Saturday, 12 October 2013

In the likeness of...?

In the creation story we read that mankind was made in Gods image and after His likeness. No one disputes this as the text is pretty plain. And so today we still declare rather hastily that men are created in the image of God. We consider ourselves to be "like Him" yet at the same time we sing songs like “There is none like you”, something is amiss.

The problem I think we have here is that we have not taken the fall of Adam into account and the story thereafter. It’s easy to skip over the significance of Genesis 5:3 (genealogies are not the most interesting to read) but I think it provides a vital insight into just what mankind lost in Eden.

This is the written account of Adam’s family line.-

When God created mankind, he made them in the likeness of God.  He created them male and female and blessed them. And he named them “Mankind” when they were created.

When Adam had lived 130 years, he had a son in his own likeness, in his own image; and he named him Seth.

What if the likeness we shared with God before the fall related to us being partakers in the divine nature? What if God’s warning that disobedience in the garden would result in death meant that we would be separated from His life? What if sin was not the greatest issue in a fallen world, but merely the fruits of those who inherited the Adamic nature?

I could be wrong and Genesis 9:6 may imply that mankind post-Eden still bore the image of God. Or the verse could be referring to the original creation or it may even imply that the “image losing” was only temporal. But bear with me as I lay my thoughts out. There are things we can state with certainty which have led to these questions.

First, we do know that Jesus is the only human since Adam and Eve who truly bore Gods image.

The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. - Hebrews 1:3

The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God - 2 Corinthians 4:4

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. - Colossians 1:15

We also know that through Jesus we have again become partakers of the divine nature.

Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. - 2 Peter 1:4

We also learn very quickly in the Christian walk that sanctification is a process. Upon rebirth we have new access to the vine that is Christ, but the flesh is very much still alive and opposed to the kingdom of God. Paul wrote comforting and encouraging words about this in Romans 8, culminating in one of my favorite scriptures in verse 29.

For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.

This work will not be completed in us during this lifetime (see 1 Corinthians 15:35-58 and 1 John 1:8) but only at the resurrection of the dead.

So will it be with the resurrection of the dead... So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit...As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the heavenly man, so also are those who are of heaven.  And just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man. - 1 Corinthians 15:42-49 

Some may find this to be irrelevant, I find it to be quite important though in relation to how we view people and how we view sin.  I don’t mean to take away from the value of lost men by saying that they bear Adams image rather than Gods. I simply see that the hope for mankind is not found in behavior modification but rather in Christ. For people to find life in the kingdom of God they need Christ and nothing more. And through that image conforming relationship those ugly branches will be pruned and the fruits of the spirit will become evident.We can outlaw and preach against many things and evil is undoubtedly restrained in doing so. But outward conformance should not be viewed as a victory. Setting ourselves up as the judges of good and evil is what got us into this mess in the first place. Only God can change the inner man.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Reflections on house churches

Trying to describe what a house church looks like is about as futile as trying to describe the doctrinal beliefs of the Protestant church.
Everywhere you go it is going to be a little different. Some house churches are nothing more than micro versions of institutional churches. Run by one or two people while going through their program step by step. Other house churches are extremely loose and casual. While the ones you read about in China and India seem to be somewhere in between. So my aim here is not to paint a picture of what a house church looks like; but rather to identify what seem to be the strengths, weaknesses, advantages and dangers which I have experienced firsthand from home gatherings.

Strengths and advantages

There are many strengths and advantages within house churches over the institutional model or casual church (by casual I mean those who believe in no structure or planned meetings and that church just “happens” sporadically amongst believers). 

Fellowship is an obvious advantage, face to face time is priceless both in and outside of meetings. Paul, following Jesus’s example, spoke of going through great personal pain and suffering in order to build up the saints. It is a mindset that is almost totally lost within our congregations pews. You cannot know the fears, struggles and weaknesses of those who you do not know. You can preach a sermon to them, but you cannot really walk with them or bear their burdens until you know their needs.

A fully functioning body is another major plus, Christians need an environment where they can use their own spiritual gifts, where each person truly has value and imparts something more significant than just monetary donations and adding their voice to the corporate singing.

Diversity is also a great asset in a house church, at least in the West where the move has being gaining momentum and people from different denominational backgrounds have started coming together. Most (but not all) denominations were birthed out of a specific insight into a truth about God and our brothers can often see things that we have been blinded from. respectful conversations about our different views can be very beneficial. Truth has nothing to fear because it will hold firm under prayerful study. Sometimes we need to have the rug pulled out from under our feet, it is both humbling and exposes the dirt that we have swept underneath it.

Weaknesses and dangers

For the most part the weaknesses and dangers within house churches are similar to those of their more traditional cousin’s problems. Controlling personalities can dictate meetings; people may run after certain teachers rather than Christ and pride at their “more biblical” model of church can result in bad mouthing those" deceived fellows" back in the institutional church. A lack of structure can contribute to a lack of direction and focus in home meetings. Personally, we have had many days like that where time flies past and before you know it, you quickly round up everyone for prayer because people need to start leaving and the day is lost.

The most concerning flaw I find though is that many people join house churches for no other reason than they see it as the biblical model.  There is plenty in scripture to support meeting in house churches. And so the thinking is that if we can imitate the fruits that were being lived out and recorded in the book of Acts then we have made it. The problem is though, that so often it only seems to be a theological persuasion and people are not truly been knit together with other believers. In essence, it’s remains just a once a week deal where you still get to keep people at arms length and live comfortably as though you were your own. True churches do not just mimic what they see in the New Testament. They live and function corporately as a local body and if we can get that right, the results will ultimately bear resemblance to what we read about in Acts without our cheap imitations.

Some institutional churches live this out far better than some house churches do.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

and to God what is God's


It’s been about a month since you last heard from me, mostly because my computer was broken, although I cannot attribute all of the last 4 weeks to that. Things have been busy and there seems to be a new page being written in the little gathering where we fellowship as well. I’m hoping to touch on that topic soon with a post on house churches and some of the issues that arise therein. But for now, I just wanted to share a small thought below from a familiar passage.

Mathew 22:15-22
 … Teacher…what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?”
But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me?  Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”
 “Caesar’s,” they replied.
Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”
 When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away.

Something struck me last night while reading this passage; I have only ever heard this scripture quoted in support of why Christians should pay taxes. Yet Jesus is saying something far greater here. The things that bear Gods image belong to Him. Those who are born again bear his likeness and image. Give back to God the things that belong to God… Also, why are we always trying to advance the Kingdom of Heaven through the things of Caesar?

Then Peter said, "Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk." – Acts 3:6