The original apostolic reformation began as a reformation within Judaism, heralded by a Jewish prophet, Yohannan (John), who in preparing for this reformation preached repentance and baptised crowds of Israelites in the Jordan River. This reformation was lived and taught by a Jewish rabbi (teacher) whom we call the Apostle and High Priest of our confession (Heb. 1:3), Yeshua Hamashiach (Jesus the Messiah).
Judaism had always focused on relationships:
1) the relationship between Yahweh and mankind (Yahweh is the personal Hebrew name for God, used 6,828 times in the Old Testament, usually written as LORD in English Bibles)
2) the relationship between people;
3) the relationship between Yahweh and the Jewish people;
3) the relationship between the Jewish people and the land of Israel.
Both the prophet and the rabbi declared that these relationships had gone astray and that the religious establishment of their time were as much part of the problem as part of the solution. Religious traditions had developed that were often not reflective of the kingdom of God. Their thinking and their ways had been seduced off track by the ways of the world. The Pharisees’ and Sadducees’ interpretation and practice of the law had deviated from Yahweh’s intent of a loving relationship between Himself and people, and between human beings. “The kingdom of heaven operates very differently to how you’re living and running things here” was the heart of the message of reformation. It was a popular message among the masses but deeply unpopular with those in power. It cost both the prophet and the rabbi their lives, as they not only taught but also lived this message of God’s love. The rabbi, however, was more than just a rabbi, more even than just the anointed one (Messiah) – He was the Son of God. Resurrection power took this reformation through Jewish society and out to the peoples of the nations.
Travelling the world over the last fourteen years, serving with the body of Christ in different nations, has propelled me into the research that led to this blog. I have heard from many, of the desperate need for more pastoral training in their nations where the gospel is being embraced by increasing numbers of people. I have seen the blessings, and the unintended negative consequences, of western missionary endeavours and generous giving. I have witnessed the impact of culture and cultural supremacy on the spread of the gospel and the health of the church. I have been challenged by requests for “apostolic covering”.
In all this the overriding concern is:
‘how do we faithfully serve in Christ’s mission on earth’.
The Need for Sustainable and Reproducible Training of Church Leaders
While the church is declining in Europe, in other parts of the world we are experiencing unprecedented growth that necessitates a like growth in discipling by trained leaders.
- In his plenary at the June 2014 Lausanne Consultation on Theological Education, Thomas Schirrmacher presented the view of the World Evangelical Alliance and its Theological Commission that about 50,000 people (that do not come from a Christian background and do not have any basic Bible knowledge) are baptized each day in evangelical churches worldwide.
- If a pastoral leader can provide discipling for a group of 50 believers initially, then 1,000 new pastors/church leaders/elders are needed every day.
- More than 2.2 million pastoral leaders (and as many as 3.4 million by some estimates) presently serve, while only 5% are trained for pastoral ministry according to the Centre for the Study of Global Christianity. They have noted that roughly 70% of the world’s pastors are in independent congregations and such often have little theological training, even in the West.
- The Global Alliance of Church Multiplication raised a serious concern in October 2013 that while they envisioned the planting of 5 million churches by 2020, they surmised a disturbing fail-rate of up to 70% within the first year.
- Dr. Ramesh Richard has urged: “I commend pastoral training as a necessary complement to, and the highest priority for, implementing all ministry initiatives globally and locally… It helps correct creedal and cultural misperceptions of Christianity when local believers permeate their social spheres.”
We see all around the world the devastating consequences of a lack of effective discipling of church leaders – ministers whose sins and false teachings make a mockery of the gospel and a shipwreck of their lives, their ministries, and the lives of their followers; and a church that all too often just stands by and lets it happen. On the other extreme we have the heresy hunters who create confusion, discouragement and division by denouncing everyone and everything that is different to themselves, appearing to consider their own opinions to be the fulness of all the truth of God.
From October 2011 through to June 2013, a Global Survey on Theological Education was conducted to gather data and perspectives on all forms of theological education from every Christian tradition in every part of the world. (1) Four of their main findings were:
- There are not enough theological schools in the regions of the world where Christianity is growing rapidly (Africa, Latin America, and parts of Asia).
- Theological education is financially unstable in many parts of the world.
- Cross-cultural communication and practical skills related to ministry are the subjects respondents would most like to see added or strengthened in theological education.
- Issues of theological education are seen as having strategic significance and are “most important” for the future of Christianity around the world.
Thus, the conclusion that the greatest need of the global church is training that is biblical, practical, sustainable and reproducible within each people group. In other words, training that is like how Jesus taught and equipped His disciples.
The Need for Understanding Cultural Context
Jesus established the church within a cultural context – that of first century Jewish society under Roman occupation. As He did so Yeshua kept contrasting the culture of the Kingdom of God with both that of the Jewish religious leaders and that of Roman society. We read throughout the gospels how difficult the disciples found it to shift their thinking and acting from the ways of this world to the ways of the kingdom. Only after the cross and the baptism in the Holy Spirit at Shavuot (Pentecost) did the apostles demonstrate a grasp of how radically different Yeshua’s ways were as they began to really live and minister as He had.
Just like the first disciples we can easily allow the ways of this world and the culture we grow up in to shape how we view the body of Christ and our place in Him. The dominant Western mindset and ways of training and accrediting are very different to that of Yeshua and the first apostles. We can miss much of what Yeshua was saying and doing when we fail to understand the culture in which he was operating and the beliefs and practices that he was addressing.
The following blogs are built on the faithful labours of others before me who have likewise sort to uncover the meaning that Jesus and the gospel writers attached to His words and deeds. Jewish names are often used in the forthcoming text as a repeated reminder that we are looking at the lives of 1st Century Jews, not 21st Century Westerners. There is a cultural context and language in the scriptures that is very different to our own. Jesus was a Jew – Yeshua – and lived among Jews, most of whom had Jewish names, primarily spoke either Hebrew or Aramaic (depending on which historian you believe – they are closely related languages and very different to the Greek that we usually associate with this period and the writing of the New Testament), and whose lives were governed by their community’s understanding of Torah.
Searching the Scriptures
Like the Jewish religious leaders of Yeshua’s day our concepts of what God wants for His people can be governed more by our own religious traditions than by God’s word. It is easier to receive teachings and practices handed down by others than to diligently search the scriptures for ourselves. Questions like “do you provide apostolic covering?” and the need for sustainable, reproducible training of church leaders in all the different people groups of our world sent me back to the scriptures to seek God’s answers for how He set up the church and how He wants us to function as the body of Christ. How did Jesus train His disciples? What were His methods? What was the scope and sequence of His curriculum for them? How was the New Testament church governed and did that change with the different cultures that it was established in? What were the ministries, offices and functions established by the Holy Spirit in the early church? How did they relate to one another? What I found as I wrote out page after page of scriptures on every aspect of church ministry and governance was that much of what I’d been taught and believed, with the classic ‘proof scriptures’, is not supported by the weight of evidence of the whole counsel of God. There is, however, one aspect of what I had been taught that is not only supported, but re-enforced, magnified and emphasised continually throughout all of the New Testament – there is no place in the body of Christ or the kingdom of God for lording it over others, each and every one of us is called and anointed to serve. We are a Servant Church, commissioned to demonstrate the love of Christ, for such is the reign of His kingdom.
Come with me on a journey through scripture and history to see
how the stage was set for the Son of God to be born to a Jewish mother &
how Yeshua began the establishment of the Kingdom of God through the early church.
- The Global Survey on Theological Education was conducted as a joint research project by the Institute for Cross-Cultural Theological Education, McCormick Theological Seminary, Chicago; the Ecumenical Theological Education Programme (ETE), World Council of Churches, Geneva; and the Center for the Study of Global Christianity, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Boston. https://www.globethics.net/web/gtl/research/global-survey.
Growth of Christianity in China – set to become the nation with the most Christians
Fenggang Yang, a professor of sociology at Purdue University and author of Religion in China: Survival and Revival under Communist Rule predicts that China, which had over 58 million Protestants in 2010 according to the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life, will have around 160 million by 2025. This would mean China will likely be ahead even of the United States, which had about 159 million Protestants in 2010. Yang went on to say that China’s total Christian population, including Catholics, would be over 247 million by 2030 and thus become the largest Christian congregation in the world.
The following tables were developed from information in the book Spirit and Power: The Growth and Global Impact of Pentecostalism, Edited by Donald E. Miller, Kimon H. Sargeant & Richard Flory, Oxford University Press 2013
“We do not start our Christian lives by working out our faith for ourselves; it is mediated to us by Christian tradition, in the form of sermons, books, and established patterns of Church life and fellowship. We read our Bibles in the light of what we have learned from these sources; we approach Scripture with minds already formed by the mass of accepted opinions and viewpoints with which we have come into contact, in both the Church and the world…. It is easy to be unaware that it has happened; it is hard even to begin to realize how profoundly tradition in this sense has moulded us. But we are forbidden to become enslaved to human tradition, either secular or Christian, whether it be “catholic” tradition, or “critical” tradition, or “ecumenical” tradition. We may never assume the complete rightness of our own established ways of thought and practice and excuse ourselves the duty of testing and reforming them by Scriptures.“
Fundamentalism and the Word of God, by J.I. Packer. [Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1958.] pp. 69-70
In the comments below share your thoughts on some of these questions:
* What nation do you live in?
* Is the gospel spreading in your nation?
* How healthy is the church in your nation?
* What is the biggest need of the church in your nation?
* Do those who claim to be Christians live like Jesus or are things like greed, selfishness, pride, sexual immorality and corruption common?
* Is everyone in the church loving their neighbour and sharing the gospel with others?
* Do your pastors, teachers, evangelists, apostles, prophets, priests, reverends and bishops know the Bible, live like Jesus and preach sound doctrine?
* Do the people in your congregations know the Bible and live like Jesus?
* Do you have enough Bibles for everyone who wants to read one?
* Is your church caring for the poor?
* Do those in your church with more money help those in your church with less?
* What is the biggest hinderance to the spread of the gospel in your nation?