#tbt 10 – Dying to the wrong things.

It’s another #tbt, looking back at aspects of the story of Jesus’ Church. Finding out a few interesting bits and pieces, and seeing what we can learn for us today.

Last week I told you about Ignatious. He wrote loads of letters in his time (being the worst ever letter writer/text replier/responder to calls ever, I’m desperately put to shame by Ignatious’ trigger/pen-happy fingers), but a specific one was to a church in Smyrna. Take a look at the map, Smyrna doesn’t exist anymore, but it was located in Turkey. The bishop at the time was a guy called Polycarp. Now, when it comes to standing up for your faith, this guy was the real deal.photo

At a time when the Roman Emperor was considered a god in the 2nd century, people were forced to worship them, burn incense for them, and reject any other god-like figures (particularly Jesus), being a Christian wasn’t easy. For those that refused to do this, they would be killed. Polycarp was a refuser. As he was reportedly dragged before the crowds, before he was martyred he declared

86 years have I served him, and he has done me no wrong.

How can I blaspheme my King and my Saviour?

Now there is somebody’s hand I want to shake.

After he was martyred by being burned at the stake, many Christians would come to remember, and celebrate this amazing example of what it was to following and give it all up for Jesus.

However, unfortunately people took it too far. Martyrdom became somewhat ‘fashion’. I don’t say this lightly or want to seem crude, but many Christians began to freely hand themselves over to the authorities in order to be martyred. It became the greatest thing one could do in order to be like Jesus, as that is what he did. Leaders had to begin to share direction and correction with Christians, that they shouldn’t die to the wrong things. The Bible does say that we are called  to ‘die to ourselves‘, but we need not die to the wrong things. At the time of the ‘wannabe martyrs’ (greatly named by Nick Page in this great book), it was written by a Christian leader that “we do not approve of men offering themselves spontaneously.“. Needlessly and willingly giving your life away to be martyred was not was God had in mind.

I wonder if we die to the wrong things today? Most of us in the Western world today don’t find ourselves in a position where being martyred is a reality we need to face, and therefore the idea of us willingly and eagerly putting ourselves in a place to be martyred is even more distant. But how many of us become martyrs in different ways? I wonder if you take on burdens you need not carry? Behaviours, lifestyle choices, attitudes that we simply don’t need to hold onto. How many of us have misinterpreted things  or are going the wrong end of the ‘die-to-yourself’ stick? I know God often needs to remind us of a few things he does not want us to die to:

  • Loving and serving my family.
  • Fun and enjoyment.
  • Sleep and rest.
  • The health of our soul in preference over our ‘doing’ for God.

What other things is God speaking to you about NOT dying to? Sure, we do need to die to some things, but lets not become martyrs in the wrong way, and avoid the full life that God would love us to have.

#tbt 8 – The ‘Whole’ Church.

#tbt – Throwback Thursday, a look back at the story of the Christian Church and having a think as to what we can learn today from them.

One reason I am getting more and more interested in church history is because it's an opportunity as you look into it to find out what stuff in church life is 'man-made' and what is 'God-made'. What practises, concepts, ideas, tactics and structures are from God, and what bits are from us (usually stupid) humans? Sometimes as we look into church history it's clear to see, other times it's a bit more tricky. Anyway, onward with this week's #tbt!

Near the end of the first century, a guy called Clement wrote a letter from the church in Rome to the church in Corinth. At the time the Corinthian church had recently chucked out their leader and appointed a new one, which Clement felt as a bad idea as the leaders are God ordained and they needed to trust God in it.

All sounds fine I right? Well, I guess it would be fine if Clement hadn't assumed that he wasn't just sharing his opinion with the church, but he was actually an AUTHORITY in the situation. This is where it gets tricky. In his letter, Clement shared a translation of Isaiah 60:17 stating “I will establish their bishops in righteousness and their deacons in faith” (if you find that translation to be anything but inaccurate please do tell me!). Clement shared that ultimately the succession of the church leaders came down the line from Jesus, and with that, an 'organisation'-like feel across the world that linked the churches together.

Up until now the local churches ran independently of each other. Doing their 'thing' in their part of the known world, advancing God's kingdom. But Clement here spoke of a global church, a church that was together, unified and one organisation, that these collections and gatherings of people were 'one church'

It was Ignatious of Antioch that first used the term Katholikos (take a stab at what word we use now!), which meant universal, or global, or 'whole'.

When we say the word 'Catholic' now, we get it mixed with 'Roman Catholic'. When we read the creeds and statement of faith that say 'we believe in the one catholic church', those of us who aren't Catholics needn't be confused, we are not speaking about the Roman Catholics, but speaking of the one, universal church.

So what comes to mind as you read all this? Is it right to say and have one universal church? Should we just focus on our local churches and forget about the global aspect of the church? The word Catholic isn't mentioned in the Bible, so what does that mean for us? How much accountability and leadership should our churches and ministries take from other churches and ministries, whether the church is down the road from us, or on the other side of the world?

For me and the church I am part of , we pursue unity amongst other believers and other churches. In the small town I'm involved in with our MultiSite we have launched, I am in good relationship with the other church leaders. For us, relationship is key. Strong bonds and relationships amongst other churches locally, nationally and internationally is deeply important. We are all on the same mission, let's encourage each other along the way! Accountability is also important, having other leaders and other churches we bond, link, support, encourage and share with is important (and I know our senior pastor does that).

However! Authority across churches puzzles and confuses me a little. Authority is often different to accountability and relationship. Clement seemed to stamp an authority over a church that he was geographically far way from, and quite possibly emotionally and mentally some distance from also. I'm not sure if I agree with him doing that. As long as the church in Corinth had good accountable relationships with other local churches in the area, I'm sure they could support, help and support each other through difficult decisions like those that had been made, why did it need some authority to come in and state the 'rules'?

What do you think? Agree? Disagree? Anything to add or share about this kind of stuff? Thoughts on a postcard (or comment below, much easier)…

 

 

#tbt 6 – The Early Church Leadership Structure

Throwback Thursdays (#tbt), a look back at the story of the Christian Church, seeing what we can learn.

As time went on, the early church felt that they needed some kind of structure and organisation.

Around 60AD three titles were beginning to be used for leaders within the church. They didn't invent words. They simply used titles that were already used for similar roles outside of the church. Let's learn some Greek shall we?

Episkopos – nowadays we have use the name 'bishop'. The word meant 'overseer' or something like a 'foreman'. These people would oversee a few churches, most of which being under 100 people.

Diakonos – what we now call 'deacon', simply meaning 'servant'.

Presbuteros – what we now call an Elder. This originally was the name of 'a man of standing' in the community.

Giving people names and titles can be dodgy. Some let it go to their head and it can become a bit of an ego trip. But when you see what these roles looked like in the early church, you quickly see that they were hugely interchangeable. In reality, no matter what the title of the person was, there as a strong sense and attitude in them that all roles were servants, meeting the needs of others. Part of the bishops role early on was to look after the poor and needy, including ensuring that these people have somewhere to sit! If there wasn't a seat available the bishop would give up his seat. In reality however the roles of the bishops and deacons were very interchangeable. Not just the bishops would do this, but many would. There was a sense of all getting “stuck in”, and just cracking on with what needed doing. The modern equivalent would be anyone who spots a dirty toilet in the church grabs some rubber gloves and gets it sorted, regardless of title, position, salary or length of time serving.

No sense of a celebrity leadership culture here.

In fact, far from a celebrity culture, many people had trouble leading the church to take any notice of the bishops at all! There actually seemed to be a lack of respect and honour of the overseers. One of the early books (called the 'Didache') advising the early followers of Jesus urged Christians not to dishonour and ignore them, but treat them with honour as they would the prophets and teachers of the time.

So what can we learn from this? In some sense the church had it right by not putting leaders on some kind of celebrity or 'know-it-all' pedestal. Titles are not everything. No matter what position you may hold, no matter what name or job title you are given, you are called to serve. The early church seemed to get this. It's not about trying to look great or get 'promoted through the ranks'.

However, the early church weren't perfect. Dishonouring and not listening or following our leaders is no way to help grow the Kingdom of God. Sometimes we can be put off by structure and organisation, as if it is somehow against the movement of the Holy Spirit in church. The reality is, we need leadership, leaders that serve in the right attitude, but lead nonetheless. Taking the reins, paving the way, pioneering new ideas, helping keep priorities in the right place and giving direction to directionless groups, not being afraid to make decisions, big and small. We need leaders who can lead us in living in step with the Holy Spirit.

What can you do today to honour your leaders? What can you do in your role/title/position in the church to serve where is needed? What does it look like for you to 'do what is necessary' for those you lead? The church doesn't need positions and titles, it needs servants.

 

#tbt 5 – The Limited Law abiders

#tbt (Throwback Thursday) – taking a look back at the history of the church, and seeing what we can learn from them.

One of the mega sore spots of the early church in the first hundred years or so, one of the huge areas of controversy, debate, discussion and disagreement, was the connection and relationship between Judaism and Christianity. Across the growing Christian world, people would debate between themselves how much Judaistic laws the new Christian converts should adhere to. Stuff like circumcision, and the diets of the believers were called into question. Some argued that as Jesus was the Messiah that the Jews had been waiting for, they should continue to circumcise their boys, and they should still refrain from eating the 'unclean' foods the Jews would not eat.

Very early on this wound up the Apostle Paul no end. The more your read Paul's letters in the New Testament the more you see how much of a straight talking, no nonsense kinda guy he was. And it seemed this issue really did his head in. He strongly felt that as Jesus stated that he had come to 'fulfill the law', that we no longer had to be bound by the laws the Jews led their lives by because of us now living in the times of the New Covenant.

Anyway, we can read in Galatians all about this, and Paul was so annoyed by it he really laid into those still following Jewish laws in his letter to the Phillippians when he said “Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of those who mutilate the flesh!” (Phil 3:2). When you see the original words he used in this sentence (“Kunas, KaKous, ergatas, Katatomen”), Nick Page makes a great comment that 'It is as though Paul spits the words out'.

Paul was clearly a guy who saw the power of grace, and the power of what Jesus accomplished on the cross. That we are no longer bound to laws, traditions and the limitations they bring. But instead we are in a time of grace, where we can break free from not just Jewish laws and traditions, but more modern traditions and laws that we put on ourselves. We don't necessarily cirumcise ourselves for God, or amend our diets and refuse foods as unholy, but we can place other man-made laws in ours lives under the guise of 'holiness', when in fact they are meaningless and often limiting to us.

Sometimes the idea of grace confuses us. We look for laws in our lives, we look for boundaries and traditions to hang our faith onto. Traditions aren't all bad, but when they dictate how we relate to God. Or how our church looks and runs, we will come across problems there. We starts saying that we and others have to 'be like this' or 'regularly do that'. Our faith becomes more about our 'doing' than 'being'. Oops.

What man-made laws and traditions have you put into your life that are holding you back from the fullness of God's love, grace and freedom he has given you today? Maybe these self-laws and traditions have been there for years, ecades even. Be like Paul. Be harsh to the laws and traditions in your life that are not worth the time, remove them and receive the freedom from Jesus today.

 

 

#tbt 4 – The Mighty Preparation

Another week of Throwback Thursday (#tbt) has come around, and this time I'd like to take a step back and look at a big picture. Before we get ahead of ourselves cracking on with the story of the church eras, I want to let you know about something pretty cool I'm learning about.

The simple truth is, Jesus came to Earth at the perfect time in history. Infact, it was like the world was prepared for his coming. Let me explain.

Jesus arrived in a world that was led by the Roman Empire. Because of this various things happened and were evident, such as:

  1. The Greek language was widely known. Similar to today with English, many people across the known world spoke Greek, it was a global language.
  2. Also, the Roman Empire areas known for its cultural diversity, good communications, stable economy and good trade routes. They build roads to make travel easier. You could call this a 'globalisation'. With the Romans in charge, the world felt like a smaller place.
  3. The Romans also allowed religious freedoms. They didnt care what you believed, as long as it didn't upset or impede or weaken the Roman power.
  4. Meanwhile across the known world various spiritual awakenings and expectations were evident- the Jewish people were expecting the imminent arrival of their Messiah, Zoroastrians (one of the world's oldest religions) were seeking enlightenment, and something new. Also the Greeks were very open to new theologies and ideas, as well as Buddhism spreading, causing much religious and spiritual debate. In short, people were open to and looking for something new spiritually.

Now, take a re-read of those 4 points and now think about the spread of Christianity. There were plenty of other factors too that aided the spread of the gospel. It's clear to see that the world was 'poised' for Jesus and the spread of his message. Sure there was persecution and some awful times, and struggles and obstacles to overcome, but it's clear to see how the world was ready for Jesus to come and make an impact. God's timing is perfect eh?

In his book 'A History of the Christian Church', Williston Walker makes this great statement about traits that a religion must have had in that time in order for it to thrive in the society it was birthed in. Take a look at the underlined bits, look familiar to a certain faith to you?

In summing up the situation in the heathen world at the coming of Christ, one must say that, amid great confusion, and in a multitude of forms of expression, some of them very unworthy, certain religious demands are evident. A religion that should meet the requirements of the age must teach one righteous God, yet find place for numerous spirits, good and bad. It must possess a define revelation of the will of God, as in Judaism, that is an authoritative scripture. It must inculcate a world-denying virtue, based on moral actions agreeable to the will and character of God. It must hold forth a future life with rewards and punishments. It must have a symbolic initiation and promise a real forgiveness of sins. It must possess a redeemer-god into union with whom men could come by certain sacramental acts. It must teach the brotherhood of all men, at least of all adherents of the religion.”

Check out this last bit…

“However simple the beginnings of Christianity may have been, Christianity must possess, or take on, all these traits if it was to conquer the Roman Empire or to become a world religion.”

Williston Walker and others call this the 'Mighty Preparation'. Gods timing is perfect. He sent Jesus to Earth at the right time in history in order to save us, and get the message spread as quickly and effectively as possible. Jesus was sent for 'such a time as this'. The truth is, if God can send Jesus at a specific time in history, he can do the same for you (and has done!). You are here at this time in history of r a purpose. How can you use the traits of today's world to further advance the message of Jesus? Something to think about. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

 

 

#tbt 3 – the ‘Jesus is coming back tomorrow!’ crowd.

This is the 3rd instalment of Throw Back Thursdays (#tbt), a quick chance to briefly learn something from the story of the Christian Church. This week, let's look at two things:

1. The early church believed and expected that Jesus will come back at any time, certainly within their lifetimes.

2. So they'd do anything to ensure as many people as possible know him before he does return.

Let's take a little look at this.

If someone says to you, 'I'm heading out but don't worry I'll be back soon', we have unconscious expectations of what 'soon' means. A few hours, a couple of days, a year or two. Depending on the situation, we can make good solid guesses and assume 'soon' can be quantified. Unfortunately, the early followers of Jesus had never seen anybody ascend to heaven before, so they had no idea when Jesus would return. Quite rightly, they decided to live, speak, behave and declare the truth as if Jesus could come back at any moment, and that he probably will come back at any moment (certainly before they die).

This was the natural way of thinking. It wasn't in their minds at all that 2000 years later he still would not have returned, so they geared their whole lives towards the fact that Jesus may come back tonight or tomorrow morning, so we'd better tell as many people about him before he does come back, and we'd better make sure as many people as possible are ready for him.

So what did this look like for some of the early Christians in the first couple of hundreds of years of the church? And what can we learn from it?

1. The sheer audacious declaration of Jesus. The followers of Jesus gave their lives to speaking about Jesus to whoever would listen, and plenty of people who wouldn't listen too. Certain members of the early church had no regard for pomp or ceremony, they didn't care about how they may look to the crowds or the authorities. They felt the urgency and high importance of telling people about Jesus, so that when he comes back, they will know him.

2. They made some silly calls. Their deep concern for people to be safe in the knowledge that they were saved, led them to start baptising babies. There were other reasons for this too, but part of their of their thinking was to ensure that any babies who either died before they made a commitment to Jesus were 'covered' by being baptised, but also in the urgency of seeing the world changed for Jesus before he returned to Earth, they thought they'd get babies baptised in order that they were safe and saved just in case he returned during breakfast. The problem with this is that it isn't in the Bible. Oops.

With the benefit of hindsight now, we can see the error in this. At my church, we have 'believer baptisms', where we baptise people who are at a point to understand and have received and believed the simple message of the gospel, which as far as I'm concerned, is what the Bible says.

But through the urgency of things, the church panicked somewhat and started something outside of Jesus' teaching, as they thought they were doing the right thing.

Here's the lessons. Firstly, I know for sure that Jesus will come back to Earth one day. Do I live like it? Not with enough awareness. Do I speak to people like he may come back to tomorrow? No, most of the time I speak with them about Jesus in a way like they could choose a chocolate bar in a petrol station and it wouldn't matter too much (please no don't hate me, just trying the honest thing!). Do I live my daily life with an expectation of Jesus to show up? Not as high and expectation as I'd like. How about you?

Oh yeah then there's the whole 'baby baptism' thing. What can we take from this? I know for me my passion or fervour for something can be so strong I get blinded by the other truths I know to be right, leading me to make silly decisions. My desire to do the right thing needs to be a thought through, explored passion rather than a thoughtless, chaotic and Theologically weak passion. Blind passion can end up in stupid places. Aware, alert and eyes-wide-open passion can be both Biblical and powerfully effective. What areas of passion and urgency In your life do you need to keep your eyes wide open in to see the truth and wisdom as to how to take it forward?

Hope this is helpful anyway. Feel free to leave comments with thoughts, feedback, opinions etc. Till next time!

 

 

#tbt 2 – What did an early church meeting look like?

The 2nd weekly instalment of #tbt, a throw back to the history of the Christian church to see what we can learn from them.

This week – What did the first church meetings look like?

One of the earliest mentions of a 'church meeting' as we think of it is shown in Acts 20 when Paul was in Troas. Take a read here.

So what do we know about it? Where did it take place, and what happened in Troas when Paul sat down with this gathering of Jesus followers?

1. It took place on the first day of the week, and Saturday was the sabbath then, so it would have happened on on a Sunday and probably in the evening (as Sunday was a working day).

2. It took place in an apartment.

3. We know from Paul's letters that they shared food together, sang songs together (from the Old Testament as well as their own Christian songs), they received prophecy, and we know from historical writings that very early on there were elements of liturgy in their gatherings. So a packed programme!

3. I find it fascinating that we know that Paul was not preaching here. The original word in verse 7 used here is the Greek word 'dialegomai', which means conversing, or discussing. So we know that Paul wasn't preaching at this meeting, but he was having a conversation at this meeting. A sharing of ideas led by Paul. He wasn't simply delivering information and telling them stuff that was one-way, but it was a dialogue. He had chats with those present.

So what can we learn from this? We were never meant to rely on one person preaching to us in order for us to discover the truth and message of Jesus. Right from the beginning it was a conversation, and discussion. Let's not depend on the individual guru for all of our spiritual food. Let's engage, initiate and encourage healthy discussion. If you're anything like me, You'll love sitting and listening to a good sermon or preach from some epic preacher. And I don't think there's anything wrong with that (and I think we need times when we sit and listen to a preacher). But if it becomes the only way we engage with the message it can become a problem – as we become far more passive than we were created to be. God has given us a brain to think and ponder. Let's use it. Ask questions of yourself. Ask questions to your teachers, leaders and trusted friends. Get involved in some discussion about the message we hear. Let's engage in some “dialegomai”. Now, depending on the preacher it may not be best to shout out a random thought or question in the middle of their preach(!!), but most churches provide other opportunities for discussion, small groups, home groups, bible study's and more. Let's take these opportunities.

I'm sure there's tons of other points we could make here, What else can learn from them? Leave any comments below, let's start a dialegomai!

 

“#tbt” – New Regular Blog Slot.

I had an idea today to start a regular weekly post which will spend a few hundred words looking back at some of the story of the church, and seeing what we can learn from it. I've been reading and teaching on Church History a lot recently, and although nowhere near being called a 'historian', I am becoming a bit of a fan and am learning lots that I'd love to share with anyone who may be interested.

I've even managed to come up with the simple name for these posts: #tbt (“Throwback Thursdays” for the non-social media types). Am I creative or what…!

Anyway, to kick this off, I was thinking about the early church. Right at the beginning of the church's story around 33AD. When he resurrected and ascended to heaven, Jesus left the disciples with no real structure or strategy for them, just a mission. The great commission. He simply said 'Go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit'. So what did they do? How did they do it? Well, they definitely didn't make it complicated. They simply decided to tell people about Jesus.

Check out the map below that shows the apostles probable and possible itineraries they went on, and the spread of the Gospel they pioneered…

Now, let's not get confused by trying to figure out all the tiny details from that map. What I love is the simple fact that 12 guys took the simple message of Jesus pretty far. Within a short space of time they simply declared the news to as many people as they could, in was many places as they could, as often as they could. Obviously they weren't perfect, but there's still a great lesson for us to learn!

I look at that map and remember how complicated I can sometimes make things in my faith. We can all be like that sometimes eh? Let's remember that simply declaring Jesus to people is what we've been called to do. Let's try not to over-complicate things, and let's try not to get in the way of God moving in people's lives.

What things could you do this week to keep things simple in your journey with God? Who in your life needs to hear the simple truth of Jesus?