This is a post I’ve put up at the Emerging Africa site. See the conversation there at www.emergingafrica.info.
Note that I don’t consider myself to be emerging or Emergent (or anything for that matter besides Christian) but I converse with brothers and sisters who do.
Having given some praise in my last post about the recent Amaharo conference (okay, I know it’s not THAT recent but I’m a bit slow) I felt that in line with the whole honesty thing that I also ought to do some criticism (constructive, of course; edifying, I hope).
This time I listened to the following talks:
Transfiguration – Claude Nikondeha
The Church and Apartheid – Moss Nthla
The Reformation of the Church – Paul Verryn
Now I know some found these encouraging but I, for reasons I think I now understand, couldn’t help but feel a little discouraged. Not that the talks were in themselves bad but just because their subject matter – social problems, what is being done from a social perspective, what we can do about social problems – is just so BIG. Verryn’s talk about what they are doing in the inner city methodist church was just so… well… it’s great and all, but is there really any CHANGE happening? Are people truly experiencing God, knowing God, finding new LIFE – real, spiritual, down-to-earth life and joy, rather than just hand-me-outs?
Please hear my heart on this. This is an honest reflection.
I am not judging what Verryn and the church is doing there, nor what Claude is involved with (I’m sure he may read this). I don’t even know these guys or what they do. What I’m trying to say is if our Gospel becomes nothing but the ‘social gospel’ then it is no different to any other gospel out there. And it’s just so tiring. We’ll never see lasting transfiguration through social programmes alone – there needs to be real spiritual and literal LIFE transferred from believers in Jesus to others; and those others need to become believers in Jesus themselves, surely, if the Kingdom of God is to grow like a mustard seed.
Something felt like it was missing. The something I refer to is at the end of 1 Cor 4: “For the kingdom does not consist of talk but of power“. Now, again, I’m not criticising anyone in particular now – I’m just saying that, even amongst emerging church people in general I see a real lack of talk about power and, quite frankly, the supernatural (I use the term for conversation’s sake, not because I like to lump things into categories of ‘natural’ or ‘supernatural’).
I don’t mean a metaphorical or poetic meaning to power, I mean something far more literal and down-to-earth; gutsy and dirty. I mean flaming hot ‘you’re going to experience God’ now power. The kind that truly makes a person addicted to drugs no longer addicted; the kind where the crippled walk and the deaf hear; the kind where evil spirits flee and the joy of the Lord fills the person.
The power of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit that God gave to us on Pentecost. The Spirit that Jesus referred to in Acts 1:8 where he said “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samara, and to the ends of the Earth”.
Claude did speak about contemplation, but I still felt that the spark required for contemplation to bring true refreshing was missing a little. The spark, the tongue of fire, the Holy Spirit Himself. We can contemplate, meditate, pray, chant, sing, dance, whatever we want as much as is humanly possible but without the Spirit’s power it’s really just so tiring and boring; and there is no fruit. After all, it is the fruit of the Spirit we are seeking (Gal 5) – the Spirit produces the fruit we’re wanting to see.
Social programs are only social programs until they are ignited with the fire of God. That’s when they move from social programs to Kingdom advancement. That’s when we truly see transformation and transfiguration. That’s when living water truly flows. When the bread of life is tasted. We need the Holy Spirit, and we need Him to be not theoretical, not JUST poetic, but literal and actual in our lives.
Taking my que from Acts 2:3 where Peter says to the lame beggar that he doesn’t have money to give him, but rather has something else to give him, which was complete healing, I can’t help but feel a little bit like we can miss it. Yes, we must clothe and feed the poor, and this is good news to the poor, but is it THE Good News? Isn’t THE Good News the fact that Jesus is alive and he can come miraculously into your life and change you and your life completely? Isn’t the message of the Kingdom that He has come to bring Shalom? Peace and abundance? Spiritual on-the-ground reality?
Yes, of course feeding and clothing is part of the job, but without the reality of the Spirit and the actual dynamite power of God we are not going to be able to achieve our purpose. And what is our purpose? Isn’t it, in the end, to actually make disciples of Christ who can also bring the life-changing power of God to others? The world will be changed by us changing government, of course, but you put a bunch of wicked-hearted and injust people in charge of government and any system will just become corrupted.
Where is the power that literally heals the sick and raises the dead? This is the power I’m talking about.
In our quest for transformation in this world we must not forget the basic doctrines of our faith, listed in Hebrews 6:1 and 2 for us,
“Repentance from dead works and faith toward God… baptism… the laying on of hands… the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgement.”
The laying on of hands is what we are actively doing now, or we should be. This doctrine, as all doctrines, has a very practical application – we lay hands on the sick and the destitute, they recover, change happens, they experience God. And, of course, we lay our hands now on this world and it recovers, change happens, and it experiences God. But in the laying on of hands it is the power of God which is transferred, and that is what we are trying to do.
This is an honest critique and I’m hoping to edify us all to continue the journey, and in doing so not forget our true Source and what it is we are truly doing. We’re transforming the world with true power, we’re transferring the Living God’s life that is in us to others – literally. We are bringing the true Gospel of Shalom. We are pursuading others to believe on Jesus and join us on His quest of true, literal, healing to individuals and to the world. We are not merely clothing the poor and feeding the sick, for
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me, to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”
For the Kingdom of God is a mustard seed.
If emerging guys want to be the well-rounded Christians they want to be, perhaps they also need to start getting a little old-school pentecostal and charismatic too. At the moment, I do feel that this element of Christianity appears to be missing.