Christian strategy

Christian Strategy and a short reflection on the Movements of which I have been a part, 2012.

Legg suggests ‘the entire Bible, from cover to cover, reflects God’s strategy. ‘From the very start of the Old Testament we see God’s strategy worked out through people like Noah, Abraham, Joseph and David. They provide a backdrop for what was to come through Jesus. God had a plan, and his timing was perfect. Jesus did not just come by accident – when God felt like it- but at a key moment in human history.’(A-Z of Evangelism: Legg, Steve. H+S 2002 p184)

Jesus says ‘My mission is to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.' This mission then widens, particularly through the work of the Spirit. Jesus' strategy was to gather a small group of people who left their normal lives to go with him …  Indaba involved a group of about 120, the AEJCC, just 33 and New Wine Newark 2012 about 7000.

Legg says ‘in Matthew's Gospel we see Jesus' strategy. Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness’ (Mt9:35).’(A-Z of Evangelism: Legg, Steve. H+S 2002 p185)

Legg says that the vision and strategy for worldwide evangelism is embodied in Acts 1:8 ‘you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.'

I want to reflect on which of the three movements of which I have been a part fulfils Christian strategy in a way that, for me, best reflects the points made by Legg.

I have involved myself in some interesting movements this year, from the Continuing Conversation Indaba experiment, courtesy of the Anglican Communion, to the AEJCC, courtesy of John Richardson, to New Wine - courtesy of John Coles et al.

The first movement proved interesting but challenging. I was not at home there ... but that was probably the point. It was all about the ways that we approach Scripture and our differences. The theology was liberal, the approach to Scripture, progressive and it was very much more about using experience and life, world-view and cultural location and bringing these to scripture and reading it in the light of these things and then deciding that we were very different from one another but ... there are a few things that we can strive for together...perhaps. 

The ethic there was one of ‘love’, to be applied according to each particular context - love defined in a particular way, even though there is the thought that there is no dominating frame of reference - actually there is an approach...situational, relativisitic...it is perhaps built on the theology of the sixties and seventies.... culturally located, contemporarily sympathetic. With St Paul, we are to adapt strategy to locality 1 Cor 9:16-23 but I wondered what was compromised. 

The AEJCC conference, which I attended as the only priested woman (c'mon girls!), was spiritually more comfortable: the Scriptures were read, the preaching was expository and the challenge was to do mission God's way, there was a charge laid before us to proclaim the gospel. I made sure that I read Richardson's book before I went and I felt a bit disappointed that some of the delegates had not done so resulting in them asking questions that were, at times, a little at odds with the overall aims of the conference which had its locus in "Towards the Conversion of England"
To evangelize is so to present Christ Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit, that people shall come to put their trust in God through Him, to accept Him as their Saviour, and serve Him as their King in the fellowship of His Church. (Para 1)
In some ways, the AEJCC did Indaba - conversation across difference where the differences were the secondary issues but the primary issues were held in agreement - the Indaba process could not seem to decide what Mission actually is - it would seem that everyone defines it differently and this was the conclusion reached, or so it seemed to me.

At the AEJCC, our talking across difference was rooted in Romans from the New Testament with the Oak Hill lecturer, Pete Sanlon, telling us that believers together are to experience a corporate living and sharing together. The material in Romans 14 and 15 reminds us that Paul knows that there are no special days, etc – he grasps this but he also grasps that not everyone will understand that this is so because there are more important things to concentrate on that are being given priority. We are to rest assured, is the reminder, that it is the Lord who can make his people stand. Because Paul trusts that this is so, he can let some things go for the sake of the bigger narrative. Pete Sanlon is convinced that the cross of Christ works to propitiate the wrath of God but also that those holding theological differences on secondary issues; those who hold untraditional and therefore contrary views on secondary issues are important, necessary to the dialogue. He challenged the group to be convinced that, in the end, Jesus will sort it. Loving one another is more important than correcting one another and this can happen when there is a belief in the power of the gospel together. It was interesting to hear him talk about how preaching is vital for the health of the church but it can be overstated. 'Speaking God's words' (Peter Adam) should be pulpit centred but not pulpit restricted – more must be done because Paul makes this obvious.

Pete spoke about a theology I would then go on to experience in fullness at New Wine, it is almost as if the exaltation of Jesus, the Word and the Spirit and the love of the Father heightened as I travelled through these movements over the course of this first six months of 2012, reaching crescendo at New Wine.

New Wine's 'local churches changing the nation' combines social action (most highly valued by Indaba), with proclamation (most highly valued by AEJCC) with an utter reliance on the Holy Spirit in whose power all the former happen (most highly valued by New Wine). However, Pete Sanlon, AEJCC, did describe how necessary it is to grasp the doctrinal content and think right about the gospel; to know the narrative and our place within in but that it must not become a wall, for it then becomes problematic. There is too great a store on an intellectual working through and we must not quench the Spirit. The great need is to be people whose hearts have been melted. We were encouraged to long for deep heart change – the power of God is manifest in this – you are removed from the law – you are to live in the Spirit!

At the AEJCC, we were encouraged to sense the indebtedness that Paul feels towards others. Because of the wrath of God that lies on all the people of the world, the immensity of God's love and grace and mercy in dealing with this is felt. We are to feel the weight of this grace (If grace were an ocean we would all be sinking!) – if we feel the weight of the grace that has removed this wrath from us – then we want this for all people. We were encouraged to share our lives and hearts with people – Jesus is with you. Feel indebted – don't just invite people to a course. Help everyone in your churches to feel indebted to one another. This is the big challenge. It is the power of God in the gospel – God is able to establish us as outposts for the gospel.

At New Wine, there is much to celebrate, an openness to the Holy Spirit, no, more than that, a dependence on the manifest power of the Holy Spirit, out of which all mission happens, a theology that takes literally, that accepts the authority given to us by Christ to preach the gospel, heal and deliver in his name - there is an expectation that God will do these things amongst us and empower us for his mission in the world to see people with his eyes and through the compassion of Christ, introducing them to a Jesus who loves them in the practical actions (Indaba) that accompany proclamation (AEJCC) so that the message is made real but not in social action alone for this can end up being done in our own strength and can not bring the life transforming powers that belong, alone, to the work of the Holy Spirit (New Wine). Conservative on humanity's sexual expression unlike Indaba but open to women in ministry, (completely now with this coming from the front on the last night and my being invited onto the stage with John Coles to receive a prayer for all women he wants to encourage into leadership.) This was in contrast then to the opinion of most of the delegates at the AEJCC, although I think that Pete Sanlon and Richardson had their sights set on those other priorities that St Paul knows take precedent. Some of the delegates needed to have reflected further on the aims of Richardson's book which had far transcended the women in ministry question that some of the delegates here seemed to be getting blocked by.

I will now conclude my reflection on Christian Strategy and which of these movements I can continue to invest my heart in. I believe that, ultimately, the most Kingdom-aligned movement of the three is New Wine. Here I wave my banner, pitch my tent and grow, here I soak up biblical teaching, receive ministry in the power of the Holy Spirit and become equipped to better align myself with Christ's vision for his World.

I will remain in conversation with the AEJCC if they can remain in conversation with me, I suspect they can, I will part company with Indaba and watch from a distance instead how God uses this movement across the Communion to develop tools to talk across difference. I will back New Wine and adopt its approach to church as I seek to live out my ministry within the Church of England. 


Revd John P Richardson said...

Just read this, Rachel. Very interesting! Bit too tired to comment further - but well done for making the point it does help to have read 'the book of the conference' before the conference! ;-)

Nadine said...

Interesting read Rachel! Great to see you at just the right moment, to get you up on the stage. It was a good moment! Not a new moment, but maybe perceived as new - which is different. Never underestimate the need to do/ say publicly what you believe. Silence seems to be taken as a negative stance bizarrely - assumption! Anyway, I was absolutely thrilled!!

Savi Hensman said...

But what happens when Christians' vision of the kingdom of heaven is radically different, and can Indaba-type methods help us to maybe grapple with difficult issues? For instance, those who argue that men should be clearly masters in church and the home and women should be submissive, but this to many others would seem at odds with the kingdom as lived and proclaimed by Jesus, and counter-evangelical because it drives many non-Christians further away. Again, some believe that the kingdom is compatible with the further impoverishment of the very poor, others that this is an affront to God. So dealing with disagreement, though not the whole of mission, has some bearing.

Rach Marszalek said...

Indaba-type methods are biblical, yes. Phil Groves' Phd on the Philippian model makes a lot of sense. We have to be relational and mutual listening is important but can not become an end in itself, I suspect. I am taking the essentials of the idea of Indaba into discussion now with those who disagree on secondary issues. It is proving a fruitful strategy. The official Indaba process will roll on, I suspect. I have found Ephraim Radner's response to indaba helpful as I have been exploring my own reactions to the process. This is probably where I am at with the whole thing.

Thanks for your contribution Savi.


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A little background reading so we might mutually flourish when there are different opinions