People of the Spirit, worshiping Jesus in all places, at all times

I’m a church planter by practice and pretense (depending on the day, as few of us pull off wearing that hat non-stop). Church planting is by nature an interesting animal. It has that “new car” or “new book” smell all over it. And it’s tempting, because of that, for folks to walk into a church planting effort and expect that everything will be brand new–a church as fresh as the day of Pentecost.

Well, sort of. New works involve lots of Pentecost-type things: reaching out, sharing Jesus, baptizing everybody, and figuring out what it looks like to disciple and to gather for worship. They have a lot of the same growing pains that the book of Acts and the epistles of Paul bear witness to, as well. There are leadership questions, and cultural challenges, and discipleship gaps and experiments.

But that’s not all. Church plants have DNA–they have parents, friends, and bickering cousins who all have an opinion on the shape of things. In other words, there is tradition to take note of. For Pentecostals ministering in the Anglican Church or others in the catholic tradition, this isn’t a negative thing at all. As it’s been noted many times, tradition is a life-giving thing in Pentecostal discipleship.

But what does that look like in church planting? Tradition is what we are passing on in discipleship. Tradition maps out how we follow Jesus together. So, for an Anglican like myself, what that looks like includes:

  • When sharing stories and other texts from Scripture, the point of every single one is to reveal Jesus (Christological reading)
  • We pray together corporately, even the kids outreach has us reciting corporate prayer.
  • We make use of liturgical prayer. For example, baptism candidates will receive a small booklet including daily prayers derived from the family offices from the prayerbook.
  • We value the church year–Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter are especially highlighted in our children’s outreach, and I hope they will be an influence in our small groups as well.

So, yes, tradition provides hands-on discipleship for life in the Spirit as we are all attempting to follow Jesus together. Practice it personally and embrace it’s application in ministry–especially in new ministry like church planting.

On ordination

To be Pentecostal ultimately means the adherence to the catholic tradition of ordination: men and women of divine call and gifting being acknowledged and set in orders by the laying on of hands–receiving authority to preach the Word of God and administer the sacraments.

It’s tempting for many to look at ordination as commissioning (it is), passing permission or authority (it is), or an induction into the fellowship of other ministers (it is). But Pentecostal teaching on the Holy Spirit’s present work and the testimony of catholic tradition days “Yes, these and more!”

God gives the offices of the Church as gifts of the Spirit–apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. What the apostles passed on to us is the orders of deacons and elders, including the precedent of an elder being set apart as first among them. These offices (traditionally called deacons, priests, and bishops) carry authority and permission and a commission (like mentioned above) and in ordination, God empowers individuals with the anointing and capacity to fulfill that ministry.

So don’t snub at the laying on of hands. As Jesus breathed on the apostles, and as they laid their hands on the first deacons and elders, as the next generation laid hands on the rising deacons and elders and bishops, the gifts and capacities to fulfill those ministries was passed on.

It’s not magic. It’s not human tradition. It’s the faithfulness of God the Holy Spirit to empower the ministry of Jesus’ people to the glory of the Father.

I ordered this book at the recommendation of a dear friend. And started it twice. When I was too busy with ordination process details to even think about reading. But somehow an immersion experience in mission here in Germany has opened doors for time to finish it.

All I can say is: wow. Wow, such raw honesty about the absence and presence of God. Wow, such clarity about the questions we get from friends and acquaintances every day about faith and Christianity. Wow, such effective truth-telling about how much we as human beings suck (with our “Human Propensity to F*** things Up” as Spufford puts it). Wow, such compassion and tenderness for fellow human beings in our suffering and being weighed down by the realities of the world.

But above all, WOW. WOW, SUCH GRACE. Such an impressive grasp of the overwhelming, constant, annoying, enjoying, transforming and failure-ignoring forgiveness and love of God brought to us by Jesus. We can breathe fresh Gospel air reading Unapologetic.

But Spufford’s purpose isn’t immediately obvious from the title. So, Christians these days sometimes engage in apologetics: defending the faith. It’s a noble and necessary task. Most apologetics, however, is aimed at the teaching and ideas that we as Christians confess in creeds and affirm in other statements that we hopefully receive from the Scriptures. This book, uniquely, is a defense of Christian sanity–that we are not wrong to feel as we do about God, the world, Jesus and the Church. And he does it masterfully.

Definitely give this one a read.

Reading Scripture with my background is interesting. Reformed, Pentecostal, Anglican, all coming together.

From the Reformed of my high school & college years, I assume that we all come to Scripture thru lenses and external measures foreign to it (“Reading Scripture in its original historical and grammatical context”).

From the Pentecostal of my youth and adulthood, I assume that Scripture is addressed to me directly as a member of Christ–immediate, making me an original recipient and hearer.

From the Anglican of my life since college, I assume that Emmaus is ultimate–that Scripture is canonically and forever bearing witness to Jesus and His Gospel.

They have different contributions but they are all grounded in the conviction that I did not deserve or choose this revelation but that Jesus Christ–the same yesterday, today and for ever–graciously delights to send the Word to human flesh and blood.

So reading Scripture is, in some ways, an echo of the mystery of the Incarnation, and its work is like the promise to Mary: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you” –bringing forth Christ in us, the hope of glory. (Dave Ketter, Facebook/Twitter–July 2 2016)

But like I said, it’s not a revelation that I deserved, chose, or earned. It’s not a revelation I even invited. It’s a revelation God has sent into the world, into the darkness, into the primal depths of my fallen life. It calls out and speaks “Let there be!”

Let there be. Just like the beginning. The primordial chaos starts to take shape with new visions: light, division, gathering, separating, hardness, softness, new sounds, new life, new company, new sights. New earth. A new way to be. “It’s good!”

Oh, good. So, so very good. That’s the message of the Word. But wait, the night is still there. The Sea is still there. The decay is still there. The fear is still there. Death is still there. It’s here, near, and I can still taste it. I hear its rumbling hunger deep within me. The yawning hunger for the things that lead to death. I’m hungering for anything but the Word.

But still God sends it. Still the Word is pours into my ears. Still it gets poured down into the depths of my throat. The abyss of my heart begins to fill up. The chasms of desire and death start breaking in new directions aligned with the Deity. The demons, so frequently buzzing and swarming, begin to scatter and howl away in every direction expect in mine. Because the Word has more to say:

Open your hand.

Receive your sight.

Stand up. Take up your mat. Walk.

Come to Me.

Your sins are forgiven.

It. Is. Finished.

Oh, it’s so uninvited. So unlooked for. So undeserved. So unchosen.

But it makes me the Invited. It makes me the Looked-For. It makes me the Deserved. It makes me the Chosen. It makes me Someone Else–a Son. Beloved. Royal. Spirit-Burdened. Incarnated.

All because of the Word-made-flesh, who keeps sending His Word.

Legacy: Martha

This post is long overdue and I’ve been thinking about it for most of a month. I didn’t know where to begin, or end…so, instead of something comprehensive, I’m posting just a sliver of remembrance and reflection of her legacy.

A woman’s voice cut through the silence of the day: “Well isn’t this a fine row of bishops?” I looked up to see her smiling at me and some friends, sitting by the fire. “God forbid,” I retorted. Read the rest of this entry »

So American evangelicalism and its caricatures have a huge emphasis on the salvation of the human soul. It’s not without reason. The soul, is, after all, in bondage to sin and unable to free itself. But there’s an on-going problem with contemporary gnosticism in American Christian theology when the soul (or mind/heart, or spirit) is elevated above the body. Whether it’s in preaching, teaching, Bible studies, or prioritizing day-to-day values, the message is clear: “That’s just the body. What really matters is your soul.” Friends, that’s a lie from the pit of hell. The story of Jesus–which becomes our story as the Spirit gives it to us in baptism–from when the Word took on flesh (John 1:14-16) to the return for which we so eagerly long for is a great rescue for our bodies. Read the rest of this entry »

The laying on of hands may seem like sentimentalism to the non-Christian outsider, or superstition to the modern thinker, or Roman foolishness to the fundamentalist. But for those who are in the Church catholic–Western, Eastern, Reformational, and Pentecostal–the laying on of hands is a deeply Scriptural, communally significant practice. It is not merely the presence of physical touch in the worship of the community, but an expression of Spirit-empowered anointing intended for the life of the Body of Christ. While many in American evangelicalism happily place hands on those they pray for, and many have even considered that what they are doing is beneficial and biblical, this is quite different from the laying on of hands as practiced by historic Christianity or by Pentecostals. Read the rest of this entry »