Monthly Archives: September 2016

Don’t fence the waterhole

“Why are your standards higher than mine?”

I have a long, rich history of one-liners from the Lord. They are inevitably paradigm shifting, and often come as questions to which I somehow know the (wrong) answer. In other words, they always cut to the quick of a matter in an instant. This one was no different. I had grown sufficiently in insight into the realities of the New Covenant to know exactly what He was alluding to.

david-bucklow-landscape-fenced-windmill-303278Membership of our church required submitting to a process described as Basic Foundations. It was a series of weekly gatherings for prospective members, including a camp-style weekend away, which had a clearly defined exit point. That exit point included baptism in water and baptism in the Holy Spirit. In other words, speaking in tongues was a requirement for membership. It also included clarity regarding the doctrine, vision, values and ethos of the church. That in turn required prospective members to be in a small group, be signed up to serve in one department or another, and to be faithful in attendance at the worship service. It involved subscribing to a ten-percent-of-gross financial commitment with offerings over and above, although we never policed this in any way. Participation in the prayer meeting was also preferable. With this list of criteria in place, and with both parties considering the fit good, the prospective member moved into membership via a public affirmation of covenant, which was an extra-biblical pledge which we had gleaned from Moravian and Wesleyan traditions.

That’s what it took to be a member of our church. Jesus’ church required considerably less: Believe! Salvation is by grace alone through faith alone and because of Christ alone. The thief on the cross had no problem achieving full, eternal membership in Jesus’ church. He’d have had no chance with us.

What followed was the dismantling of our formal membership roll. At the time it felt like a radical step; now it seems the most natural thought process in the world. What an accurate Gospel does is turn the volume down on the local church, it’s demands and distinctives, and the volume up on the universal, eternal, catholic church, where all who are in Christ belong to Him and to one another. The local church, we now understand, is simply a manifestation in time and space of that glorious church universal.

I had long defended our rigid membership rituals by arguing for the need for like-mindedness in vision and values, and by insisting that any leadership serious about giving account to God for their flock would need clarity regarding who was in and who was not. I now see that it was a means of manipulation and control, fundamentally divisive in the context of the broader church, and a keystone of our practice of exclusivity. If the windows and the doors of the house were to be open, then elaborate membership procedures would have to cease.

imagesThe Lord reassured our hearts by encouraging us to not fence the waterhole. Fences, after all, keep things out and keep things in; it just depends on which side of them you’re on. Our intention was to become more a game reserve and less a typical farming operation. He made it clear that the sheep were His, not ours. He taught us that as His under-shepherds, we elders remained accountable to Him for oversight of the corporate expression, while not being responsible for managing the freedoms of the individual sheep. Slowly our paradigms moved towards free-ranging, and we were able to open our hands and release our membership into following Him. By the way, they’re so much more secure now, because their security is in Him, and no longer in the church they attend.

To change the analogy yet reiterate the point: It is my conviction that should a Martian beam down into our parking lot and ask any church member, “who is your shepherd?”, the answer should be “Jesus”. Change the question and ask them to identify the leaders of the church, and they should point to the elders. This is no semantic difference; it is foundational to how we understand the local church. The people of God belong to Jesus. He is their shepherd and they are by definition Spirit-led. Leaders have no right to make church or personal loyalties a point of accountability. Our role is to help them discern and obey the will of God. Nothing more; nothing less. And then to be grateful for the degree to which that has them faithful to the local church.

This in turn has enormous implications for the funding and otherwise resourcing of local churches. Things must be done differently. This is not only possible; it is preferable. Thinking in this way has rendered me bi-vocational, and has positioned us to preach the Gospel of God’s unconditional love without strings attached. There is simply no mechanism in place to embroil anyone in our brand. Those who settle amongst us do so because the Lord Himself settles them. That thief on the cross would fit in amongst us just fine now. Week after week we enjoy gathering at the well of Living Water, celebrating Jesus and all that He has done, and watching His people gather to drink, just as we would enjoy an evening at the waterhole in the game reserve, watching His magnificent creation draw near to be refreshed and replenished.

You’re welcome, any Sunday morning, 09h30.

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Preach the New Covenant

“Preach the New Covenant”, said Jesus. This one-liner reverberated through my being with absolute authority and audible-voice clarity, answering what had been the cry of my heart for many months.

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It was a one-liner I didn’t see coming. I knew that I had to open the windows and doors of the church to the many, but what I didn’t know was that I was in for Extreme Makeover: Belief System Edition. (For the backstory in more detail, click here).

What followed was as extended period under the tutelage of the Holy Spirit in a special and unusual way. It sounds arrogant to claim as Paul did that I received the Gospel from the Lord, but that’s exactly what happened. Amidst very difficult times in ministry and local church, the Spirit opened the Scriptures to me in a fresh way, and it was as if I was “born again” again. The parallel discovery was the degree to which my belief system had been a mixture of Old and New Covenants, of Law and Grace.

1345804-inlineMy Extreme Makeover: Belief System Edition can be likened to a theological world tour, with numerous significant stopovers. I spent time in Romans 8:1, discovering that every aspect of my life was condemnation-ridden. My self-speak, my marriage, parenting, relationships, preaching and ministry all oozed condemnation, disqualification, and the demand for increased effort. From there it was across to Hebrews 4 and the discovery that salvation is rest from one’s own work and complete reliance on the work of another. This was quite a revelation for a permanently exhausted individual living and laboring in a burnout-conducive culture. Then came the visit to Security, where I discovered that most of us Christians are desperately and unnecessarily insecure. There were also notable stopovers in Peace and Joy, which are gifts accompanying salvation. Time was also well spent in New Nature (just like Jesus), in Holy Spirit (an indwelling Helper who will never leave us, and is an enabler in righteousness), and in Bible (an account of seven covenants, only one of which applies). Through it all I discovered that Jesus is God’s message (and perfect theology), that God is Good (and only good), and that God has made up His mind about us in Christ. If I had to identify a single highlight, it would have to be what I now regard as my favourite passage of Scripture: “For by a single offering He has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified” (Hebrews 10:14 ESV). Our justification is absolute, and we who are in Christ are therefore irrevocably righteous!

the-gospel-changes-everythingYears on, I continue to grow in the revelation and application of the New Covenant, but it is no exaggeration to say that everything has changed: My understanding of the Lord, salvation, myself, others, our world and His church. Every Sunday, I now enjoy the privilege of proclaiming a salvation that is by grace alone, through faith alone, because of Christ alone. This puts salvation within reach of everyone, and recognises that the grace that saves is the grace that sustains, empowers, and sanctifies. What was a Churchianity has become Christianity. It really is all about Him after all!

Following on has been progressively unfolding revelation of what it means to serve, lead and govern the local church from within New Covenant paradigms. Again, the Gospel has changed everything. What was at times a manipulative, controlling, stressful and exhausting environment has become one of peace, joy, freedom and fullness. The New Covenant is literally so much Good News as to be out of this world. Day by day we enter into greater measures of the benefits of this New Covenant, in which we have been included in Christ Jesus. And to top it all, no one is excluded. The windows and doors of the house are open, and the beauty of the local church accessible to all. The Gospel is for the whosoever will, and so it is with His church. What grace. What mercy. What goodness. What kindness. What love. Praise be to our God!

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Open the windows and doors

This is the first of a series of posts documenting the paradigm-altering revelation that has fashioned my understanding of the local church, and of the Gospel that shapes her. We are a very long way from where we once were, and the story is certainly worth the telling.

s-l400In fact, I write for three reasons. Firstly, to remember. Recall and reflection are helpful in keeping the main thing as the main thing. Secondly, to reiterate. Telling of the Lord’s dealings will help those connected to us in some way to understand where we’re coming from. And thirdly, I write to record. To provide a backstory for those who do and will benefit from our pioneering. So, here goes.

The most profound of all the paradigm-shifters was a God-encounter a decade or so ago. It took place during a time of corporate worship. In a moment I was caught up into an open vision. The experience was dramatic to say the least. I have no idea how long it lasted, but understand how Paul could be unsure as to whether he remained in his body or not. The vision was all-consuming, and not conscious of any other reality as it unfolded.

In the vision I was putting the finishing touches to the housework in a typical domestic home. The Lord was present, and it was unmistakably clear that the home I was tending represented the local church. The Lord commended me on the way in which I had kept His house. I felt so proud. After all, my labour in ministry was for Him, and this was a “well done, good and faithful servant” moment.

He followed up with a simple question, “Why are the curtains closed?” As happens in encounter, I knew, and responded accordingly. “Lord, the windows and curtains are closed because of where your house is built.” I moved to a window and opened the curtain, revealing that His house was built on a rubbish dump. The windows and curtains were kept closed because of the rotten smell and to hide repulsive view. Point made, I let the curtain fall back into place.

The Lord’s response was gentle. “Gavin, the problem is not with where my house is built; the problem is with your perspective. Open the curtain.” I drew the curtain aside and was overwhelmed by what I saw. Gone was the rubbish dump, replaced by a dense sea of people. People of all races, cultures, ages, shapes and sizes – an innumerable multitude incomprehensibly vast!  As I attempted to absorb what I saw, the Lord said, “Gavin, I want you to open the windows and doors of my house. My house is for them also!”

I was completely undone by the implications of it all. In a moment the Lord had adjusted my perspective of humanity to align with His, and had set into motion what would become a total rebuilding of my now-shattered belief system. I wept and wept and wept. Just as suddenly as it had begun, so the encounter ended, and I found myself on the floor, sobbing my heart out. The repentance precipitated within was overwhelming, and it rendered me so raw that many months passed before I could talk about it without dissolving in tears.

The encounter bestowed a fresh mandate: Open the windows and doors of the church! Not knowing why they were closed meant having no clue as to where to begin in remedying the situation. All I knew was that they were indeed closed, and that something was profoundly amiss as this was so. Unwittingly, instantaneously, I’d gone from being zealously committed to Christianity as I knew it, to being deeply challenged to the core. It compelled me to question anything and everything. Those around me could see that I’d been with the Lord, and all agreed that opening the windows and the doors was a great idea (after all, we all want more church members), but few seemed willing or able to grasp that there was something fundamentally wrong. What I later came to understand is that open windows and doors have nothing to do with church membership, but everything to do with the very foundations of our faith and practice. My fresh mandate would call for shifts of seismic proportions, and a great shaking was at hand.

What followed at first was many, many months of unsettled vagary. I sought to pursue my mandate by encouraging evangelism and nudging things towards seeker-sensitivity and community involvement. Yet I knew, even as I did so, that I was completely missing the point. Then, suddenly, another encounter. This one was nothing like the previous one. This time it was a single sentence that reverberated through my being with such clarity that had anyone been with me, I’m sure they would have heard it also. It was the definitive answer to my persistent “how, Lord?” “Preach the New Covenant”, said Jesus.

 

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