johncrossI have been part of the Learning Community of ekerk/echurch and Missionet since last year. The current LC is made up of a mixture of mainly Afrikaans speaking church leaders and some individuals interested in the church. They come from various denominations: Nederduits Gereformeerd, Herformde Gereformeerde Kerk, AGS(AFM), independent and others. Together we talk and learn what it is to be the Church in the world today. I attended a gathering of the Learning Community (LC) on 17 & 18 February hosted by Mosaiek in Johannesburg, and the many things discussed excited me but also made my head spin. There is much that was said that I do not fully understand yet, but my curiosity has been tickled and that is what the LC is all about.

This specific gathering of the LC was dedicated to feedback of the (re)formation conference held last year in Wittenberg and Berlin and further development of ideas born there. For more information on the (re)formation conference visit http://www.echurch.co.za/reformation-blog. In short the (re)formation meeting was organised by ekerk/echurch and people who are in the forefront of the post-modern church were invited to discuss what the 21st-century Reformation might look like. From the booklet we received at the gathering:

“Blending academic and real-world knowledge and experiences, the group will describe how God is bringing life to His Church in various nations, consider what the future Church may look like, and identify steps that disciples and leaders might take to facilitate God’s activity.”

The speakers that presented the subjects of discussion included George Barna, Mark Batterson, Chris Seay, Johan Geyser, Stephan Joubert, Christian Schwarz and Leonard Sweet.

During the LC I wrote half a note book full of notes, and to reproduce all of it here will take me months and will probably unintelligible to most. So here is just a few of the highlights:

Johan Geyser:
Johan Geyser talked about The Movement towards an Integrated Holistic Spirituality. He mentioned movements from a mechanical to a holistic paradigm; from a static to a dynamic world view; from classic to quantum science; from institutional to network structures; from visionary, strategic leadership to spiritual leadership… All this is impacting how spirituality is being experienced today.

The question was then asked: How must the church look like in this new and changing world. He then spoke about the tendencies of the Pre-Modern, Modern and Post-Modern world.

So how should the church look like?

  • Should we go back to the fundamentals, the church of Acts 2? He joked about people saying we should do this but then quickly add that they will exclude the selling of all property.
  • Should we redesign church from the start

OR

  • Should we look back to the roots and then into the future? (Ancient-Future Church)

The last point seems to be happening all over and there is already talk of a collective awareness in the church regarding it.

Johan then talked about how he sees this move towards a holistic spirituality happening for the individual. He mentioned the practice of silence, Lectio Divina, voluntary displacement (liminality) and embracing mysticism. (The mysticism is not referring to Eastern mysticism but that of the Church fathers)

He left me very curious to pursue what he said further.

George Barna:
We watched the session of George Barna at Wittenberg that they recorded on DVD. George is one of those people who seems to know what is happening all over the world, and I guess that is a good thing since he made it his job to inform the church of trends. He mentions 9 things that he sees God doing on the North American church context:

  1. A leadership shift from old to new
    a) Fading leaders of the last 3 decades (nationally known and followed) to…
    b) Baby boom generation leaders – transitional leaders to…
    c) Emerging leaders (locally known and followed)
  2. The leadership mantel is moving from the North American churches to other countries.
    He feels that the American church were not responsible with the blessings they received and had a heart of arrogance rather than brokenness. The American church became fixated on maintenance, is selfish and made a career out of Christianity rather than a calling. (Wow, harsh words!)
  3. God is eliminating the stranglehold of old institutions.
    Seminaries – training models; Institutional churche structures is passing and networks based on relationship is becoming more important.
  4. God has been amassing resources in the American church and it is filtering through to the rest of the world.
    The income of the collective American church is an estimated $50 billion p.a.
    $5 billion of it goes into buildings which might become shopping malls in 50 years time.
  5. God is expanding ways faith can be expressed.
  6. Faith is becoming a controversial aspect of life.
    It’s being discussed everywhere without reservations.
  7. God is stirring a great interest in the need of the poor and downtrodden.
  8. God is shrinking the world through technology to make the church one body.
  9. God is allowing greater friction between world faiths.

After his session we talked about how what is happening in the Afrikaans (mainly white) church in South Africa is similar to that in the American church and we agreed there are many similarities, especially the points about institutions, resources and the interest in the need of the poor.

Chris Seay:
This session was also a DVD recording of the Wittenberg conference. Chris talked about how schism is the spiritual cancer of the church. He quoted a friend of his saying that the greatest schism within the church is between the clergy and the laity. To collaborate with God’s redemptive work in the world is opposite to collaborate with consumerism. The schism between clergy and laity is something that makes religious consumerism flourishes. The church has become so entrenched in this culture of consumerism that it adapted its methods to it to the point that only professionals can do church. The modern church has become what the Roman Catholic Church was before the reformation where the church became a stumbling block for people to connect with God. The modern church teaches people that you can only serve God and relate to Him if you do church the way we say. The church has enriched itself at the cost of the Kingdom of God.

He told the following parable to illustrate his point:

He has four children. Imagine his eldest was very successful at sport and became very famous and rich because of it. He has multiple mansions with more rooms than he has children and grand children. Each house has multiple garages with exotic cars filling them. He spends his money on all kinds of indulgences. Now imagine his other three children extremely poor. They have no opportunity for education and neither have their children and grand children. They live in the most terrible circumstance imaginable where they have to drink the same water they bath in. They do not have enough food and are starving to death. The eldest brother knows about this but does nothing about it. How will he as father feel about his eldest son? He will surely tell him that is not the way he was raised.

How does God feel about the church spending its blessing on indulgences when their brothers and sisters are starving? What is God saying in the Bibe about our brothers and sister that are suffering?

Conclusion
I went away convicted. I must rethink the way I live and what my priorities are… I made the following resolution:

I want to move closer to God and want to move with God in fulfilling His purposes for the church. I will do this through all means currently at my disposal. I will investigate new ways of experiencing God where He can transform me to what He intended me to be from the start.

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It has already been said many times by many people that the Bible is a book of faith and not of science and I agree with that. If we are going to apply some scientific method to the Bible to prove it or pitch it against some scientific theory it is going to lose every time.

 

The Bible requires faith to believe it and it is not the same kind of faith needed to believe a scientific theory. The kind of faith needed to believe the Bible as spiritual truth is that kind of faith that resonates deep within you when you know something is true. That kind of faith that the Holy Spirit gives. The Bible speaks of a measure of faith given to us. Faith to believe in science is rational thought faith. Things making sense. A theory or idea corresponding with what is already known to be true or that is observed. If we try to use this kind of faith to prove the truth of the Bible we end up being the ridicule of the world and then we get defensive and start using the Bible as a weapon against people.

 

So can the Bible and science work together? I think it is a resounding “yes”. The Bible teaches us about God’s nature and His relationship to His creation. Science teaches us how God’s creation works. Both points towards God and should be observed and learned from.

 

An example of this is the creation account of Genesis. I understand from my theologically trained friends that this account is in the form of a Hebrew poem. So that should tell us that it should not be understood as a literal account. Not being literal does make it less true though. We should just know which truths can be learned from it and which not. Truths we can learn from it are:

 – God created

 – He created for a purpose

 – Humans are created in His image

 – God is relational

 – Many more…

Truths that cannot be learned from it are:

 – By what method God created

 – In what time frame God created

 – What systems God put in place to sustain and develop His creation

 – Probably a lot more that I can’t think about now

 

Bottom line – God is real, and He stands in relationship with His creation and He redeems fallen creation by the work of Jesus Christ. Can I prove it? No but I believe it without a doubt.

Chapter 4 Trying To Be Good

The external transformation of Christ likeness is not the focus of Christian spiritual transformation. When the outwardly becomes the focus it leads to legalism, which is a major barrier to spiritual transformation. To merely strive to act in conformity with Jesus’ expressions (Matthew 5-7) is to attempt the impossible. Christ likeness of the inner being is not a human attainment. It is a gift of grace.

 

When we come to faith, we realise that we were saved by grace and that salvation is a free gift. But after a while we are encouraged to try to be good but this is exhausting. When we seem to be successful at growth, our spirituality becomes about us and not about the power of God. The weight of trying to be good is unnecessary because the way God wants to transform us is an inner transformation done by Him with our cooperation and it is that cooperation that is explored in this book. We need to ask God what the next small steps are and how to take them.

Experiment

Confess any attempts to become like Jesus by trying hard to do so. Then, feast for a moment on this idea: “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27 NIV). Ask God to do this work in you and show the next step you need to take to cooperate in this process.

 

Chapter 5 Who We Are, Not How We Act

Transformation of the heart is the only way to definitively conquer outward evil. To dress up the outward with good deeds is a failure to grow spiritually. According to 1 Corinthians 13:4 love is patient and kind but if we try to be loving by acting patiently and kindly, we quickly fail. Little progress is made in the acts of love until we advance in love itself. When we take love itself, God’s kind of love, into our inner beings it will enable us to act lovingly to a surprising extent.

Experiment

What would it look like for you to take God’s kind of love into the depths of your being through the way of spiritual formation?  Consider the following steps:

  • Read through a Gospel, pausing to reflect on and relish each loving thing that Jesus did.
  • Focus on one loving thing Jesus did and picture his face as he did it. Maybe even put yourself in the place of the person Jesus loved for a moment and absorb that love. Hold on to that as you go to sleep tonight.
  • Spend a few minutes with the most loving person you know, thanking God for the window into God’s heart
  • Do some small act of service for someone you love who is feeling overwhelmed

 

If you choose to do any of these, do them slowly with the intention of exploring the way God loves while doing it.

I am part of a learning community in South Africa called EChruch and MissioNet Learning Community where we read material on certain subjects and then get together once a quarter do discuss what we have learned.

One of the books we have read and discussed is Renovation of the Heart by Dallas Willard.  We somehow got the wrong book here at Impetus, Renovation of the Heart in Daily Practice, instead of Renovation of the Heart, but despite that I jumped into the book and found it very engaging. The book is  co-written with Jan Johnson, and on the back the following is noted:
“Spiritual director Jan Johnson guides you through sixty-one carefully selected chosen selections from the renowned author Dallas Willard’s best-selling book Renovation of the Heart.”
After each chapter in the book there is a section called “Today’s Experiment”, where some guidelines are given to put what was discussed in that chapter into daily practice.

As I read through the book I will try to summarise and note my own thoughts.