Letter to the Melburnians

A clarion call to a different way of life and church.

Foreword

In coming to these potentially explosive conclusions, that our typical church service is irrelevant, impotent and decrepit, I am at the same time immediately struck by the life and abundance in many individuals who make up our Western churches. It makes me think that, while we might be budding workers, we’re stuck in primary school.

My point is that I don’t want to bash the Church (us). God has a way of growing us despite the way we do things when we’re together. But what I am saying is that when we come together and ‘do church’, the way that we conceive of church, the building and its services, the programs and small groups, the activities and relationships and teaching — that thing we call ‘church’ is irrelevant to our lives, impotent to affect anything of value, and decrepit, in need of renewal.

We can do better because I can see the potential and life in each person. But the old system, born as it was in another era, is not serving us any longer. We are serving it, upholding a church service that is so far from biblical reality, we deny its power. A church service that gets uproariously laughed at by the persecuted Chinese underground church. [cf. Francis Chan, Letters to the Church (David C Cook, USA, 2018), pp. 154-155.]

This tract is not going to spend long on analysing the problem, because that has been done before many times, but focusses around ten things we need to renew our churches around.

Regards,

Nathan.

~~~

(Fictional) Letter to the Melburnians

Living arrangements

1 Nathan, a servant of Christ Jesus by the will of God,

To God’s holy people in Melbourne, the faithful in Christ Jesus:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Independent living

When I came to you, you were all living separately from each other, only seeing each other for ninety minutes on Sunday morning, leaving hurriedly, and perhaps meeting again for another highly scripted meeting mid-week.

Interdependent living

Over the three years I was with you, we established small communities physically close to each other; as it is written, “they met daily” (Acts 2:46). We practiced nothing other than “love God and love others” — now far easier to act on due to this physical proximity. We shared many dinners together; the kids from our families and the neighbours played so happily — and without screens; we all grew in our gifts as we applied them to our neighbourhood, rather than just the time at the church building. We were beginning to see great fruit having turned one church building into a caravan park to minister to the down and outs, with co-working spaces, workshop areas, and biblical principles woven into all our young workers’ education.

You watched as some reacted out of total fear due to COVID-19 and left the state entirely — only to stumble back into old habits of living without a mission, without a community, and unable to love. Unable, because you hardly see other people, at which point it seems nobody cares — and these depressive thoughts unknowingly entertain demons. At which point you can’t serve, because you don’t even know what your friends are really thinking — and what you see on Facebook is of course the mask.

O foolish Melburnians! Who has bewitched you? Has God given up on establishing a “light on a hill“? Has Jesus forgotten about His bride — His only bride — who is one body but many parts (1 Corinthians 12)? If the parts are separated, are they a body any longer? Are they not fit for nothing?

Did Christ set the example in vain, that He send people out “two by two” (Luke 10:1), not as individuals, according to the principle ‘two or three are not quickly overcome‘ (Ecclesiastes 4:12)? Or that He established twelve apostles, who worked together to sort out early practical and doctrinal matters (Acts 6:1-7; 15:1-35)? Did Christ show forth the light of hope to the ‘half-breed’ Samaritans in vain (John 4:1-42), while you watch your Sunday performance, and put your drawbridge up to block social outcasts?

Instead, we are in fact a strong castle, a light to the nations that many will flock to. So let us live by that by setting our face towards that reality and putting off the lies of the devil that we can create our own reality or our own destinies, and put on instead the garments of the truth that says we are a family of God, a Body of Christ! A body that each does their own work in unity. An interdependent body — not an independent individual.

Dependent living

But what of the dependent child? That servile position that appears humble, and yet is weak — and preyed upon by a selfish leader. While I was with you I encouraged you to create community around mission: mission being the heart of the Trinity, as the Father, Son and Spirit serve each other, yet remain in equality; and the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) our banner.

 

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Yet what many churches practice is an infantilising practice whereby the pastor takes precedence over the congregation, who are expected to passively consume the message, yet not practice it. Where are the efforts to show people what to do, how to do it, and then the opportunities to try it for themselves in a safe place? Finally, after this apprenticeship, where are the opportunities to launch a new work, under a mentor or coach? Instead, we simply produce infants, suckling milk — or frustrated leaders who are not given the opportunity to leave the nest because the pastor is too fearful they’ll crash-land.

Instead, by being dependent on Christ, we can forget the heavy-handed tactics of control and relinquish our pastors to do just that which they have been called to do (pastor), while each of us takes up our roles and gifts, such as but not limited to “prophecy, service, teaching, exhortation, generosity, leadership, mercy” (Romans 12:6-8), as “apostles, prophets, teachers” in “miracle-working, healing, speaking in tongues, interpretation” (1 Corinthians 12:29-30), and craftsmanship (Exodus 35:30-35). So we are to be childlike to Christ, but not to each other; yet, we also should not be aloof to each other (independent), but concerned for their welfare as we would be for our own.

Holiness and love

2 I had a vision in which Jesus told me to write to the angel of the church in Melbourne:

Holiness without love

“A part of you uphold the Word of God, and preach righteousness, holiness and a strong moral ethic. You hate the worldliness of the liberal churches, which Jesus also hates.

You show me love in worship and offerings and an eagerness to study the Scriptures.

Yet the Father holds this against you: you have forsaken the love of His family and His people. When others make it hard to meet, you acquiesce to their demands. When helping the hurting would take too much effort, you stay home. When you preach, you don’t lift a hand to help put that preaching into action. When watchmen cry, you ignore them to preserve your comfortable cruise ship.

But watch out! The ship has holes! It will take all of you working together to fix it, and to gird yourselves once more to rescue the drowning and dying.

Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says. Those who seek their own comfort I will reject on the Day, but those who seek others’ comfort I will reward.”

Love without holiness

“Yet there is another part that is proud to be loving and others’ focussed and socially just. They exercise mercy, grace, forgiveness and love. You have concern for the poor, both among your own and in those around you. You have this in your favour.

Nevertheless, your light is neutered by your love for what I hate. You regard it ‘love’ to love what I regard as sin! Get back to the Word! Understand what is right and good, and let that be your concern. You have distanced and made it hard for those who are noble Bereans to be amongst you — woo them back. Change your ways, so that you love what I love and hate what I hate.”

Love with holiness

Love without boundaries is easy — you just accept all without questions. And Jesus accepted the woman caught in adultery. But when Jesus says “take up your cross” to follow Him, it means you give up your way of life. It means “go and sin no more“. There are hard boundaries because God has made us for specific purposes. We cannot just do whatever we want.

Some of you struggled with pornography, and when Matt came up with an IT solution to help make the internet more safe, and more accountable, you baulked at the cost and effort to set it up. You had committed to holiness, but it was revealed to be hard. But when an anonymous donor paid the entire bill — and more — you were overwhelmed with joy! This is love that serves holiness, producing a harvest of spiritual fruit.

We all know we want to live in community together — but will we pay the price of giving up our current comfortable life, and count the financial cost, to achieve that which we know is far more like “the Body“? We want the right way, but do we love God — and others whom we will serve — enough to move into this way of living?

Discipleship

Intellectual Discipleship

3 It is actually reported that there is hypocrisy among you, and of a kind that even secularists do not tolerate: a man will not talk with someone who is eager to put into practice what he himself preaches! And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have gone into mourning and disciplined those who have been doing this?

This is a form of modernist teaching that reduces a person to their intellect, forgetting that God also made the arms, legs, spirit, emotions, and is interested in our daily practices. Its fruit is spiritual obesity; a talk with no walk. This is why Jesus practiced the apprenticeship model, and why we do too. So your boasting in your teaching is not good. Let the measure of your teaching be the measure to which people’s daily habits are changing: not whether people politely say the sermon was ‘good’. If or when people’s habits change is when you should boast — and even so, it should be in the Spirit’s work in their lives, and the Spirit’s working through your teaching, not in yourself.

But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister, but douses the spirits of believers while encouraging hypocrisy. I am not saying don’t associate with hypocrites, for to do that would mean not associating with anyone! But those who actively discourage each other towards love and good deeds are a people who are evangelising and proud of their hypocrisy — with these, do not even eat.

Practical discipleship

Notice I am not saying “don’t teach”. In that case you would have to stop talking about the Bible, and stop living it. There are those who reject objective truth and intellectual discussion, and they very quickly wrap loving hands around sin. Love without holiness is worldly lust. No, don’t leave teaching behind. What I am saying is to be holistic in your discipleship lest you encourage hypocrites on the one hand, or worldliness on the other.

Worldliness is subtle and cunning. Often when rejecting modernism and its emphasis on intellectual teaching, people turn to another idol: post-modernism and its subjective emphasis on what works for you. This type of pragmatism is highly focussed on practical outcomes, but devoid of the truth. It appears godly, and sensible — based as it is on evidence — but it is here today and gone tomorrow, taken on-board without conviction and without ultimate purpose. As such it is done selfishly, and the Body is not built up. Rather, everyone does what they think works for them, which is nothing other than doing what makes them feel good — anathema to service for others.

Integrated discipleship

Instead of following the world, we should follow Christ. Apprenticeships, mentoring, coaching are holistic forms of discipleship that insist on getting practice from the Word, but also insist on helping each other to understand the Word and to do it. Some of you are teachers, and should be encouraged to produce regular deep biblical study. Some of you are gifted in hospitality, and should be encouraged to show and tell the practicalities of how to serve others in your home. Some of you have technical talents and you need to learn how to work for God rather than just your boss, to serve through your work. The mature should mentor the younger. The experienced should inspire us and keep our imaginations and hope alive with what God has done in the past, knowing He will continue to be the same into the future.

Notice, for example, the practices of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. They do not send their people out alone to evangelise, but pair them up with a mature person — following Jesus’ example where He sent disciples out two by two. Then also, they back them up with people praying, printed resources, training, and regular opportunities to enact all of this. This is a Body of believers, who have learned from the wisdom of Jesus rather than the individualistic mindset of our age. I say this to your shame, that it might provoke you to action.

Gospel

Forgiveness without victory

4 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel — which is really only half the Gospel. What you preach is ‘sin management’ as if the main purpose for life on earth was to get a ticket to heaven, but that our lives themselves and the work we do here are meaningless, or at best, means to an end.

This is not what we preached to you! Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to diminish the Gospel of Christ. The message we preach everywhere is that Christ died to make a bride for himself, a pure and spotless bride. While you might here “come as you are”, if you also “leave as you are” you haven’t received Christ! You must instead leave your life and come follow Jesus: “deny (yourself) and take up your cross daily and follow Me” (Luke 9:23).

Therefore, “purge the evil person from among you” (1 Corinthians 5:13). Do not tolerate an unchanged believer — as if God’s Spirit had no effect. This is tantamount to saying the Spirit of Christ is ineffectual, or that believing in the sufficiency of Scripture, we nevertheless live in an insufficiency.

Instead, when God’s Spirit comes into a person, they will be convicted, they will desire godliness and hate sin, their eyes will be open to understanding Scripture, they will be led by the Spirit, and sin’s power will lose its hold on them. This is the victory of God’s Gospel, however marred it might look before perfection has come. Jesus asked us to pray for God’s will to be done on earth, and said His disciples would do what He did: we ought not to live as though God has no power any more.

Victory without forgiveness

I have heard that some are feeding the poor, yet are not doing so in the name of Christ out of shame. They must sharply reprimanded. Where does all of life come from? Every breath? All of what is good? Whether the world thinks we are wonderful or repulsive, we ought to look to the One only and ask what He thinks of us.

Social good can have great value, yet without Christ’s message and way of life, it is neutered. Learn from others where recipients don’t even realise you are Christians — affirming to themselves there are still good atheists in the world. But social work is not strictly for evangelism — a means to an end — but good because God made all good, and thus we’re walking in His pattern. We’re glorifying God.

Thus, doing good is not about political victory, if Christian politics is defined as establishing some form of state church. Rather, our every act is obedience to Christ, and our every act is living Christ’s life out. We ought therefore to expect an elevation of women in society, following Jesus’ example — but we don’t pin our ultimate hope on it. We should expect the poor to be lifted out of poverty — but are not downtrodden when we are not. In everything, we strive to glorify God and live out His light, which without sin and the devil and the curse would create and sustain abundant life — even while knowing the Second Coming and final defeat of sin and death is yet to come.

Forgiveness with reflective victory

You are forgiven! Therefore, you are free: but not to live your own life. Rather, we were bought with a price, and therefore in a real sense enslaved to Christ. Free to do Christ’s will, but not our own.

You have the Spirit! Therefore, you will be transformed into Christ’s likeness. You cannot remain the same, for you were made for a purpose to be Christ’s spotless bride.

You are the Body of Christ! Therefore, we will live together differently — and this is politics: group dynamics. In fact, the way we will live will show Christ. When you marry, you show the marriage of the bride and the groom — that is, the church and Christ. When you eat, you show the fellowship of Heaven. When you sleep, you show the restorative nurture of God’s creation. When you talk, you tell of God’s wonders. When you work, you work with God’s creativity and strength. When you restore a friendship, you show God’s peace. Whatever we do, we reflect God’s glory — unless of course we sin, in which case we reflect our own corruption, and the influence of the devil. Now, then, be encouraged to preach and mentor and workshop in the area of group dynamics.

Therefore we can no longer restrict the Gospel to something we’ve ‘done’ years ago, or to a few concepts we must believe, or to the wonder of a judgment paid in full. Instead, the Gospel is even more powerful and wonderful in that it establishes a reign of God in and through our lives, that oozes God into everything we do and who we are. It will only ever be ‘reflective’ victory, and not complete, at least until Christ comes again — nevertheless, to ignore the political and social ramifications of Christ’s work is to deny the power of God to change our lives. And these good works must flow from lives steeped in Jesus.

The church’s evangelism

Attractional churches

5 My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not become like the world. Suppose a man named Worldly comes into your meeting, and a man named Poor also comes in. If everyone is dressed the same as Worldly, and behaves the same as Worldly, he will feel comfortable. But Poor, unkempt and not as well spoken will feel disconnected. When the music starts, Poor may not be able to read, or may not have glasses to see. When pondering the sermon, Poor is confused and wants to discuss it, he cannot. When uncomfortable at sitting for so long, he misses out entirely on what is going on because he must go out of the building. Such a service discriminates towards one and not the other, and serves one but not the other.

So it is with attracting the world, that in the manner by which you attract them, you must keep them. It is not just better, but incumbent upon you then, to attract them to Christ — who has no worldly attraction like Poor; who has nothing fine-sounding to say; who does not fit in with the comforts you have given yourself. Then they will see Christianity for what it really is, that Christ Himself brings life and abundance, through the way and the truth.

Incarnational churches

Suppose you say, well: there must be another service that is geared towards people like Poor! We must become like Poor, and have services at the park, and use simpler language, and have activities to teach for kinesthetic and visual learners!

Is this not just the same performance? The same circus, but for a different audience? Who are you trying to attract? Should we not want God to come? Should we not want to attract God? God came down and dwelt among us, in our culture and our ways: yes. But He deliberately disrupted the accepted culture: the belittling of women and children; the religiosity of the church leaders; the elevation of the rich and powerful and so on. He was establishing the upsidedown way of the kingdom.

Missional churches

To establish a kingdom culture is to deliberately create a new culture. It is first to be aware of your own way of life, whether you are like Worldly or like Poor, or like Christ. Then, in repentance shed everything that is not Christ-like, to be attractional to Him alone.

It is through these very cultural changes that we become a light on a hill and in a way, attractional — to those being saved. They shall know you by your love for each other. Your deeds and your faith together.

This is the character of God, that the Spirit serves the Son and the Son serves the Spirit and the Father serves the Spirit and Son. As they do that they create us, and serve us. So, likewise, we ought to fix our eyes upon Jesus, serving Him, and through that, serving others. If, however, we fix our eyes upon the culture, and become like the culture to save them, we will lose our light, and will fail to save the lost, having lost our way ourselves.

Attitude to women and children

Commodification of women and children

6 What causes fights and quarrels among you? In my previous letter I wrote that they come from your desires that battle within you. Now I am adding that the enemy encourages and stirs even your good desires towards destructive ends. Women desire to be respected like men: a worthy goal. But the enemy says “children can wait, but if you don’t have this job, you’ll never be able to afford a house big enough for the kids”, twisting compassion; or the enemy stokes your desire for a promotion and career, twisting your sense of service; or otherwise simply ignores mothers, leading to your present depressed state.

Simply not having kids means you can afford a house near your friends and family. It means you can gain recognition at work from taking that promotion and greater responsibility, staying back here and there and even taking an extra course on the side. It means you can serve the local community and inspire others at the front of your church service. It means you can take leadership positions since you are more visible in your community.

But what kind of sick culture have we created where childlessness has become a virtue? Where jobs and wealth take precedence over just about everything? Submit yourselves instead to a godly culture. Resist the devil. Let the men say, enough is enough, let’s make raising kids easier, and take joy in the great good that children are. Return to what was said long ago,

Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with [children]“, they “are a heritage from the Lord“. (Psalm 127:3-5)

Egalitarianism

Part of the risk of becoming like the culture around you — to “become like an (ethnic group) to win the (ethnic group)” — is that you can easily take on their destructive values. When it became acceptable to you to adopt a type of feminism that says women can be tough, leaders, risk-takers, and break free from children, you destroyed family. When you pushed marriage and children to after 30 years of age and beyond, you pushed God’s heritage out of the way. The women’s body is much less fit for children at that age. Even the body collapses: made for children, not having them greatly encourages cancer in their reproductive organs. Who have we won over by this approach? The devil and his destruction?

Instead, Scriptures teach the wisdom of the equality of the Body even while upholding the difference and individuality of each part. The Son submits to the Father, and is not ever less for it, despite enduring the cross. The prophet, or watchman, is like the digestive tract, extracting the nutrients from the good Word, and expelling the lies of the deceptive word. A job often behind the scenes in writing, prayer and reflection, but powerful when required, if often dirty. Few churches accept watchmen, for they attract controversy.

Mothers are treated similarly — like the dirty clothes they often find themselves washing, taking care of kids, they are treated as the lowest servants who are dirty. Yet like the prophet, they actually perform powerful and vitally necessary functions. Mothers are perhaps currently like the mechanism that folds proteins in cells, necessary for the entire well-being of the body in the construction of the most vital building blocks of the body. I say ‘currently’, because nobody at the present time appears to know how long strings of amino acids (called polypeptides) fold to create a healthy protein. Thus your mothers go unnoticed, unrecognised, even while providing a vital function.

This is why it may be said that “your gold and silver are corroded“, and families are crying out silently. One does not simply preach a sermon series to fix this. Your whole way of life needs examining in light of Scripture.

A dignified body

The older women should teach the younger, and the older men likewise. This cultural teaching is a living sanctification process that the Spirit has always used to mature his Body. While the role of leader has been given to fathers, it has never been good for man to be alone (Genesis 2:18). What this means is that it in order for the family and the body to be healthy and sufficient, a woman is vital.

As a culture we elevate the leader, but the best leaders have always been those who have empowered others. Thus credit must be shared. And true empowerment of women is respecting them and learning from them in their role as disciple-makers of the next generation, and matrons who pass on the most godly of culture: hospitality, service, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

But respect and empowerment in this way is not enough. We see the fruit and ease of what life could be like when kids play with other kids, and suddenly living independently doesn’t make sense anymore. Children are like the legs of the body, energising the body with fresh youth. But when the kids are stuck on their own, we are reduced to hopping. Instead, we retain dignity and joy when in community, women have other women to care for each other, kids have other kids to spark joy with, and men have other men to share their worries with.

Worship (Singing)

Stoic singing

7 It is reported that you now have two services, one more suited to the older and one for the youth. The older enjoy more stoic worship, singing without emotion, in strict order and having had much practice. Heaven forbid any musician who gets a note wrong! Anybody would think you were performing for a paying audience! Yet those who consider themselves godly and yet do not sing to God deceive themselves, and their worship is worthless.

Pure worship

Worship that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to sing to God directly, out of the depth of our hearts, and to sing with all of our being — our mind, our passion, and our spirit. You should be aware that it is modernist culture that seeks to castrate our emotions — God does not look down on those who sway and dance and raise their hands and voices.

Ecstatic worship

However, the youth appear to have forgotten the purpose of worship too. They appear to be in it for a good time, rather than to give their all to God. They are not aware of the influence of postmodern culture and its emphasis on the self, and its deconstruction of all that is truthful. Yet the truth is good to sing and shout. God’s sovereignty and grace and power is fitting to praise. Deep thinkers should be sought out from among you to help youth musicians write. Consider also coming back into a combined service, or two services that have a full range of ages — your youth need mature wisdom and mentoring.

Conflict resolution

Peace-breaking

8 My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because making hasty assumptions and anger do not produce the righteousness that God desires. This is the cause of most of your quarrels and relational breakdowns.

So instead of gossip, inspire others with the good that has been done. Instead of speeding into slander, take a slow walk by assuming the best and asking (about) the rest. Instead of playing into the devil’s hand and accusing others, take the person aside one on one, where there’s no pressure, and ask them about their side of the story.

Take the lead from God’s Word and His living Spirit within you and if you lack wisdom, ask Him, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.

Peace-faking

Nevertheless, it is most concerning to hear that no controversy beyond COVID-19 has been heard for a long time. At the same time, people are simmering under the surface with frustration, depression, and even bitterness and despair. What this means is that you do not know how to raise difficult issues, and you are pretending there is peace when there is no peace.

Everything is carefully orchestrated and controlled so that no opportunity is given to burst the veneer of peace and order — and for what? So that you can go back to the same kind of lukewarm service pre-COVID? So that we’ll try to feel comfortable when we’re not? This is like someone who listened to others, and after listening, goes away and immediately forgets what he heard. But whoever hears the Word intently and does it — not forgetting or ignoring it — will be blessed in what they do.

Peace-making

When, as mature believers, we can talk about social, political and religious matters as often as required, with confidence that our views will be heard, respected, and considered — then, and only then will we be able to create a peaceful community. Where people assume the best because they know we all excel at misunderstanding. Where young and old can ask questions, men and women, poor and rich: equally respected. Where all are eager to learn from others first, putting their own perspectives lower. Where we see broken friendships as sin, and establishing mediators and counsellors as much as small group leaders.

Faking peace is much harder when we live physically close to each other. As it is, if you are having a bad day, you do not show up, or because most church gatherings are highly scripted, you do show up — and leave quickly before anybody asks too many questions. But living together brings everyone into the light, and unveils our masks, and enables and encourages much more godliness.

Middle leadership

Religious structure

9 If the whole body were a heart, where would the blood go? If the whole body were a hand, how would it see? This is why it is written “the body is not made up of one part but of many“, and again, “there are different kinds of gifts“. How foolish, then, to build a church around the idea of a pastor, some elders, and a few lay small group leaders! Where are the church planters, the watchmen, the evangelists, the teachers, the mothers, the technicians, the generous, the hospitable, the merciful, and the many others?

Instead of a powerhouse, the church has become weak, shuffling around on the ground, bleeding out from gaping wounds. This stance has pushed most of the strong out to start their own parachurch ministries, entrenching the weakness. Reverse this by allowing them to work in close proximity with you — allowing them to teach and serve your flock, and giving them the opportunity to notice and raise up future workers.

A Body

You have this going for you: you do not believe in a sacred-secular divide. Everything is sacred! Jesus is Lord over all, not just Sunday services! Now put it into practice. Note those passionate about evangelism and help them to take people out and witness. Look for those studious in the Word and test their discernment. They may be watchmen who will help guard the flock for danger, and test and approve what are good practices to do, and what truths to hold onto. Notice the mothers who are good at teaching children the faith and make sure they have opportunities to mentor others, in the faith and not. Make sure you bring your technicians to the table, so they know how to contribute to the vision God has given you.

Most of these activities will be at different times: focus no longer on your Sunday services! Encourage the whole Body, not just the heart! Empower the whole Body, not just the hands! As it is, most of the Body is suffering, so all suffer with it.

Relational anti-institutionalism

Some have departed and rejected all structure and institution. They ought to be heard and coaxed gently back in, after your own repentance and refreshment. Many are strong leaders in their own right, allowing them to carry on a semblance of church, typically in house churches. However much a renewed focus on relationships and a rethink on communal activities is needed, a complete rejection of structure is out of order. Everyone will do what is right in their own eyes. Accountability is out the window. Being vulnerable, the Devil has already picked people off and they have departed from the faith.

If I do all these things, but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is long-suffering, love is considerate. It does not run from difficult issues, it does not pridefully assert. It does not put others down, it does not keep a record of errors. Love delights in the truth and hopes in the Lord. Carry this attitude as you become the Body that you are.

Group identity

Family of God

10 In Christ there is no longer Aboriginal nor White, rich nor poor, male nor female, Anglican nor Pentecostal — we are one in Christ Jesus. Jesus ate with the oppressive tax collectors. He talked to the women. He broke through cultural divides because what is most important is what God thinks of us, not what others think.

This is not to say there are no differences between rich and poor — as if their riches mean nothing — or between male and female — as if men could have children — but belonging to Christ, we are all God’s children. Therefore, we are family. God’s family.

Strive your utmost to notice the cultural divides and set the Gospel and God’s power against it, to show the world the power of the Gospel to unite what was considered broken and unfixable. God is a healer, peacemaker and doctor. When Sally and Medika became friends, despite no common interest and every cultural divide, we all praised God for His power and love. This is to be commended and repeated.

Sectarianism

But what is this among you: one church is known for its contemporary music, another is known for its Calvinist teaching, and another for its emphasis on charismatic gifts? This is like saying the arm is good here, the stomach here, and the blood there. Separate, we are not even a Body anymore! We are mutilated!

Now psychologists will affirm ‘birds of a feather flock together’, and that is the way of the world, but are we of the world, or of God? Therefore, what should define us is not how we’re all the same, like a typical social club, but how we’re all different yet united!

Consider the Anglican, a thinker and quite reserved, yet even they could served well by passionate worship directed to God led by a Pentecostal. That Pentecostal may not be used to the high quality expository teaching by an Anglican, but they would be exercising their minds well, and become much more stable in their ways from it. Now, there may be differences in theology that cannot necessarily be ignored, but, if we would choose to be defined more by a ‘strength in diversity’ approach (the Body), we would all be far better off.

Authoritarianism

There is another way that, in coming off sectarianism, you need to be mindful of so that you do not fall into the equal but opposite error. This is the error of latching onto a particularly charismatic (in personality) leader without accountability or diffusion of power. Such a leader is ripe for becoming proud and asserting himself over the group. This assertion has no bounds if he is not accountability to a wider group such as an eldership or denomination-like body.

I experienced firsthand the shift from a relatively healthy church to a cult — and it even occurred while the church had a leadership and was a part of a denomination. However, that denominational body had no authority over the church, and the leadership was intimidated by the charismatic leader, who dominated everyone. There was probably no constitution, either, which may have helped shift the power balance. In terms of the Body, the head had become larger than the torso! Thus life became about saying and doing what this leader wanted, and all opposing thought was swiftly and resolutely dealt with. It slowly but surely became a personality cult.

In order to spare you this pain, I commend to you the wisdom of ‘separation of powers’. Appoint a leader, but your elders will establish your local rules by democratic vote, and watchmen should judge on any disciplinary matters. The normal practice of separating eldership (or “leadership”) from deacons (“management”) ought also to be commended — and do not make them come begging every week for funds, but let them manage a modest sum so they are empowered. In this way, then, the many come together to create a much stronger whole.

Afterword

There is a deeper analysis in a more systemic way of these 10 issues, and also a concrete solution that may be a way forward practically, that I can provide anyone interested.

[Photo by Anna Zakharova on Unsplash]

By |2021-06-08T18:53:39+10:00June 11th, 2021|Faith, Leadership|0 Comments

About the Author:

Nathan is an Evangelical Charismatic and recently completed a Master of Divinity at Ridley Theological College. His passion is to help the church see and apply the Bible afresh. He is married with three kids and works as a web designer. He blogs at Prophetic Engineering with his wife Alison.

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