehi, the Philistines came shouting to meet him; and the spirit of the LORD rushed on him, and the ropes that were on his arms became like flax that has caught fire, and his bonds melted off his hands” (15:14).
  4. “But he said to them, ‘The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves’” (Luke 22:25–26).
  5. “And if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well” (Matthew 5:40).
  6. “When they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some believers before the city authorities, shouting, ‘These people who have been turning the world upside down have come here also’” (Acts 17:6).
  7. “When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ So the last will be first, and the first will be last” (Matthew 20:8–15).
  8. “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:34–38).
  9. “Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (Matthew 3:10). “I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire” (Matthew 3:11–12). “For everyone will be salted with fire” (Mark 9:49). “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled” (Luke 12:49)!

The Wisdom of Difference among the Disciples of Christ

Keisha E. McKenzie

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“And he ordained twelve, that they should be with him, and that he might send them forth to preach, And to have power to heal sicknesses, and to cast out devils: And Simon he surnamed Peter; And James the son of Zebedee, and John the brother of James; and he surnamed them Boanerges, which is, The sons of thunder: And Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Zealot, And Judas Iscariot, which also betrayed him: and they went into an house. And the multitude cometh together again, so that they could not so much as eat bread… There came then his brethren and his mother, and, standing without, sent unto him, calling him. And the multitude sat about him, and they said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren without seek for thee. And he answered them, saying, Who is my mother, or my brethren? And he looked round about on them which sat about him, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brother, and my sister, and mother.” —Mark 3:14-20, 31-35

All three of the synoptic gospels, Mark, Matthew, and Luke, contain a few, well-placed lists that it’s tempting to skip past.

In Mark 3, Jesus is introducing himself to Judaea’s demon-possessed and scribes. The multitude presses in to see him, and his relatives demand he come out to meet them. That’s when Mark throws up a “Take Five” sign and lists some of his disciples, including some characters he has already described. Matthew and Luke also list Jesus’s ancestors: Matthew follows the line from Abraham and David by way of Ruth and Bathsheba to Joseph, while Luke tracks backward all the way to “Adam, [who] was of God.”

The gospel writers often discuss the disciples as a bloc: they are the group that doesn’t grasp Jesus’ stories, or that cannot correctly identify his role in history, or that falls into a post-dinner nap during his final prayer meeting. We don’t have many details about the disciples’ private meetings, though. If we did, we might know more about how Jesus the Master Teacher managed his diverse inner circle—not just the named twelve and Lazarus whom he loved, but also the women who funded and fed the group as it journeyed around the region—Mary the Magdalene, Susanna, Joanna, Mary, and Martha. [i]

Had the gospel writers thought to make this part of the early believers’ story explicit, we’d now have the scoop on how Jesus navigated the disciples’ latent power dynamics: just how did he inspire a large group of strong-opinioned people to get along and learn together without once resorting to homicide?

“There came then his brethren and his mother, and, standing without, sent unto him, calling him. And the multitude sat about him, and they said unto him, ‘Behold, thy mother and thy brethren without seek for thee.’ And he answered them, saying, ‘Who is my mother, or my brethren?’ And he looked round about on them which sat about him, and said, ‘Behold my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brother, and my sister, and mother.’”

From the very start, Jesus took his group of friends, and before he instructed them as delegates of his kingdom, he called them his family: Jesus made siblings out of Joanna, Levi, Simon, and Judas Iscariot. Whereas we often say, “Blood is thicker than water,” Jesus lived the saying, “God that made the world and all things therein… hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth.” [ii] From the perspective of the Creator, even as our times and locations vary, we share the same root. It’s our root, our “one blood,” that determines our value.

And yet we’re so very different too.

A civil servant’s wife, a tax collector, a Zealot, and an assassin start the Reign of God on Earth.

According to Josephus, Zealots were a group of Jews who were aligned with the Pharisees, resented Roman occupation, valued the observance of Moses’ law, resisted Caesar’s deification, and felt called to get the Romans out of the Promised Land by any means necessary. The Sicarii, anti-imperialists even more violent than the Zealots, murdered both Romans and Jews to protest occupation and warn would- be collaborators to support the resistance. Several sources link Judas to this group: either he was a member himself or his father was, and we now know him by the Sicarii’s name as well as by his own.

The very same “family” that contained Simon and Judas also contained a tax collector and the spouse of the man who ran King Herod’s household. At that time, tax collectors like Levi (Matthew) were considered national traitors. Their job was to ensure that the occupied people paid their dues to Caesar, Herod, and the empire’s men in the Temple, and many of them combined greed with power in ways that guaranteed hate and distrust. Similarly, there’s no one more complicit with corrupt colonialism than those who tend house for the colonial governor. Running the governor’s home was the family business that brought Joanna her wealth.

If we ever need motivation to get over our ethnic, political, theological, gender-related, or sexuality- based biases, power imbalances, and wholly unnecessary conflicts, we should be able to find it in Jesus’s example of heterogeneity here.

Someone who knows everything doesn’t need more perspectives or more humility. But Jesus modeled the practice of both.

The praise hymn in Philippians 2 tells us that God emptied Godself, and in humility took on the embodied, particular, time-bound, enculturated experience of being a young, male, Jewish human who grew, taught, healed, and died under the gaze of a repressive, imperial, pre-industrial military force. [iii]

Then, as today, being fully embodied means being located in time and space and being unable to wholly escape either of them. It means being gendered, sexed, and rooted in one’s socio-cultural contexts— ethnicities, class, religion, sect, and language groups. Incarnation literally limits one’s perspective.

The best way for me to illustrate this limiting is to recommend browsing the Scale of the Universe visualization site. As you click through the Scale, imagine nearly the entire visible universe being pushed into the indistinct distance: only patches of your surroundings remain perceptible to you. We can directly perceive 2-12 miles around us depending on the weather and an unobstructed view, and we can’t see anything smaller than a human egg without help from technology. Not much is closer to our eyes than the mirrors we use to look at ourselves, and yet we still “see through a glass darkly.”

In and through this embodied life, then, we don’t perceive much on our own. Fortunately, we don’t have to try.

The single best way to counter the limits of private perspective is to initiate and maintain active, learning relationships with a heterogeneous group of peers. That is what the disciples were to the incarnate Lord. It’s also what we can be for each other.

Our groups, our churches, our friendships, and relationships are all opportunities for us to practice perceiving the world with one another. We practice giving and receiving and building on a multiplicity of perceptions and experiences as we sit around the common table that our Master Teacher has called each of us to join.

We share our perceptions and experiences—the world as we can best sense it from wherever in life we stand—not so that we can draw over the rainbows of creation with one, two, or three approved colors and blot out the rest. We share with each other, muddling through incomprehension and misunderstanding, so that out of the diversity of every nation, kindred, tongue, and people, the fullest and complex image of God can finally be seen through all of us, God’s very own. “We, too, are His offspring.”

Libraries could be written about the challenges and pitfalls involved in being part of a heterogeneous group. But perhaps for now it’s enough to recognize that Christ seeded heterogeneous community in this world during his lifetime, and it wasn’t an idealistic error; it was an act of wisdom.

  1. How much of your holiday time did you spend with people from your family of origin or chosen families? Which views of the world do you share with those people?
  2. How much of your holiday time did you spend in heterogeneous spaces? What kinds of differences became obvious to you as you observed and talked with others?
  3. Think of the most challenging difference you’ve encountered in the last month. What, if anything, does that Other teach you about the universe you share? What, if anything, might you have taught that other person through your life or views?

 

i Luke 8:1-3 “And Joanna the wife of Chuza Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others, which ministered unto him of their substance.” “Substance” here means possessions or wealth.
ii Acts 17: 24-28. Paul uses Greek poetry and philosophy to introduce the Athenians to God and Christ.
iii Philippians 2:5-11: “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

The Anatomy of an Open Meeting; Part 5 of 5

ANATOMY OF AN OPEN MEETING: What Leaders Do?

BY KEITH GILES

Part 5: OTHER FUNCTIONS OF A LEADER IN AN ORGANIC CHURCH

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In this, our final installment, we’ll talk about a variety of things that leaders (or “elders”) in the open meeting or new testament church should be prepared to do, as-needed.

Making Disciples

The purpose of the Church is to disciple others to follow Christ and to obey everything that He commands. Obedience to Christ, then, is critical to the life of the Body, and our gatherings together should be one of the primary places we learn how to follow Christ together on a daily basis.

Discipleship, I believe, is not always a leader/student arrangement where the mature Christian is teaching the baby Christian how to follow Christ. Not that it can’t be that way, of course, but I don’t believe it’s the only way we make disciples.

In our house church family I’ve found that a by-product of our fellowship together is a sort of constant discipleship where the Body works together to help everyone else follow Christ daily. It’s an ongoing reality where we are learning together how to follow Christ personally.

Dealing with Conflict

As an elder in the Body of Christ, one of our roles is to deal with conflict when it arises. It might be an argument between individuals in the group, or it might a divisive person who stirs things up, or it might be a disagreement over an issue of doctrine or a point of contention over a practice in the Body.

Our group has had a variety of these issues over the last six years. Sometimes the issues are trivial, and other times they are challenging. As always, spend time on your knees asking the Lord how to proceed. Remember, Jesus is the one who is building His church, not you or I. Always, continually, submit everything to Jesus and allow Him to move and to lead your church family through this process of healing and reconciliation.

Discipline

Sometimes, a leader might have to confront a member who needs to be disciplined, and for that I recommend a group of elders within the Body who are motivated by love and full of wisdom and Godly insight. The goal is always reconciliation and restoration. Be as discreet and private as possible as long as the person is cooperative and repentant. Only take things to the entire church body as a very last resort, and then again, only with the desire to bring repentance, reconciliation and restoration.

Guarding your Family

Sometimes there are predators who come into your church family and you need to have discernment to recognize them and move quickly to remove them. This might involve meeeting with them in person to let them know why you’re asking them to leave, or you might need to pull them aside and give them a warning if you think they just need a friendly reminder to change their behaviors.

The kinds of behaviors we need to be wary of are those who cause division or strife in the Body:

“I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them.” (Romans 16:17)
Also look out for those who seek to have their way or to run the show. If this is something that you’re not called to do, then it’s certainly not something that anyone else has the right to do:

“I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will not welcome us. So when I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, spreading malicious nonsense about us. Not satisfied with that, he even refuses to welcome other believers. He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church.” (3 John 1:8-10)

Rather than allow one person to have their way and drive others out of the church, you should step in with other elders and ask this person to leave if they cannot fellowship without throwing their weight around.
You, of course, need to watch out for people who claim to be Christians but who are actually not following Jesus at all. As Paul explains:
“But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.” (1 Cor. 5:11)
What Paul means, literally, is that we should not allow these people to gather with us when we eat and fellowship as a Church.
As always, the goal is reconciliation and restoration in the Body, not to damage people or to condemn people. So, if you’re doing this right, no one else in the

Body will ever know that you’ve met with anyone to discuss anything because you’re honoring the people you love, not engaging in gossip or slander.
Again, this is not about control. We don’t want our church fellowships to be about making people act like us or think like us. Please don’t use this as a license to police the behaviors of your church family.

Defend the Liberty of Everyone

This one, to me, is the most difficult but one of the most important things to remember in an open meeting. In our church family we like to say that “everyone is in process” and this means that we’re all coming from different denominational backgrounds and we’re all at different levels of maturity in various areas of our walk with Christ.
This means that we do not ever attempt to get everyone else in the Body to agree with us on every point of doctrine. Our group does not have any Statement of Faith for this very reason. Our only criteria for gathering together, and for accepting people into this Body is simply this: “Do you love Jesus? Are you actually seeking to follow Him in your daily life?” And if your answer is “Yes” then you are welcome to be a member of this Body.

All we ask is that you don’t attempt to change us to believe what you believe and we promise not to try to change you to believe what we believe.

This simple attitude of liberty has allowed our group of former Baptists, Pentecostals, Charismatics, Methodists, Presbyterians, etc. to fellowship together for over six years without heated arguments over doctrine. We gather only to seek Jesus together and to help everyone else in the group to follow Him in their daily lives.

Unless you want to create a church that is full of people who act and think and believe just exactly the way you do (and to me that’s a nightmare), I encourage you to learn how to disagree agreeably and to major on Christ when you come together, not on this or that little pet doctrine or theory.

You’ll not only learn things from people who think different from you, you’ll also fulfill Christ’s desire that everyone in His Body be one, even as He and the Father are one. Our unity isn’t based on agreement on doctrines, but on our sincere love for Christ alone.
Did I miss anything? If you’ve got any further questions about anything I’ve talked about in this series, please leave a comment below. I’m open!

The Anatomy of an Open Meeting; Part 4 of 5

Anatomy of an Open Meeting: Creating Experts?

BY KEITH GILES

Part 4: THE DANGER OF CREATING HEROES AND EXPERTS

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I’ve written about this before on my blog and shared my concerns about elevating leaders within the House Church/Organic Church movement to become our own versions of “Pastors” and “Bishops”. If we do that we’ve now become as guilty as the rest of the traditional church we left behind in order to pursue Christ as our only Head.

This is a two way street, by the way. It can be the Leader who seeks the fame and the name, or it can be the people who seek after a guru who will tell them what to believe and how to behave. Or, it can be a little of both.

As someone whose personal sin is Pride, I have to admit that I’m very aware of this tendency in myself and I work very hard to sit in the background of our own church family and not take the Lord’s place in the Body. I used to limit myself to only two “soap box moments” every meeting. Then my goal was to try not to share a comment on what every person shared during the meeting (which created a sort of conversational ping-pong where someone would share and then I would comment and then another person would share and then I would comment again, etc.). Now my goal is to keep silent unless the Lord really prompts me to share something. Otherwise, I sit quietly and I listen.

I know that sometimes people who read my blog or my books will visit our house church and they’ll expect that I’ll have some cool teaching to share every time. But that’s not what happens. If anything, I’ll rarely talk at all unless the Lord has given me something to teach or to share.

I’ll never forget when one brother visited our group for the first time after reading my blog. He came on a Thursday evening and after I played the guitar during the shared worship time, I got up and left the room. He told me later that he thought it was very weird that I would do that, but the group didn’t miss a beat and people were sharing and teaching and praying for one another spontaneously without me in the room. Eventually he did notice that I had returned to the room when I spoke up and shared something, but until that moment he was oblivious to my presence, which is sort of the point, really.

My goal is really to encourage everyone else to share. I really want to hear what my two teenage boys have to say. I want to hear from those quiet wives who

never speak out. I want hear what that five year old boy has to say about Jesus. Those are always the most profound things, really. I’ve learned so much from the most unlikely sources. It’s amazing, really.

This kind of thing is a movement of God. No man can take credit for this. When I hear from people all over the nation, and even the world, that God is leading them in this same New Testament model of “being Church” it excites me. Because we’re not moving in this direction because we read a blog or a book or attended a conference. Every one I’ve spoken to shares their story about how God did this to them. God called them to step outside the traditional model of Church and they obeyed Him and followed His leading, even at a great cost – usually friendships, or salaries, or the respect of others, etc. But when I hear those testimonies I rejoice because I know that God is purifying His Bride and He’s doing something marvelous that no man can dare take credit for.

In our final installment we’ll look at a few other things a leader in an open meeting might be called upon to do.

Follow Jesus, He’ll Ruin Your Life

Fishermen fishing by fishnet

 

 

 

by Herb Montgomery

And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.—Jesus (Mark 1.17)

The Downward Social Mobility of Following Jesus

I’ve chosen to begin this new year with a fresh contemplation of the Jesus story, specifically Mark’s version. And what has jumped right off the page for me right here in the beginning is the social cost for the two brothers Simon and Andrew and the two brothers James and John in their choice to accept Jesus’ offer of following him. It was typical for itinerant teachers within this culture to be sought out by would-be disciples. Yet in the Jesus story, this cultural norm is turned on its head and the teacher seeks out and chooses his disciples instead.[1]

What we find in this though is counterintuitive. Jesus does not seek out the rich to be his disciples, nor does he seek out the poor. Those whom Jesus seeks out are the very ones in motion. They are the ones who are in movement, engaged in social mobility away from those who would be classified as the poor toward those who would be classified as the rich. Both of these sets of brothers are busy at work in a family fishing business. Few people in Galilee were rich; most were relatively poor. Fishermen tended to fall somewhere in the middle (although these types of distinctions were somewhat fuzzier in Galilee). Yet these were not poor men at all as the family business run by their father was doing well enough to also have “hired help.” This family business was providing income for others, not simply their own family.[2]

These were thriving family businesses where the families involved were, by the mere economic success of their business, moving from one social level to a higher one. Jesus comes to them, in the midst of their success, and asks them to walk away from it all.

The Historically Upward Social Mobility of Christianity

The reason this caught my attention is that too often groups associated with Jesus and the Jesus story are vehicles for upward social mobility rather than downward. I’ll explain. I was born here in economically challenged Appalachia. I grew up with parents, no longer married, who belonged to two very different social classes here. I was being raised by the poorer of the two.

I know firsthand the feelings of looking at social classes above you and longing for means of upward social mobility. I know what it feels like to want to move up the social ladder.

I also was raised within a Christian tradition that here in Appalachia provided that very means of upward social mobility for many. Within two generations, I have watched my family go from uneducated, blue collar workers, to a white collar world and the possession of PhDs—all because of the benefit of being connected to “the church.” And it’s not simply my family either. I’ve witnessed it in other families here in Appalachia where grandpa was an uneducated farmer whose grandkids are well on their way to becoming high paid doctors and lawyers.

What Difference Does It Make?

I’m not attaching moral value to either social direction, but simply drawing attention to the contrast of social mobility directions between the Jesus story and my own experience and observations.

There is a danger though. There is a danger that we will excuse the religious disfunction of our “spiritual” community because our personal lives are economically and socially being improved. In other words, we will resist critiquing our religious community because we feel our lives have been benefited by belonging to that community. We will overlook things such as pragmatic racism, gender exclusion, economic bias, educational favoritism, or queer erasure because we mistakenly think our lives have been improved by being a part of something simply because we ourselves have experienced some level of upward social mobility within a system, the very validity of which following Jesus should cause us to question instead.

One example of economic bias and educational favoritism that I have always been puzzled by since I first noticed it, is that typically, with few exceptions, within many of the churches I visit, there is an unspoken hierarchy between the offices of deacon and elder. Deacons typically are composed of the lesser educated, blue collar workers, while being an elder is an office for those with higher educational as well as economic status. This is alarming to me. Something doesn’t feel right. Not just about the hierarchical nature of the structure, but how that hierarchy is expressed as well.

One has to question first off whether upward social mobility is always a blessing. If it is always a good, then why do we find Jesus calling his disciples to abandon this very thing to move in the opposite direction downward in following him?

Christianity was not always like this. Before Constantine and the making of Christianity into the official religion of the empire, Christianity was a movement among the lower classes of society. They were often (but not always) persecuted by those in power. And to become a Christian, for most within the first three hundred years of the Jesus movement, was a clearly defined decision to embrace a downward social mobility. You were letting go of something socially and economically to follow Jesus during this time, not gaining more. The Constantinian shift changed all of this.

Today we are in danger of drinking the Kool-Aid of white, male-dominated, colonial, imperial, Christianity rooted in a theology defined by those at the top of our social pyramids. Jesus, instead, is offering us the opportunity of drinking the “living water” of critiquing these pyramids themselves.[3]

Jesus did not come offering his disciples a means of upward social mobility from disadvantaged to privileged within the current structure. Jesus came announcing the beginning of an entirely different world where the present structure of privilege and advantage are dismantled, where all injustice, oppression, and violence is put right, a world marked by equity and justice for those oppressed by the current structure.[4]

And this new world began with Jesus interrupting twelve men in their endeavors to climb their respective social and economic ladders and inviting them to rethink everything, to abandon the structuring of the world as they knew it, to embrace a cross rather than a throne, and to follow him.

They would not gain the world they were hoping for, they would lose it. For them, following Jesus would not mean upward social mobility, but a downward one.

It would change everything for these twelve.

And it should be the same for us as well.

Follow Jesus, he’ll ruin your life.[5] Yet it’s a life worth ruining for the sake of others. It’s a life worth throwing away for, as some have labelled it, a life of “holy mischief.” There are greater things to live for than mere upward social mobility within the present structures. Following Jesus today doesn’t mean to simply offer upward mobility to those who are presently being held down within the system. Following Jesus means to abandon the entire social structure itself that privileges some at the cost of disadvantaging and subordinating others.  For those of us who are privileged in the present system at the cost of those less privileged, this will mean downward social mobility to an egalitarian new world.  And each of us who are presently in the process of moving even further upwards are going to have to answer for ourselves whether or not we will accept that ancient invitation: “Follow me.”

HeartGroup Application

Spend some time this week contemplating what downward social mobility for the sake of others, the Jesus narrative might inspire in you this new year as 2015 begins.

Write down what you discover.

Share with your HeartGroup this upcoming week.

Till the only world that remains is a world where Love reigns, keep living in love and loving like Jesus.

I love each of you & I’ll see you next week.

1.  John 15:16—You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name.

2.  Mark 1:20—Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.

3.  John 4:10—Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”

4.  Learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow. (Is. 1:17)

But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream. (Amos 5:24)

A bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his teaching. (Is. 42:3–4)

He will not break a bruised reed or quench a smoldering wick until he brings justice to victory. (Matt. 12:20)

Justice is understood as fairness, correct treatment, or equitable distribution of resources. The Hebrew prophets (including Jesus) speak of justice as a chief attribute of their God. The Hebrew people were given ethical instructions (to the degree that they could comprehend in expanding stages, which also need to be expanded even more inclusively today) about their treatment of widows, orphans, and strangers; the practice of justice was tied to their mission.

The Hebrew tradition is alive with examples of men and women who brought justice to situations of oppression and injustice. From Deborah, the prophet and judge who administered justice, to the 8th-century prophets who called Israel and Judah to act justly toward the poor and oppressed, to Jesus who demonstrated the centrality of justice through his words and actions.

In the Hebrew tradition, justice is the undoing of situations of oppression or injustice. Justice is rooted in the prophets’ descriptions of their God’s character (Isa. 5:16), which Jesus too made central to his teachings and healing ministry. A central concept for the prophets was that the justice of a community is measured by their treatment of the oppressed (Isa. 1:16–17; 3:15). The prophets continually issued a strong call for the covenant community to recognize their God as the God of justice and to repent of their injustice. Their primary message can be summarized in the words of Mic. 6:8: “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

If one goes all the way back to ancient Hebrew lore, their Jubilee tradition in Lev. 25 reflected their God’s demands for justice in the midst of an unjust society. Intended to be observed every 50 years, the Jubilee provided for land to lie fallow (ecological justice) and indentured servants to be set free every seven years (social justice). During the Jubilee Year, debts would be forgiven and lands sold because of indebtedness would be returned to the original owners (economic justice). For agrarian societies like Israel, return of land and forgiveness of debts amounted to economic restructuring of society. Undergirding the Jubilee Year is the principle of redress that corrects past wrongs to approximate equality and restores the human community to wholeness. [We have no record of this even once being practiced but that it was part of their ancient stories is interesting to say the least.]

(Gleaned from B. C. Birch, Let Justice Roll Down; S. C. Mott, Biblical Ethics and Social Change; D. N. Freedman, Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible)

5.  I’ve used this phrase for the past four years and my intention is that for most of us, we belong to either a middle or upper class. Following Jesus, for us, is not going to move us further up the pyramid of privilege, but be characterized by throwing all of that away. It was the oppressed who would be “blessed” by Jesus’ new world. For those presently benefited by the present structure the new world that had arrived in Jesus would be problematic, to say the least. (See Luke 6:20–26)

The Anatomy of an Open Meeting; Part 3 of 5

Anatomy of an Open Meeting: How Do I Lead One?

BY KEITH GILES

Part 3 - HOW DO I LEAD AN OPEN MEETING?

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This is probably the hardest thing to write about. As someone who grew up in the traditional church, was trained to be a leader in the church and has never even attended an open meeting before transitioning to an open house church model, leading others in this kind of meeting is very difficult to do.

For the first several years of our house church gatherings, I tried to encourage this sort of open meeting. Sometimes we would manage to come close, but it was years really before we started to actually have the sort of open meetings we long for.

If anything, the leader in an open meeting should begin by exercising great self- control and restraint. Honestly, a successful open meeting is more about what I don’t do than anything I do to make it successful. For example, I don’t prepare a teaching every time we gather. I don’t answer every question about the Bible that comes up. (As Neil Cole suggest, “Be the Bible Question Man, not the Bible Answer Man”). I don’t decide in advance what we’ll talk about or what we’ll study. I don’t choose the worship songs ahead of time. I don’t orchestrate the meeting. I don’t fill the awkward silences with noise. I don’t create a dependency on myself. I don’t lead the communion time. I don’t have a follow-up or illustration to wrap up everyone else’s testimony or scripture verse.

So, once we know what we don’t want to do, what is it that we should be doing? For starters, we should spend time in prayer before the meeting to ask the Lord Jesus to reveal Himself and have His way in the gathering. We should allow everyone a chance to speak. We should make sure the quietest person in the room is invited to share something, if they would like to. We should respect the opinions of others, even if they are not our own. We should learn how to disagree agreeably, which is all about your focus. If your focus is on Jesus then you won’t get distracted so easily by disagreements on doctrine.

We should try to keep the group focused on Jesus if things begin to stray off the mark. We should learn to ask intelligent and insightful questions more than we bring clever answers to show our intelligence. We should find ways to bless everyone else in the group. We should pray during the meeting for the Lord to speak, and to move, and to have His way, and to reveal His heart to everyone. We should listen to the Holy Spirit if He prompts us to stop and pray for someone

in need, or to sit quietly and listen for His voice, or to sing another song to respond to something inspiring we’ve just heard someone share with us. We should allow others to lead the group as they hear from the Lord. We should not see ourselves as leaders filling a position of authority but as servants fulfilling Christ’s command to serve others in love.

Overall, the leaders of an open meeting should be seen and almost never heard unless it’s necessary.

Granted, there are times when a visitor, or even a regular member, might become hostile, or attempt to take over the group or monopolize the share time. That’s when the leaders in the Body need to defend everyone else in the group and lovingly suggest that there might be someone else who would like to share something. If that doesn’t work, you might need to pull this person aside after the meeting and explain to them how an open meeting is designed to work and why it’s better if they take time to listen more than they share so that others can participate and everyone can grow together.

In our next installment of this series we’ll discuss the danger of creating heroes and experts within the Body of Christ.

The Anatomy of an Open Meeting; Part 2 of 5

Anatomy of an Open Meeting: What does it look like?

BY KEITH GILES

Part 2 - WHAT DOES AN OPEN MEETING LOOK LIKE?

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Essentially, what we try to do is to come together and “take hold of Christ” as a Body. In other words, try to imagine that your church was sitting together in someone’s living room and suddenly Jesus walks in the door and stands in the center of the room.

Would you guys keep talking to one another about the weather, or sports, or even Bible verses? Hopefully you’d all sit quietly and lean forward to hear what Jesus wanted to say to you. You’d talk to Him, not to each other. You’d meet with Him, not have a meeting about Him while He watched. That’s basically what we’re trying to do every time we meet.

Now, it might look different each time. And sometimes, honestly, we’re better at it than at other times. But, usually our times together go something like this:

Some of us meet about thirty minutes early for prayer before the meeting starts. A brother once noted that an open meeting requires more prayer together, not less. This is because an open meeting is led by the Spirit, not by any one person or persons. Everyone is invited to this prayer time, but no one has to come if they don’t want to.

After prayer everyone else shows up for a shared, potluck breakfast together. Eating is an essential ingredient, I believe. It helps us to get to know one another and to be together without being pretentious. It’s also how we build community and find out what people are like, what they’re going through, etc. Real ministry can take place during the meal times, or we can just laugh together and eat some great food. Either way it’s worth the investment of time. Plus, it’s based on the practice of the earliest Christians:

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” (Acts 2:42)

“They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts…” (Acts 2:46)

Eventually we’ll finish eating and gather around the sofas and set out the communion elements and wait quietly for a while to pray together before we start singing songs. The singing is always suggested by the members of the Body, or anyone in the room. We have a set of worship songs put together in a songbook format, and we also have a set of old Baptist Hymnals. Or someone can bring a CD with a song to share, or they can just start singing a song that they love accappella and either teach it to all of us, or let those who know it join in.

There’s lots of flexibility, as you’ll notice. We’re very conscious of the fact that we’re not putting on a show. We’re not trying to shush the children or keep to a program. We just try to allow the Holy Spirit to move however He likes and get out of His way.

During the singing time someone might feel led to read a scripture out loud, or to pray for someone else in the group, or to call out to God in thanksgiving and praise. We never know how that might work, but we’re open to whatever happens.

I think this can only work if you’re with a group of people, a family of believers, that you can trust. You have to know that everyone in that meeting cares for you and loves you. They’re not trying to control you or to manipulate you. Over the last six years we’ve been developing that level of trust together and it’s great, really.

Eventually we’ll move from the singing and prayer time to “open share time” where everyone (young, old, male, female, visitor, regular, etc.) is free to share with everyone else what God has been teaching them during the week, or to share something that the Lord spoke to them during worship, etc. But not everyone has to share. It’s ok to be quiet and listen, too.

Transition from the singing to the open share time is very fluid and sometimes we’ll drift back into singing songs again, or spend the whole time praying for one another, or maybe share with one another over a single passage of scripture, or a variety of scriptures if there are a lot of people who have something to share. It varies week to week.

What I really love is when the seemingly random verses and testimonies that each person brings suddenly begin to emerge as a complete teaching on a single topic. Sometimes someone will say, “What is Jesus trying to teach us this morning?” and we’ll realize “Oh, it’s about letting go and trusting Him” or “It’s about forgiveness”, and then we’ll try to respond to Him and thank Him for teaching us this lesson as a Body.

Our meetings usually run from about 9am for morning prayer to around 1pm or so. Sometimes it goes to 2pm but usually 12:30pm to 1pm. We usually end with Communion together and sing a song before we depart.

Now, even though this is our usual meeting format, what I love about an organic church is that we always have freedom to change things around whenever the Lord directs us to.

In the past, we’ve had gatherings where everyone creates artwork together, or perhaps we hear a testimony from someone, or sometimes we’ll hear a teaching by someone who brings a study on a particular topic or book of the Bible. Sometimes we’ll meet in a park together, or spend all of our time in worship and prayer.

Breaking our liturgy and embracing our freedom in Christ to do something different is important to the life of the Body.

One of my favorite times was when we asked the children to lead our meeting. They all sat together and we waited to see what they would do. Then one of them said, “Ok, does anyone have something to share with the group today?”

It was so wonderful because they had learned from us that to lead a meeting is to ask questions and invite others to share. How cool is that?

Next installment, we’ll discuss how to lead or facilitate an open meeting.

The Anatomy of an Open Meeting; Part 1 of 5

BY KEITH GILES

Part 1 of 5

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In this new series I want to answer some questions that several people have asked me after reading my latest book, “This Is My Body:Ekklesia As God Intended” which deals mainly with a biblical basis for a New Testament model of gathering together as a Body.

Part 1: WHAT IS AN OPEN MEETING?

An open meeting is one where everyone in the gathering is as free as anyone else to speak, or to share, or to teach, or to sing, etc., as the Holy Spirit leads them.

This sort of meeting is what Paul was describing in 1 Corinthians 12 where he begins by explaining how various spiritual gifts are distributed throughout the church and then uses a Body metaphor to describe how these gifts are designed to function in a practical way.

“There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.” (1 Cor. 12:4-6; emphasis mine)

Right off the bat, Paul explains that there are different kinds of gifts, and also that the purpose of them is to work “in all of them” (the members of the church) and he emphasizes that “everyone” is expected to participate. Not only a select few. As he goes on to say in the next verse:

“Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” (1 Cor. 12:7)

Here, he re-emphasizes that “each one” is given the spiritual gift “for the common good” of everyone else in the church gathering.

This tells us that the spiritual gifts are not to edify or build up the person using the gift, but to lovingly bless and minister to everyone else in the church fellowship. Therefore, the spiritual gifts are “in all of them” and “everyone” is gifted to be a blessing “for the common good” of their brothers and sisters.

Notice that Paul doesn’t say that the manifestations of the Spirit are given for a select few, or to one man, but to “everyone” and that “each one” receives a different gift in order to be a gift to everyone else. This is the groundwork for an open meeting of Christians.

After listing a series of spiritual gifts that might be given to the members (“Message of wisdom”, “faith”, “gifts of healing”, etc.), Paul again says:

“All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.” (1 Cor. 12:11)

Just in case we’ve forgotten, Paul reminds us that “each one” receives a gift from God in the church in order to facilitate the work of the Spirit in the church when they gather.

Next, Paul goes on to explain that the Body (which is a metaphor for how the Church should function), is one, even though it is made up of many parts. He then takes time to illustrate how the church is designed on purpose to be a group of very different sorts of people. Not a homogenous cookie-cutter group of clones, but a gathering of people who are not like one another. He talks about how those who are “feet” cannot say they are not part of this body because they are not like the “hands”, and he goes on to stress that the “eyes” cannot kick out the “hands” because they are different. Therefore, differences are to be expected – even celebrated – and this is because the variety is part of what makes us a body of many parts. He closes the chapter by saying:

“But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

“Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. (1 Cor. 12:24-27)

This is really only the ground work for what an open meeting of believers should look like. Paul explains how the gifts of the Spirit are distributed to everyone in the Church using the metaphor of a Body that is made up of different parts that serve different functions, and he makes the point that these parts are all essential for the life of the Body.

This means that if you are a follower of Christ, you have a spiritual gift from God. It means you have a very crucial role to play in the growth and development of the Church family where you are a member. It means that you matter. You are important. We need you, and you need all of us.

What I find fascinating is that Paul follows this chapter about how a gathering of believers can operate like a Body with an entire chapter on love. He does this twice more in Ephesians 4 and in Romans 12. Every time Paul talks about spiritual gifts in the Body, the very next thing he talks about is love. Why? Because the gifts are given in love, and they only work if we use them out of love to bless the brothers and sisters we love in order to help them to grow into the image of Christ who is love.

Later, in 1 Corinthians 14, Paul returns to this idea of how everyone in the Body is expected to operate together for the common good, saying:

“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. (1 Cor. 14:26)

Again, Paul returns to the theme he laid out in chapter 12. The command is, “When you come together, each of you” uses their God-given gifts for the common good. Why? Because, as Paul goes on to say, this kind of symbiotic sharing of love and ministry is essential and “must be done so that the church may be built up.”

This isn’t an optional method for gathering that Paul outlines for us here. Paul is emphatic that “each one” of us should use our gifts “for the common good” and that it “must be done” for the “church” to be “built up”.

You can quickly see how a Pastor-centric church will never operate in this way as Paul describes. Because with a professional expert in the room, everyone will always turn to that person and wait for instructions. But, Paul doesn’t make any room for this aberration. Nor does anyone else in the New Testament scriptures.

An open meeting embraces Paul’s instructions here and in other passages to operate as a true body where Christ is the head (Eph. 4:15) – the only head – and we all “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Eph. 5:21)

In our next article we’ll look at what an open meeting looks like in practice.