The 2nd Reformation

Jesus has called us to share his good news to the people of this 21st century. It’s a task that apparently needs further defining, given Christianity’s varied and mixed history.

To initiate this mission some 2000 years ago, Jesus chose twelve young men, probably not much older than twenty years of age, nurtured and mentored them, before commissioning and empowering them with, “Go, and make disciples of all nations!” They then healed the sick, preached the gospel, cast out demons, and baptised in Jesus’ name. Thus they were instrumental in perpetuating and deploying more disciples in Jesus’ image.

Since then, the followers of Jesus have both survived and thrived. Christianity  across the Western world steadily grew. Its significance was felt to the “ends of the earth”. That is, until now, because followers of Jesus largely in the West find themselves living in what is now called the “post-Christian era”. How times have changed.

For hundreds of years, Christianity significantly influenced the thinking and ethos throughout the rise of the Western world. Great cathedrals dominated its skyline. The clergy were held in high esteem. Churches yielded power and influence, often consisting of two classes – priests and laity. But, now, the demographics are rapidly changing. The previous model of ministry doesn’t any longer seem to be working. In fact, our focus will require rethinking and recalibrating if we’ve any chance of continuing past momentum, as the fruits of our current marginalisation is increasingly evident – at least here in the largely secularised West. (It is worth noting that Christianity’s redemptive message, however, is still taking root in other parts of the world, such as in Africa and Asia).

Thus, given the challenges we face in a generally suspicious if not hostile environment, we must explore being part of a new, second Reformation, a journey initiated by the first but which largely remained unfinished. We must follow Christ’s leadership through what portends to be absolutely unprecedented times. The bygone age of grand cathedrals, of Christianised ethos and law, of the “Lord’s Prayer” recited in schools and government, and of respected clergy, can and will never be revisited in this age. From high esteem, many clergy are now, for example, under cross-examination by Royal Commissions for institutionalised paedophilia! Modern Christianity seems irretrievably tarnished!

Nonetheless, Jesus is still building his church. And, we need to embrace and align our energies with his vision of the future. It seems we need a different paradigm to what was manifest in previous centuries – one that was, of course, that Jesus himself modelled.

Today, however, old practices die hard. Still too many pastors are operating under an outdated paradigm, acting as chaplains and care-givers, and often rushing off to meet the needs of the bleating sheep. Thus, they inadvertently perpetuate a model of dependency. God, however, has called us not to remain infants in the faith, but as his followers become empowered by Jesus to be equipping leaders of other leaders. We are not called to passivity, but to an active faith!

The dynamic of the second Reformation is emerging and evident not only throughout parts of Christendom, but also in greater clarity in the Church of God Sabbatarian community. Twenty or so years ago, at least in my personal journey, the prevailing church paradigm I was accustomed to began to crumble. Its exclusivity and significant awkwardness with the person of Jesus had reached the end of its course. Did Jesus step in and “remove the lampstand”? It certainly sounds like it. But that’s another story.

Today, we increasingly see different parts of the Body of Christ, albeit under different administrations, but sharing a common faith and heritage, working and worshipping together in unity and grace, extending to each other the right-hand of fellowship. Thus, we’re experiencing a revived model of Jesus leading the church. This is manifesting in some refreshing changes. Pastoral care is changing from “one size fits all” exclusively doing corporate ministry, to equipping and empowering others for ministry, utilising their spiritual God-given gifts.

The momentum for this “new” ministry model finds its roots and authenticity in the first century. The old Pharisaically-driven paradigms would never allow the equipping of all to discipleship and ministry according to their spiritual gifts. Pastors must continue to shift from fostering dependency to an equipping model.

The old covenant with the hierarchal Levitical priesthood ceased when Jesus was crucified, evidenced with the tearing of the temple veil of separation. Access to the Holy of Holies, symbolic of our direct access to our heavenly Father, became freely available. Jesus is now our High Priest. The new covenant accordingly ushered with it the priesthood of all believers, something that must be understood and embraced in the new reformation!

Pastors begin “teaching” the word of God, and then continue equipping and coaching all believers to ministry. While Jesus said “Feed my sheep”, he also expanded it with, “Make disciples”. This is the model Jesus commissioned his disciples.

The church no longer consists of two classes, ministers and members. We’re all saints. We’re all brothers. We’re all children of God. All are called to ministry. And we’re all encouraged to develop and utilise those spiritual gifts.

Jesus reminded his disciples, against the model backdrop of the Pharisees, “Don’t be called Rabbi, for One is your Teacher, the Christ, and you are all brethren.” (Matthew 23:8) We are called to grow up in Christ’s fullness and stature, and less dependent on human leaders.

Paul further developed this in his letter to those at Ephesus, when he said, “Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service [ministry], so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach the unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God, and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:11-13)

The dependence model doesn’t any longer work under the terms of the new covenant! The lament in letter to the Hebrews bears this out: “By now you ought to be teachers, but you’re still in infancy, dependent on the milk of the word”. (Hebrews 5:11-14)

A baby is dependent on his or her mother’s milk. Given that’s where we all started, it’s not a state we want to stay with. We’re called to spiritually grow beyond infancy.

That’s where Jesus’ gentle and humble words beckon us to empowerment, if we’re only willing to listen. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened [from the Pharisaical-modelled version of old covenant ministry], and I will give you rest,” says Jesus. (Matthew 11:28-30) Jesus wants us to take his yoke upon us – something that fits us right, matches our spiritual gifts, and is really as we’re meant to be.

Someone once said that, “A man makes the dream, and then the dream makes the man.” Therein lies a powerful truism. Love and passion can drive us to great heights. The seeds of God’s kingdom have been sewn in our hearts. “Seek first His kingdom,” says Jesus.

So you have a passion, a gift, a skill? Follow that dream. Develop your gifts. Grow your ministry – to the glory of God and in the name of Jesus. Remember the wisdom from an old proverb: “A man’s heart [his God-given gifts] plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9)

God bless you in your service in the body of Christ.

 

By John Klassek

 

The Rise of Islam

There’s no disputing it. Islam is on the rise. And the face we’re seeing, but trying not to believe, is an ugly one. One written in anger and in blood, in ominous moon and black flags, slavery and conquest.

So why now? What has held the forces of Islam in check – since four centuries ago, when they had advanced beyond the gates of Vienna and were beaten back – that their desire to conquer the world with their own brand of government, religion and ethics is finally gaining momentum?

It’s a good question, and one that probably has its roots in the strength and ethics of our formerly Christian-rooted societies. Our grandparents grew up in a West that was distinctly flavoured by the Bible. “Love thy neighbour” was an undisputed truism. But today, are we not, more proud of our “secular society” than of our heritage? And therein lies the heart of the issue.

Have we not lost our moral compass, evidenced by the social issues that are on the agenda today? For example, our grandparents would shudder to know how we’re bent on embracing homosexual marriage. They would weep over the shocking abortion statistics. And they would groan that we teach our children “evolutionary” garbage while conspicuously abandoning any reference to God and faith values.

So, where are we headed? In a year’s time from now, how will we see 2015? More bloodshed? Heightened terror alerts? Stronger Islamic aggression, near and far? Will our military efforts to stop Islamic extremism and expansion fail? Will indecisive foreign policy, in hindsight, have been grossly inadequate?

Democracy has the potential to collapse, the signs of which are already apparent in Europe, where large immigrant families (of Islamic origins) are outnumbering generally low western birth rates. So given enough time, Sharia law quite easily could be democratically voted in. And should that happen, Islam’s rise to world domination would be unstoppable.

Imagine seeing a strong and capable military leader emerge, and with him a powerful and charismatic religious imam – some call him the Mahdi. It’s not hard then to imagine the widespread and “legal” beheading of innocents – whose only sin is to deny the validity of Mohammed.

With eyes on the comparatively small state of Israel eventually becoming militarily overrun by its larger neighbours; when the missiles and rockets are let loose, it might be hard not to think that what is called Armageddon is upon us.

The irony is that we can’t say we weren’t warned.

Did you know that the Bible (the same book our grandparents read) warns about just that kind of scenario, a time of world domination by a ruthless and brutal world leader edged on by his “religious” counterpart? A time of intense solar activity leading to global warming? That a third of mankind is brutally killed? And, did you know that unless divine intervention occurred (that’s what Jesus taught), humanity would utterly destroy itself?

Jesus spoke about a coming conflagration on earth that has never happened before, nor He said will ever happen again. Jesus stated that He is coming again – this time on a rescue mission and this time claiming Kingship.

Of course, the incumbent leaders won’t go without a battle. Can you imagine that day?

Most people today hardly think about Jesus, let alone His coming. Do you? Do you believe that our only hope in this age, in any age for that matter, is the saving work of Jesus Christ?

It was Christian ethics and morality that has held Islam in check now for almost 1300 years (just read the annals of history). And it is Christ who will bring Islam to an end – there is no other way, for secularism is already falling prey to its terrible power.

John Klassek

Written by John Klassek

Five major themes in Paul’s writing compared with Jesus’ teachings

Of the many themes and topics the apostle Paul addresses throughout his 13 epistles, the five perhaps most prominent that come to mind are:

  1. The Lordship of Christ
  2. Resurrection
  3. Justification
  4. Grace
  5. Faith

1. The Lordship of Christ is the underlying premise for the entirety of Paul’s ministry, and is evident throughout his letters, perhaps no better summarised than when Paul said, “If anyone does not love the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be accursed.” (I Corinthians 16:22) In fact, the term “Lord” is cited almost some 300 times throughout Paul’s writings.

Paul anchored every part of his teaching on the Lord Jesus Christ, emphasised, for example in his averting of personal focus when he said, “For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your bondservants for Jesus’ sake.” (2 Corinthians 4:5)

A study of the frequency and placing of the term “Lord” throughout Paul’s epistles leaves no question what occupied Paul’s thinking. If we go back to the Gospel accounts, we hear the resurrected Jesus confirming his Lordship when he said, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.” (Matthew 28:18)

2. Paul’s training as a Pharisee gave him the added advantage of believing in the Resurrection, identically as Jesus taught and demonstrated. Paul’s insight into the resurrection is remarkable, and possibly attributed to no other source than the revelations apparently given to him. (2 Corinthians 12:7) Jesus said that, “all who are in their graves would hear his voice and come out, those who lived righteously to a resurrection of life and those who have done evil to a resurrection of judgment.” (John 5:28-29)

Paul further develops Jesus’ resurrection teaching, hinging his entire preaching ministry on the Resurrection of Jesus, saying in effect that if Jesus’ wasn’t resurrected, we’re all believing a myth. (1 Corinthians 12:15-23) In verse 20 Paul asserts what the gospel accounts tell, that: “But now Christ is risen from the dead…” Paul does not, however, retell what Mark, Matthew, John and Luke record on this, nor does he quote Jesus’ verbatim. This conspicuous absence nonetheless doesn’t detract from Paul’s intensity – Paul is hesitant, even evasive, in detailing the “revelations” he apparently experienced that apparently gave him insight into the resurrection.

3. Justification recurs throughout Paul’s writings, with “justified” and “justification” occurring some 24 times in his epistles. No better is this illustrated than when Paul said, “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,” (Romans 5:1) Paul showed that of and by ourselves we are as good as dead; only through Jesus’ sacrifice are we “justified” in the eyes of God. The penalty of sin has been paid our stead. John 3:16 states that no one who believes “shall perish“, because of what God did to demonstrate His love. Paul asserts that no one is justified by their works or law keeping. (Romans 3:20) John further supports justification by belief when, in writing of Jesus, said, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name.” (John 1:20) This is echoed in Paul’s statement, when he wrote, “that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9)

4. Although Jesus never used the word “grace”, John did when he wrote of Jesus, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14) Paul is renown for his “grace and peace” greetings from the Lord Jesus Christ that appear in practically all his salutations and some of his benedictions. In fact, the word “grace” appears some 90 times throughout Paul’s epistles.

Perhaps best known is Paul’s assertion that, “For by grace you have been saved through faith...” (Ephesians 2:8) Here, grace, salvation/justification and faith are interwoven. Another related passage in this sense is Paul’s assurance of, “being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:24) The reader will note that many of Paul’s themes are interwoven and inter-related, and one cannot be isolated from the other.

5. Faith here comes to mind. Faith is believing God, and showing the evidence of that belief through action. If Paul is the author of Hebrews (as many scholars believe), then no where is this better demonstrated than in the words: “Without faith it is impossible to please Him…” (Hebrews 11:6) Hebrews 11 is known as the faith chapter, and like classic Paul (as in Romans), leans heavily on the Old Testament scriptures to make his point. Jesus often illustrated the need for faith (Luke 18:8), and spoke movingly favourably to those who demonstrated it. To the woman who was healed, Jesus said, “Your faith has made you well.” (Matthew 9:23)

The word “faith” occurs some 169 times in Paul’s writings, thrice in one verse: “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘THE JUST SHALL LIVE BY FAITH.” (Romans 1:17)

There is no discordance between Jesus and Paul. Some scholars have suggested that the Pauline influence and contribution to the New Testament canon undermines not only the other apostles, but also Jesus. Yet, in the above few examples, we see that Paul submitted entirely to the Lordship of Christ; his Christ theology must not be confused with the complexity and method of Paul’s writing and person.

Written by John Klassek
For LifeSpring BIS104