Saturday, August 04, 2018

Towards a counter-culture, transformational discipling strategy: "evangelism" vs "evangelisation" through embassies and ambassadors of the Kingdom of God

Pardon some fair comment that may go slightly over the top (but which is necessary to break through resistance):
We evangelicals sometimes tend to reduce the church's discipling mandate to a heavy priority on "evangelism," often "simplifying" Christian commitment to little more than assent to the say-after-me sinner's prayer based on a Sunday school story level familiarity with the life and death of Jesus (too often with little emphasis on the theology of the resurrection). Discipleship -- typical "follow-up" classes notwithstanding -- is then too often detached almost as though it were an advanced subject that is hard to understand and explain.
I think something is wrong here. 

And no, it is not that I am setting up a strawman caricature. 

Well do I remember when it first hit home that I did not really understand what it meant to be a disciple of Jesus in any coherent, confidently biblically rooted and soundly informed framework. I could not properly, crisply and correctly explain key words such as faith, repentance, worship, holiness -- and of course, discipleship. Certainly, by contrast with how I could readily describe, explain and apply concepts and terms in math or science. I could not identify phases of development, transformation, maturation, much less measure myself against them. 

All, seemed to be a vague mush.

And for nearly twenty years I had lived and breathed in solidly evangelical church circles. 

Where, I could hardly find books that were on target to help me. (Until, I ran across Derek Prince's Foundation Series, but that is running ahead of the story. [BTW, while there are many resources online today, finding what is truly helpful can be a challenge.])

But, I knew whom I believed and was persuaded that he was able to keep what I had committed unto him against that day. (And yes, that's a hint that theologically rich hymns were a great help.)

So, I realised I needed to learn and grow, then as much as it lay with me to do so, reach out to help others. 

By 1984, I had some answers and had done some early writings as a Christian student. Then, I was asked to do a workshop presentation for the first CONECAR, held on my then home turf, UWI Mona Campus. At that time, it meant: Congress on the Evangelisation of the Caribbean. (If you are in a dead hurry or want some specifics now-now-now: In later years, I would develop materials for cell leaders and for discipleship foundations (also, for evangelism meetings, basic apologetics etc [see reference page here]) and did a 4R's renewal series in Caribbean Challenge by invitation. More recent work is in and around this theology 101 course based on the Nicene Creed framework.)

Let me pause and put up a GIF on the 4R's framework (which are at the root of my thoughts on transformational discipling strategy):

. . . and another on foundations (which uses Daniel 2 and the Seven Mountains framework to set up the Heb 6:1 - 2 six principles that are the framework for sound discipleship . . . notice the eschatological, Kingdom of God intervention, Christocentric, Biblical context in which the six principles are laid out):

While I am at it, let me put on the table also this slide on Nebuchadnezzar's dream:

. . . and Clarence Larkin's "prophetic foreshortening" illustration of eschatology:

Let me add, on a broader view of our discipling mandate:

Thus, we see a key, self-reinforcing, naturally growing transformational cycle:

Where, Peter summarised the growth dynamic:

 Growth is phased:

Such leads to a characteristic pattern, a four-point balance found in mature Christians (NB: Ac 11:26b ". . . it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called Christians") and in mature churches that cannot be imitated naturally:

This brings up the Antioch timeline/mission-focus challenge:

You will readily see that I believe in the power of critical mass to trigger cultural transformation (also, outreach to the globe), and that Christian Discipleship naturally progresses in this direction. 

But of course, the Acts and many other scriptures make it clear that
a: Spirit-filled revival is in a race with devillish riot in any community, and that 

b: which of the two prevails at a given moment depends on the way we respond to or reject and resist the gospel. 

This is where the broader term, evangelisation, comes into its own: responding to the gospel unfolds from repentance and renewal to revival and reformation, at least as a counter-culture (and foretaste of the ultimate future) within the wider community. That is, when ambassadors of the Kingdom of God come to a community in the midst of rebellion against God (which will as a rule be culturally entrenched) the gospel implies a transformational alternative represented by the church that emerges as an embassy of the Kingdom of God

In that context, 2 Cor 5 takes on great force:
 2 Cor 5: 14 For the love of Christ controls and compels us, because we have concluded this, that One died for all, therefore all died; 15 and He died for all, so that all those who live would no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and was raised for their sake.
16 So from now on we regard no one from a human point of view [according to worldly standards and values]. Though we have known Christ from a human point of view, now we no longer know Him in this way.

  17 Therefore if anyone is in Christ [that is, grafted in, joined to Him by faith in Him as Savior], he is a new creature [reborn and renewed by the Holy Spirit]; the old things [the previous moral and spiritual condition] have passed away. Behold, new things have come [because spiritual awakening brings a new life].
18 But all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ [making us acceptable to Him] and gave us the ministry of reconciliation [so that by our example we might bring others to Him], 19 that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting people’s sins against them [but canceling them]. 

And He has committed to us the message of reconciliation [that is, restoration to favor with God].

20 So we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making His appeal through us; we [as Christ’s representatives] plead with you on behalf of Christ to be reconciled to God.  

21 He made Christ who knew no sin to [judicially] be sin on our behalf, so that in Him we would become the righteousness of God [that is, we would be made acceptable to Him and placed in a right relationship with Him by His gracious lovingkindness]. [AMP]

Here, I also wish to highlight Eph 4:
4:(Now this expression, “He ascended,” what does it mean except that He also had previously descended [from the heights of heaven] into the lower parts of the earth? 10 He who descended is the very same as He who also has ascended high above all the heavens, that He [His presence] might fill all things [that is, the whole universe]).

  11 And [His gifts to the church were varied and] He Himself appointed
some as apostles [special messengers, representatives (--> ambassadors of the kingdom)], 
some as prophets [who speak a new message from God to the people], 
some as evangelists [who spread the good news of salvation], and 
some as pastors and teachers [to shepherd and guide and instruct],
   12 [and He did this] to fully equip and perfect the saints (God’s people) for works of service, to build up the body of Christ [the church]; 13 until we all reach oneness in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God, [growing spiritually] to become a mature believer, reaching to the measure of the fullness of Christ [manifesting His spiritual completeness and exercising our spiritual gifts in unity].

  14 So that we are no longer children [spiritually immature], tossed back and forth [like ships on a stormy sea] and carried about by every wind of [shifting] doctrine, by the cunning and trickery of [unscrupulous] men, by the deceitful scheming of people ready to do anything [for personal profit].
15 But speaking the truth in love [in all things—both our speech and our lives expressing His truth], let us grow up in all things into Him [following His example] who is the Head—Christ.
16 From Him the whole body [the church, in all its various parts], joined and knitted firmly together by what every joint supplies, when each part is working properly, causes the body to grow and mature, building itself up [b]in [unselfish] love.

17 So this I say, and solemnly affirm together with the Lord [as in His presence], that you must no longer live as the [unbelieving] Gentiles live, in the futility of their minds [and in the foolishness and emptiness of their souls], 18 for their [moral] understanding is darkened and their reasoning is clouded; [they are] alienated and self-banished from the life of God [with no share in it; this is] because of the [willful] ignorance and spiritual blindness that is [deep-seated] within them, because of the hardness and insensitivity of their heart.
19 And they, [the ungodly in their spiritual apathy], having become callous and unfeeling, have given themselves over [as prey] to unbridled sensuality, eagerly craving the practice of every kind of impurity [that their desires may demand].

  20 But you did not learn Christ in this way! 21 If in fact you have [really] heard Him and have been taught by Him, just as truth is in Jesus [revealed in His life and personified in Him], 22 that, regarding your previous way of life, you put off your old self [completely discard your former nature], which is being corrupted through deceitful desires, 23 and be continually renewed in the spirit of your mind [having a fresh, untarnished mental and spiritual attitude], 24 and put on the new self [the regenerated and renewed nature], created in God’s image, [godlike] in the righteousness and holiness of the truth [living in a way that expresses to God your gratitude for your salvation]. [AMP]
It is clear that an embassy of the kingdom is -- or at least, should be -- a counter-cultural, transforming centre, an outpost and foretaste of what will be in perfect fullness at His Second Coming.

Going back up to vv 9 - 13, we see Jesus coming as messiah, descending and ascending in order to fill (thus, necessarily, transform) all things -- there is nothing that escapes his Lordship, his resurrection power and the impact of his gospel, his Spirit and his church which (per Eph 1:17 - 23) is "his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way." 

In this context he sends his primary ambassadors [apostles, i.e. church planting, civilisation-reforming missionaries], and with them prophets [who provide visionary insight and leadership to help understand times, signs and the call of God in a given time and place], evangelists, pastors and teachers who equip us for us to fulfill our calling and service in the body of Christ. 

While I am at it, let us address another gap. We routinely quote Eph 2:8 - 9, but what does v. 10 teach?

Let's see:
Eph 2: For it is by grace [God’s remarkable compassion and favor drawing you to Christ] that you have been saved [actually delivered from judgment and given eternal life] through faith. And this [salvation] is not of yourselves [not through your own effort], but it is the [undeserved, gracious] gift of God; not as a result of [your] works [nor your attempts to keep the Law], so that no one will [be able to] boast or take credit in any way [for his salvation].

  10 For we are His workmanship [His own master work, a work of art], created in Christ Jesus [reborn from above—spiritually transformed, renewed, ready to be used] for good works, which God prepared [for us] beforehand [taking paths which He set], so that we would walk in them [living the good life which He prearranged and made ready for us]. [AMP]
We are called to a life of good works, including service through our particular gifts as members of the church, the body of Christ, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way. (See Eph 1:17 - 23.)

It is in this context that we can better appreciate the seven mountains of influence model as it helps us understand the race between revival and riot in a given community at a given time:

There is a dominant worldview and agenda, shaped by balance of power and by dominance of ideas in a community. Thus, we see how prophetic, visionary, intellectual and cultural leadership by the embassies of the Kingdom of heaven and ambassadors of the kingdom 

. . . put on the table the sounder alternative (thus, we see a counter-cultural strategy) of reconciliation with God 

. . . leading to his blessing for the nations if they will receive the Seed of Abraham:
Gal 3:13 Christ purchased our freedom and redeemed us from the curse of the Law and its condemnation by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs [crucified] on a tree (cross)”— 14 in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might also come to the Gentiles, so that we would all receive [the realization of] the promise of the [Holy] Spirit through faith. [AMP]
So, here is our stark choice in the Caribbean (and wider world) today:
repentance, renewal, revival and reformation, leading to salvation, blessing and transformation
rebellion, devillish riot, delusion and chaos through a march of folly leading to ruin.
The wise choice should be obvious. 

But, it cuts across our sinful rebellion against God. And, if the Laodicean Church is anything, it is a warning that we can lock Jesus out of his own church.

So, we stand grimly warned. What will we do?

If not now, then when? If not here, then where? If not us, then who? END