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/

The Great Treasure Hunt

Imagine you are a treasure hunter like Indiana Jones or Clive Cussler.  You have found compelling evidence of buried treasure or a sunken ship containing much gold, many jewels and precious artifacts.  All of your careful research confirms that you are correct.   You quietly begin to sell everything you own, mortgaging your home, and business; begging and borrowing as much funding as possible.  You begin planning an expedition to a distant and dangerous part of the world, a location you can only share with your most trusted friends.  You joyfully put everything on the line including your reputation.  Your family and friends are worried about your mental stability.

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field.   When a man found it, he hid it again,  and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.” (Matthew 13:44)

How is that like the kingdom of heaven?

Jesus’ parables are like riddles with multiple layers of meaning.  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, and how merchants value pearls.

Back to treasure hunting:  What’s the treasure?  What’s the field?  Who’s the treasure hunter?  It depends on the way you see the Kingdom.  Is the treasure only about me getting saved, obtaining my inheritance, and going to heaven.  Surely, that is worth selling all that we have to obtain, but the full price for that has already been paid.

From Creator’s point of view, the “Treasure” is his children and the “Field” is the world, where his treasure is hidden, yet to be unveiled or revealed.  The Great Treasure Hunter invested all that he had, with great joy, for the sake of this treasure, hidden yet among the nations of the earth.  We who are part of the Family can join in the great Treasure Hunt.  We see how precious the treasure is to heaven and joyfully and willingly invest everything we have to join in the search.

~ John Cooke

 

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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Ownership of the Earth

Most wars are fought over ownership of the land.  In most cases right of ownership is determined by whoever gets there first, or has the most strength (either military or monetary).

Consider some principals relating to rights of ownership:

1. The earth and everything in it, belongs to the Creator who divides the Land according to inheritance rights.  (Psalm 24:1)  Can we just take it and say it’s  ours because we are living on it or using it?  In any case it is only “ours” in “trust” to care for and manage according to the Creator’s Family values.

2.  Inheritance rights are based upon Family relationship.  Discovering our identity as sons and daughters of the Creator is essential to discovering our inheritance and passing it on to our children.  “You are my son…Ask me and I will give you the nations as your inheritance, and the ends of the earth as your possession” (Psalm 2)

3. Inheritance rights are rooted in our spiritual ancestry.  Our right to the land is not simply a matter of our genetic or ethnic ancestry. Here is where things get messy.

For example, the ancient arguments over sovereignty in the Middle East still hinge upon inheritance rights. Who are the true heirs of Father Abraham? Who inherits the Land of Canaan?
a. Ethnic or genetic descendants (Jew or Arab),
b. Religious descendants (Islam or Judaism),
c. National descendants (Israeli or Palestinian),
d. Those who were there first,
e. Those who claim rights of conquest.
f. None of the above

Abraham’s inheritance rights came from his identity as a spiritual son of the Creator. Those who inherit his promise are those who share the same spiritual relationship (not the same religion, not the same genetic code, and not the same ethnic or national origin).

“People (from any nation) who have the faith of Abraham, are his true children and heirs of the promise”  (Paul).

“Don’t say, Abraham is our father and think your genetic descent from Abraham gives you inheritance rights”.  (Jesus, my paraphrase).

The earth herself is wired to recognize its rightful heirs.   She suffers under the burden of violence and injustice. Murdered blood cries out from the ground. Land that is defiled or polluted will actually eject her inhabitants. “Creation groans in frustration and waits eagerly for the unveiling of the children of the Creator.” (Roman 8:19-22)

4.  Inheritance of the earth requires meekness.  “Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5).   What does it mean to be meek?

The original word in the Greek language is “praus”.  It’s a tough word to translate.  The closest is an archaic usage of the English word “gentle” meaning “one who is disciplined, not wild or unrestrained”.

For example, a wild horse becomes “gentle” when it is trained and has learned to bring its will into cooperation with its owner, trainer or rider.  A man was considered a “gentle-man” because he was refined, courteous, educated or honorable.

Imagine a mighty war horse joining the battle with his own cry of challenge, sharing his master’s passion and zeal with all his heart.  Imagine him charging into the fight with fire in his eyes, nostrils flaring, teeth bared listening to no other command or distraction, sensitive to the slightest shift of weight or pressure from the warrior on his back, who must keep both hands free to wield weapons. (These great horses would often listen to only one master.)  Can we think of such a horse as meek or gentle?

In modern usage both words (meek and gentle) have lost some of their original meaning.  We think of a meek person negatively.  He’s a lightweight, mild mannered, weak, even spineless and wishy-washy.  A gentle person fares better.  “He’s a nice guy, thoughtful, kind and sensitive.  She’s nice too, a sweet person, good to children and kind to animals.”

The Master isn’t saying, “Blessed are all the nice gentle people, for they will inherit the earth”.  He described Moses as the meekest man that ever lived.  Moses was no lightweight.  It takes more than being kind or nice to walk into Pharaoh’s court and demand the release of Egypt’s labor pool, millions of slaves.  How was this great “meekness” helpful to a nation of slaves searching for their inheritance?

Jesus described himself as meek.  “Learn of me for I am meek…” (Matthew 12:29).  When he cleared the temple court with a whip and zeal for his Father’s House, he was not being nice, but he was being meek.  When he called the religious leaders “hypocrites” and whitewashed tombs, he was operating in meekness.

Biblical meekness means “authority under authority”.  It means a son or daughter of the Creator’s Family operating on earth in joyful cooperation and agreement with the Government of heaven.  Jesus said, “If I am doing my own thing, then you have a right to say that my message and works are not from the Creator (paraphrase mine).   “The fruit of the spirit is…meekness (gentleness).”  It’s the way Family business is done.  It is how we possess what our Creator Father  has planned for us to inherit.

Foolishness

It does seem pretty foolish to tackle the really big questions like the Meaning of Life, World Peace and the future of planet earth, but I can’t seem to help myself. Besides, I haven’t got anything better to do

I’m not trying to compete or even debate with the great philosophers or religions.  Certainly, better people than me have beaten their heads against these questions and left us with their wisdom and foolishness.

A guy they used to call the wisest man came up with this conclusion:

“Meaningless, Meaningless!” says the preacher… “Everything is meaningless.”

“Then I applied myself to the understanding of wisdom, and also of madness and foolishness, but I learned that this too is chasing after the wind.  For with much wisdom comes much sorrow;  the more knowledge, the more grief.” Ecclesiastes 1:2,17-18 NIV

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.  But, if your anything like me,  there’s something that keeps driving you down this road. Your welcome to join me and comment as the spirit moves.  If by some miracle you find any of this helpful, please let me know.