George MacDonald and Universalism

Christian universalism is a school of Christian theology focused around the doctrine of universal reconciliation – the view that all human beings will ultimately be “saved” and restored to a right relationship with God.  ( Wikipedia)

George MacDonald has been called a Universalist but I think that is too simplistic. I hesitate to label him so narrowly. C.S Lewis imagines a conversation with MacDonald about this during his bus trip to heaven in “The Great Divorce” (which I love). I write about it a little in my blog “What Good is Hell” ( see below) which you may find helpful. MacDonald discusses the subject but rather than forming a dogma or taking a firm theological side he takes a “what if...” approach. He starts from the heart of God as loving Father who is not willing that any of His children should perish. He who descended into hell once to deliver captives may do so again.
MacDonald  does not view hell as punitive but remedial. He also does not see the cross as punishment endured by Jesus for our sins, but as God’s solution to defeat Satan and take away sin’s dominion over us with its consequences of death, sickness, poverty, alienation, captivity, etc. and to pay the “debt” incurred by the wages of sin.

He writes, “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 of God will consume what they call themselves; so that the selves God made shall appear.”

What if hell’s fire is designed to purge away that which is incapable of entering or even seeing the Kingdom. All that enters the Kingdom must pass through fire consuming that which is combustible and revealing the “gold, silver and precious stones”.  And so, some are saved by fire. There is no place to run from the Fire of God. The further we run from Him, the hotter it gets. The solution is to run towards Him, pass through the fire and come forth as gold.

It is His will that none should perish but that all might be saved. Then can we not pray, “Thy will be done.” Is it conceivable that His will ultimately should not be done?

2 Corinthians 5:18-19 “All this is from God who reconciled us to God through Christ…that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ… not counting men’s sins against them.

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The 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 Christian society. His “ministry strategy” was like a movable feast.   He took “church” with him and ate with people who were not usually welcome to “worship services” in the 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, not just for evangelism or missions.   This was how “church” was done for the first 300 years before the state church began building cathedrals and establishing a professional clergy and priesthood.

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 develop disciples and He would build His Church.  We reproduce disciples by revealing the presence and values of the Kingdom in the context of relationships. We invite pre – Christians to follow us as we follow Jesus. We demonstrate discipleship by loving God, loving one another and loving our neighbors. In this way we reproduce disciples who are equipped to reproduce 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.

“Greet the church which meets in your house” (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 ate together and hosted the presence of God (Acts 2:42).  “And the Lord added to the church daily those who were saved.” (Acts 2:46-47, 4: 1-4)

Story Time

Jesus’ often told stories around a meal to explain the Kingdom and how it is manifested on earth. His disciples had trouble understanding what he meant by the “Kingdom” because they envisioned an earthly nation of Israel restored to her former glory and sovereignty, with a great king like David or Solomon sitting on the throne in Jerusalem.

Jesus’ teaching didn’t make any sense in that context.  “The kingdom is here.”  “The kingdom is within you.” The “kingdom” is about who you invite to dinner, where you sit at the table, who your neighbor is, where and how you build your house or invest your money.  It has to do with how a farmer sows and harvests his crop, how a shepherd cares for sheep, how fishermen sort their catch, how yeast works in dough, how merchants value pearls and how treasure hunters respond to treasure.

The Kingdom is to be on earth as it is in heaven. He has given us the Kingdom. We are to bring heaven’s values and resources to earth through our relationships, families, communities and work.  The creation longs for this revealing of the children of God.  We are “the light of the world”.  That light must not be hidden behind religious walls but rather placed in full view (lights set on the hills) of family, business, education, government, media, arts, religion, etc.

“They will…

  • Rebuild the ancient ruins,
  • Restore the devastated places and
  • Repair the ruined cities.”    Isaiah 61:4

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

The Movable Feast

movablefeasts@gmail.com

www.jfcooke.com

Is that really You, God?

Hearing and knowing God’s voice is foundational to discipleship. “He calls his own sheep by name and leads them …and his sheep follow him because they know his voice” (John 10:3-4).  The scriptures are full of instructions and corrections to people’s subjective experiences and claims about God. Listen to God’s voice with an open Bible.  Expect God to speak to you when you read the Bible. It functions as an instruction or “Owners” manual to illustrate how people through history have heard God’s voice, what His voice is like and what it is “not” like. They provide an important valuable safety net to the churches tendency to error and deception. I have spent a lifetime reading and studying the scriptures and I love them. I worry about people who say they don’t need the Bible. It has always made me hungry and thirsty to know God for myself the way David and Daniel and Peter and John and Moses and Jesus knew Him. It constantly challenges the poverty of my experience with God and calls me further and deeper and higher. Could we do without the Bible? Yes. Most believers before the invention of the printing press did not have access to the scriptures in their own language.  I have been in remote villages in China where most of the people are following Jesus but there have been no Bibles for more than 50 years. We have the Holy Spirit who inspired the scripture.  He has been given to us to “lead us into all Truth.”  Knowing the scriptures is no substitute for knowing the Author any more than reading a love letter is a substitute for knowing the lover. But why would I want to ignore her letters to me? They help me to know her better.

John Cooke – jfcooke.com

Re-incarnation

A Tibetan disciple reacted when I introduced myself as a follower of Jesus. He broke into a big smile, “Yes Jesus, the Savior. You know, the Dali Llama has the same Spirit, but in a different body.”  I returned his smile and said, “Me too!”.

Christ in us, is the hope of glory. That God is present with us, that we can know Him and walk with him, know his voice, That Glory is not just about a future glory some day in heaven, but is a revealing of the glory of the incarnation in us and through us.  Not the old humanity fixed but reborn, a new creation (or race) mirroring the likeness of Christ, templing the Shekinah.  As Christ was, so are we to be in the world.

John Cooke – jfcooke.com

http://wp.me/p3fSXK-8l

The Name of God

When people have an encounter with the Creator, they often begin by asking for his name.  It seems like a reasonable request. “Which god are you?” “There are so many.”  In the Biblical accounts, God often responds vaguely.  “I am who I am”.  He appears content to be defined by his relationship with those who knew Him.  He attached His identity to their names.  “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses…” In fact the character and nature of God are primarily revealed through His relationship with people. People of other nations referred to him as the God of Israel, or the God of Daniel, or the God and Father of Jesus Christ. Some people are very concerned about the correct pronunciation of the right syllables in the Name of God.  I think it’s not nearly as important what we call Him as how we represent Him.

God told Moses to put his Name upon His people.  “This is how you are to put the Name of God upon the people: Say to them, ‘May the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord turn and look at you face to face. May His face break into a great big smile until your face mirrors His smile. May the Lord be merciful to you and give you peace!'” (Numbers 6:22-27  paraphrase mine). He places His Name upon us by blessing us, by caring for us, looking at us and smiling in recognition, by His relationship with us.

When the Creator places His Name upon us He is entrusting us with His reputation and identity. We now bear the Family Name. The primary way He is known and defined on earth is by association with us His human family. We are not only partakers of the divine nature, we are also mirrors (the image of God). So when we pray “hallowed be Your Name” we are saying “May your image be beautifully and accurately reflected by your people”. May the Family Name (reputation) be respected and honored on earth as it is in heaven”. He associates his name with you. He is now known as the God of Mark, John, Michael, Richard, Terry, Tamy… Not only do you bare His Name, He bares yours.

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

 

 

 

If Jesus is the Answer, What’s the Question?

If we present a “good news” that is two dimensional rather than wholistic we run the risk of giving answers to questions that no one is asking.

“If Jesus is the answer then what is the question?”   Jesus Saves.  “From what?”  From sin, from hell. “What sin?”  “Are you judging me?”

Jesus adapted the Gospel of the Kingdom differently to different people.  He only told one person, “You must be born again”. To another he said, “Sell all you have”. To another he offered the water of life. To many he just told stories and demonstrated the heart of his Father by healing, forgiving, raising the dead and delivering from spiritual bondage.

If we listen to the longings in the hearts of “men of peace” in any culture or community, we will find that the answers to those longings are present in the wonderful news of great joy which is for all people.

The Hebrew scriptures are filled with the idea that God is our yeshuwa, which is most often translated salvation; but also can mean deliverance, aid, help, victory, prosperity, health, welfare).  This usage of the word does not require a “sacramental” salvation for the soul.  Jesus (whose name means Savior) re-enforces what the Hebrew scriptures reveal about God as our helper in the midst of all kinds of human suffering such as sickness, demonic bondage, poverty, oppression from our enemies, and the burdens of guilt and shame. There are many problems that face the human race. To know that God is our helper and deliverer in these, and from these, is Great News  for all people. This is certainly not foreign to Hebrew thought.The wonderful news of both Hebrew and Christian thought alike is that God has not abandoned us, does not hold our sins against us, but is with us. “Immanuel”
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