Thursday 24 January 2013

"Missionalism": Beware of Hastily Accepting New Theological Language

Have you noticed that in recent years the word "missionalism" has entered into evangelical vocabulary? But, what does it mean? How does this movement stand at the bar of Scripture with its claims of "new ways" to do church? My answer may not be satisfactory, but it is indeed hard to give clear answers to some of these questions because the missional movement is exactly that. It is a movement, it is fluid, it is hard to "pin down" as it were. Different missional adherents say different things and it is not a single cohesive model for the church. This is not surprising though because once the notion is accepted that the New Testament does not teach us how to "do church" explicitly, then a myriad of "new ideas" will arise.

Our question to every theological claim must be to always ask the question posed in Romans 4:3: "For what does the Scripture say?". This is a healthy question and it must always be asked, now, continually, and always. It is the maxim of the reformation and indeed of the apostles. How many times did the Lord Jesus confront the false interpretations of Scripture and the Law with the words: "Have you not read ...?" ? (Matthew 12:3, 5; 19:4; 21:16; 21:42; and 22:31). We must not accept every "wind of doctrine" but we must "test all things" (Ephesians 4:14 and 1 Thessalonians 5:21).

My main concern in writing this blogpost is to highlight two points regarding this emergent "missional movement". Firstly, it is to warn concerning the quick acceptance of "new theological language" by evangelicals and secondly to question the claim that the NT does not give an apostolic pattern that needs to be replicated.

1. Warning One: Against the Quick Acceptance of New Theological Language

The Cambridge University historian Quentin Skinner gives us all a timely reminder as he writes: "The surest sign that a group or society has entered into the self-conscious possession of a new concept is that a corresponding vocabulary will be developed, a vocabulary which can then be used to pick out and discuss the concept in question with consistency" (Quentin Skinner, "Visions of Politics: Volume 1 Regarding Method", Cambridge: CUP, 2010, p 160). If we accept Skinner's assessment then, the acceptance of new vocabulary is the sign of a "new concept". Therefore the acceptance of the new phrase "missionalism" is to knowingly or unknowingly accept "new theological concepts". Let us consciously question people in love, as to why we need "new concepts" when the Scripture is unchanging. What has changed? The Scripture has not changed, therefore it must be our understanding of Scripture that has moved in such a case.

2. Warning Two: The Claim that the NT Does not Give an Apostolic Pattern is False

The church throughout history have never believed that the Bible does not teach an apostolic pattern for the church. Indeed much of the historic debate has related around this crucial question. My own conviction is that the confessional presbyterian pattern most closely represents Scripture. However, my reading of the missional authors is that they claim that there is no fixed pattern for us to follow; in fact it must be evangelism that must drive the agenda. This claim was similarly adopted by all the big evangelists in the 20th Century, but is this what Scripture teaches?

My blog posts are intended to get people thinking, to stir people to critical analysis and to not accept things which have not been tested and evaluated thoroughly. Yes this is a demanding task but we dare not play around with the church or use the church to fulfil our individual dreams or visions, lest we wake up one day and find ourselves sitting somewhere that is not a true church, one that is not faithful to Christ Jesus.

"The Beloved Son ... is the head of the body, the church" (Colossians 1:13, 18).

Tuesday 15 January 2013

Of Holy Scripture and Missions

I think a neglected subject has been that of the doctrine of Holy Scripture that a church, missions group or an individual holds. At the reformation one of the first matters to be discussed was that "Of Holy Scripture". This is the fountainhead of all doctrine. This is the fountainhead of where things go wrong and often unknowingly. There are a range of inter-connected doctrines such as the authority, sufficiency and inerrancy of Scripture. The extent of special revelation and the necessity for a church to hold to these things.

In the Christian world of missions today, as is often the case of the church also, there is huge confusion concerning 'what is missions?'. It seems as if anything goes. If you have a vision then "go for it" is often the unspoken motto. People raise finance to go and do puppet ministry, offering free haircuts for the homeless, doing street art, dramas or music. But does the Bible teach these as valid forms of mission?

It seems to me that many sections of the church and most especially missions organisations need to be prepared to freshly evaluate themselves in the light of Holy Scripture and not in terms of what works or what is exciting.

Romans 4:3 asks: "For what does the Scripture say?". Now the principle of reformed teaching is that there are not manifold biblical interpretations but one. Listen to the Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 1:9: "The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself: and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly".

Did you notice that there are not manifold interpretations but one? Therefore, there are not manifold mission methods but one. These are the ordinary means of planting churches and strengthening the church and not operating independently of ordained elders. Sorry, but Paul never instructed Timothy to do a quick crowd-drawing gimmick in Corinth so that he could then jump up and give a 3 minute gospel explanation. Let us peer into Paul's life in Rome as he ministered for the Lord.

When they had appointed a day for him, they came to him at his lodging in greater numbers. From morning till evening he expounded to them, testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus both from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets. And some were convinced by what he said, but others disbelieved (Acts 28:23-24).

May we all return to the Holy Scripture to evaluate our understanding of missions and our practice in missions!

Tuesday 8 January 2013

Church Planting in Berlin

Since September 2012 I have travelled to Berlin once a month to bring leadership to a church planting Bible study there. There has been a lot of "behind the scenes" research and preparation by the church planting committee of the EPCEW (the Evangelical Presbyterian Church in England and Wales) before this work began. On the second Thursday of each month, we meet to study a particular subject pertinent to laying a foundation for a confessional presbyterian church plant.

There is much work ahead of us but things are progressing well. If you would like to know more information then there is now a website in German which is:

Watch this space for more developments in the future ...

It seems that missions can mean so many things in many circles. At the heart of missions in the NT was the church, making disciples, the appointment of elders and exhorting Christians. Acts 14:21-23 offers a refreshing challenge to many contemporary methods in missions

Acts 14:21-23: "When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed".

Wednesday 2 January 2013

The New Atheism Promotes a New Morality

"Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life" Galatians 6:7-8.

Every vacuum has to be filled with something and so it is with the moral, ethical and religious decline that is happening before our eyes in the United Kingdom. This country has had a rich Christian heritage but the corrosive influence of secularism, the new atheism, evolutionary science and media propaganda forms and creates a new worldview for many people. A worldview that is often simply uncritically accepted and it produces a new moral code. An unwritten code but one which is not allowed to be challenged in the name of "freedom".

This unwritten code of ethics enforces its view on the false premise that God does not exist, God does not see anything and there will be no final day of accountability. This makes a sense of "right and wrong" extremely relative and it fosters rebellion. Why should we be surprised then when bankers act in fraudulent ways, when MP"s wilfully abuse the expenses system or that people riot and loot in London?

The New Atheism carries a very clear message if you listen to people like Richard Dawkins. They say: "This life is all there is to existence, therefore get out of it as much as you can, live for the now!". This is the maxim of a Darwinian approach taken to its logical conclusion. Anything that is inconvenient to getting all you want to get from this earthly life can be disposed with. People may disagree with me, but in my view this new atheism produces a new moral code that is selfish, materialistic, greedy and driven by the lust of personal pleasure.

While we may lament the growth of this atheistic and materialistic worldview growing in the UK, what about the growth of China's economic, political and ethical influence? China is the world's largest atheistic nation with 1.3 Billion people which will simply promote materialism as the height of human existence.

However, there is a God in heaven who is unchanging, a God in heaven who will judge all mankind for their breaking of God's own law's and God has provided his Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ for deliverance from sin for those who call upon his name for forgiveness of sins.

Here are three of God's laws from the Ten Commandments.

Commandment Number 1: "You shall have no other gods before me" (this commandment forbids atheism).

Commandment Number 7: “You shall not commit adultery".

Commandment Number 8: "You shall not steal".

As an ordained Christian minister of the gospel it is part of my duty to warn people of the coming judgment that all mankind will face.

God's moral code is completely opposite to the moral code of new Atheism. Peter the apostle warns us all that "And he [God] commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he [the Lord Jesus Christ] is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead". But Peter also extends the mercy of God as he preached: "To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (Acts 10:42-43).

May 2013 be a year that people turn away from godless atheism and joyfully embrace the commands of God and God's Saviour the Lord Jesus Christ for forgiveness of sins.