In August, Regions Beyond which is Steve Oliver's Apostolic Sphere (which is a part of Newfrontiers ) held a Conference in the UK .At the conference Steve O and others shared on what the the apostolic, what is Regions Beyond and how do we relate as different apostolic spheres that share a common history, vision and values. This series of blogs is very useful to helping us understand who we are, what vision shapes us and what the future holds for us.You can find the mp3 audio recording the sermons that we will be summarizing here by City Church Gloucester website. This is message by MARK JONES.You can listen to the mp3 by clicking here.
The strap line for Regions Beyond is “diverse family of churches joined in apostolic partnership”.
I want to unpack just one word from this strap line- Diverse.
We’re a diverse family of churches. To understand this we need to catch the heart of God regarding us. This is living in God’s narrative and not our own where we are defined by God’s plan and God’s will. In doing so our opinions and practices are based on knowing him and not our experience, our history- however good that might be. Unless we go back to the heart of God to understand what we are about, the message keeps going weaker and weaker through generations. Jesus said, “I do what I see my father doing and the father loves his son so much that he shows him everything that he himself is doing.”
Revelation must precede our methodology. If we start with methodology, we will find that we are lacking to do the tough stuff. We need the revelation of the Holy Spirit. We need to hear from God- the very depths of God’s heart which the Holy Spirit searches and makes it known to us.
If our starting place is not God’s view, then the end result will not be biblical transformation but instead creates cultural uniformity. That’s not God’s plan. We are to find the heart of God which is to transform societies. The Apostolic ministry is to promote diverse cultural expressions of the Christian faith.
This is probably what Paul meant in Romans 12: 2- Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”And it goes on to say, “Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
Transformation of the mind is not just about your choices but a whole new worldview. Unless this happens, we will have created Christian communities that would have sifted out anything different from us.That is not God’s purpose. If we start doing that we will have black or white churches instead of mixed churched; hearing or deaf churches instead of bended churches; young people churches and old people churches instead of churches of all ages. We cannot separate according to our preferences. If we don’t have a clear transformation, that’s exactly what we’re going to do. God never separated them from the beginning and he is never going to separate them. That’s wrong. We need to be one new man in Christ and declare Christ as our head.
In the early church in Acts 6, when there was an issue regarding the feeding of the widows, an apostolic wisdom came in when the disciples said, “Choose from among you to serve.” So the leadership was multi-cultural. Nicholas wasn’t from that place yet he was chosen because he had the right heart.
Unless this transformation happens, we are in the danger of having outreach programs that look great on the surface but will not know how to integrate them into the life of the church and it will ultimately crash and burn. This causes disappointment in people because they are lifted for a time only to find the same old issues in front of them. God’s plan is that all things are brought under one head- even Christ.
God’s commission from the beginning of time was to multiply and fill the whole earth- this means building culture and reflecting God’s glory on earth. This has never changed. In Babel when the people gathered in one place to be alike- in language and culture etc, God shows his displeasure and he scatters them to the ends of the earth. God doesn’t want us to consolidate.
This purpose of God is to be later seen in the promise given to Abraham. He says that through him all the families of the earth will be blessed and that his descendants will be more numerous than the stars of the sky.
In Galatians 3 Paul referred to Jesus as the offspring of Abraham. We’re not just a people of Abraham or People of Christ. We are one new man in Christ.
In Psalm 2 it says, “Ask me for the nations as your inheritance and I will give you the ends of the earth as your possession” we are diverse because the true church consists of every tribe and tongue under one name of Jesus Christ. In fact, we are not complete until we are diverse. As Steve Oliver said earlier nothing puts the Gospel in display more than the diversity in the church.
In Christ, a wonderful mystery is unfolded and a beautiful transformation happens and we have one new man. To build a family that represents the nations of the world. Dave Devenish said, “One new man in Christ is the message of the gospel- not an optional extra for those who like that sort of thing.” It’s not just for those who are passionate about it. If we are not, then we have missed the heart of God. In our church as well, it’s not enough to notice the people who go to different places on mission but we are to engage ourselves in what is going on around us. Some go and the rest enable them to go.
We need to move from the place of being inclusive to being integrated. In the Old Testament the Jews created an opportunity for the poor to offer sacrifices. And as they reached the temple, they would be turned down by some official person and calls them unacceptable. So, they are included, and then excluded. This is worse that completely excluding them.
We need to challenge ourselves, our methodology as church- are we doing the same thing? Do we call diverse people groups into the church and then they are saying, “I can’t worship here.” Are we pulling them in and then pushing them away by saying, “I’ve got a heart for the poor! Only if they don’t swear, only if they don’t ask for anything, only if they bathe…” This is not one new man in Christ. This is one man/woman, deciding what is acceptable and what is not.
In Jerusalem, there were the courts of the gentiles where they were allowed to come and worship God. But it was filled with so much stuff! Sometimes our lives look like that where we just have so much stuff that when God calls us to the Nations, we are not able to go because of this clutter and we exclude the nations from the gospel. Jesus makes God’s will very clear. He fashions a whip and drives out all the people and cattle and says, “How dare you turn my father’s house into a market.” This is reflecting the heart of God to not just include but integrate all people groups to come and worship him.
Q. How many people do we welcome and then push away?
We’re diverse when we understand how to embrace people into the family without expected them to be the same. There is something precious about people coming together without segregation. Psalm 113 says, “Gods raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash-heap.” There is no full stop after that. God doesn’t just want to bring us up and let us down. it goes on- “to make them sit with the princes of His people.” The gospel transforms us, not just feed us. It lifts them and seats them with princes. So let’s give them opportunities to grow in leadership, develop in their God-given gifting and not hold them back because they don’t have an education. Let’s lift them because that’s what the gospel does. We want them to be transformed.
Peter stood after the spirit was poured out and said this is what the prophet Job spoke about- that My spirit will be poured out on all flesh. He understood the theology and even spoke in the language of the nations, but he needed a transformation of the heart to fully understand what it means. He gets a declaration from God “what God has made clean don’t you dare call unclean!” But even when he goes to Cornelius’ house he is wrestling with this. As he goes on and the Spirit is poured out, he says, “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.” He now has a transformation of the heart. I wonder how many of us need to search deep within our hearts and say this- how many need this transformation.
Now that Peter had the transformation moment he now needed the integration moment. He says, can anyone withhold enough water to baptize them who have received the Holy Spirit. He embraced them into what was special to him. He did not just hold them at arm’s length. The Holy Spirit is the mark of salvation. If you are not filled with the Holy Spirit, how do we know?
Galatians 3 says, every dividing wall of hostility is removed and now we are one new man in Christ. Our challenge this morning is to examine our hearts- that we don’t lose our own identity but we do not insist on others becoming like us. Let them come to Jesus and let the gospel transform them. Embrace them into your heart and not just your actions. We will reach the nations because God’s wisdom is now being known by this one new man in Christ.