The Downside of Christendom

In case you are in the mood for a little theology, here is something I ran across during my reading today that is worth thinking about:

“Certainly the reduction of mission in Western theology has to do with the so-called Christianization of Western cultures. Once the Christian religion had become the only allowed religion within the boundaries of Christendom, mission was not seen as the central task of the church. Rather, her theological definition gradually came to focus on the care and tending of the salvation of her members […] Further, the eschatological shaping of the Gospel, so central to the New Testament, was distorted and reduced. Jesus’ message was the inbreaking reign of God, and the early church confessed him as the one who is and brings that reign into human history. […] That sense of radical and transforming anticipation of living hope that profoundly shapes the ‘now’ of the corporate Christian witness, was gradually reoriented to an individualistic emphasis on the second coming at the end of time with its threatening judgment that determines where each soul will spend eternity. The biblical emphasis on the ‘resurrection of the body’ is replaced by the Hellenistic concept of the immortality of the soul, which changes the nature of Christian eschatology and diminishes the strong biblical emphasis upon the integrated wholeness of the human person as body, spirit, and soul. Life now was understood not so much as faithful witness in hope but as wearisome and often anxious preparation in this vale of tears for what must come hereafter. Salvation is a question of where one spends eternity rather than the larger biblical witness to the restorative and salvific reign of God breaking in now, whose consummation is yet to come. […] The individualism of such a reductionist soteriology has only intensified in the self-centered and consumerist culture of present-day North America. The church’s focus on the tending and maintenance of the ‘saved’ is well attested today in churches that advertise themselves as ‘full-service’ congregations and function as purveyors of the religious programs and products their member-consumers want. The partnership of church and state, has, after the end of Christendom, effectively been replaced with the partnership of church and marketplace.”[1]

Happily, Guder also recounts,

“the wise words of the pastor from Malawi who told my class one day about all the changes the gospel had brought when the missionaries came to his tribe. ‘And,’ he concluded, ‘you must realize that we could always tell the difference between Jesus and the missionaries.’”[2]

Bibliography

Guder, Darrell L. “The Church as Missional Community.” In The Community of the Word : Toward an Evangelical Ecclesiology, edited by Mark Husbands and Daniel J. Treier, 114-28. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2005.


[1] Darrell L. Guder, “The Church as Missional Community,” in The community of the Word : toward an evangelical ecclesiology, ed. Mark Husbands and Daniel J. Treier (Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2005), 118-20.

[2] Guder, 120.

Blow, Spirit, Blow…!

This is a great word from one of my Facebook friends that everyone in spiritual leadership would benefit from reading! Let’s “set our sails,” embrace the sovereignty of the Spirit underscored by our Lord Jesus in His words to Nicodemus in John 3:8, and enjoy the journey into unknown future crafted by an all-knowing God!!

Getting ready to return home today, from an unanticipated ministry trip that required an unanticipated flight booking, resulting in an unanticipated harvest that we could not have foreseen or planned. The wind blows where it wills. Holy Spirit directed and dependent ministry is the only “new normal” that matters. God spoke a stretching word to Lenora and I in February, before all this chaos exploded globally: “be ready to shift into a ministry pattern that looks much more like that modeled by Corrie ten Boom; long range planning for “big” events will not be the priority of the coming season. Go, wherever the Wind may blow”Who knew then it would come so suddenly and so soon. For all my friends in ministry, we were called and created to be Spirit led and Spirit driven; utterly reliant on His voice; yoked to His sudden command. But this is not easy for our highly controlled and efficiently managed Western paradigms. We all need grace for the paradigm shift that is upon us. “The wind blows where it wills; you cannot tell where it comes from and where it is going; So it is with everyone born of the Spirit”You have not been grounded. The wind is blowing. Catch His currents, and experience the harvest and the miracles He is now releasing, neither of which can be contained by the wineskins of our suddenly irrelevant comfort zones. Breath of God…breathe on us. Breath of God…breathe on me

R. K. Brake at https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=1972572066207136&id=100003630858208

Define Church – The Day of Pentecost – Mark Brand 05312020

In this livestream recording from Antioch Church in the heart of Downtown Dallas, Texas, Pastor Mark Brand talks about the significance of the Day of Pentecost in a series of messages dealing with the Book of Acts. Find out more at: www.MarkBrand.org / www.TeamAntioch.com. Antioch Church – Helping People Everywhere Know Jesus and Love Others…!

My latest podcast episode

We Need Another Pentecost

We Need Another Pentecost

Please pray for our country; please pray for our city; and please pray for Antioch Church. All of the scenes in this video occurred downtown near our campus, some as close as two blocks away. Saturday nights where we are located in the West End of Dallas are sometimes tense anyway and last night’s events hold the potential of taking things to a completely different level tonight.

It is hard for me to imagine that any reasonable person would countenance the destruction recorded in this video. Yet, it is also urgently incumbent upon all of us to recognize the underlying racial realities that afforded the opportunity for extreme elements to hijack a peaceful protest and perpetuate such senseless violence. Racism is real and racism is wrong, but racism is sadly both alive and well. Racism has been called America’s original sin. It is heartbreaking to recognize that this country that I love so much and that has done so much good in the world, including sending missionaries around the world for the evangelization of the world, was partly built through genocidal aggression against some of its indigenous peoples and the brutal enslavement of other peoples brought here in chains from Africa. That is the cold, hard truth. 

I sometimes ask myself, “How could a country who counted among its first settlers such committed Christians that they would sail across a storm-tossed ocean in three leaky little boats in the hope of finding religious freedom, deprive others for so long of the most basic of human freedoms? How could the men who risked their lives by declaring so poetically that ‘all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness,’ later lay the foundation for their new nation through a governmental document that is unequaled in its many of its expressions of civil wisdom, but that deemed people three-fifths human simply by the color of their skin?” I suppose the only answer to such questions is found in the depths of every human heart where good and evil sometimes coexist. 

I am convinced that the only real hope for overcoming human depravity and the only antidote for this kind of societal sin is the blood of Jesus, the grace of God, and the power of the Holy Spirit. The church is called to work towards making these things as right as they can ever be in this world. Racial reconciliation is in fact at the very heart of God’s redemptive work throughout human history and thus should always be dear to every Christian. The Apostle John recorded in the Book of Revelation that trans-ethnic unity was why Jesus the Lamb is worshiped in the throne room of God: “And they sang a new song, saying: ‘You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.’” (Rev. 5:9) 

I am deeply stirred by the fact that as I write these words we are on the eve of celebrating what happened in a prayer meeting in an upper room in Jerusalem nearly two thousand years ago. On the Day of Pentecost, as God’s Spirit filled the disciples they began to speak in many different human languages. This drew a large, multi-ethnic crowd together which heard the Gospel preached. People from many different nationalities believed what they heard and became followers of Jesus. As a result, the first local congregation in the history of the world was multi-ethnic from the beginning. 

Deep moves of God’s Spirit continue to effect this kind of racial healing, as witnessed by what happened in 1906 at the Azusa Street Mission in Los Angeles, California. One of the most singular features of that revival from its earliest moments was the amazing degree of racial harmony and integration that characterized both its services and its leadership. A Los Angeles newspaper reporter noted that there “were all ages, sexes, colors, nationalities and previous conditions of servitude’” among those in attendance. [1] The pastor, William Seymour, was a black man who had often tasted the bitterness of racial prejudice and mistreatment. When he first became interested in the Baptism of the Holy Spirit in revival meetings led by Charles Fox Parham, Seymour was not even allowed to seek for the experience at the same altar as the white people in attendance. [2] During Seymour’s Bible school studies at Parham’s Bible Institute in Houston, Parham made him listen from out in the hallway instead of permitting him to be seated in the classroom with the white students.[3] In spite of these kinds of experiences, Seymour faithfully pastored the Azusa Street Mission and warmly welcomed people of every nationality and skin color as brothers and sisters in Christ and as co-workers equal to himself.

Although the degree of racial harmony which marked the Pentecostal movement’s earliest years did not continue beyond its initial decades, the Azusa outpouring nevertheless serves as an example of what the Holy Spirit will do when we truly open our hearts to Him. The cry of my heart is that all of my fellow Christian leaders would join me in praying for God to pour out His convicting presence upon every Holy-Spirit-friendly church in America tomorrow. May He help us repent for not doing more to address the racial injustice that is still so prevalent in our nation. May He use our congregations to lead the way in showing that in Christ we are one body, under one Lord, with one faith and one purpose. Could it be that this is the “sign” and the “wonder” that America most needs to see?

Jeremiah 29:7, 11-13 (NIV) — 7 Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” […]  11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 

Bibliography

Robeck, Cecil M. The Azusa Street Mission and Revival : The Birth of the Global Pentecostal Movement. Nashville: Nelson Reference & Electronic, 2006. Kindle.


[1] Cecil M. Robeck, The Azusa Street Mission and revival : the birth of the global Pentecostal movement (Nashville: Nelson Reference & Electronic, 2006), 1, Kindle.

[2] Robeck, 46.

[3] Robeck, 47.

Define Church – Spirit Fullness III – Mark Brand 05242020

In this livestream recording from our Antioch Church campus I talk about the Gifts of the Holy Spirit in a series of messages dealing with the Book of Acts.

My latest podcast episode

The Impact of COVID-19 on Missions and Ministry

I read a great ebook this morning written entitled, “Global Transmission, Global Mission: The Impact and Implications of the COVID-19 Pandemic,” [1] by Jason Mandryk. He is the current editor of the renowned Operation World global prayer guide. Mandryk outlines his thoughts on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Christian ministry, especially global missions. I highly recommend every Christian leader take the time to read and reflect on his perspective.

Here are a few quotes to whet your appetite:

“As the wealthy elites and pagan masses fled the plague-ridden cities of the Roman Empire, Christians would pass them going in the other direction – into the cities to care for the sick and bury the dead. It came at great cost to themselves, but such actions turned formerly hostile people into increasingly sympathetic ones, and turned this tiny offshoot of an odd Jewish religion into a faith that won over an empire.”[2]

“The poor disproportionately suffer from communicable diseases. Consider the Global North playbook for combating CoVid-19: social distancing, working and schooling from home, buying weeks’ worth of food/amenities at a time, pivoting to digital existence, frequent handwashing with soap and water, business loans, stimulus cheques, quantitative easing, and even universal basic income – all to ‘flatten the curve’ of the stress on the health care infrastructure. What if none of these were possible? What if you stay in a two room house, with eight other people, including your vulnerable elderly parents or grandparents. What if your only source of income is small scale cash transactions, made daily, in a crowded street market, with your inventory obtained through a relationally face-to-face supply chain, and if you don’t sell enough on a given day, then that night your family goes hungry? What if access to water requires gathering around a communal well a mile away from your shack, and soap is a luxury of the affluent? What if there is no public health care infrastructure to even protect? Reports coming in from both journalists and Christian workers tell of escalating hunger and desperation in many Global South contexts. When the cure is in fact worse than the disease, other approaches become necessary.”[3]

“I have never met a missionary who had extraordinary impact in their ministry if their life did not include extraordinary surrender to the principle that to live is Christ and to die is gain.”[4]

“At times, it feels like there is a conflict between the prioritization of reaching the least-reached with the message of Jesus and the emphasis on addressing injustices around the world (economic, social, racial, sexual, etc.) as a Kingdom mandate. I believe the research indicates the places that are least evangelized tend to be the places where human suffering is most widespread and where the most forms of injustice are felt most intensely. There is no conflict here, but great potential for synergy.”[5]

“Suffering does not exist by God’s intent, but He gives much of it a redemptive purpose, He entered into it Himself in Jesus, and He promises a day when all the tears will be wiped from our eyes (Rev 21:4).”[6]

“Can we proclaim a slogan like ‘Our buildings may be closed, but the church is alive’ and in doing so (correctly) assert that the Church is not about buildings, but then also agitate for those same buildings to be opened as soon as possible, or even defy the law to meet in them?”[7]

“As much as we may resent it, even in mission, money talks. The ones who write the cheques still tend to set the agendas. CoVid-19 damage suffered economically to Western missional generosity in particular, combined with the decline of mission sending from Western countries, will have a direct and profound impact upon the perceived missiological authority of Wester missionary enterprise.”[8]

“Even the normally agile Business As Mission (BAM) framework is problematic if the effectiveness of the mission part depends on the success of the business part. Businesses are shut down all over the world right now. Developing sustainable models of not just doing mission on the field, but sending workers to the field from the less affluent nations, and then keeping them on the field, is essential for the future of global mission.”[9]

“That ‘sweet spot’ in the transition from highly dependent mission fields to indigenously self-sustaining, self-replicating, self-theologizing church movements often occurs earlier than most foreign missions tend to find comfortable.”[10]

“How is it that those who follow one claiming to be the way, the truth, and the life are among the most naive adopters and enthusiastic disseminators of falsehoods? Having faith in the unseen does not excuse us from the responsibility to be mature in our thinking. Anticipating a new heaven and new earth does not give us license to endorse the destruction and suffering of this one. Understanding that the world system and the powers and principalities operate beyond the mundane does not mean that every wild postulation is therefore true! […] When we spread such untruths, we are bearing false witness and break the ninth commandment. […] We shouldn’t buy uncritically into the mainstream narrative that the unbelieving world wants us to adopt, either. We know that it, too, is predicated on lies. So there most definitely is a time and a place to consider alternative ways of understanding the news and interpreting current affairs. However, this needs to be subordinate to maintaining our testimony as people of truth and love. My bottom line with those presenting conspiracy theories to me is usually “So what?” Even if every speculation and assertion is 100% true, how does it change what Jesus called me to do, who Jesus called me to be, and how Jesus called me to live? It doesn’t.”[11]

“Intercession is truly universal work for the Christian. No place is closed to intercessory prayer. No continent – no nation – no organization – no city – no office. There is no power on earth that can keep intercession out. In Stephen Gaukroger’s words, ‘Prayer needs no passport, visa or work permit. There is no such thing as a “closed country” as far as prayer is concerned…much of the history of mission could be written in terms of God moving in response to persistent prayer.’”[12]

“Prayer, as a biblical study of the subject quickly reveals, is not the activity of people who are in reasonable control of their lives. It is the resort of the weak, overwrought, desperate people whose life circumstances call for resources beyond their own.”[13]

“The surge of missionary sending that saw the Moravians, William Carey, Adoniram Judson and the Student Volunteer Movement thrust into the harvest field all happened after a surge in global intercession in their faith communities.”[14]

“In the UK, a recent survey indicated that 1 in 20 adults have started to pray, having never prayed before.”[15]

“’Do not be afraid’ is the most frequent command in Scripture – there are 145 verses to that effect. Whether it is about an unknown future or a turbulent present, we are able to cast our cares on Him, because He cares for us. (1 Pet 5:7).”[16]

“The boldness of the first Christians to fearlessly proclaim the good news of Jesus was in fact an answer to their own prayers. In Acts 4, in response to persecution and threats, the believers prayed for God’s enabling to speak His word with great boldness. Let that be our prayer today.”[17]


[1] Jason Mandryk, Global Transmission, Global Mission, Kindle ed. (U.K.: Operation World, 2020), http://covid-19.operationworld.org/global-transmission-global-mission.

[2] Mandryk, loc. 867.

[3] Mandryk, loc. 281.

[4] Mandryk, loc. 636.

[5] Mandryk, loc. 777.

[6] Mandryk, loc. 1062.

[7] Mandryk, loc. 475.

[8] Mandryk, loc. 712.

[9] Mandryk, loc. 728.

[10] Mandryk, loc. 814.

[11] Mandryk, loc. 352-70.

[12] Mandryk, loc. 968.

[13] Mandryk, loc. 1004.

[14] Mandryk, loc. 1020.

[15]  Mandryk, loc. 986.

[16] Mandryk, loc. 1062.

[17] Mandryk, loc. 1062.

Define Church – Spirit Fullness II – Mark Brand 05162020

In this livestream recording from Antioch Church, I talk about the Gifts of the Holy Spirit in a series of messages dealing with the Book of Acts.

My latest podcast episode

Spiritual Encounter As A Path to Truth

Going through some of my past papers, I came across this paragraph from one of the essays I wrote during my Master’s degree at the University of Birmingham, U.K. I believe this now more than ever concerning those of us who are Holy Spirit-friendly Christians:

Pentecostal theology is inherently pragmatic, focused above all else upon fostering, understanding, and commending a personal, transformative encounter between the individual and Almighty God through the agency and power of the Holy Spirit that results in a life of fruitful activity. In contrast to the Westminster Catechism which answers the vital question, “What is the chief end of man?” by replying, “To glorify God and enjoy Him forever,” a full-throated Pentecostal response to the same query might be, “To encounter God and serve Him forever.” While human beings in some instances are of course prompted to seek the Lord or to dedicate their lives to furthering His purposes on the earth as a result of learning some particular truth or truths about Him, Pentecostals believe the human journey towards understanding and serving God ideally begins in a personal, supernatural encounter with Jesus by means of Holy Spirit baptism. In other words, while many non-Pentecostals tend to believe right gnosis is the surest path to right praxis, most Pentecostals intuitively sense that authentic spiritual experience provides the best fuel to power any quest for spiritual truth.[1]

[1] Brand, Mark. “Spirit Baptism – Historical Distinctive or Essential Doctrine?”, University of Birmingham, 2018.

The Death of the Mega-City?

This is a fascinating article that I encourage leaders and anyone interested in broad social trends to take the time to read.
 
“As of this writing, the long-term effects of the coronavirus pandemic remain uncertain. But one possible consequence is an acceleration of the end of the megacity era. In its place, we may now be witnessing the outlines of a new, and necessary, dispersion of population, not only in the wide open spaces of North America and Australia, but even in the megacities of the developing world.”
 

Define Church (Act 1-2) – The Fullness of the Spirit

In this livestream recording from Antioch Church in the heart of downtown Dallas, Texas, I talk about the infilling of the Holy Spirit in a series of messages dealing with the Book of Acts. Click here to listen online or subscribe via Spotify or iTunes.