The Local Church and World Mission
The talk given at Sydney Mission and Bible College for the Dr Paul White Memorial lecture.
Well, like all the Christians who have grown up in Australia since the Second World War, I am greatly indebted to God for his wonderful servant and gift to the church, in Paul White, and it is therefore a humbling privilege to speak tonight as the first of the Paul White lectures given since his death.
Paul was a giant and we don’t have many who wander the world, but God gave him to us, a man of enormous gifts – enormous varieties of gifts. He had such a sharp mind; he was a keen sportsman; he was a great raconteur; a teacher; an initiator; a strategist; an entrepreneur; he was a man who could do so many things. An author; a lover of life; a merciless wit; a warmth of personality; a doctor – very few things that Paul couldn’t do.
For me, and I guess many of us here have different memories and we will think of him differently because we have had different contact with him, but for me, Paul was above all things, an enthusiast. He was an enthusiast for Christ. An enthusiast for the Gospel. It was only in his old age that I actually spent any time with him personally and privately. We stayed for a wonderful week together at a conference in a house and, to my great privilege and benefit, far too few days to enjoy him, but in those short days he was such an encouragement to persevere in the ministry and to never lose that zeal, that enjoyment, that enthusiasm for Christ, to fight the fight to the end.
Some years ago I came across his autobiography and I confess that I was very disappointed in its production, and I actually told him I was disappointed in it too because it didn’t seem to me to be an appropriate thing for a Christian to promote themselves by writing an autobiography – there is something profoundly self-centred about autobiographies – and I was surprised that such a Christian hero of mine should stoop so low as to write his autobiography. However, I read it and repented completely and, once more, Paul had outwitted me, as he did nearly every time I had any contact with him, because when a man’s life is lived for the Lord, then his autobiography is not about himself, but about the Lord for whom he lives. It is a marvellous book that leads you more and more to see Jesus and the Gospel and to lead you where Paul’s life always led, that is to honour the Lord Jesus Christ. And especially in that autobiography I was taught a great lesson about living for the Lord, where he could write his own life and it could turn out to honour and glory Jesus Christ.
So, following his lead again, let us turn to the subject of the Lord Jesus Christ and the Gospel. I wonder, if you have your Bibles, turn to Ephesians and, if you haven’t, turn your memory banks on so that you can remember Ephesians. I picked up my wife’s Bible out of the car and she carries many more pages than I do in mine. Just a minute while I get rid of the other ones too. She’s been to a lot of meetings lately! (If you do the monograph by transcription, I hope this gets in. It did!!) Look at the meetings she’s been to recently! The real trouble is they have all been carefully and purposefully filed in different sections of the Bible, so I will be in deep trouble later on.
Ephesians. She has one of those in her Bible too! Now Ephesians is a very striking and interesting book. There are parts of it which everybody loves, and nobody uses rightly, as far as I can see. Which of us has given or heard a talk on the spiritual armour? I mean, that passage in Chapter 6, I guess, has had as many talks given on it as any part of the Bible and yet, which of us has given a talk or heard a talk on Ephesians 6 and the spiritual armour in terms of the rest of the epistle? For it is one of those bits of the Bible that you just take, v10-20, straight out of Ephesians 6, and give the talk, dutifully lined up with the soldier all dressed up in Roman gear next to you, if the audience is anywhere beneath the age of 21! But what it has to do with Ephesians, and why it is there and not in Romans or in Galatians, or in Colossians, or anywhere else, seems to be completely missing.
In this epistle, God’s plan for the whole world is being spelled out for us. The Jew and the Gentile, Israel and the nations; God’s plan which centres upon his Son, and finds its fulfilment, quite strangely, in the church. There are several references in this epistle which, I suspect, modern Christians wouldn’t write, which refer to the church. For example, at the end of Chapter 1, God placed all things under his feet (that is, under Jesus’ feet, at his resurrection). God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be “the head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way”. The reference to the church there seems to be a strange thing, that Jesus Christ is the Lord over everything, yes. He is the Lord over everything for the church, to say nothing of the body which is the fullness of him who fills everything in every way. Or, at the end of Chapter 3, speaking of God now,
“to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine according to his powers that are at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever, Amen”. Ephesians 3:20-21
And again, I would suggest to you that many of us would not put in the word “church” at that point. If we were writing the apostolic word at this moment that is the kind of phrase we wouldn’t, I suspect (I hope I won’t do you any injustice) we would not include it. We do not think of God’s plans being so caught up in the church as either of these references hold.
Well, let us run through the epistle quickly, very quickly, just a scamper. In chapter 1:3-14, we are told about all the spiritual blessings that we receive in Christ Jesus. You don’t receive any of them outside of Christ Jesus, but you receive all of them inside Christ Jesus. All the blessings there are to have in the heavenly realms you have when you are in Christ Jesus. And then he spells them out for us in v.4; he talks about our election in Christ before the foundation of the world. In v.5 & 6, he goes on to talk about our adoption to be the children of God; in v.7 he talks about the great blessing of redemption, because it is through the redemption that we are adopted, we who are the chosen of God. Then he goes on in v.8 to talk about the revelation, because not only have we been redeemed, but we have been shown by God – we have been given the knowledge by God – of God’s plan, which is spelled out for us in v.9.
“He made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he purposed in Christ Jesus to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfilment; to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ”. Ephesians 1:9
That is, before the foundation of the world, v.4, God has this eternal plan for the fulfilment of times, v.10, and that plan is that Jesus be the Head over all. That all things be brought under this one Head, namely Jesus, namely Christ. Then v.11-14 spell it out in terms of the Jews and the Gentiles. Those who first hoped in the Christ (namely, the Jews) were called to live, they were predestined by God to live for his praise and glory, and now the miraculous thing that has happened in v.13, “You also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation”. That is, the Gentiles have now been included and they too are to be living to the praise of his glory, for the Holy Spirit has come upon them, as he came upon the Jews, and the Holy Spirit coming upon them has guaranteed them, has sealed them (should I say “us”, as most of us are Gentiles?), has sealed us for eternal life, for that inheritance that we are to receive.
And so, Jew and Gentile together are caught up in this great plan of God to bring everything under the headship of the Lord Jesus Christ. This plan is put into effect through Christ’s death and the gospel being preached.
After he has prayed for them in the second half of chapter 1, Paul goes back to talk about Jews and Gentiles. This time he takes Gentiles and Jews both under the wrath of God. “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins”. I take it the “you” there are the Gentiles. That is one of the tricks of Ephesians, to know who the “you” refers to and who the “we” refers to! Whether it is “we apostles” and “you Ephesians”, or whether it is “we Jews” and “you Gentiles”. I take it is “you Gentiles” that is being referred to here as is most frequently the case in the epistle, but it doesn’t matter much because he is saying, v.3, “all of us lived among them at one time, gratifying…. ” So, in v.3, “we were all by nature objects of wrath, Jew and Gentile alike, but in Jesus Christ we have been raised with Him to sit in the heavenly places. As Jesus has risen from the dead so we in Christ have been raised up with Him for it is by grace that we have been saved, and saved for the good works that he has made for us to walk in”.
Now, that’s all spelled out for us in clearer terms in the second half of chapter 2, where he spells out in v.11-13 the hopeless state that the nations are in. You remember that the word “nations” and the word “Gentiles” is the same word – it is the Jews and the nations, the Jews and the Gentiles.
“Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth, and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision”, that done in the body by the hands of men, remember that at that time you were separated from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel, and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope, without God in the world, but now in Christ Jesus you who were once far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ”. Ephesians 2:11-13
And you have this marvellous passage about the breaking down of the dividing wall of hostility between Jew and Gentile, for in God making peace with himself for the world through the death of Jesus Christ, in the person of Jesus, in His body, taken and crucified. In that one man’s death not only is there reconciliation between humanity and God, but between humanity and humanity. He’s making one man out of the two, both united to God and through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.
“ Consequently you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow-citizens with God’s people, members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple of the Lord. And in whom you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit”. Ephesians 2:19-22
Which brings us, in part, closer to the topic of tonight, in The Local Church and World Mission. It brings us to chapter 3 and the apostle’s part in God’s great plans and purposes – for the apostle Paul was the apostle to the Gentiles. He was the great missionary. He was the one who took the message to the nations. He who was, in one sense, the least of the apostles, had this particular task of making the mystery of God, the plan of God, take effect. The mystery, which is spelled out for us in v.6, is that:
“through the gospel, the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, sharers together in the promise of Christ Jesus”.
And Paul is the apostle to the Gentiles. He is the one who brings the mystery out into the open, who brings it into effect.
The word “mystery” does not mean permanently mysterious, it means secret, hidden. The secret is actually in the Old Testament, but people couldn’t see it until Jesus died and rose again. But Jesus dying and rising again, and meeting Paul on the road to Damascus, made clear his great plan, not just the salvation of Israel, but the salvation of the world. And so, v.7,
“I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power, although I am less than the least of God’s people, this grace was given me, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery which for ages past was kept hidden in God who created all things”.
And here we now come to another one of those references to the church that, I suspect, we modern Christians wouldn’t have written. It really doesn’t fit into our way of thinking, but listen, in v.10,
“His intent, (that is, God) was that now through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord”.
I think v.10 of Ephesians 3 is quite out of step with Christian thinking and that, of course, means that Christian thinking is out of step with God. I mean, it is one of those problems we have come to, isn’t it? It’s a great joy when you come to a bit of the Bible that says it the way you wouldn’t say it. Rejoice and be glad because recognising it is 9/10ths of the problem. Once you recognise that, you can say, “Here’s an opportunity for me to change the way I think”. God’s eternal purpose, which is accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord, was to show his wisdom in the heavenly realms to the authorities and rulers, and he is to show it by the church. He has done this great work in and through and for the church because in the church he demonstrates his glory. His wisdom. His victory.
And so Paul’s ministry of bringing the gospel to the Gentiles meant that the Jews and the Gentiles would be united together in the church. And it is God’s eternal intention and purpose for the church now, the church in this world, not just the heavenly church in the age to come but the church now, through the death of Jesus, preached by the apostles to the Gentiles, through the death of Jesus, the church may demonstrate God’s wisdom. That is why glory is to be given to God in the church as well as in Christ Jesus. For in the death and resurrection of Jesus, we find the glory is given to God, but the death and resurrection of Jesus find their effect, demonstrates their effect, in the church, when people of all nations, the Jews and the Gentiles of all nations, are united in their common acceptance of Jesus Christ as their Lord and as their Saviour in their fellowship together.
And so, in chapters 4 and 5, and the beginning of 6, he spells out how we are to live out our life in Christ; how we are to live out in this world, being that church. Chapter 4:1-16, of course, is critical on maintaining the unity of the Spirit with the diversity of gifts that we have so that by ministering to one another with these gifts we may be built up into Christ. And being built up into that knowledge of God and in that faith that is in Christ – being built up like that will lead to a particular lifestyle. Chapter 4:17-6:9 – a lifestyle that is different to the Gentiles, different to our old lifestyle. A lifestyle that is filled with the Spirit and going on being filled with the Spirit; submitting to one another in our various household tasks. Be it husband, wife, child, parent, slave, or master, but it enables you especially to engage in the Spiritual warfare of 6:10-20.
So here is the endpoint to which it all comes. It is when the church is living out that alternative lifestyle of being the people of God, seeking to maintain the unity of the Spirit, ministering to one another, building one another up, and living a different lifestyle, that we engage finally, strong in the Lord and in his mighty power, we engage in the spiritual warfare. But notice how it is connected into the rest of Ephesians! For example, in v.12, “our struggle is not against flesh and blood but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world, and against the spiritual forces in the heavenly realms”.
“Heavenly realms” is an unusual expression in the New Testament, but it occurs 5 or 6 times in the Epistle to the Ephesians. It occurs in chapter 1:3 “We are blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms”. It occurs in chapter 1:20 “for Jesus being raised up to be seated in the heavenly realms beside his Father”. It occurs in chapter 2:6 “We who were dead in our sins -and trespasses, we have been raised up to sit with Christ in the heavenly realms”. It occurs in chapter 3: 10, the reference to the church, “His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms”. This strange little phrase not only talks about the heavenly realms but rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms with whom God is using us to demonstrate his victory. That when the church meets together as the people of God – Jew, Gentile, male, female, slave, free – when we meet together as the church of God, then the spiritual forces in the heavenly realms are shown, are demonstrated, the victory of the Lord Jesus Christ and the eternal plan and wisdom of God.
The church is a visual exhibition to the spiritual rulers and authorities of God’s victory, and the warfare we are engaged in is a warfare with them. We are caught up in the cosmic battle. The powers, and princes and rulers in the heavenly realms! How do we fight them? Most of the armour, of course, is defensive armour, nearly all of it is defensive armour, the only offensive weapon is the sword, which is the word of God, and the prayer that goes with it is a prayer, all kinds of prayers and requests
“Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly as I should”. Ephesians 6:19-20
Spiritual warfare, which is quite a fashion these days, is the preaching and proclamation of the word of God. It is the gospel of Jesus Christ. For, as we engage in the proclamation of the word of God, as we wield the Spirit’s sword, namely the great news of Jesus’ death and resurrection, so we see people converted and built into a church, and so we see the church demonstrating the victory of God over evil to the very forces themselves.
Now I know that such as you actually part company a long way from people who these days want to be engaged in spiritual warfare because they perceive it as a matter of exorcisms. In particular, exorcisms within the church amongst Christian people. Now, whenever I raise questions over things, mainly because of my use of hyperbole, I notice that people then take it that I don’t believe in things that I raise questions over at all. So, if I question the healing ministry, then people immediately jump to the conclusion that I don’t believe in healing. Or, if I question exorcism, then people immediately jump to the conclusion that I don’t believe in exorcisms. I mean, you can’t believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ without believing in exorcisms, because they are all scattered through the gospel of Jesus Christ, aren’t they? But I do want to raise questions about the exorcisms of today, and it is an important thing to be raising because I do not believe that the Spirit, the Holy Spirit of God, who dwells in his people: will co-habit with the forces of evil. I don’t think that is Biblical, I don’t think it is even likely. I don’t believe that Christians can be possessed.
Now, that gives a problem for some of us because you will say, “Well, I have seen the impact of the power of the devil on the lives of people. (This is all a little aside on Ephesians 6 but, seeing it is such a hot potato, I may as well grab hold of it and burn myself.) The devil, you see, has by his nature deceit, and the power of the devil is lies. He is the liar and the father of liars. He is a murderer, and his nature is to tell lies. He has, especially now that Jesus Christ has died, he has no power for all power has been stripped from him.
The Colossians 2 passage is very important in seeing how, in the cross, the power of the evil one has been defeated and he has been stripped of all power. And the devil has no power other than the power we give him, and we give him power by believing his lies. He claims to have all power; if you accept that lie then you give him that power, but he has no power in and of himself over a Christian other than the power we give him when we believe his lies. Does he have power in a Christian life today? No, because Jesus has died and risen again and defeated him. And when you and I live in fellowship and harmony with each other we demonstrate that Jesus Christ has died and risen again and brought reconciliation between man and God and between humans. That demonstration of the power of the gospel over the evil one he sees clearly, as one of the rulers and powers and principalities in the heavenly realms.
Now, the preaching of the gospel, the preaching of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ reduces exorcisms and their need. But the practice of exorcisms amongst Christian communities seems to increase the need for exorcisms, for the harder we find it to drive the evil one out from amongst us – the longer the prayer meetings, the greater the exhibition that takes place, the stronger the battle, the more the participants are persuaded that the power actually does reside in the devil. That he is strong, he is powerful, he is dangerous, but we (the scriptures say) resist the devil and he will flee from you. He doesn’t sound too strong and powerful that he will flee from you! Sure, he is a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour, but he has no strength in and of himself, other than the strength of lies, and the great lie is that he is the ruler of this world. Well, of course, he is not. Our Lord Jesus Christ, who has died and risen again, is the Ruler of the world and that is seen in the preaching of the gospel, demonstrated in the local church. But what is the church?
THE LOCAL CHURCH
One of the tensions for World Mission and the Local Church today lies in the definition of the theology of the church. So, with the Ephesians background, let me go on to the subject of the church in relationship to world mission, and I am going to skate on the thin ice of my friends that are with us here and say that most world missionary activity is undertaken these days by para-church-based rather than church-based ministries. And most churches have struggled to understand their relationship with each other, let alone with para-church organisations. So, what is the Church? This is the place to start with. Then go on to the question ‘What is the Relationship between the Churches’? From this we get something of a para-church ministry.
Now, the Biblical usage of “church” is a gathering, a meeting, an assembly. Christ’s church, or God’s church, is the meeting of Christ’s people, of God’s people, not only meeting each other but meeting with him. I mean, that meeting of God’s people at Mount Sinai, when they all gathered together around Mount Sinai to hear the words given via Moses to the people gathered to meet God, gathered to hear his word. It is picked up as the heavenly gathering in Hebrews 12, where Christ the Word Incarnate is at God’s right hand, and all his people are gathered around him. But that is not only a future hope and aspiration, it is an expectation, that is a heavenly reality that is there now, for Christ is now seated at the right hand of God and we (Ephesians 2:6) “have been raised to sit with him in the heavenly places”. This heavenly realm is something we are already in. We have already been blessed in Christ with every blessing in the spiritual realms, in the heavenly places, where Christ is and where we in our hidden life (Colossians 3) are now present. It doesn’t yet appear that we are in the presence of Christ, but it will appear when he returns and appears amongst us; we will be seen for what we are as well. Christ is here amongst us, we are with him, and all his enemies are being brought under his feet. Having already been raised up to sit with him, the church is a heavenly reality now, so that whenever we meet in the Name of Christ here in this world, we are a physical expression, manifestation, and example of the spiritual reality of heaven, of church. We are a localised exhibition of that universal church.
Now, I raise this not to so much teach you about the doctrine of the church but so that, when we talk about the subject, we talk about the same thing. If you want to find out more about it, the New Bible Dictionary has an excellent article on the word “church” or, if you want longer articles, the one in the Kittle dictionary, the New Testament Theology, is certainly a good article, or A.M. Stibbs wrote books along this line – God’s church, universal and local – many years ago.
However, the point that I want to raise is really to help us understand what I am talking about, that we are talking the same kind of language when we use the word, but also to see that the flexibility of the church, whenever we gather – 2, 3, 10, 20 – in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ we are the church of God. That is an enormously flexible concept, and it calls into question the rigidity of our thinking which has been created by non-biblical definitions of church, out of our history and our traditions. And so, when I am speaking of the local church, I don’t mean the local, suburban, geographical, parish church; nothing necessarily against that, except it takes for itself the title, the monopoly, of the word “church”.
Whenever you gather in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ, it seems to me that you are the church. Local, in the sense of earthly, physical – it is at the same time, of course, heavenly and spiritual. But that church, when it meets here in this world, the real, earthly, physical, visible church, your congregation, that you meet with next Sunday, or is it next Wednesday or Friday, or whenever it is that you meet, wherever it is that you meet (i.e. this congregation, now meeting) is, I take it, the church. For we are gathered together in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and gathering in his name to hear his word, to ponder his gospel, and our participating in sharing in it, in praying to him, we are the people of God gathered here. Now, we may gather here once a year, or this particular group of people may never gather again until we get to heaven, and then we will be mixed in with all kinds of countless millions of others, but this is, for this moment, God’s gathering, physically expressed at this point in the world in Parramatta, and so this is the congregation. That is, the church is not the world-wide communion or a denomination, nor is it just the parish church, it is wherever, whenever, however, Christians meet together in the Name of Christ. It is not any meeting of Christians. If 3 or 4 Christians go to football, I take it, that’s not the church, that’s football! And there is nothing wrong with that, especially when we beat the South Africans as we did the other day, but nonetheless, that’s not church even though you may be only Christians present. (Judging by the way some people played, I presume some weren’t!) But, when we meet in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ to hear his word, to fellowship with each other on that basis, to pray to him, to sing his praises, when we meet in his Name, we are the church.
Now, such an understanding, I think, gives a marvellous flexibility for the work of the gospel – a flexibility that I think the local church and the para-church are both missing out on, to their detriment. God’s purpose for his church is that, through our unity in the gospel we will demonstrate his wisdom to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms – his wisdom planned from all eternity. The divisions in the world that came from Adam’s fall are overcome by the gospel and that is demonstrated in our fellowship in the gospel. The plan to save the world through the seed of Abraham is fulfilled in the gospel and demonstrated in the church, and when the Gentiles hear of Christ’s death in the gospel and repent and are saved, they join into the fellowship of the church, and so God’s victory is demonstrated.
The local church and world mission are caught up with each other. The local church is the expression, is the fulfilment, is the end point of the world mission, but let’s return back to the purpose of the church from another angle. I mean, God’s purpose is one thing, but what’s our purpose? Or, let me rephrase it another way. Why do we go to church? Why do we gather together? What do we do in church? There are several frequent, in the evangelical community, answers to the question. There is worship, there is evangelism, there is fellowship, there is edification. Now, again, if I raise a question over any of them, I am not saying I am against any of them. Please let me just raise some questions and don’t assume that, as a result of me raising questions, “He doesn’t believe in worshipping anymore! He doesn’t believe in fellowship anymore!” What is the purpose of the church for us? Why do we gather together? Worship, I think, is the quick knee-jerk answer that most people give, but whenever you raise a question about it, it is so fundamental to the idea of church for most people it is almost like as if you just shot the family dog. You know, people think you have done a terrible thing.
But when you go through the New Testament, you find that worship is not something that is commonly connected with church going. There is the reference in Acts 13 but, apart from that, worship is not a key concept of church, nor is church a key concept of worship. Worship language is related around the temple which, in the Old Testament, is worship, and in the New Testament is an expression of Jesus. He is the High Priest; he is the Sacrifice; he is the Temple. The whole concept of Old Testament worship is picked up and applied to Jesus and found in the gospel.
The church – well, you think of 1 Corinthians 14, when he is discussing the question of what to do about speaking in tongues and prophecy. He doesn’t say “when you come to church – worship!” or “don’t speak in tongues so much” or “only speak one after the other because it’s not worshipful to have lots of people speaking in tongues at the same time“. He doesn’t argue from the subject of worship once in his long chapter discussing the nature of church meetings and activity. I am certainly keen on worship, but the worship of the New Testament is the worship of all of our life, our spiritual worship – to present our bodies as a living sacrifice.
Well, what about evangelism? This is not so much a theory, but it is a growing practice – do we run church so as to evangelise people? There is more and more pressure for us to do this, coming out of church growth movements and “Seeker Services”, that we put on church as the means for evangelising the community. There are some of us who have come from those traditions where we have worship services in the morning and gospel services in the evening. Well, having said that I don’t think church is about worship, I am now going to say it is not about gospel, so what on earth are you going to? But, well, I believe in worship and in gospelling, it is just I don’t think that is what the church is about in the New Testament. Oh, sure, it is open to the outsider. The poor man whose Greek name is “idiot” – the idiot who might come in. I have often thought the outsider who comes in is a bit of an idiot, but the odd man who may come in, you must not be speaking in tongues because, if you are speaking in tongues, he will come in and say “They’re a bunch of loonies!”. You are to be prophesying because when you are prophesying, they’ll come in and fall down in repentance, and will say, “Truly God is with you because their sins will be exposed, etc.”. The church’s activities are such that the gospel is being made clear to those who come in, but that’s not what church is for – it is for the Christians, and the assumption is that the Christians are meeting together, and an odd man may come in. Not that the Christians are holding meetings for odd people to come in – or normal people to come in!
Thirdly, what about fellowship? Well, again, I am all for fellowship. Fellowship is a wonderful thing, isn’t it? And it has great Christian value, and like worship, you can look at the heavenly church and say, well, “in heaven we are going to be worshipping God” and you can say, “in heaven we are going to be fellowshipping” and, indeed, one of my teachers used to say, “there is no purpose for church other than fellowship”. But the New Testament doesn’t use the word church in relation to fellowship, nor does it use the word fellowship in relationship with church. In fact, what we usually mean by the word “fellowship”, the kind of good vibrations of friendship that we have in Christ Jesus, is not how the New Testament uses the word fellowship either.
I will come more to fellowship in a few moments because it is important to world mission, but fellowship is a much more active partnership. It is owning a business in common and working with each other in that business that you have in common. Now, you might get good feelings as a by-product of that, indeed we tend to, don’t we? You make great friends when you are out missioning with each other, but that’s a by-product of fellowship; fellowship is owning the business and doing it together. It’s a very active thing. And it’s not something that you do inside church, particularly.
No, I think the word that is right is edification. For in this fallen world the activity, the purpose, the function of the church is to build up God’s people, and to build up the church. As the individuals are built, so the church is built. As the church is built, so the individuals are built. Think of it in terms of 1 Corinthians 14 again, friends. You see, the basis of deciding what you do or do not do in church is “Will it be edifying?” That is why you don’t have more than three people speaking in tongues, and you don’t have any of them speaking in tongues unless you have someone who can interpret beforehand because, if you speak in tongues and no one interprets it, then it doesn’t edify the church. And so, whatever you do, it must edify the church. That is why it has got to be done decently and in order; not because he’s a kind of obsessive, compulsive personality who wants everything decent and in order, but because things that are indecent and disorderly are not edifying, and the goal and purpose of everything is edification within the church.
And that is certainly the point in Ephesians 4, that the different gifts have been given so as to equip people that we,
“the body of Christ, may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” Ephesians 4:12-16
The church is something that builds and is up¬built. The function of activities we engage in is to be building, is to be edifying. This is why we are going to church – that is what we are to be doing – to be built up. And as every member ministers the gospel of Jesus Christ by the various gifts that we have been given, by the Father, the Son and the Spirit (because the gifts in the New Testament are not the work of the Holy Spirit alone, but the works of the Father and the Son, as well as the Holy Spirit), as we use these gifts that have been given to us, every one of us, we build each other up into Christlikeness of character.
But it is by the gospel word that we do that. You see, it is the gospel word which the Ephesian elders are told in Acts 20 by which they can be built up. It can build you up and give you an inheritance amongst all those who are sanctified. For, you see, the Colossians are encouraged to press on, but how are they to press on?
“As you received Christ Jesus as Lord, so continue in Him, built up and rooted in Him, and overflowing with thankfulness”. Colossians 2:6
There is not a gospel that is given to you, when you are saved, and now that you are saved, there is a teaching which is given to you as a Christian by which you can be built up. The teaching that is given to build Christians is the gospel by which we are saved. There are not two messages in Christianity. There is one message in Christianity, and the Jesus you start with is the Jesus you must continue with. You must go on in the gospel, and so the way you build the church is by the gospel. Certainly, the person who comes in will hear the gospel when they come into church, because the Christians need constantly to be taught the gospel and, as you are taught the gospel more (now I don’t mean, by the “gospel”, 35 verses of “Just as I Am” to get us down the front, I mean we preach Christ and Him crucified!). We preach Christ the risen Lord of heaven and earth. We preach Christ the fulfiller of the prophecies. We preach Christ the creator of the universe. We preach Christ. As we preach Christ to each other so we are built up and so any “idiot” who comes in will be converted. But it is “by the word of God”, so Jude challenges us, to build ourselves up in or by your most holy faith, the faith that was delivered once for all to the saints.
It’s the gospel word which leads the people into church, and it is the gospel word that builds Christians up in the church and, as we are built up in the church, we are built up into Christlikeness of character and nature.
Now, what’s it like to be like Christ?
“This is a true saying and worthy of all men to be received, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”. 1 Timothy 1:15
You cannot be like Christ and be unconcerned for the lost. If you are like Christ you must be committed to the salvation of mankind for, whatever else Christ was, he was committed to the salvation of mankind. He died for the salvation of mankind. There may be other things you will or will not do in your Christlikeness, but one thing you must be is committed to the salvation of mankind. So here is the local church. It, itself, comes out of the gospel and, as people hear the gospel and are brought into faith in Christ, they are brought into the congregation of God’s people because in the congregation you see the demonstration of the victory of Christ. But in the congregation, you are built up, and building yourselves up, and building each other up. And how are we building up and built up by that same gospel? And when we are built up, what are we built up to be, but committed to the salvation of mankind. World mission can’t be detached from the local church. The local church doesn’t meet in order to evangelise the world, that’s not the way it connects into world mission, but the local church is the consequence of the gospel. It is the gospel that builds the local church, and it’s the gospel that comes out of a church that has been built up by the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The relationships between the churches
What’s the relationship between churches? You see, the full-blown congregational model of church life omits many of the references in the New Testament to the relationships between churches. You see, the letters to the Colossians and the letters to the Laodiceans were to be swapped between each other. The apostle talks about himself as having concern for all the churches. The ministries of Timothy and Titus were not ministries to a church, but they were sent to several and many churches.
Paul sometimes has an argument, you find in 1 Corinthians 11 and chapter 14, where he says, “as in all the churches I…” and then he gives a command. But what is true of one church on a particular subject (which I won’t mention because it is so controversial now and we don’t want to follow what he has to say) but, “as in all the churches this practice should be adopted, this practice should be followed”. And in 2 & 3 John you are told to show hospitality and you are told to deny hospitality. To people who come in the name of Christ, show hospitality, and to those who come falsely, as false teachers, them you are to deny. Yet there is no, I don’t believe, (excuse me, Presbyterians amongst us!) there is no constitutional structure between the churches spelled out in the New Testament that I can find. It is a very loose fellowship. It is not discussed. It is especially not discussed in what we call denominations. This is, of course, the most denominational of all countries because we have inherited denominations from all the other countries, and so we have our Welsh, and we have our Scots, and we have our English, and we have our…. Everyone has brought their denomination and we have a country full of denominations! In some country towns you will find five or six different denominations occupying different corners, all of which are totally under-represented in terms of real membership turning up, but we have these different denominations – that European “hangover” is what a denomination is now, but here we have them.
In the New Testament it’s a much freer association or, to use the New Testament word, it’s a fellowship. For while “fellowship” is not a word much used about warm relationships, or within the church, it is a word used of working partnership between churches, or between Christians in different churches. Notice the two sides of the emphasis there – one is, it’s between churches, and the other is it’s a working partnership, it’s an active word. That is, we have fellowship in the common cause of the gospel work, proclaiming salvation, bringing all under Christ, and doing the work of the Lord. We have fellowship as we work together, and so Paul has many fellow-workers, some 80 or so people in the New Testament, by name, are listed by Paul as his fellow workers, his partners, the people he fellowships with; and they are those who share the gospel, who encourage the work of the gospel in many and varied ways. It requires agreement in the truth, it requires a joint activity in its proclamation, it requires suffering together, bearing the cross of Christ, and it requires the sharing of resources; and so ‘fellowship’ is often used of money, for that is how we have fellowship with each other (which may, or may not, give you warm feelings!).
It is not a constitution, there is no legal entity, there is no organisation to this fellowship, it’s just that we have a common concern for the gospel; by it we are in fellowship with God and in fellowship with each other, and our fellowship is for the salvation of the world. So, all churches that comprise of converted regenerated members will share in the commitment to world evangelism. But the commitment to world evangelism, the fellowship of world evangelism, is not just their church, they will work with anyone who names the name of Christ in whichever church which works together for the cause of the gospel. And here it is that we need to stop and look more at ourselves, and what we have done. Because we have divided ourselves fairly rigidly now into churches and para-churches, a division which is pragmatic and there’s nothing in itself wrong with it, but I believe it has created and is creating some frustration and tensions for us, both for the church and the para-church.
Now, friends, I’m going to make generalisations. It’s a very dangerous thing to do. Do remember a generalisation is a generalisation, isn’t it? So, as soon as I say some of these things, you will say “That is not true in our case!”. Well, praise God! Isn’t that wonderful? And if it is not true of any case, that is alright. I was wrong, wasn’t I? There is no great shame about that, and I am glad you will point that out to me at question time, but it is the character of generalisations that if the cap fits, wear it; if it doesn’t – well, throw it away! It was good fun trying it on in front of the mirror, wasn’t it? But… for the church, the local church, not the biblical local church, but now the average, parish, suburban, family church – has become a community of faith, and has lost a lot of the idea of the gospel.
More and more of our congregations are actually meeting together as self-support groups, as Christian maintenance societies, rather than groups that have come into being because people have been converted. It is nearly all biological growth these days rather than conversion growth – groups who are meeting together to build each other up into Christ-likeness of character which can be seen by the way in which the gospel is going out from us. Well, I hope your local church is like that, but most local churches are people gathered together to look after each other, to support each other. It’s a kind of religious, Christianised, self-support group which is taking place. Maintenance is the mode and, as one of my associates keeps on saying, “the people are like pillows with legs”. There really is very little backbone, there is very little “guts”, there is not altogether much brain! It’s got to do with people who like soft, cuddly, warm, fuzzies, and they get together regularly, walking home afterwards.
The para-church societies are set up to do work, specific in their goals and their intentions. By the way, those of you who read the literature and can remember the difference between modalities and sodalities, this is classically all caught up in modalities and sodalities, because I can never remember which one’s which – I’ve given up using the terms, I always get them wrong! (The odality I get right – it’s the “m” and “s” that I get wrong.) It’s the difference between being in a family, or being in a business. It is the difference between being in a nation and being in an army.
The church, the local suburban churches have turned into families. Families don’t do anything, they just “family”. They don’t go anywhere, they just “family”! Their reason for being is because they are there. Businesses have goals and our para-church movements have goals, they have purposes. You join them because you are seeking to achieve a particular thing and, when you are no longer useful to the organisation, you can get dropped by the organisation – you can never get dropped out of a family, no matter what you do. You are just the son of your father, and your mother will tell you that (just like your father!). So you don’t get dropped. But, if you don’t achieve the goals of the business, well, you can get dropped, and our societies are working to specific goals.
There are a whole variety of para-church things. Missionary societies are one particular animal, but there’s all kinds of other things. The Bible Society, Scripture Union, AFES, EYB, they nearly all go with initials. They are the things that have done the work of the church. Though they are not the church; although they are biblically the church, they are not the church. You’re not allowed to call them the church.
Let us say you have a little group, let me use the university illustration for a moment; you have a little group of people who meet every week for Bible study. They meet together in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, they study the Word of God with each other, they encourage each other in Christian living, they pray with each other, and they seek to evangelise their friends together, but that is not the church. What more do you have to do to be the church? Well, you’ve got to have the sacraments. It’s not particularly a New Testament concept that you have got to have the sacraments in order to qualify to be a church. Well, you’ve got to have a paid minister. Well, as one who is in receipt of payment for ministering, I’m all for it, but it is not actually in the New Testament that you’ve got to have a paid minister to be a church. Well, you’ve got to all come from the same denomination. Well, that is an absurd one, isn’t it? Somehow, this group that meets regularly to study God’s Word in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, to encourage each other on in godliness, to build each other up in Christlikeness of character, that is not the church. I can’t work out what is the church once you start saying that, you see!
Many, many of the activities we are engaged in are indeed the church. Indeed, we often do in the para-church things, more of the things of the NT church, than we do in the parish church, where we carry on a whole range of activities that have nothing to do with the building up of the body of Christ, the building up of the people of God, but are traditions that we have inherited and responsibilities that we have to go along with. It is a problem. A division which sets in, really, which robs the church of goals and directions and vision and responsibility, especially about the gospel and Bible-teaching, and a division which leads para-churches into the frustration of not being the church, when it does all that the church should do, and is not accepted or wanted by the church, or thanked, or helped.
You see, take the frustrations of the para-church first, before we go into the frustrations of the local church. Part of their raison d’etre, their reason to be, is that there is something lacking in the church. There is something that the church cannot do or will not do. Now, if the church cannot do it, then that is a wonderful reason for being, isn’t it? If the church will not do it, and it is really a right and proper thing to be done, then that is a terrible problem we have, isn’t it? Now, there are some things which a church can’t do. However, not finding themselves in the Bible, because the New Testament word “church” has given monopoly power to the parish church, the para-church wants to help the local church and keep on seeing themselves as the servants of the local church, but the local church doesn’t want them. It doesn’t invite them to do the job; it doesn’t thank them for doing the job; it doesn’t fund them for doing the job; and it doesn’t provide people for doing the job and it complains bitterly when people leave the local church in order to go and do the job!
And so the missionary society feels frustrated by the local church. They’re not interested in world mission. They’re not even interested in any mission. They’re only interested in maintaining themselves. Now, of course, you never state it like that because it is bad public relations, it might get back to them! But that is the feeling that, not you, of course, but some people have. If we were running the church like we run our missionary society, then things would really be done much better, we’d really get somewhere then!
On the other hand, though, the local church can equally be frustrated by the para-churches. They certainly feel put down by the criticism of not doing the true job. They also feel it when the para-church gets up and starts doing the thing which they know they should be doing. It has been interesting to observe in Sydney over the last decade, it might be two decades now, how the local congregation women’s Bible studies have almost gone out of existence with the rise of two or three non-denominational women’s Bible study ministries. Now, without going into the rights or wrongs of either, many of the local churches feel the criticism that they’re not providing for the womenfolk, and the criticism is not said or stated, the criticism is stated by effectiveness. The fact that the women don’t come to the church Bible study anymore because they are too busy going to the para-church Bible study which, of course, is the place where they are getting real Spiritual nourishment, and is their real church. So why are they still sitting in the Sunday church? Well, they go because of the children, and the hope of seeing their husbands converted.
It really is a frustration for the local church because the para-church has taken over the job of the local church, or at least both the para-church and the local church think they’ve done that. They also feel that they’re being used on the missionary front, for deputationists are not really actually interested in the church, except as a source of people or a source of money (out of politeness I put it in that order!). And church members would love to get on with the mission but they feel that they’ve got so many other responsibilities, like maintaining the buildings and paying for the clergy, and looking after the weaker members that a lot of para-church ministries won’t accept because they are no great help in achieving the goals!
So, for both the church and the para-church there is a problem, but we add another problem. That is, we’re old. We evangelicals tend to be full of old organisations – rigid and stiff in sinews and muscles. Too strong in long-term memory, and too weak in short-term memory. Weak in vision and needing stronger glasses. A little afraid of a world that is changing faster than we can cope with. The danger is really here for both the church and the old missionary societies – that we are losing the vision of our task. We cease to exist in order to achieve any goals, we now exist in order to exist.
You see it in the shift of language. Once an organisation starts using words like community or family, you know they’re on the skids, because we now have as a chief value maintaining members, loyalty, unity, harmony, whereas the goal we’re trying to achieve is being further and further removed from our sight and our vision. Over time, because, well everyone has authority to bring things into church buildings, but hardly anybody has authority to throw them out… I don’t know whether you’ve noticed that or not. We won’t do it, Peter, but if we went around this building, I’m sure, being a church building, there will be junk here somewhere, on the basis that anyone can bring things into church, can’t they? You know, “My Sunday School class could really use that.” But no none has any authority to throw it out and so, over time, churches collect junk. Well, over time, Christianity collects the junk of unused and useless organisations. Many take a life of their own. I heard of one missionary society, not in this state, I may say, where for 30 years they’ve been saving money to send missions around the world, only for the last 30 years they have not had one missionary on the field! They’ve only actually had an organising secretary raising the money which, so far, has only covered the organising secretary! Now that really must rate as the most useless missionary society that has ever been created. There is the extreme. Unfortunately, it’s an extreme, and a real-life case extreme, which is not so far away from some other cases.
We have just lost sight of what it’s about. The goals and aims of a para-church are not always the same as the goals and aims of a church. The para-church society has removed from the church the very thing that the church was trying to achieve on some occasions, and it only consults the church when it requires money, or people, or platform, while the church washes its hands of those matters because, well, “there’s a society that does that, isn’t there? I don’t have to worry about Bible distribution – there is a group that does that. I don’t have to worry about teaching children – there is a children’s evangelism society that does that. I don’t have to worry…” and so all kinds of things the church no longer feels burdened by or responsible for, because there is a society that does it, but that society is actually distanced and remote from the local church.
Now, in age it becomes worse, for the goals and aims of the society which were set up when the society started, get lost. As the world moves on we become more and more out of touch with the world, or we keep modifying our goals to keep up with the world and get more and more out of touch with the church that started us off. Many evangelical structures, church denominations, para-church missionary societies are old, set up last century, and we have grown apart and we’ve lost touch with each other. We know that we’re there, but the world is different. Australia is not a Christian country. We are not the centre of a world empire, and we do not have that responsibility for the social and economic well-being for the whole world. But most of our societies and our para-church ministries and our denominations and our churches have come from the British Empire, or out of the 20th century American Empire, where Christianity was a much more noticeable national activity, where they were the centre of a world empire, and where they did have responsibility for the economic well-being of the world. We in Australia today are a multi-cultural pagan nation, with a tiny little Christian minority group, of around about 3- 5% of the population. We are on the very margin of the Western world economy, as can be seen by our present recession.
World mission is about reaching Anyone, Anytime, Anywhere, but our missionary heritage comes from the imperial past, and it means that our concern is to reach the poor, uneducated, sick village people overseas, in a foreign language, with special bonus points if they used to be cannibals. Please don’t mishear me – I am not against reaching those kinds of people, and please don’t misunderstand, I know that there are still millions and millions of people who have not heard of Christ, and who are poor and illiterate and sick and living in villages, and they have far less chance of hearing about the Lord Jesus than the average Australian pagan who can walk in and hear the gospel any time in any church building he wanted to. I understand that but, is a missionary someone who crosses an ocean, or someone who crosses a culture? What is a missionary? Should not the last 50 years of Australian immigration change our missionary strategy? What do the local churches want to do, and what do they want missionary societies to do for them? Will not reaching Australia’s ethnic minorities open up to the churches and to Australian Christians a world-wide concern for the gospel, and will not our ethnic minority groups open up for us mission fields and enter into mission fields and reaching peoples with the gospel that we have never thought of doing before? You see, the agenda of the local church is the people that are right around about us at the moment, and we do not know how to reach them.
As I go from church to church, it is saddening and salutary to see how Anglo-Saxon evangelicalism is. There are some ethnic churches, such as the Chinese and Korean, but they are in the minority and, in the average suburban church, it really is not ethnic, although the future of Australia is clearly not Anglo-Saxon. The people that we have travelled the world to preach the gospel to have now travelled the world to live in Australia. Do we have to cross oceans to be a missionary, or can we just cross cultures to be a missionary? If we had sent one of our friends to Italy he would be a missionary. If we sent him to Leichhardt, well, he is not a missionary. What is the difference between converting Italians in Leichhardt and converting Italians in Italy? What is the real difference? And if we are setting out to reach the Italians in the world, which is the easier group to reach? The ones who have already translated themselves into the Australian culture here, or the ones who are still living in Italy?
When we were the British Empire well, certainly we shared in the white man’s burden and we shared in the responsibility for the third world, and we had a view that spread out from London to the ends of the earth, like great spokes in the wheel. And we were ‘Brits’ who happened to be transplanted “down under”. But, as Australia ceases to be British and as our culture changes in its very nature, are our missionary societies really coming out of our local churches seeking to reach the world from where we are ministering? Or are we still importing our missionary societies as we are importing our denominational structures from overseas in a way that doesn’t fit the context in which we live? And, worse still, fails to take hold of the opportunities that are available to us right nearby? That is, if the mission is to anyone, anytime, anywhere, then there is no theological priority to the rich over the poor, and there’s no theological priority to the poor over the rich either.
The worst thing that’s ever happened for the missionary cause was the invention of the camera because, when you take photographs, you can only photograph poor, sick people, you can’t photograph sinful, condemned people. Of course, sinful, condemned people are just like anybody, anywhere; there is nothing particularly to photograph about them. So, I’m endlessly seeing people in poverty and sickness, and being encouraged and motivated to be involved in world mission. Well, it involves me and motivates me to give money to humanitarian aid. It is only as I read the gospel of Jesus Christ and I hear about Him paying the penalty for the sin of the world, and I hear about His victory in rising to the right hand of God, and I hear about God’s plan to unite all people under His authority, that I will go and preach to anybody, anywhere, any time. You see, the camera gives me the wrong diagnosis; it is the Word of God, it is the gospel that gives me the world mission diagnosis and it is the church teaching the gospel that builds Christians up to have that mind of Christ that will go out into the world without ever worrying about what the world looks like, for all the world needs is our Lord and Saviour.
Well, you have been patient with me and now I open it up to any questions or comments you want to make. And please make them, because then I can clarify my over-statements and back down; and qualify my generalisations.
The following is a transcript of the answers recorded during question time after the Paul White lecture – the questions themselves were too faint to be picked up.
1. Yes, I agree with you brother, that is what I am saying, I think the para-churches are often churches, and the churches are often para-churches.
Our brother has pointed out that the dichotomy drawn between para-church and church, given what I have said about the nature of the church, and the nature of fellowship, is a bit of a false dichotomy because many of the denominational churches are, in fact, para-churches. And I agree with that, and I think that denominations are para-churches, so the Church of England is a misnomer. It is a fellowship of churches which provide support, encouragement, help, for churches. It is, itself, not the church. I used to like the Baptist way – it used to talk about the Union of Baptist Churches. These days though, I’ve noticed, it has slipped into being the Baptist Union. There is always a capacity for the fellowship to actually take over the job of the church. I understand, in the last century, each local Baptist church used to ordain their own pastors whereas these days the Union ordains the pastors.
I don’t know the Baptist history well enough to know if that’s accurate, but it is that kind of drift towards the denomination and away from the church which you find in most fellowships, and I think, yes, the fellowships keep on taking… Yes, I agree with you, I think many of the churches are not churches.
2. Really, I don’t think many – how do we fix it, if it is an impediment to mission? I don’t think many people are willing to bite the bullet. That is when I say to the Overseas Christian Fellowship; “Look, you guys are a church, why don’t you just be a church?” They say, “because the Overseas Christian Fellowship is a non-denominational, para-church movement” you see. Some of their students meet together for two hours on Sunday morning for Bible study, prayer, etc., but then they all come to church, because they haven’t been in church previously, they have just been spending two hours studying the Word of God together, praying with each other together, and building each other up, encouraging each other! When they arrive at church, what do they do? They sit in the pews and fall asleep because they have been up since 6 o’clock in the morning, you see, but now they are in church. They know they are in church because they are asleep, that is the ultimate test.
We are the church because we pass a plate, but that is not a church because there is no plate being passed! I just think that’s legalistic nonsense. Why not call it just a church? Well, they say, “If we call it a church, then you won’t encourage people to join OCF; you will say “No, no, you’ve got an alternative church to our church and so we will be in competition with you!”. Whereas, if it is a para-church, if it is a non-denominational fellowship, well then, it is not in competition with the church, is it? So we can all work together. Now it is a bit crude and awful but we are not willing to face up to it. We are not willing to say the bigger thing, the bigger picture, counts. We are looking after our own interests.
3. The homogeneous unit principle is one of the great controversies of our day, as to whether you should try and set up churches by homogeneity. It is a little bit like laying the path.
When I was at Sydney University, there was a great expanse of grass between the library and the main hall, and they didn’t want students to walk on it and wear it out. But the students always did, just a diagonal path straight across where we, everyone, took a shortcut, and they just got a dirty path. So they decided to lay a path there, but they still didn’t want us to use it, so they laid a path kind of around the square, totally useless. All the students just used to walk straight across the grass so, after 6 months, they gave that away and laid the path straight across the grass, which is where it is to this day.
Now you can say, well, churches should show diversity. Therefore, “We won’t have any ethnics, you know, we will bus people, we will bus the Aborigines all over Sydney so there’s one in every church; we’ll bus the Greeks out of Marrickville, so there’s one of them in every church; we will bus people from St. Ives everywhere, so there’s one of them everywhere.” It’s an absurdity, isn’t it? People will gather with people like themselves for a whole host of reasons. If you put a church on in the morning – our students don’t get up in the morning. If you put a church on in the evening – our families need to be home for their small children. It just has its effects. All churches must be open to all peoples. That none is excluded based on race or sex or social standing, or whatever – that is important. Well, I think it is realistic to expect that certain churches will have in common more things than the gospel of Jesus. In as much as we want to make it open to outsiders, then we must reflect that flavour.
But the real problem in Australian churches (I think I can speak freely here, there are only one or two of you who should not listen at this moment), the real problem in Australia is the sheer ethnic racism of the Anglo-Saxons, who keep on saying, “Well, they can join our church, the fact that we run it on culture, with Anglo-Saxon language, that’s an irrelevance. We were here first (leave aside the Aborigines), we were here first and they came knowing what we were like, and they can now become like us if they want to be in church with us”.
Now, we can’t actually do it that way. If we want to have our New Australian friends join us in church, we have to let go of being Welsh Methodists! Are there any Welsh Methodists here? I just picked them as the most unlikely group I could think of straightaway. I mean, the Welsh Methodists may be the most beautiful singers in the world, but the point is, we are not in Wales. That is not where we are at. The Methodist revival is now a couple of hundred years old, and it’s about a hundred years dead in their world as well as here in Australia. It’s another age, it’s another country, it’s another time! The people next door to us are Vietnamese, Greek and Italian; we have got to create church life that reflects that reality, which means me giving up my Welshness to some extent for the good of the gospel of Jesus.
Now, my problem is because we got here first, we are not willing to make the change. We are assimilationists – they’ve got to become like us, which seems to me to be the exact contrary to what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9 – he becomes like them. It’s the exact reverse. So that’s where I think the real problem is, and so your question points the finger on it.
4. I thank you for the perception. That is the perception (to put it on the recording for the people who didn’t come tonight – I don’t know why we should favour them like this, but…). Our denominational training colleges tend to train people to convey a body of information, but not to be (or encouraged to be) entrepreneurial people, initiators, if you like. And when men of the gospel come into church, they do not find the opportunities to express those gifts they’ve got in innovation and entrepreneurship, and so they tend to move outside the church into other organisations where their gifts are accepted and welcomed and encouraged. I think that is right – I think that is the case. I think it is an Australian phenomenon, though, isn’t it, and an English phenomenon, rather than an American phenomenon. I don’t know much about it, I’ve only had one trip in the States, but one of the characteristics of Americans, it seems to me, is their willingness to leave the church they’re in because it is not going anywhere, and start up another one. Buy a block of land, put up a huge building, employ a pastor, and get cracking with something else! Whereas our commitment to loyalty is such that we will die with the place we are in rather than move on. But I do agree with you that over and over again I find in churches… I’ve never done a survey of it, but in churches, in some denominations more than others, we are very socialist in our thinking. We are very committed to (this is kind of funny because nearly all Protestants in Sydney vote for the Liberal party, but the way they run their churches is classic socialism – it is all done by committees, it’s all done by agreement, it’s all done by a kind of civil service approach, public servant approach to things). You don’t actually show initiative and flair, and the people who try to generally get squeezed out, and so they do find their way into these organisations such as para- church movements, because they’ve got more freedom and flair. I think there is a truth in that.
I would be interested in denominational differences. My short experience tells me, that there are more businessmen in the Brethren Assembly than there are in the Anglican Church. The Anglican Church, in my experience, is filled with school teachers; the kind of professional, safe, secure job, is the kind of the classic in Anglicanism. I was interested in one survey I read recently which said that the chief ministries that Anglican laymen are involved in are administrative. You reach the pinnacle when you get elected to the parish council!
5. Oh! You either don’t know what I believe, or you do know what I believe, and don’t like me! What would I think about the missionary call, especially that kind of call that people would have from God to another country and to a para- church ministry?
I believe that the “missionary call” is part of our pious heritage. I don’t actually believe it is part of Biblical teaching. Like I said, you see, that puts me out amongst friends tonight, doesn’t it?
That is, there are examples in the Bible where God will call a man, such as Jeremiah, or such as a Paul, but the characteristic of Jeremiah and Paul is that they are not the “every” man. It is part of their very uniqueness, it’s why their books are actually bound up in the Bible, and my books aren’t. It is because God calls them. Now, once I raise questions with something, people then say I don’t believe in it at all. I am not saying God cannot call somebody this very night. God can do anything he likes. God can write on a wall now if he wishes to. He did it at’ Belshazzar’s feast, he can do it now. But, because he did it at Belshazzar’s feast it doesn’t mean I walk around reading what is written on walls. In fact, in toilets, I tend to avoid it as much as I possibly can.
You can’t say that because God called Jeremiah, therefore I should be expecting God is going to call me like that now. If you say to me, “But God did call me like that!”, I will say, “Well, praise God, I am very glad for you and I hope that you obey it; and I am sorry for you because, by and large, the people he ‘called’ like that bore heavy burdens and responsibilities. But I am glad and sad for you, and glad for us that God has called you to this task”. But I don’t expect it, and it doesn’t seem to me the New Testament teaches it, and I think it has created problems for us theologically and practically. Practically, because there’s any number of people who have hidden behind “no call” so that they actually have not gone and done what they should have done because it is sheer obedience to the gospel of Jesus Christ, because they were never ‘called’. They had the gifts to do it, they had the opportunity to do it, they had the need in front of them to do it, but they didn’t do it because they never got ‘the call’. That is a real practical problem of great magnitude.
It gives us theological problems because people are looking for the call outside the Word of God. You don’t need to look for the call outside of the Word of God because, as you understand the gospel properly, so you are being called by God to proclaim it for the salvation of others, whether it be here, there, or anywhere else. It’s the gospel that calls you, so you don’t need any call other than the call of the gospel, and it is our lack of understanding of the gospel that leaves us sitting in the pew feeling that “it’s alright, I don’t have to do anything about it!“. And it’s as we are built up by the gospel that we are driven out into the world to proclaim it to others. So, I have found the heritage of ‘the call’ unhelpful. If you say to me, “Well, what about specific countries?”, I’ll say, “Well, God can certainly do that”. It is like the call that I have had so many students come to me with. They’ve been called by God into medicine; I hardly ever get them called by God into Arts – they’re all called by God into medicine! Why is God so middle-class? Why does he want these people to be so upwardly socially mobile, and economic, to boot? Why doesn’t He call people to study ceramic engineering? I have never had a ceramic engineer yet tell me that they were called by God to make ceramics – it is always medicine that they are called to!
Likewise, I get people with the most extraordinary, bizarre calls. I had one of them at a missionary convention a few years ago. She came to me and said she had been called by God to go behind the Iron Curtain. I wouldn’t have trusted her behind the stage curtain, but God was calling her behind the Iron Curtain! And God seems to be very interested in the romantic, you know, the cannibal country. In reaching the world with the gospel of Jesus, Paul spent most of his time in cities. By cities, I don’t mean in ghettoes – in cities, dealing with everybody that was there, from the top to the bottom of the social structure. Most of the world is moving to cities and I can’t see why God’s not calling them to the cities, but He doesn’t.
I met a man the other day who told me he had been called by God over in America – he’d been called by God because he’s going to America. Scrap this bit, he’s been called by God to preach to millionaires! Well, he might have been, mightn’t he? They sure need the salvation, don’t they? I just couldn’t help but notice the quality of his suits, the jewellery he wore, and the car, and the house, that goes with that kind of ministry. Well, he could be …