Organic Kingdom Communities

Organic Spiritual Communities Rooted in Households, Families  and Social Networks 

Our default mental picture when we hear the word “church” involves church buildings and worship services.  We think of pews and pulpits, preaching and worship teams or choirs performing from platforms or stages.  This is part of our cultural heritage and has been used of God in the past to impart blessing to his people and the world.  It should be noted, however, that there is nothing sacred about these traditional forms or structures.  There are actually some inherent  weaknesses and even hindrances to the process of discipleship and the advance of the Gospel within these traditions.

  • They require a significant investment in time and resources to reproduce and maintain (trained and skilled ministers, musicians, buildings, mortgages, audio-video equipment, and salaries, etc.).
  • They tend to limit ministry to a minority and passivity to the majority.  In fact, professional ministers are tempted to  foster dependence and postpone maturity (often without realizing it).   Success is often is measured by the size of the audience gathering to experience the ministers’ teaching, preaching or  musical abilities rather than by how effectively people are equipped and released into their callings.  Large churches often “grow” more by having the best show in town, recycling saints from one church to another, rather than by making new disciples.
  • They tend to isolate Christians from non believers by replacing community based social networks with a church culture.  The more time one spends attending a busy church calendar, the fewer non believers are in their social network.  The majority of our resources are spent on the “99%” safe in the fold, while “1%” of our time and resources are spent on finding lost sheep.  Heavens priority (more rejoicing over one sinner who repents than on the ninety-nine in the fold) is reversed.
  • Unbelievers are less likely to “come” to Church.  The Master told us to “go” and make disciples.  Since we are the church we can structure our church life around going to where they are, rather than expecting them to come to where we are.
  • The more complicated and busy our church culture the more difficult it is to reproduce, and the more retarded its growth.  The church has seen exponential (almost 100 fold) growth in places like China, without church buildings or professional ministers.  Church life is simple, organic and explosive, moving organically within households and social networks.
  • It seems that management and control from top down leadership can actually delay the development and release of disciples.  One would think that less control would lead to all kinds of error.  The opposite seems to be true in China.  Ordinary believers with the Holy Spirit and with very few copies of the Bible have, for more than 50 years, maintained greater purity of doctrine and more unity of faith than we enjoy.

A Return to Simplicity

The way we structure our church culture is the way our spiritual descendants will reproduce it.  The simpler it is, the more naturally and quickly it will reproduce.   The less it isolates us from the culture around us, the greater the impact upon that culture.

Jesus told us to go and make disciples and He would build His Church.  We make disciples by teaching obedience to the commands of Christ (one of which is to go and make disciples).  So, we can define “ministry” as making disciples who make disciples.  Jesus showed his disciples how to reveal the kingdom of heaven to the world.  Then he imparted the Holy Spirit to them and released them to do the same.   His purpose was to model for them a corporate lifestyle which they were to reproduce after he was gone.   They were never to be just spectators, following Jesus around to watch him perform.

The technologies and strategies we use give an outward form to the church.  We tend to call those structures “churches” but they are not the church.  They are wine skins,  not the wine.   We can judge their value by how they facilitate or hinder the work of discipleship.

A Movable Feast

Jesus said that the kingdom of heaven is about who comes to dinner (Luke 14).  Do we just invite our friends and family or do we include those who are marginalized from religious society (known as “sinners”).   Jesus “ministry strategy” was like a movable feast.   He took “church” with him and  ate with people who were  not usually welcome to the “worship services” in temple or synagogues.

The strategy that Jesus and the apostles used is worth revisiting.  Jesus followed a very simple strategy.  Most often he taught his disciples in a public place or in a home around a meal.  The apostles followed the same methods.   This is not just for evangelism or missions.   This was how “church” was done for the first 300 years before the Roman church began building cathedrals and establishing a professional clergy and priesthood.

“Greet the church which meets in your house” was a common greeting of Saint Paul to various churches. (1 Cor. 16:19; Col. 4:15; Philemon: 2, Rom. 16:5 and so on)

Apostolic teams visited house to house and taught them (Acts 20:20)

They served food and discipled the new believers (Acts 2:42)

“And the Lord added to the church daily those who were saved.” (Acts 2:46-47, 4: 1-4)

Each household and social network was potentially an intentional community of disciples.  The life and affairs of the church were concentrated primarily within these groups.  Each group functioned as part of a larger community of groups within a city.

Heads of households hosted the presence of God.  They were not restricted by spiritual gifting,  or gender.  They may not even have been believers yet,  only “men or women of peace”.

The larger community of households was served by selected overseers who provided accountability, coaching and spiritual oversight to the house churches.  These overseers were chosen by the apostolic team from among the household gatherings.

What Happens at a Movable Feast ?

We eat together, pray, sang, worship, heal the sick,  share communion, read and discuss the scriptures.  We intercede and look for “lost sheep”,  love one another, encourage and build each other up in the faith  and cared for the poor.

I suggest that we consider limiting our reliance on frequent large gatherings, large events and stage performances. These can actually slow down the growth and development of disciples if they become too frequent.  Equipping ministries  (apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers and evangelists) should focus on giving away ministry by appointing elders and mentoring overseers, and key leaders.  Keep the groups small, simple and rapidly reproducing.  When they become too large for an average size house, divide the group, open another home and release more people into ministry.

My purpose is not to be critical of the church but to increase her exposure to the world.  The world longs for the revealing of the children of God.  We are “the light of the world”.  That light must not be hidden behind walls but rather placed in full view (lights set on the hills) of  family, business, education, government, media, arts, religion, etc. 

By: John Cooke

jfcooke.com

 

 

 

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What Good Is Hell

George MacDonald (1824-1905)

I recommend the wonderful fairy tales and fantasies by George MacDonald (1824-1905) written not just for children but for the childlike. If you haven’t read The Princess and the Goblins, The Back of the Northwind or The Light Princess, you should start by reading them to your children or to your “inner child”.

George MacDonald inspired many authors, such as W. H. Auden, J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, E. Nesbit and Madeleine L’Engle, GK Chesterton and Lewis Caroll.

C.S. Lewis wrote that he regarded MacDonald as his “master”: “Picking up a copy of Phantastes one day at a train-station bookstall, I began to read. A few hours later,” said Lewis, “I knew that I had crossed a great frontier.”

MacDonald rejected the doctrine that Christ has taken the place of sinners and is punished by God in their place, believing that it raised serious questions about the character and nature of God. Instead, he taught that Christ had come to save people from their sins, not from a Divine penalty for their sins. The problem is not the need to appease a wrathful God but the disease of cosmic evil itself. “Did he not foil and slay evil by letting all the waves and billows of its horrid sea break upon him, go over him, and die without rebound—spend their rage, fall defeated, and cease? Verily, he made atonement!”

MacDonald was convinced that God does not punish except to amend, and that the sole end of His greatest anger is the amelioration of the guilty. As the doctor uses fire and steel in certain deep-seated diseases, so God may use hell-fire if necessary to heal the hardened sinner. MacDonald declared, “I believe that no hell will be lacking which would help the just mercy of God to redeem his children.” MacDonald posed the rhetorical question, “When we say that God is Love, do we teach men that their fear of Him is groundless?” He replied, “No. As much as they fear will come upon them, possibly far more. … The wrath will consume what they call themselves; so that the selves God made shall appear.”

~ John Cooke  (with thanks to Wikipedia)

Three views of Hell: I recommend Steve Gregg’s careful treatment of the subject.  Be prepared to have your thinking challenged  .http://theos.org/media/category/12/

Apocalypse Now ~ The Beginning is Near

The word “apocalypse” does not necessarily mean the end of the world.  It means “the unveiling” or “the revealing”.  If anything, it is more about beginnings than endings (although some things must end).

In the Apostle John’s prophecy entitled The Apocalypse (or the Revelation) there are a number of revealings or unveilings.  A door is opened in heaven and we get a look behind the door at the spiritual government of planet earth.  We are granted a “heaven’s eye view” of events happening in seven first century cities.   We are allowed to glimpse how things were to unfold in the near future of John’s day, things which were soon to happen on earth.  Most of what was revealed could be shown to have happened within the next few years.  Towards the end of the Apocalypse, the massive scope of Christ’s dream is revealed.  The sons and daughters of God are unveiled as a glorious Bride, a huge City, and as a great multitude that cannot be counted from every nation, tribe, language and clan.    As a result, the planet is also healed and made new.  “On earth becomes as it is in heaven.”

Most would agree that the Apocalypse has a victorious conclusion.  Cosmic evil is defeated and Good prevails.   The difference comes in how that is to happen.  Most Christians today would explain the Apocalypse as follows:

  • A small defensive remnant of faithful ones endures the furious attacks of a ruthless and powerful enemy.  Things continue to get worse and worse until, finally, when the last soul is saved.  The small faithful remnant is rescued and taken out of the world, while judgment falls upon an evil and rebellious planet.  Christ and the angels defeat the devil for us  and then set up God’s kingdom on earth.
  • Historically, however, most Christians have envisioned a much more positive and victorious apocalypse.   

The Nature of Prophecy

There is a “nowness” to prophecy.  Creative power is in the words.  The Creator began the process of re-creation when Christ rose from the dead.   The power to make dead things come to life is the most unique power in the universe.  That is the power that has been released in us.  The making of all things new is at work in us, and is designed to work through us.   In other words, the fulfillment of the prophecy is in our hands.  We have been given the responsibility for what happens on earth.  We are in charge in His name.  God has chosen to govern this planet through his sons and daughters, through our agreement with his dream.  We begin to dream what heaven dreams and say, “Yes”.

Prophecy is collaborative and interactive.  How much land and how many children do you want? How far can you see?  How much land can you place your feet on?  How many stars can you count?

The promises of God are ours if we believe them.  They are all “Yes” and “Amen” in Christ.  The resources to claim the promises are available to us (the same power that raised Christ from the dead).   If that is true, then why should any future devil, false prophet, anti-christ, or serpent, have even a pit to hiss in.  Why leave them even a square inch of the planet to scheme and deceive from?  Why should our eschatology leave us cowering in our churches,  hurling condemnation at the world, and waiting for the rapture to rescue us from a hopeless mess, that we were commissioned and empowered to clean up.

Dream the Creator’s dream with Him.   The glory of the Lord will be revealed.  It will cover the whole earth as the waters cover the oceans.   How will the glory be revealed?  Will he do it for us or through us?   Will not Satan be defeated by Him under your feet.  Will not the King return for a mature bride when she has “made herself ready”.  Perhaps we can offer to Him a redeemed planet.  Why not?

John Cooke – http://www.jfcooke.com