Wednesday, May 30

Ministry happens

One of my mottos is "ministry happens." I think that at least 90% of the ministry that happens in the gospels is spontaneous. Jesus was headed from one place to another and an opportunity would present itself. Jesus was willing to get off the beaten path and take the road less traveled. He didn't see them as detours or dead ends. Too often we mistake human interruptions for divine appointments.
--from a Mark Batterson message entitled "Wild Goose Chase."
For people like myself who are geared toward intentional ministry, the above thought is a needed reflection. Am I too busy to take time for someone interrupting "my ministry?" Am I so geared towards that 10% intentional ministry that I overlook the 90% God sets in my path daily?

Is not that 90% as much "real ministry" as the 10% I set out to accomplish?

"Intentional ministry" people often hide behind the excuse of thinking we are too busy with real ministry. We simply do not have time for unplanned spontaneous ministry. The reality is we view our own agenda as more important than the needs of others. Their need for feedback and/or attention is secondary to our accomplishing our more important intentional ministry agenda.

Was that Christ's attitude who often left the crowds and made time to go eat at Zaccheus' house? Healing blind beggar Bartimaeus? Stopping in his tracks on his way to a resurrection when the woman touched the hem of his robe? Taking time for the children, leaving the crowds to wait? 90% of ministry happens when we seize those spontaneous opportunities that come disguised as detours or interruptions.

Tuesday, May 29

Church planting movement among all peoples

A Church Planting Movement among all peoples...
The gospel to every person...
Every believer a full participant in the
Great Commission.

The first part of our South America region's vision statement speaks of "A Church Planting Movement among all peoples..."

What is a church planting movement?

David Garrison, in his classic "Church Planting Movements" defines a CPM as a "rapid multiplication of indigenous churches planting churches that sweeps through a people group or population segment..." There is a whole lot more to it than that, but this gives a general idea of what it is we are talking about.

It is my understanding there are some 40+ confirmed CPMs going on in various part of the world today. In the book Garrison identifies ten common elements found in every CPM taking place around the world.

1-Extraordinary Prayer (we are talking about a lot of serious praying going on)

2-Abundant Evangelism (the idea of sow abundantly=reap abundantly; sow sparsely=reap sparsely)

3-Intentional Church Planting (not just evangelism, but planting new churches with the new converts, not trying to get them into existing churches)

4-Authority of God's Word (not only in doctrine, but in church practice)

5-Local Leadership (locals "call the shots" not so much the foreign missionaries)

6-Lay Leadership (not seminary trained professional pastors, but everyday lay people in leadership positions)

7-House Churches (no church buildings, instead many small home-based churches averaging 10-20 per house)

8-Churches Planting Churches (the idea of multiplying new groups rather than adding numbers to existing groups)

9-Rapid Reproduction (they multiply very quickly and in short time)

10-Healthy Churches (rapid reproduction in no way means lower quality, deficent teaching, or unhealthy church life)

In our case here in Ecuador we do not have a CPM--yet! While all ten elements can be found in our church planting efforts, we are weak in most of the areas that are crucial to seeing a CPM. I feel we are weakest in elements #1,3,8,9.

Areas that we are making good progress would be 2,4,5,6,7,10. If I had to label what we are observing in Guayas province it would be an "emerging CPM". We are doing a lot of the right things, but not consistently enough to see a true CPM in our midst. Our goal is to see 500,000 people come into the Kingdom in the next five years. Will you pray with us to this end? Thanks!

Monday, May 28

Eulogy for a Guayaquil Church Planter

Gerald (Red) Wayne Doyle
June 26, 1929 - May 25, 2007
by Manuel Sosa P.

Heaven’s gates have flung open for one who sent many to and through that celestial passageway! The angelic choirs are singing and for once, his voice is allowed to accompany others while praising the Lord through song. There is rejoicing that this Texas cowboy turned into missionary Church Planter has arrived in the place prepared for him by his Savior.

He always played the part of a good old boy from Chillicothe, Texas but he was as sharp as any big city statesman. He knew what his calling was and never made any excuses for it or did he ever try to be politically correct about it. He was zealous towards his calling and loved the country and people he worked with. To him people needed the Lord, needed to be saved and a church was one way of getting to them.

He was criticized, mocked and ignored for his conservative views of church planting and would have certainly been out of step with New Directions or Strategic Directions, etc. As far as I knew he never drew up a Master Plan, planned any Critical Paths or following any Obedience Based Discipleship program in his desire to reach lost people. Make no mistake he always had a plan and it was simple, maybe too simple for many who like to see everything written up logically. His plan was, where there are lost people there needs to be a church for them close by to attend.

Yes he did things the old fashion way. First buy property and then build a building. Personally, I often thought he followed the philosophy of the movie “Field of Dreams,” if you build them they will come. He would present his dream to his Area Director (RL for the new missionaries), or any big wig that happen to cross his path on the field or stateside. He was not embarrassed to ask, beg or even use some of his own money to build a church where he knew there was a need.

He was not afraid to go to areas that nationals would not dare go, to scout for a possible new church plant and find a way to see a new work started. He was not only worried about the physical plant but more than that he would make sure that sound doctrine was part of the new work. Again, many felt he was too conservative in his doctrine but time has proved his concerns justified as many churches now days worry more about numbers than doctrine.

Much could be said about his methods and strategies but the nationals themselves best voiced it when it was said at one of his “despedidas” (good-bye services), “He started or was involved in the starts of 34 new works in his 33 years of missionary service.”

Gerald Wayne (Red), Doyle, passed away May 25th, 2007. Due to his unconventional methods of church planting, many saved through those churches have welcomed him into paradise today. I always felt that what started happening in Guayaquil as we started multiple church plants and continues today was largely due to Red and others who laid down the foundations for those of us who followed. They worked hard and for the most part unrecognized but God has given him his just reward today.

Under his rugged exterior, there laid a tender spot that exhibited God’s love for all. I learned that Red had one purpose in his ministry, to start yet another new work. I will always appreciate the example he set for me as a mentor and more than that as a friend.
--eulogy written by Manuel Sosa Palacios 5/25/07

Thursday, May 24

Churute (Manuel's Story)

For months the church that meets in the house of Manuel had travelled every weekend to the small rural community of Churute about 40-minutes outside of Guayaquil. Their purpose? To plant a church in this roadside town where Manuel owns a piece of property.

After fruitless weeks of door-to-door evangelism and doing everything they had been taught by us missionaries, Manuel was about ready to give up.

But then God stepped in to the situation.

Manuel owns a nice piece of land in Churute. By the carelessness of a neighbor, "Don Carlos", Manuel's land was set on fire. Everything was burned to the ground...including his valued Mango trees. The whole community was prepared for a tense confrontation, and possibly violence due to the indifference Don Carlos had showed towards Manuel's property and his total economic loss.

Manuel was of course quite distraught by what had taken place and was unsure of how to proceed. Get the police involved? Sue the neighbor? Demand restitution? Confront the callous neighbor and give him a good tongue lashing? Before doing anything, Manuel decided to pray for a week seeking God's mind on how he should proceed.

Once the Lord had given him the answer and peace of mind, Manuel made a trip to Churute. Word quickly spread in the community that the "fireworks were about to begin."

Upon arrival, Manuel announced that he wanted to see Don Carlos. Neighbors stirred, whispers ensued, and someone ran to get the man who had burned Manuel's field to ashes.

Don Carlos arrived expecting a confrontation. Before Manuel could say a word, Don Carlos began blurting out excuses and defending himself about what had happened. Manuel lowered his head, listened a while, then chuckled a bit and interrupted him in mid-sentence... "Oh that, don't worry about it...I realize it was an accident...could have happened to anybody...just be a little more careful next time... What I came to talk to you about today was that we were wanting to enlist your help in trying to get the whole community together to see a film on the life of Christ. We were hoping you might help us with the refreshments. Could you provide some bread and maybe something to drink for the kids so that it might be a good time for all?"

To say the least, Don Carlos was stunned and at a loss for words. All he managed was, "Uhh, of course...count on my help...when did you want to show the picture?"

A week later, Manuel came back to Churute for the planned evening event. Word had spread about what had happened between Manuel and Don Carlos. The entire community turned out to watch the film on the life of Christ. After the movie, Manuel gave a short evangelistic message and an invitation for people to give their hearts to Jesus. EVERY PERSON PRESENT stood to their feet, raising their hands towards heaven, praying aloud--including Don Carlos!!!

The long prayed-for church was born that evening in Churute. That evening the Light of the World came to Churute. Jesus Christ was glorified as His church was planted in this tiny roadside community. A blip on the map overlooked by the world, but not forgotten by God.

UPDATE: What has happened since then? There are now THREE other churches besides the one in Churute. Manuel is moving forward with his plans to have a church in all the neighboring towns! The last time I saw Don Carlos he was assisting Manuel in a marriage ceremony of two new believers who had been living together out of wedlock. Don Carlos role was to read the assigned Scriptures aloud to the assembled wedding party!

Manuel meeting with the church in Churute at Don Carlos place.

Sunday, May 20

We need more "ten2b" praying

Last week we finished a 7-week COSECHA (Harvest) training for new church planters. To date four new outreach groups have been started and are well on their way to becoming churches very soon.

Two of these are "Pedro and Patricia" who were featured in my recent post, House Church Double Wedding.

This coming Tuesday, May 22, we begin a new round of church planting training. We need more "ten2b" praying (Luke 10:2b) for laborers! Again, we ask you to beseech, beg, plead the Lord of the Harvest to call out workers into the ripe and ready harvest fields of Guayaquil. Pray that the Lord would strongly burden those He has chosen to be his instruments in winning the lost, discipling the new believers, and planting New Testament churches.

You who are reading today play a crucial role in the heavenlies with your prayers. The enemy will try to distract, make difficult, and divert the attention of those the Lord is calling out. Pray that nothing will keep those He is calling out from responding to the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?" May dozens respond on Tuesday, "Here am I. Send me!"
--BTW, He just might be calling you as well!

Thursday, May 17

Was this man biblically baptized?

For many the recent IMB guideline-policies for new missionaries are no more than a topic of interesting debate on blogs. For us, they are real issues which impact people's lives.

The Board of Trustees of the International Mission Board (IMB) recently approved two guidelines for new missionary candidates.

Part of the baptism clause states...
a. Baptism is a church ordinance.

Baptism must take place under the authority of a local church that practices believer’s baptism alone, embraces the doctrine of the security of a believer’s salvation and does not view baptism as sacramental, regenerative or essential to salvation.

b. A candidate who has not been baptized under the authority of a local church which meets the standards listed above is expected to request baptism in his or her Southern Baptist church.
Many missionaries, including myself, are interested in knowing whether or not these guidelines apply towards our missionary work overseas? It is one thing they are guidelines for new missionary candidates, but quite another if expected to be enforced overseas in a totally different context.

While the baptism and "private prayer language" guidelines are still fresh on many S. Baptists minds these days, I'd like to share a recent incident related to the application of the baptism guideline...

Early Sunday morning in late April of this year, a group of new believers we relate to made their way to a river outside the city for baptisms. (See "Salitre Baptisms" video below.)

Right as we were ready to begin, the bus driver interrupts the proceedings and asks aloud "¿puedo yo bautizarme también?--can I too be baptized?" Everyone gathered around and begin to ask him about his salvation experience. The man convinced us all he had truly given his heart to Jesus and wanted to be obedient to what Christ had commanded. He stated he had long wanted to be baptized but could find no one to do so. Without further debate or delay he was instructed to the go to the back of the line and await his turn along with the others. (Part of this dialogue can be briefly observed at 0:58-1:08 in the video below.) When his turn came, he was immersed in the muddy river waters along with everyone else that day. All of us rejoiced and praised God as he came up out of the waters with a smile on his face!

The only problem to this whole story is that, according to the above baptism guideline, this man was not baptized correctly...or at least not correctly according to the IMB guidelines.

He was baptized into Christ Jesus--into the Body of Christ, but not into a local church or by the authority of a local church.

This is the fourth occasion at a baptism where I have personally witnessed people coming forward asking to be baptized in this fashion. In each of the cases the people who had professed faith in Christ were baptized right there on the spur of the moment. Is this not what Philip did with the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8?

Our own daughter was also baptized in this same fashion. She was not baptized into any local church, but rather on her profession of faith in Christ. Sadly, if God should ever lead our daughter to become a missionary with the IMB, she would have to request to be rebaptized in a Southern Baptist church, or else join another missions organization.

I guess the real question in all this is the title of today's post: WAS THIS MAN BIBLICALLY BAPTIZED? If he was, why are we setting up standards and guidelines that go beyond what Scripture teaches about believers baptism?

Monday, May 14

Salitre Baptisms - "Send Us Out"

Two of the churches in our Guayaquil house church network recently baptized a total of 20 new believers. The video is 3:32 in length. Just imagine it being veeeery hot and humid and you will have a good taste of being there with us! Feel free to ask any questions you might have in the comments section below.

If you are having problems with the video stalling, press the PAUSE/PLAY button and wait a few minutes for the video to load, then press again the PAUSE/PLAY button to resume.

Saturday, May 12

Once upon a time

Once upon a time 2000 years ago Jesus commanded his disciples to go, make disciples, baptize, and teach. He instilled within each the full DNA to accomplish the task.

For many years his Church was on course for completing the task. Servants like Peter, Paul, and their companions pointed us in the way. The blueprint is clearly found in the pages of the New Testament.

However as the Kingdom grew, so did the desire to control and monitor all that was happening. Around the year 300 A.D. the spontaneous expansion fo the church led by the Holy Spirit was formalized into an institution largely governed by a professional clergy class. For 1700 years Institutional Christianity has shifted from being a priesthood of all believers to becoming one of the world's major religions.

God has certainly not ceased to work through His Church, but in a real sense, his divine methods and purposes have been substituted for man-made religion, programs, dogmas and a divided Body.

Instead of the simple obedience to the commands of Jesus--love the Lord your God, love one another, seek first His kingdom, abide in me, go make disciples, do this in remembrance of me, etc.-- the church has set up different standards for governing what it is Christ said to do. We have turned Christianity into a religion. Complete with hierarchy in our churches, organizations and institutions. We have added rules, regulations, expectations, and interpretations which govern the simple commands of Christ and the apostles. Isn't this the same kind of stuff Jesus condemned the Pharisees?

However, all over the world today, there is an emerging breed of believers ready and willing to exchange Institutional Christianity for a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation--a people for God's own possession (I Peter 2:9). A return to the reality that all God's children are empowered to be active participants in the Great Commission and the coming of God's Kingdom upon this earth. The only thing that differentiates us are the gifts each has been entrusted with by the Holy Spirit.

Today we get bogged down in a never-ending debate about who, what, when, and where, and how things can and should be done. Instead of just doing what Christ said to do, we now have formal written documents, clauses, guidelines, interpretations, and definitions for everything. Clutter.

Thom Rainer writes in Simple Church: Returning to God's Process For Making Disciples
"[Jesus] stepped into a complicated and polluted religious scene. It was cluttered with Sadducees, Pharisees, Herodians, Zealots, and Essenes. He did not play by their rules. He could not stand their hypocrisy. He preferred spending time with tax collectors and sinners."
Is anything different today? How does Christ react to all we have made of his Church? His Bride!

Why can't we just get back to being the simple first-century, Spirit empowered disciples meeting in homes, by river sides, under Mango trees, spurring one another on to do those things Jesus commanded us to do?

Wednesday, May 9

What are we doing here?

Like many of God's servants over past centuries and in the present, I periodically find myself questioning our call for being here. I always remember what Jack Gray (one of my SWBTS seminary profs) told us in class, "Never doubt in the darkness what God has revealed to you in the light." But once again, we find ourselves wondering what on earth we are doing here?

In my daily devotionals I am currently reading through Kings in the OT. Yesterday's reading of Chapter 19 is priceless. Here God beats Elijah to the punch by asking the weary prophet,

"What are you doing here, Elijah?" (19:13)

It may as well have read, "What are you doing here, Guy?"

Elijah (and myself) then inform God something he obviously doesn't know,

"I have been very zealous for the Lord..."

Elijah's words express my own feelings so well. We have sought with all our hearts to faithfully serve the God we love. But what has it all accomplished? Elijah continues informing the Lord of all that it has cost him personally...

"...the sons of Israel have forsaken Thy covenant, torn down Thine altars and killed Thy prophets..."

Serving God can be a discouraging task. A lot of work for very little fruit--or at least that is what it seems. Has it all been in vain? What do we have to show for all our zealousness over the years? Not much.

Then Elijah really opens his heart and declares...

"I alone am left..."

Everybody else has gone their way, abandoned the cause, except for me. I alone have been faithful in the task and to God's calling on our lives. If it weren't for faithful me holding down the fort, everything would have crumbled by now. And now, on top of everything else,

"...they seek my life, to take it away..."

My life that I have devoted to You, Lord, THEY want to take it all away. THEY don't understand. THEY want to destroy everything we're trying to do for you Lord...

What was God's response to Elijah? How did He "comfort" his servant?

God dismisses Elijah's moanings and groanings. He didn't respond directly to anything Elijah had opened up his heart over. Not even a little word of encouragement like, "Hey, Elijah, don't be so down on yourself, you've been doing a great job...hang in there."

Instead, God tells him two things:

1-I've got 7000 others who haven't yet bowed down to Baal.
2-I am sending you on an anointing mission.

An annointing mission? Yes. God instructs Elijah to go annoint Hazel king of Syria. Then to annoint Jehu king over Israel. And finally annoint Elisha as prophet in his place. That ends the "heart to heart" talk between Elijah and God.

So, back to "what am I doing here?" If I understand the passage correctly, God is letting me know...

1) I am NOT the only faithful servant doing things God's way here in Guayaquil. Its time to get over being upset that "my plans" and "my ministry" aren't the rave of the city. There are plenty of other faithful servants doing exactly what God wants them to be doing. It's about His Kingdom, not my kingdom.

2) Get out there and begin a new phase of mission, an "annointing ministry." Believe it or not, this is not as far fetched as it might sound. Annointing others is key to the coming of Christ's Kingdom. We multiply ourselves by "annointing"--EMPOWERING--others to do those things we alone can never accomplish by ourselves. The more annointed-empowered ones there are out in the harvest fields, the more fruit we will see to the glory of God.

The truth is most of us would rather see ourselves as one of the "star prophets" in Israel. The one everyone calls upon. The one who gets interviewed on Christian TV and invited to speak at the conferences. It is only natural to want to be one of the "annointed ones" that God uses. But who are the few willing to be the ANNOINTING VESSEL that gets poured out so OTHERS can be used mightily of God?

If I am understanding God right, the correct response to His question, "What are you doing here, Guy?" is for me to get over my "ppp" (personal pity party) and get out there and begin a new ministry phase of annointing people. Right now.

Monday, May 7

Quotes from "Houses That Change The World"

One of the great, all-time, paradigm shifting reads for me in the areas of church reformation, global Christianity, and church planting in general is Wolfgang Simson's Houses that change the world: The return of the house churches. The book has been around for nearly ten years, but for those who haven't yet gotten hold of a copy, here are a few quotes (lifted out of their original context) that give a taste of what is inside the 299 pages of this "must read" book...
  • The devil's plan has long been for the pastors to stand in one corner, the prophets in the other corner looking out of the window, the teachers sitting in the library, the evangelists drinking coffee outside and the apostles roaming overseas.
  • It is no surprise to me that churches who are not built on apostolic and prophetic foundations (Eph.2:20) have no apostolic and prophetic mind-set.
  • The number of people alive today--more than 6 billion--is more than all those in history combined. If ever we needed to recover a New Testament church to disciple the nations, now would be a good time.
  • Over the millenia, the great divide in Christianity has never really been between denominations, Catholics and Protestants, or charismatics or non-charismatics, but always between Spirit and Flesh.
  • The core reason Christians come together is to share and transfer life, and since life is not predicatable, their meetings are not really predicatable also.
  • We need to stop asking God to bless what we are doing, and start doing what he is blessing.
  • We have all the right pieces. The Word of God, people, houses, prayer, motivation, money. But could it be that we put them all together according to a wrong original?
  • There are more than 22,000 denominations in the world. How lucky are you that you happen to be just in the right one!
  • The quickest way to "church the un-churched" may very well be to un-church the Church.
  • Unlimited growth is not the ideal--multiplication is. The fruit of an apple tree is not an apple, but another apple tree. The fruit of a church is not a convert, but other churches that plant other churches.
  • Statistically, usually 1 out of 100 who "makes a decision for Christ" in evangelistic meetings (rallies, conventions, crusades) will actually start attending a church.
  • It is a fact of church history that it has always been a swift step from organized religion to institutionalism and fossilization.
  • If real church growth is spelled m-u-l-t-i-p-l-i-c-a-t-i-o-n, then growth may not be upwards at all, but sideways.
  • Most changes in history come from quite unbalanced persons, radical in most senses. Very little innovations and true and radical changes were initiated by committees and boards; most came from visionary people who saw what no one saw, said, what no one dared to say, and did what was "forbidden" and taboo at their time.
Have you read the book? What did you think of it? Which of the above quotes speak to you? Do you have any of your own favorites?

Thursday, May 3

Church planting lessons learned along the way

A few things picked up over the years working alongside the saints in planting house churches...

1) Work with what you have on hand. In Jesus miracle of the five loaves and two fish, he asked the disciples what they had on hand. Of course five loaves and two fish were not nearly enough to feed 5000, but when turned over to Jesus, He blessed those few loaves and fish so that they fed thousands. The same hold true in church planting. Start with what you have and turn it over to the Lord and watch him multiply the "little" into "much."

2) The importance of a few key details. The difference between success and failure in church planting often hinges on attention to a few key details. For us, it is vitally important that within 48 hours of someone making a decision to follow Christ that we begin the discipleship process with them. Another is baptizing new converts as soon as possible. Ongoing relationship and mutual nurturing of leaders within an accountability group of fellow believers is another biggie.

3) Materials are not the key. The most frequent question people inquire about is what materials we use. "Show us your materials." This is the least relevant thing and yet is what everyone thinks is the key to a successful church plant. Just get the right materials and voila you get a church planted. Not so. What is important is the person's perseverance through the ups and downs of planting a church. Knowing how to effectively use a few simple tools (materials) can carry them a long way and is an important part of training, but nothing takes the place of an inner drive and love for the Kingdom.

4) "Just do it." Nike's slogan is ours too. Don't wait to have all the answers before beginning. It is better to just get out there and start something, than to stand back waiting for further clarification, more training, and for conditions to be just right. The best way to learn is to get out there and "just do it." Yes, mistakes will be made, but seldom are mistakes fatal to the overall work if the heart is right. The grass is NOT greener on the other side of the road. It is no harder to plant a church where God has placed you, than it is for someone else in another "easier" location.

5) Pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers. Once you settle that He is the one who does the calling, then it becomes important to accept those he sends, regardless of the initial unpromising impression these folks might make upon you. Over and over it has been the "least promising" individuals who have panned out, while the really sharp, cool, educated dudes fizzle along the way. In our network of house church leaders there isn't a single leader who stands out as a model church planter. ALL are quite common folks--like you and me!

6) Dealing with the "authority" issue of who can plant a church. Many are looking for authorization or blessing from their pastor, denomination, an ordination council, or respected leaders to give them the "green light." If there is any doubt in the mind of the novice church planter that he/she has the authority to plant a church, they will not do so. If, however, they understand their authority comes directly from Jesus, they will be mightily used of the Lord. Every church planter needs to settle in their hearts and minds that Jesus is the source of their authority issues. "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth [therefore] go...make disciples...baptizing...teaching them to observe all that I commanded you..." One of my roles as a missionary is empowering people to do those things that Christ has already empowered them to do!

7) Have a clear idea of what it is that needs to be done. Many of our folks see themselves as simply "evangelists" and are out trying to win a few to Christ. Once they get it into their heads that they are apostolic church planters, fully invested with the authority to do ALL that such an undertaking entails--baptizing, serving Lord's Supper, counseling, teaching, praying for the sick, planting a church, etc.--they are transformed into amazing vessels for the Master's use.

8) Simplicity. This one cannot be emphasized enough. Neil Cole simply says, "Simple is transferable, complex breaks down." He goes on to say, "Simplicity is the key to the fulfillment of the Great Commission in this generation. If the process is complex, it will break down early in the trasference to the next generation of disciples. The more complex the process, the greater the giftedness needed to keep it going. The simpler the process, the more available it is to the broader Christian populace." Almost every mistake we have made in the church planting process can be boiled down to our making things more complicated than people can actually handle. I have the tendency to think "more" is better, but "less" is always more in the long run. This certainly applies to church. The more simple church is made to be, the more likely it will take root and grow. The more complex we make it, the more likely it will fail.

What do you think of the above? Anything resonate with your own experience? What are your own observations?

Tuesday, May 1

Conflicting theological conversational styles

Frank Viola, in his book, Knowing Christ Together, states that much controversy between believers can be contributed to conflicting theological conversational styles. Two believers may actually have similar beliefs about the gifts of the Holy Spirit, but because they employ a different theological jargon, they often mistakenly conclude that each others beliefs and experiences are worlds apart. He illustrates...
"Suppose Pete and Roger are carrying on a dialogue about the gift of prophecy. Pete is a Pentecostal. Roger is Reformed.

Pete believes the gift of prophecy exists today and claims to have it...his explanation of the gift is punctuated with expressions like "revelation," "thus saith the Lord," "God told me," "God showed me," etc.

Roger believes that "Divine revelation" is no longer given to the church and that the gift of prophecy ceased with the closing of the NT canon. Pete shares with Roger that he has given people personal prophecies...When Roger asks Pete about the content of these "prophecies," he discovers that they were mainly general exhortations and had no real impact on the people Pete delivered them to. Roger is both skeptical and turned-off by this.

You see, Roger rejects Pentecostal theology. And he does not employ standard charismatic jargon to describe his experiences. But he does have a vital relationship with God. In addition, Roger often receives "thoughts" and "burdens" to exhort, challenge, and direct others in their walk with God. He also senses things about people that go beyond his natural reasoning powers.

In one instance, Roger was awakened from sleep one night to write a letter to a friend who had left his church. After prayerfully writing the letter, he mailed it the next day. When his friend received the letter, he notified Roger and told him that it was exactly what he needed to hear. As a result, Roger's friend was restored to the Lord and to the church.

Roger was exercising the genuine gift of prophecy through his letter (1 Cor.14:3, 24-25), but he feels uncomfortable using the word "prophecy" to describe it. Because Roger fails to describe the letter with the charismatic accents that mark Pete's description of prophecy, it never occurs to Pete that Roger had in fact prophesied by the Spirit of God.

The fact of the matter is that Roger has operated in the gift of prophecy. However, because of his reformed doctrine concerning the gifts, Roger fails to call it by that label.

On the other hand, while Pete may use the correct label when describing this gift...Pete appears to have substituted his own good intentions, ideas, and zeal with the genuine gift of prophecy..."
Viola points out that we must seek to understand the semantic differences that Christians emply when describing spiritual experiences. "Rather than hone in on the specific rhetoric that one employs, it is better to seek to hear and understand the reality of another's experience. And to realize that they may describe it in a way that is foreign (and sometimes irritating!) to our ears."

In much of our work across denominational lines, we run up against this type of conflicting theological jargon. It becomes very easy to get caught up in the language others use to describe spiritual truths and experiences. Language then becomes a barrier between us. We end up judging one another on the basis of the kind of language we are using to basically describe the same kinds of things!