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“He died for all that those who live should no longer live for themselves.” 2 Cor. 5:15
As I was teaching, I stressed the importance of Jesus message: “He said ‘Repent!” Who was Jesus speaking to? He was speaking to Jews. He was preaching the gospel of the kingdom, which calls for the necessity to “repent.”
Think about it. Jesus was preaching to those who were already assured of their covenant relationship with God. They needed to repent. How about you?
“He died for all that those who live should no longer live for themselves.” This is the gospel of the kingdom. People who live ultimately for themselves are not living the Christian life.
The gospel of the kingdom begins with one word: REPENT. It doesn’t say, “Accept Jesus in your heart.” The gospel of the kingdom is not just about going to heaven. The gospel is about changing individual lives, however it is also about changing everything, changing whole cultures, including our own.
So, to begin, it is about individuals. It’s about the conscience. It’s about heart transformation, a heart that is tender and obedient. That nasty word, repent, is difficult to use in the modern world. Flaky people use the word “repent.” Call me flaky; I’ll follow Jesus. Jesus said:
This gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. (Mt. 24:14)
Before we continue, we need to clarify the definition of the kingdom of God. I presented a question to the Perspectives participants: “If you had a map and a set of keys, which best represents the kingdom of God?”
Has “this gospel” been preached everywhere? Is the gospel of the kingdom about claiming territory for Jesus? Yes and No. Yes, it is about claiming territory, but not in the way it has historically been done by the Crusader-type sword-bearing missionaries of European nations. The kingdom is not about a realm or land. What is the kingdom then?
Jesus compared the gospel of the kingdom to keys (Matthew 16:19), which represent authority. All authority has been given to Jesus Christ. There is no kingdom without the King. The kingdom is defined by allegiance and obedience to a good King. The gospel is the message of Jesus. The dramatic historical events of the New Testament, Jesus birth, ministry, death, resurrection, and his appearing to many is the gospel. Jesus is the gospel. He is the King. (1 Cor. 15) The King gave the command to all of his followers saying:
“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. – Matthew 28:18-20
So then, is the gospel of the kingdom, obedience to the King, preached to all nations? Are we discipling nations?
We have churches. Some cities have big beautiful cathedrals, with few members or attenders. Some mega-churches are attracting tens of thousands of attenders. Some nations have majority populations of “christians,” such as Malawi with nearly 90% christians. However, Malawi has been among the poorest in Africa and the world. Malawi has been among the worst in corruption and the highest in infant mortality. Has “this gospel” or the number of “christians” made a difference?
Perhaps you are from the United States or another Western nation where the gospel has been influencing the nations toward a more just and more merciful society. Agreed. Western nations, where the gospel has been preached for centuries, have more just governments and better living conditions. But let’s take another look.
The latest U.S. Census shows in 2009, there was no difference in the rates of divorce and abortions between the more progressive citizens of Oregon and the Bible-belt citizens of North Carolina. The murder rate in North Carolina is double that of Oregon. And did you know the United States has more prisoners than any other nation, including China. The USA has the highest rate of incarceration in the world.
Landa Cope, author of the Old Testament Template writes:
Christian pollster George Barna finds there is “no significant difference” between the behavior of people in the United States who call themselves born-again Christian and those who do not make that claim. Muslim evangelists in Africa ask, “What does Christianity do for the people?” The answer today is nothing. Nothing changes. The churches get bigger. More and more people get saved. But nothing changes. They are still poor, diseased, uneducated, and left in political and economic chaos.
Perhaps this seems is unfair, and perhaps a bit too pessimistic. Certainly, over the long stretch of history, Jesus has been doing his work of building his Church as a witness for all nations. True. Isn’t life better where the gospel has been preached? Yes, materially. For example, the per capita annual income in the USA is over $45,000 compared to $980 in Malawi.
On the other hand, we need to get honest, the positive influences of the gospel in culture do not happen in a moment. And some of those positive influences require tearing down before there can be a building up. Jesus prophesied the destruction of the Second Temple, freeing the Israelites from their bondage to tradition, but it took about 60 years for the prophecy to be fulfilled. And the destruction of that temple, which God intended to be a place of welcome for all nations, resulted in the complete destruction of Jerusalem. Israel had been called to be a “light to the nations” (Isa. 51:4), but they failed. Jesus himself became the representative of Israel, fulfilling Israel’s calling.
The destruction of the Second Temple amplifies the importance of the message of the kingdom. We must not cling to our cultural traditions, no matter how good the original intention. He is the King! His gospel will be preached Are we preaching and obeying the message of Jesus?
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” Matthew 3:2
Have we heard this gospel of the kingdom?
The gospel of the kingdom is not merely about personal salvation, saving yourself for heaven, which ultimately serves the selfish interests of sinful people. It’s not about personal incomes and comfort. It’s not about us building a church and a “christian culture” to which we invite others to enter. It’s about Jesus sending us out of our comforts and our culture to preach a message for every other culture. It’s about Jesus building His Church, which is the extension of his family. However, that family looks different in every culture.
The gospel of the kingdom is an all-encompassing declaration of Jesus as King, over our individual hearts and over every culture. It’s a radical message, which I fear many of us still have not heard.
On my next post, I will pursue this message of the kingdom further. We will consider the powerful influence of “teachers,” and the “leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees” that Jesus warned his disciples about.
The day the world changed for me was like any other. I was eleven, riding alone with my dad in our Pontiac Bonneville 2-door. We were on our way to the barber on a sunny Wisconsin saturday afternoon in 1969. Dad parked downtown, turned the key, and the engine went silent. Then, looking straight ahead at the parked vehicle in front of us, he said these few words: “Your mother is leaving.”
I was only a child, but I could hear the pain in his voice. I do not blame my Mom or my Dad. I learned over time that both of them were just kids that grew up and had kids. They divorced. At the time, it felt like the end of the world.
The world around us is changing. Change often comes suddenly, like a gut-check. For many, change comes when a loved one dies unexpectedly. For others, it’s the loss of a job, changing a home town or school.
Change can shake us to the core, making us feel powerless, wondering if anything will ever return to normal. There’s something change does NOT do, however. Change cannot necessarily rouse us from our slumber or cause us to grow up out of our immaturity.
Yes, we all face dramatic personal shakings. However, too many continue to live in denial, never changing themselves. They live as though somehow everything is going to get better, like it was before, if they just hope for it. Or they spend their lives blaming others, think OccupyWallStreet, and seeking a way to hang their troubles, like a Scarlet Letter, on someone else.
The shakings that happen in life will not necessarily change you, unless you allow yourself to be stirred deeply at the core of your being. Change, real change, is not what happens TO us, it is what happens when we choose to do FOR others.
Change does not come when we complain that the world has gone wrong; change comes when we become world changers.
So deep personal change must occur, in spite of all the changes that happen in our surroundings. If we fail to allow our hearts to be stirred, choosing to change from the inside out, we will not have a positive influence in a rapidly changing world. And change is happening like never before.
Few people in history have ever lived through the kind of dramatic global and cultural change taking place during our lifetime. Jesus of Nazareth announced major change for the Israelites; he told them their Temple, the center of their culture, was going to be destroyed. They could not accept it; and they sent him to the brutal public and painful death of crucifixion. The Temple was destroyed, and everything changed. But too few living in Israel understood the importance of the changes taking place. Too few allowed their hearts to be stirred.
Jesus warned that they should “flee to the mountains”, but too many held out to protect their precious Temple, even fighting each other when the Romans surrounded the city just before they burned the Temple to the ground. After the destruction and the fire ended, Roman soldiers entered the temple to harvest the gold much of which had melted and seeped between the stones in the floor. Yes, as Jesus foretold, “not one stone” was left unturned. The city of Jerusalem could not be recognized after the destruction. People could not imagine anyone living there. Change.
It appears today that the very fabric of modern society is collapsing. Have the foundations been destroyed? If so, what can be done?
When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?” Psalm 11:3
This video outlines the changes occurring today, especially how they relate to the church. Watch it and let us know what you think.
Hebrews is an “elegantly polished” text, which is “removed from the world of the Modern reader.” This book serves as a pastoral letter, which exhorts Christian believers, a “pilgrim people,” to “persevere” and to continue to grow. Though the letter is Pauline in content, he is not the author. Instead, the author is likely to have been associated with Paul. This author is an educated Jewish person trained in Greek philosophy and exegesis. This person is clearly an authority in the church with an important word for an increasingly diverse, though clearly the author’s contemporary Jewish audience, probably in Rome. This letter refers to the “tabernacle” more than the “temple”, with references to the “wilderness” through which the “pilgrim” community is venturing and can reach their destination “today.” This treatise, which describes the Hebrew Scriptures as “alive and active”, is clearly describing the realities and promises fulfilled through the finished work of God in Christ. The author outlines three key Christological arguments; Jesus is “superior.” Jesus is superior as the Son, the Pioneer of our Faith, and the High Priest. God has spoken in the past through angels, but now he speaks to us through his Son, the agent of God’s creation and revelation, in these “last days.” He shares our humanity, yet he is the heir of all things, who receives the promise on behalf of all human beings. As a superior pioneer, he has gone ahead of us, blazing a trail for us to follow, doing what we could not do. After the order of the priesthood of Melchizedek, he is a “perfect” high priest, who was made perfect through suffering, and can make our consciences perfect through his perfect offering made once for all.
Jesus’ leadership is demonstrated in the incarnation through his integration of faith and commitment. Jesus warns “beware the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees” (Matt. 16:6, 11-12) whose influence, through Israel’s Temple and Torah, had become like pagan allegiance to principalities and powers (cf. Gal. 4:8-11; Rom. 5:20, 7:7-25). John’s audience, living within the Roman Empire, had witnessed idolatry taken to a new level, the deifying of the pagan state. Nero was the “symbol of political power that abuses its God-given authority.” Nero’s approach to leadership was the antithesis of Jesus, which is why he is characterized as the antichrist. Sadly, missionary endeavors at times have practiced variations of the conquest ethic of the Roman Empire, coercing conversion in the Name of Jesus!
What can we learn from Jesus’ leadership example and warnings to the churches in Revelation? While Paul encouraged churches to live in accord with civil law, John warns against becoming too comfortable. John’s churches appear therefore to be negotiating the margins of a corrupt society, seeking to avoid becoming “victims of social ostracism.” Christians today may also be ridiculed for their exclusivism and seduced into compromising their loyalty to Jesus. John’s churches may have been threatened with punishment for failure to participate in pagan idolatry, including sacrifice to Roman gods. The Nicolaitans, a religious sect with “Gnostic” tendencies in Ephesus and Pergamum, were denounced and “hated” for participating in syncretistic practices (cf. Rev. 2:6; 3:14-16; 3:20-24). How then should Christians follow Jesus’ lead in today’s society? Are Christians therefore to withdraw from trade guilds, dinner parties, legal transactions, political rallies, sporting events, and theatrical presentations? Was it openness to the surrounding Greco-Roman culture that Jesus rejected, or was it something else?
Participation, or lack of it, has profound impact on the character of a church’s witness. Perhaps Christians should witness to the servant-leadership of Jesus by demonstrating how it is possible to move with confidence through everyday life? Truth is “revealed supremely” in Jesus who was “obedient to the point of death” without considering his “equality with God something to be exploited” (Phil. 2:8, 6). John’s Revelation of Jesus has made plain the character of God who is willing to become a servant and die as a criminal in self-giving love.
See more at http://johnthenry.wordpress.com
So much changed after the first Temple was destroyed and the Israelites were sent into exile. The entire society and leadership changed during the years of captivity and the rebuilding of the Temple under Persian authority. No longer was it a Davidic kingdom. Rather, it had become a Hasmonean kingdom and the Second Temple was expanded and remodeled by Herod the Great. The Second Temple, during Jesus life and ministry, was only a shadow of the original.
Second-temple Judaism was more concerned with purity of kinship bloodline, reinforcing a Patron-Client political and extractive economic system, than it was in fulfilling her vocation and the covenant of Abraham, to be a blessing to all the families of the earth. Second-temple Judaism continued in captivity, a Client-kingdom under Roman rule.
Jesus’ message to Herod and to all of Israel, who was still completing the Temple at the time, was that they were “building their house on the sand.” They had failed to seek God’s rule, which Jesus came to announce. They failed to recognize their deliverer because their social and political system had become self-reinforcing, exclusionary, and corrupt. Those who sought political deliverance for Israel failed to see the extraordinary fulfillment of Israel’s destiny taking place through Jesus.
A Paper written in partial fulfillment of NE500 New Testament Gospels
Fuller Theological Seminary
March 11, 2009
Let Anyone With Ears To Hear Listen
The challenge for Youth With A Mission (YWAM), a twenty-first century international missionary community, is to examine what Jesus said and did in Palestine two thousand years ago, compare that to our contemporary picture of Jesus, and then to assess how the Jesus of history informs how we understand him here and now. Chaim Potok’s novel, The Promise, presents the comparable struggle of a Jewish Talmudic student who faces critical questions regarding the ancient texts relating to faith in the Orthodox and Hasidic communities Kelly Brown Douglas’s The Black Christ similarly describes the struggle of understanding a contemporary Jesus within the African-American community. In his book, The Challenge of Jesus, Bishop N.T. Wright offers a portrait of our struggle to know the Jesus of history, his life in first-century Palestine, in order that we may more faithfully follow the resurrected Christ of faith today.
Could the YWAM community misunderstand the biblical testimony and historical context of the Jesus of history? It is very possible. This study is an attempt to reconstruct the original historical setting of a selection of key passages that relate to YWAM’s understanding of Jesus’ practice and teaching of hearing his Father’s voice. Recognizing our personal knowledge of Jesus is not the same as a scientific certitude; we must avoid the extremes of the liberal quest for the historical Jesus and the conservative reaction against it. YWAM, an international mission committed to know God and to make Him known, follows the Christ of faith to the best of our understanding in our present day reality in every nation.
YWAM leaders periodically gather from across the globe to listen to God’s voice for direction by studying the Scriptures, with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and through our communal sharing. The doctrine of hearing God’s voice is our understanding of the practice of listening to God, which takes place in virtually every YWAM community. Why do we have the expectation that Jesus will speak? Have the Scriptures informed us or have we created some other Jesus through the influence of our cultural context? I will argue here that Jesus speaks to anyone who will listen and obey. I will show that Jesus modeled the way, taught the importance, and interceded on behalf of all nations to know God through the practice of hearing his voice.
Jesus Modeled the Way for Us to Hear God’s Voice
YWAM is part of a long history of communities seeking to translate the Jesus of history into a contemporary and often changing cultural context. YWAM leaders encourage fearless and courteous conversation among Christian traditions by inviting those from many denominations to teach and participate in its various programs. This continuing conversation, including discussions of the lives and backgrounds of the Gospels’ authors and the literary relationships of the Gospels and other source materials, is appropriate for those seeking to hear God’s voice today. In this section, I will show that the Jesus of history has modeled the way for YWAM’s understanding and practice of hearing God’s voice.
The Gospel writers’ selection, arrangement, and adaptation of their source materials portray Jesus in his own discourse between ancient Hebrew traditions and his contemporary culture. The Gospel writers appear to follow Jesus’ example. Rather than remove themselves from the story as teachers, the Gospel writers have entered the story by interpreting Jesus to their cultural context. All appear to agree that Jesus’ followers were to hear and obey God’s voice, which commands all to make him known among every people. Jesus is portrayed in each Gospel as the fulfillment of all that God said he would do. N.T. Wright argues that Jesus’ announcement of a new kingdom was also a judgment against Israel coupled to his own representative fulfillment of Israel’s purpose to be a light to the Gentiles.
The story of Jesus’ baptism shows how Jesus modeled the way to hear the voice of God. The Gospel writers all agree regarding the historical importance and particulars of the event. In the synoptic Gospels we find the near word-for-word account of the Holy Spirit descending on Jesus and “a voice from heaven, saying ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.’” John’s Gospel adds the Baptist’s narrative, “he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit’” (Jn. 1:33). Matthew’s adaptation, likely on behalf of his primarily Jewish audience, includes the narrative of Jesus modeling the necessity “to fulfill all righteousness” (Jn. 1:15).
Three things should be noted regarding the Gospel writers’ accounts of this historic event. First, all the Gospel accounts agree that this event took place, including a sign of Holy Spirit’s appearance. Second, God’s voice is reportedly heard as an announcement from heaven, as well as privately to John the Baptist. And third, Matthew highlights Jesus’ demonstrated commitment to personally submit to all that is necessary to fulfill the requirements of the ancient Hebrew prophetic tradition. These ancient texts together affirm that God communicates in human history and that Jesus modeled the way for us to hear God’s voice. YWAM’s practice of listening to God’s voice corresponds with the Jesus of history who modeled a commitment to fulfill the purposes of God in his contemporary setting.
Jesus Taught the Importance of Hearing and Obeying God’s Word
Though often misunderstood, parables represent Jesus’ chief teaching method. The Gospels depict Jesus’ penchant for perplexing and mystifying his hearers with simple, ordinary, yet startling messages. Jesus’ parables were stories of fields, vineyards, yeast, houses, and a “high incidence of agrarian motifs.” Jesus parabolic teachings are more than an effective technique to teach the kingdom. In this section, I will show how Jesus taught the importance of hearing God’s voice through the parables, calling the hearers to obedience with resulting changed lives, which are the fruit of the kingdom of God.
Throughout the Mediterranean in the first century C.E., broadcasting seed, some of which would fall on a beaten path, or rocky ground, or among weeds, was common practice. Probably eighty to ninety percent of Jesus’ audience engaged in agricultural work. The people of Jesus’ day knew a good harvest would at best yield ten to fifteen times what was planted. Jesus taught his contemporaries the prominent Parable of the Sower, also found in all three synoptic Gospels , with the surprising conclusion that seed sown upon “good soil” would bring forth a phenomenal harvest of “thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold.” Certainly Jesus had the attention of his hearers! Jesus concludes this parable with the adage, “He who has ears, let him hear,” which presumes most anyone could and should.
The Gospel writers also select and arrange Jesus’ interpretation of the parable, including a triple-tradition explanation for speaking in parables. It appears the author of Mark’s Gospel had the help of an eyewitness who was one of Jesus’ twelve. All synoptic Gospel writers intentionally invite the reader into a more intimate understanding. Jesus tells the twelve with him, “To you has been given the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables” (Mark 4:11). N.T. Wright explains that, despite their rootedness in the prophetic language of return from exile, Jesus’ message to his contemporaries is that God is “sowing his people again in their own land ” The explanation Jesus offers is like a riddle. Quoting Isaiah, Jesus explains his use of parables, “so that they may indeed…hear but not understand.” (Mark 4:12) Jesus is in fact judging Israel while “simultaneously calling into being a new people, a renewed Israel.” While this background is not obvious to the twenty-first century YWAMer, the Gospel writers all suggest that this parable is to teach the importance of listening with a good heart and obeying by becoming a fruitful participant in God’s continuing story.
Jesus Interceded on Behalf of All to Hear His Father’s Voice
YWAM’s commitment to listen to God’s voice is not merely for the purpose of private guidance and individual fruitfulness. YWAM’s mission is not limited to one nation or group; we are an international family of ministries called to listen to God’s voice together for the purpose of knowing God’s plans and purposes to preach the Gospel to every person and disciple all nations in our generation and in our varied and particular cultural settings. In this section, I will show that YWAM’s practice of listening to God’s voice is congruent with Jesus historical example of interceding on behalf of all nations to communicate with God.
Appealing for every person, from every background, nationality, and economic status, Jesus said, “He who has ears, let him hear.” The political, economic, and religious systems of second-temple Judaism presented an insurmountable obstacle for the ordinary person of Jesus day to approach God freely. Jesus likely knew that religious protest movements of his day sought “to become ‘political’ by contesting elite control of religious institutions.” It is into this larger story that all four Gospel writers portray Jesus driving out all those selling animal sacrifices and moneychangers. Jesus was not merely driving out a few opportunists trying to profit off religious pilgrims, his subversive message and action was to single-handedly confront the Temple’s political establishment and redistributive economic system, which had become an obstacle to God’s plan for Israel to be a light to all nations.
Appealing with the ancient text of his own Jewish tradition, Jesus asks, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be…a house of prayer’? Interestingly, Mark’s Gospel, likely the source for Matthew and Luke, also includes “for all the nations.” The exclusion of this appeal for all nations in Matthew and Luke’s Gospels is a concern, however further examination will show that the act of turning over tables was clearly an appeal for all nations to come to his Father’s house. In John’s Gospel, Jesus told those who sold pigeons, which were offered to restore the “postpartum woman to normal life while acknowledging God’s sole authority to establish pure blood relations,” that they should not “make my Father’s house a house of trade.” This dramatic act overturning tables is coupled with his appeal for his Father’s family, which he indicates should not be a matter of “trade” or limited to an exclusive bloodline. Jesus appeal that day was within view of the inscription in the Court of the Gentiles, which restricted those outside the bloodline of Abraham. Jesus instituted a new Temple (himself), through whom purity and forgiveness is now available to all people everywhere. Jesus has made the way for all nations to pray to and communicate with his Father, fulfilling the covenant given to Abraham. (Gen. 12:1-3)
The calling and the mission of YWAM is to enter this continuing story fulfilling all that is required to reflect the life of Jesus in our multi-cultural and multi-national contexts. Just as Jesus taught the abundant fruitfulness resulting from hearing and obeying God’s voice, Jesus followers may expect the same abundance. And just as Jesus confronted political, economic, and religious systems that hindered people from coming into relationship, including the intimacy of hearing God’s voice, Jesus followers must also appeal for every person and every nation to enjoy the blessedness of intimate relationship with his Father.
The Gospels, especially John, have much more instruction about the importance of hearing God’s voice. This study has been limited to only a few events paralleled in the Gospels. In those events, the historical Jesus demonstrated the attitude and obedience required to hear God, as well as God’s inclination to speak. He modeled the way at his baptism, he taught the importance of hearing God through the bearing of fruit from a heart of faithfulness, and he overturned symbolically every hindrance to hearing God’s voice. Jesus instituted a new Temple worship, constituted in himself and wherever two or more gather in his name, through which all nations are welcomed to worship the Father in spirit and in truth. Youth With A Mission practices hearing God’s voice through the Christ of our faith in a multi-national and multi-denominational community. This Christ of faith can be properly understood to be the Jesus of history. Through YWAM communities around the world, Jesus’ words echo today: “Let anyone with ears to hear listen!”
Aland, Kurt. 1982. Synopsis of the Four Gospels: Completely Revised on the Basis of the Greek Text of the Nestle-Aland 26th edition and Greek New Testament 3rd edition: The Text is the Second Edition of the Revised Standard Version. English ed. [New York]: United Bible Societies.
Douglas, Kelly Brown. 1994. The Black Christ, The Bishop Henry McNeal Turner Studies in North American Black Religion;. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis.
Hanson, K. C., and Douglas E. Oakman. 1998. Palestine in the Time of Jesus: Social Structures and Social Conflicts. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.
Potok, Chaim. 1969. The Promise. 1st ed. New York,: Knopf.
Powell, Mark Allan. 1998. Fortress Introduction to the Gospels. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.
Wright, N. T. 1999. The Challenge of Jesus: Rediscovering Who Jesus Was and Is. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press.
Jesus likely knew that religious protest movements of his day sought “to become ‘political’ by contesting elite control of religious institutions.” (See Palestine in the Time of Jesus: Social Structures and Social Conflicts, by Hanson & Oakman, p. 125) When Jesus drove out all those selling animal sacrifices and the money changers, he was not merely driving out a few opportunists trying to profit off religious pilgrims. He was single-handedly confronting the Temple’s political establishment and redistributive economic system. Amid all that blood sacrifice, Jesus overturned the Temple’s aim of purity in worship, replacing it with the aim of reconciliation with his Father.
Jesus overturned more than tables. He overturned the concern for purity in the Temple, which “attracted and cleansed impurities from the social body.” (p. 135) Jesus presented a new vision and a new Temple (himself), which took God’s purity and forgiveness out of the Temple to touch the people who needed reconciliation with his Father.
When Jesus singled out those who sold doves, saying they have made his “Father’s house” a “marketplace,” he was showing how much he desires to welcome the families of nations. Doves were offered in Temple worship to restore the “postpartum woman to normal life while acknowledging God’s sole authority to establish pure blood relations.” (p. 135) Jesus was appealing for his father’s family, while standing in close proximity to the Temple inscription in the Court of the Gentiles, which restricted those outside the blood line of Abraham.
Looking for alternatives to church forms will always challenge the status quo. Alternatives collide with traditional ways of doing things. However, alternatives will also encourage vision of the Church as a people and a community on mission with God.
Jesus used terms like “wine skin” and “cloth” to explain this tension between the new and the old. The nomenclature we employ, the terms we use to name things, is one of the greatest gifts of God. Like Adam who named all the creatures in Eden, God created us with the amazing privilege of naming things. What kind of God is this who would create all things and give away the privilege of naming them? We name our children and celebrate the wonder of God’s good gifts as we do so.We create with God and ascribe names to those creations, songs, books, events, buildings, even communities and cities. The power to name things is the power to assign character and our values to them.
This privilege of naming things is not an exclusive task for just a few experts or elites. God never intended to separate people by class or caste, giving more power and privilege to the few. Some might argue that it creates confusion to have so many names for things. Allowing a few to assign names to things may avoid confusion, but there will be a cost. It will limit creativity. The privilege of participating in a community, naming things creatively, is a gift of God to every member of Christ’s body.
When we share the responsibility of naming things, shared creativity ensues. This is the process of creating culture, I believe. It’s happening all around us, and it can’t easily be contained or controlled to avoid confusion.
Confusion may occur temporarily; it is part of the process of change. The Church has always been emerging and always will. When it stops changing, it becomes an old wine skin. The few may enjoy the old wine for a season, but there is no place for the new wine for the new generation. As we step out into an unknown future, as Abram did, we may experience some temporary confusion about where we are going. However, by setting out on this journey of change, we are the people of faith God called us to be.
God intends that his community of followers accept that there will always be change, transition, liminality, and a stepping into a future together. Certainly, the Children of Israel did not know all that was before them when they were delivered from Egypt. They entered into a transition in the wilderness. Nomenclature from the past carried meaning of the past and habits and sins of the past. The children of Israel needed to find terms for what God was wanting to do next. The Tent of Meeting was a new idea. Later came the Temple. But God would never dwell in a house made by human hands. Neither will he dwell, that is to stay permanently, in our contemporary idea of church. He has chosen to dwell in the hearts of his followers who are on a journey, on mission with him. This liminality is an exciting process; we are always following, always taking up our cross, always going in Jesus Name. You see, the Church, the community of Christ followers, is not a static central edifice in history. As a missionary, I’ve thought long and hard about this. Too many churches have relegated their understanding of the Great Commission to a department of the church, a line item in their budget. This formation, this attitude, has emasculated the Church. You see, the Church does not have a mission, God’s mission has a Church. We, the whole community of Christ followers, are called into his mission. This alternative view, this missional formation of church, will take us to new places, doing new things, in new ways, and assigning names to those things along the journey.
Those who have made the choice have within them Christ’s love compelling them to embrace and explore the new things God is wanting to do. When our hearts are full, we surrender our rights to the security of tradition. With faith and hope and love, we declare how majestic is the Name of Jesus in all the earth. This is the extraordinary “weight of glory” in naming things. Steven Hawthorne describes glory as “a relational beauty that every person’s heart yearns to behold and even to enter. The essential worth, beauty and value of people, created things and, of course, the Creator Himself.”
God told Moses, “Let my people go, that they may worship me.” As we set out through the wilderness of major transition, we’ll name things with the shared purpose of ascribing greatness to God. He’ll receive glory as we follow him in faith, so long as we don’t hold too tightly to the security of the ways we once knew.