Monday, 30 August 2010

Building an Apostolic House

Jesus made the statement, "I will build My church..." He is authoritative and definitive. He takes personal ownership of this task. Two thousand years have passed since those words were uttered. We are now able to look back and see many expressions of church around the world. Our perspective enables to see which periods of history and expressions of church have been effective in working towards the great commission and which have not. It is a sobering reflection at times. One thing is certain. There is no perfect model of how to do church.

Within Europe we have a big battle. The architecture, laws, education, science. and history of Europe are deeply rooted in Christian values. But we now live in a post Christian age, a post modern age that has, at one level, rejected and become disconnected from the past. So whilst we embrace the advancement of technology displayed in things like iphones, many reject the notion that science can provide all the answers. Like the first century Christians, we live in a pluralistic society where Christianity competes with many other belief systems available for people to choose from.

How do we do church in such an environment? Let me share something of my vision for what I will call an "Apostolic House". This vision is rooted in my understanding of four things;

1. Scripture
2. Church history
3. The context we live in - the real world where we marry, work, pay our bills and carry on life.
4. The network of relationships I am connected to.

Scripture obviously takes precedent over all the others but the others definitely influence and nuance my understanding of the sacred text. That's how it should be. To quote the famous theologian Gordon Fee, "Interpretation is a community affair and the first community we are indebted to is the church in history"

What I write is not meant to be a definitive answer of how to do church. As Paul said, "We see in a mirror dimly...". 1Cor 13.12. Everything is "in part", partial and incomplete. But my vision is clear enough for us to move forward under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. David said, "The house to be built for the Lord must be exceedingly magnificent, famous and glorious throughout all countries", 1Chron 22.5. What a vision! He prepared for it, even though he didn't see it in his own lifetime. His son Solomon would go on to build the house that David had in his heart.

Psalm 40.6-8 'Sacrifice and offering you did not desire; My ears you have opened. Burnt offering and sin offering you did not require. The I said, "Behold I come; in the scroll of the book it is written of me. I delight to do your will, O my God, and Your law is within my heart".

This passage is quoted in Heb 10.5-7 as relating to Jesus. It is His starting point. And it's where we need to start. The people that Jesus is calling out to Himself are a people given over to radical obedience to what He says. Jesus delighted to do the Father's will. We all have things in life we feel passionate about. The things that excite us are easy to commit time, money and energy to. That's how Jesus felt about the Father's will. For in doing it, God's Kingdom became manifested. It was life changing for all who encountered Jesus; for to encounter Him was to encounter the Father, John 14.7-9.

In Matt 12.46-50 we have the account of Jesus speaking to the multitudes when His family show up wanting to see him. Mark 6.3 tells us the names of His four brothers, James, Joses, Judas and Simon. He also has at least two sisters and then there is His mother, Mary. These family members show up wanting to see Him. Someone tells Jesus they are outside. His response is shocking. "Who is my mother and who are my brothers?" Imagine that! What a way to get peoples attention. "And He stretched out His hand toward His disciples and said, Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother."

Think about that. Obedience to the will of the Father positions us to be closer to Jesus than if we were His blood relatives - and that includes His mother. He is redefining family, redefining how we get close to God, redefining who has the priority on His time and attention. An apostolic house encourages this kind of understanding. And the obedience Jesus looks for is not blind obedience. It comes from a heart that has studied the ways of God and knows His character. Obedience to God's word gives us new value and new status.

In our culture we are obsessed with political correctness, especially in the public arena. It has begun to mute the voice of the church. We must be seen to be equitable, to give equal opportunity. Of course there is validity to the concerns that lie behind these issues. But morality can't be legislated. I once worked for a Management Company where our equal opportunities policy required us to advertise for a particular role in the Company. In fact the MD had already made his decision who to appoint. The whole interview process was a farce of ticking boxes and jumping through hoops. We did it to be free of any accusation of a lack of fair play. But the irony was that the whole process was fixed, but only known to the insiders.

Jesus didn't play those games. His passion was obedience to the Father. And so He was free to call two sets of brothers and all of them fishermen. Some today would accuse Him of bias towards tradesmen and favouring certain families. Jesus won't dance to that tune, Matt 11.17. Neither should a church that seeks to be an apostolic house. The real issue is "What is the Father saying?" and "Do we have the courage to obey Him?" The obedience I find the most difficult is the kind that leaves me open to the accusation that what I am doing is from self interest. No leader wants that label. But God sometimes tests our hearts.

Take Elijah. He is sent to a widow whose only prospect is to make a final meal for herself and her son and then wait to die. Most preachers focus on the fact that he proclaimed a wonderful promise of unending supply of flour and oil until the end of the drought. True. And that's important. But first he asked her to make a meal for him! How embarrassing. How awkward. A poor widow. And here he is asking her to meet his need first. That took guts. That took being willing to be misunderstood. That took obedience. And blessing flows from obedience. As long as we try and keep our reputation we remain captive to judgements and opinions of those we are trying to win for Christ. We have to rise above that.

For me an apostolic house is characterised by joyful praise. I mean people whose worship is loud, vocal and energetic. I understand the need for solitude and silence. They have their place, but my reading of scripture is that these are primarily personal disciplines practiced while alone with God, Matt 6.5-6; Mark 1.35. The general push of scripture is towards praise that is corporate, loud and with musical instruments. Take the dedication of Solomon's temple. As the Priests sang and played their instruments, (120 trumpeters are recorded), the house of the Lord was filled with a cloud that is called 'the glory of the Lord'; 2Chron 5.11-14.

David is our prime model here - the man after God's heart. Listen to Ps 33.1-3, "Rejoice in the Lord, O you righteous! For praise from the upright is beautiful. Praise the Lord with the harp; make melody to Him with an instrument of ten strings. Sing to Him a new song; Play skillfully with a shout of joy". Do you hear its encouragement to shout, be joyful, learn 'new songs', play skillfully and rejoice?Praise from the upright is said to be 'beautiful', Ps 33.1.

And when we praise, Jesus joins in! That's what Ps 22.22 says, as it is quoted in Heb 2.11-12. Jesus sings with us. God declares that whoever offers Him praise glorifies Him, Ps 50.23. Ps 98.4-6 says; "Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth; break forth in song, rejoice and sing praises. Sing to the Lord with the harp and the sound of a psalm, with trumpets and the sound of a horn; shout joyfully before the Lord, the King".

Do you get the message? God is great and He is worth our highest praise. There is only one period in Heaven when silence reigns. It is for half an hour, Rev 8.1, at the opening of the seventh seal - the close of the age. The rest of the time Heaven is filled with praise that is often like the sound of a mighty river, Rev 14.2; 19.6. And why not? Praise has the power to silence the enemy, Ps 8.2. This text is quoted by Jesus in Matt 21.16 as the chief priests and scribes chided the children for their praise of Jesus. He would have none of their criticism. An apostolic house is unapologetic for its loud, joyful, vibrant, and musical praise of the great King.

An apostolic house is also a house of prayer. Jesus said, "My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations", Mark 11.17. I like that. It's a house open for all nations to pray. There is meant to be ethnic, social and gender diversity in God's house. Prayer can be personal, but is most dynamic when it is corporate. Even when we pray alone Jesus taught us to think corporately, "Our Father....", Matt 6.12.

The account of the cleansing of the temple by Jesus in John 2.13-22 shows us how seriously He took the idea of God's house being a house of prayer. Jesus went in and drove out the money changers and those who sold animals. First He took time to make a whip. It was a totally premeditated act. Then He entered the temple and drove them out. God’s House has a plan and a purpose. Jesus saw it. He wouldn't allow business and profit to replace ministering to the Lord in prayer.

This is Jesus at His most passionate. He critique is simple, " have made it a den of thieves", Matt 21.13. What an indictment. The very house that was meant to be a place of connection with God, a place of worship and intimacy, had become a place of merchandise, where thieves profited. His passion for the Father's house is seen by John as as fulfillment of Ps 69.9, "Zeal for your house has eaten me up".

We sometimes speak of people being consumed with jealousy or grief. We ask the question, "What eating at him?" It is a turn of phrase that in effect says this person is totally preoccupied with whatever has captured their heart. That's how it was with Jesus. The difference was that because the focus of His heart's affection was the Father's house it made Him the most authentic display of the Father's will on earth. And that call now rests on the church to display the magnificence of Jesus, Eph 1.22-23; 3.21.

An apostolic house is a place where people can pray and get connected to God and His purpose. It's not about a physical house. It's about a spiritual house where we value God's presence and reach out to Him together in prayer. One of the most dynamic prayer meetings recorded in Acts is in chapter 4.13. The disciples had been beaten and warned not to speak about Jesus. Instead they return to their fellow believers and spontaneously begin to pray.

It is loud, corporate and rooted in scripture, prophetically driven. The result was that the place where they assembled was shaken and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit. A smaller but no less impacting repetition of Acts 2 was released. This prayer came out of a real life situation. They were in it together. They were reminding God of His promises and challenging the power of the enemy to silence their witness. They prayed, not from desperation, but from conviction. And God heard and acted.

An apostolic house is also a house of testimony; a place where we tell of the great things the Lord has done. Our personal testimony is a history if what God has done in our lives. But churches are people on a journey together. It is what God is doing in our midst, together, that often has more significance.

Think of Israel and their deliverance from Egypt. This was the testimony of a nation enshrined in the yearly passover. And they were required to pass it on to their children so that they grew up with an expectation of how great God is. Faith was nurtured through their corporate testimony. This is what the prophets did over and over again. They reminded the nation of what God had done in order to ignite faith and expectation for Him to do it again.

This is also what stirs faith in us. We hear a story of what God has done in someone Else's life and suddenly we believe it can happen to us too. We hear of how God has used one church to bless the world and it inspires us to believe God to use us. An apostolic house nurtures this kind of faith that builds an authentic journey with God; a journey that becomes our story.

In Rom 1.8 Paul tells the Roman Christians. "Your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world". Wow! What a testimony. No wonder he wanted to go there. He wanted a part in adding to their story. But these kinds of credits don't come cheap. There is a price to pay. Daniel had to face the Lion's den. David had to face Goliath. Paul had to endure beating and being thrown into the Philippian jail. Yet all these men saw God's deliverance and lives were changed.

An apostolic house is by nature a place of ministry development. We see this in Jerusalem as seven more are appointed to ministry by the apostles. They were called to 'serve tables', Acts 6.2 By accepting this humble position three significant things happened. First there was a multiplication of the disciples. Until now Acts speaks of disciples being added. Now growth was moving into an exponential stage. That's what happens when we release new levels of ministry, especially at the leadership level.

The second thing was that many of the priests were obedient to the faith. These were probably the hardest group to win to the faith because they were so deeply entrenched in tradition and old ways of thinking. But the believers testimony became so powerful even they were won. Amazing. But thirdly and more significantly, Stephen and Philip, two of the seven, began to do exactly what the apostles where doing. They began to move in signs and wonders, Acts 6.8; 8.5-6. The apostles were reproducing their ministries through these men.

At one level we shouldn't be surprised. This was the model that Jesus Himself used. He called men to be with Him and, in process of time, developed their ministries and released them to do what He did. Ministry was there to be reproduced - that's the point of making disciples.

We also see this later in Acts when Paul and Barnabas give shape to the church in Antioch, Acts 11.25-26. By Acts 13.1 the leadership team has grown to five, all from different countries, therefore ethnically diverse, and all from different social and educational backgrounds. Paul's' strong teaching gift and Barnabas's strong prophetic gift were being reproduced in others. Ministry was being developed and as a result the church could move out in mission, not just locally but trans locally.

Ministry development and mission go hand in hand. In order to reach out someone must have the skill to maintain and keep the ground that has been taken. An apostolic house strives to keep this balance. Ministry is not the preserve of professionals. Leaders in an apostolic house take their ministries seriously but hold their roles lightly. Paul encouraged Timothy to give what he had received to others.

2 Tim 2.2 And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. That's a threefold reproduction of ministry. Paul taught Timothy. He in turn must teach others, who in turn must pass on what they have learned to others. Paul is extending his ministry through Timothy and Timothy is doing the same thing. That's why reproducing leaders always multiples a church.

An apostolic church is also a resource church. Sometimes the resource is seasoned ministry. Antioch was able to send out Paul and Barnabas because other leaders could carry the load. Mission progressed and the home church continued to flourish. Sometimes the resource is money. We have power to share wealth. Paul encouraged the churches in Macedonia to share in the needs of the church in Judea, 2Cor 8.1-7. Sometimes the resource is gifting. We may have many talented musicians that we can share with other churches that struggle to have a good worship experience.

Sometimes the resource is being a sanctuary for those in difficulty. People can come and rest in our midst and get refreshed. No demand is placed on them, other than to enjoy God's presence and allow themselves to be served for a season. Missionaries and those in full time ministry need that kind of resource. An apostolic church sees it resources as something to steward for the good of the whole body of Christ.

Finally, for me, an apostolic house is a place of connection. Of course we connect with God through worship, prayer and obedience. But in our corporate expression we connect generationally, inter-culturally and socially. To connect generationally means we don't accept the generation gap. Older people make an effort to give space to youth while the youth give honour by listening to the wisdom of older folk.

We have a lady in our church who is past retirement age. She's a gem. She wanted to get involved with our youth ministry. That's the 13-17 years old age group. These are not the most polite group of teenagers. Most are unchurched. Yet within a few weeks one of the girls in the group asked this woman, "Can I call you Nan?" Her own grandmother was dead and her family fragmented. But she connected - beyond her peers, to another generation.

The gospel is to be taken to the nations. It started in Jerusalem and was to go to the uttermost parts of the earth. It began locally and then became national and then international. Cultural boundaries needed to be crossed. An apostolic house is intentional about doing this. We celebrate diversity. It enriches our lives. And as we cross boundaries we wrestle with what are our own cultural norms and what is in fact gospel truth.

Too often we focus on what divides us in the body of Christ. Connection helps us celebrate what unites us. I've been to Africa twice; to the poor nation of Burkina Faso. When they worship, at some point all the women get up and dance. It is lively loud, energetic and quite repetitious. Then in the next song the men get up and dance. It's almost like a response to the women. This can go on for up to an hour.

It wouldn't work in our Western culture, but it works there. It's part of their worship. And I can connect with it and even be part of it, much to their amusement. The sight of me trying to dance like an African is comical; but my effort shows my desire to connect with them. I'm a fool for Christ's sake. In doing so I win their hearts so I can preach God's word.

Connection needs to take place socially too. James anticipated this in James 2.1-4. If we only produce middle class churches that seek for bigger and better we are failing. The gospel requires us to remember the poor and value them, Gal 2.9-10; James 2.5; Luke 14.13; 19.8; Rom 15.26. In doing this we strike a blow to human pride and selfishness. We make room for mercy and compassion to shine through.

To connect with God's heart is to connect with God's priorities. He reaches out to the poor, the orpressed and the lost. An apsotolic house dares to connect with a broken world to bring the life changing, healing power of Jesus. This is the kind of house He is building. This is what He gave His life for. This is what I see. How about you?