Every age has its own characteristics. Right now we are in an age of religious complexity. The simplicity which is in Christ is rarely found among us. In its stead are programs, methods, organizations and a world of nervous activities which occupy time and attention but can never satisfy the longing of the heart. The shallowness of our inner experience, the hollowness of our worship, and that servile imitation of the world which marks our promotional methods all testify that we in this day, know God only imperfectly, and the peace of God scarcely at all. If we would find God amid all the religious externals, we must first determine to find Him, and then proceed in the way of simplicity.

A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God, p.17-18.

What Greek Grammar Can’t Do to Help Recapture the Apostolic

There’s no doubt in my mind that some kind of apostolic function must be recovered in order to help churches and denominations transition to missional. A church culture where sentness, everybody sent as missionaries, is the norm means sodalic gifting is operational in some way. A simple, face value reading of Ephesians 4:11-12 has convinced me of this. We can’t expect the body of Christ to be built up without apostolic gifting.

Having said that, if you are in a position to lead or teach others about the missing function of the apostolic in evangelical churches today please don’t use Greek grammar to prove your point. Here’s an example of how not to operate.

In his excellent book The Church is Bigger Than You Think, Patrick Johnstone rightly mentions the verbal cognate of the Greek word for apostle is apostello, I send. Because of this he draws the conclusion that apostles are ‘sent ones’ and their main function is to send missionaries. (Ever heard that?) In other words, the meaning of a word, in this case apostle, can be discovered by examining a word’s etymology. While I don’t disagree with Johnstone’s conclusion per se, I think his use of Greek to prove his point doesn’t help his cause.

In Exegetical Fallacies Don Carson calls this gymnastics use of Greek grammar ‘linguistic nonsense’ (p.28). He gives the following illustration to show how etymology shouldn’t be used to determine the meaning of words. Context determines meaning, not etymology.

By way of example our word nice, comes from the Latin nescius, meaning ‘ignorant.’ Our ‘good-bye’ is a contraction for Anglo-Saxon ‘God be with you.’ Now it may be possible to trace out diachronically (through time) just how nescius generated ‘nice’; it is certainly easy to imagine how ‘God be with you’ came to be contacted to ‘good-bye.’ But I know of no one today who in saying such and such a person is ‘nice’ believes that he or she has in some measure labeled that person ignorant because the ‘root meaning’ or ‘hidden meaning’ or ‘literal meaning’ of ‘nice’ is ‘ignorant.’

Case closed. The word apostle doesn’t mean ‘sent one.’ So what does the New Testament mean when it uses the word apostle? Let me again turn to Carson for insight. 

It is arguable that although apostolos (apostle) is cognate with apostello (I send), New Testament use of the noun does not center on the meaning the one sent but on ‘messenger.’ Now a messenger is usually sent; but the word messenger also calls to mind the message the person carries, and suggests he represents the one who sent him. In other words, actual usage in the New Testament suggests that apostolos (apostle) commonly bears the meaning special representative or a special messenger rather than ‘someone sent out.’

I firmly believe the church today is sorely lacking in special representatives who actively work to further the mission of Christ thereby building up the body of Christ. Just don’t use a fallacy of grammar to prove it to me.

Musings on the Missional Manifesto, Part 5: The Church

Excellent post by Ed Stetzer. Thought I’d pass it along. This paragraph in particular caught my attention.

The church finds its significance as a body who is sent on a kingdom mission. Missionary congregations are communities that reflect the reality of the gospel of the kingdom in their life together and their life for their world. And, they are a body empowered by the Spirit and Word of the gospel, who have been given the keys of the kingdom and a promise from the King. The posture of these missionary congregations is “sentness.”

Musings on the Missional Manifesto, Part 5: The Church

We can fight to reestablish the church as a physical place where certain things happen. We can work harder to compete with society, to out-entertain and lure people in with as much pomp and circumstance as a church can afford. Or, we can become a church on a mission.

M. Scott Boren

What is Sentness?

Sentness is the Holy Spirit directed missionary impulse that propels a person on mission with Christ.

If one of our goals is to see every believer on mission with Jesus, sent as Jesus was sent, to make disciples who make disciples who make disciples, how does that happen? From where does this missionary impulse come? What’s the starting point? Where does sentness come from?

The starting point for a sent life is the gospel. Period. The kind of gospel we uphold and champion will largely shape the kind of missional sentness we get as a by-product. As we seek to transition stale and dying churches to become missional churches and as we seek to plant new churches in this post-Christian context, the gospel must be the fuel driving those missional expressions. At an individual level the prophet Isaiah’s life illustrates this perfectly.

In Isaiah 6:8 Isaiah’s life takes on the posture of being sent.

“And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’”

“Then I said, ‘Here am I! Send me.’”

How did Isaiah arrive at this posture? He arrived there through a deep, inward transformation, a radical reorientation of his priorities, values, and ambitions fueled by the grace of God – the gospel.

This inward transformation occurred because Isaiah was undone by God’s holiness and majesty:

I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up.

Woe to me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!

His acute awareness of sin was met by God’s grace through a burning coal. With his guilt atoned for, his sin taken away, the overflow of grace in Isaiah’s life prompted him to respond to God’s question through a posture of obedient sentness. Isaiah became missional because of grace. Herein lies the sentness principle. The greater the internal gratitude, the greater the missionary impulse in a person’s life.

I applaud the many correctives the emerging missional movement is bringing to our churches right now. However, one concern I have is the transitioning of our churches to this posture of sentness without the necessary core strength to keep our people and churches in that posture.

We might be successful at changing a church culture by eliminating programs, freeing up our calendars to have more time with our neighbors, living in missional communities, and following the pattern of Luke 10. But if the gospel we trumpet doesn’t include an awareness of sin, the cross, and the miracle of grace, then our best missional efforts will result in a superficial sentness—a task based sentness and not a sentness based on grace. It won’t be the sentness experienced by Isaiah or the sentness described in 2 Corinthians 5:15 where people “no longer living for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.”

What is ‘Sentness’? It’s the Holy Spirit directed missionary impulse that comes about through the grace of Christ and propels a person on mission with Christ. May every believer experience the grace that sends, to the glory of the King.

God’s glory, our poverty; God’s grace, our sentness.

Live sent!

The fundamental problem in the evangelical world today is not inadequate technique, insufficient organization, or antiquated music, and those who want to squander the church’s resources bandaging these scratches will do nothing to staunch the flow of blood that is spilling from its true wounds. The fundamental problem in the evangelical world today is that God rests too inconsequentially upon the church. His truth is too distant, his grace is too ordinary, his judgment is too benign, his gospel is too easy, and his Christ is too common.

David Wells, God in the Wasteland, p. 114.

The Kingdom of God and the Dangers of an Over-Realized Eschatology

There’s a lot of talk these days about the Kingdom of God. Kingdom this. Tangible kingdom that. Along with “missional” it’s one of the hot buzzwords in emerging evangelicalism. Books and videos and DVDs on Kingdom living abound.  Everybody wants a piece of the Kingdom.  Take, for instance, this search on Amazon. (By the way, I just purchased a new DVD series called The Kingdom Way of Life. I’ll try to write a review of it later).

For the most part this rediscovery or renewed Kingdom emphasis is welcomed because it’s correcting an overly internalized and spiritualized understanding of the Kingdom of God (God reigns only within) or a tendency to think of the Kingdom as a future only event with no bearing on the present.  But herein lies the danger.  In so emphasizing the now-ness, the present-ness, and the social and cultural implications of the Kingdom of God, for the sake of wanting to see people on mission with Jesus, we run the risk of an over-realized eschatology that bears a striking resemblance to the theology of C.H. Dodd or the ‘liberal’ view of von Harnack.  In other words, if people manifest the Kingdom through social action but have not experienced the Kingdom of God within, we’ve become missional, but at what expense?

So let the Kingdom come, now, on earth as it is in heaven, in all it’s glory. I’m all for that.  Let’s lead people to see and to experience God’s kingly rule through social action extending to to the institutions and culture around them.  But let’s not swing the pendulum so far in the direction of a realized eschatology that we neglect the inward aspects of God’s Kingly rule and end up looking like the liberalism of the early 20th century. Can I get an Amen?

Seven Leadership Observations From the Life of Spurgeon

Drawn from Arnold Dallimore’s Spurgeon, Moody Press, 1984.

1. Covenant of Service

Spurgeon made a covenant with God to serve Him as long as he was on this earth. This statement written just days after his conversion hints at the dedication, zeal, and commitment with which he would serve Christ throughout his life.  He says,

O great and unsearchable God, who knowest my heart, and triest all my ways; with a humble dependence upon the support of Thy Holy Spirit, I yield myself up to Thee; as Thine own reasonable sacrifice, I return to Thee Thine own.  I would be forever, unreservedly, perpetually Thine; whilst I am on earth, I would serve Thee; and may I enjoy Thee and praise Thee forever!  Amen.

Spurgeon worked tirelessly for the sake of the Gospel.  Behind much of what he accomplished was this simple yet genuine desire to give every ounce of his physical and mental capacities to his wonderful and loving Savior.   

2. Constant Prayer

Spurgeon was a man of prayer.  Prayer sustained every ministry endeavor he undertook.  Likewise, an attitude of prayer infiltrated the daily life at the Tabernacle.  Members of his congregation followed his lead in prayer by meeting regularly throughout the week to pray.  I have come to believe in a direct correlation between the fervency of one’s prayer life and the degree to which God uses a person for His Kingdom work.  A friend of Spurgeon, Dr. Wayland Hoyt, had this to say about him, 

Kneeling…he lifted up his soul to God in the most loving and yet reverent prayer.  Then, rising from his knees he went strolling on, talking about this and that.  The prayer was no parenthesis interjected.  It was something that belonged as much to the habit of his mind as breathing did to the habit of his body.

O, that the leaders of our churches and seminaries would submit to God in prayer! What would our lives look like?  How would our witness to the world around us change?

3. Humility

Too often Christian leaders, especially leaders of large churches, are obsessed with their own persona. Spurgeon appeared to remain free from this snare.  Note his wife’s comments as she read his autobiography.    

How marked is his humility, even though he must have felt within him the stirrings and throes of the wonderful powers which were afterwards developed.  ’Forgive me, Lord,’ he says in one place, ‘if I have ever had high thoughts of myself’ – early did the Master implant the precious seeds of that rare grace of meekness which adorned his after life.

Similarly, Dallimore states, “Amidst a success so great that it would have driven many a man to unbounded pride, [Spurgeon] remained humble and was often utterly broken before the Lord.”  This humility affected much of what he did.  For example, in his later years, Spurgeon calmed his preaching down for fear that his gestures and oration would draw attention to himself rather than to God.   I pray that God and His agenda would continually be more important our reputations, ministry, or even physical well being.

4. Boldness

If Spurgeon believed God was calling him to do something, he boldly did it and trusted God regardless of the consequences.  Many times Spurgeon’s bold leadership placed the Tabernacle and its ministries under financial duress or criticism from the press, yet God continually provided miracles to sustain the work. 

5. Voracious Reader

At the end of his life, Spurgeon’s personal library consisted of 12,000 titles. He constantly read and reviewed books.  This continual thirst for knowledge proved to enrich his preaching and kept his theological mind sharp.  It enabled him to converse on many different levels with his flock and reach many more people.  

6. Invested in Others

Spurgeon’s development of the Pastor’s College left an indelible mark on England. His willingness to help others become the people God called them to be was a highly admirable characteristic of his leadership.  The pastors he trained at his college had a profound evangelistic impact upon London.  It was reported that in 1888, “the 370 College men had, during the preceding year, baptized 4,770 persons, and the increase in their membership had amounted to 3,856.” This one-year impact, let alone all the preceding and following years, would not have taken place if Spurgeon had not had the vision to train pastors.  

7. Disciplined Personal Life

For God to use Spurgeon in the way he did required Spurgeon to be disciplined in his daily life.  Dallimore says that he,

Exercised an unyielding self-discipline. To him the Christian life must be fully governed, and he put that ideal into steady practice. Rising early, he filled the day with labor, studying and visiting, praying and preaching. He gave no attention to sports and had no personal friendships with members of the opposite sex, but all his time and thought were given to the Lord.

How much greater would God use us if we were not so concerned about our own selfish ambitions and instead used His time more wisely.