Anticipating the arrival of the Newfrontiers magazine is becoming a 3 monthly exciting treat for me! The package from Brighton makes a wonderful change from bills ... bills ... bills. As always I am sure that it will be made available online here so panic not if it doesn't arrive at your church for mass distribution. I must confess that my excitement waned somewhat when I looked at the front cover and saw the theme. Suddenly a wave of tiredness swept over me ...
However as with many other potentially distasteful subjects, Newfrontiers writers seem to have the knack of making it exciting and motivational by soaking it in lavish grace. When one reads the amazing articles contained in the magazine, you cannot help but begin to let down the barriers of defence and hear what they say.
What struck me especially was two themes from the last Newfrontiers magazine. The first was a question that Terry Virgo asked; "If the tide is turning what should our response be?". I tried to answer that question here and here. But Rob Rufus makes the link between the turning of the tide in our land with authority. What is it so essential? What is authority a non-negotiable part of our corporate life?
"This is the time to prepare for this visitation by building proper Biblical government and pattern into the church. A Biblical wineskin embraces three elements: Biblical authority structures which is proper government, based on what the Bible teaches, not on democracy".
So here is a brief review of this must-read.
1. Terry Virgo's Firstline.
As always this is my first point of call. As Newfrontiers grows it is to be expected that we will see Terry less and less as his apostolic call takes him to regions beyond, hence anything he has to say is important to me!
I was fascinated to read Luke's report from the recent Prayer and Fasting. Luke said that Terry reported that friendships were growing from within Newfrontiers across boundaries, not simply with other charismatic churches but with increasing respect within the Reformed evangelical world. Again I must confess that it didn't initially thrill me. Other efforts to cross boundaries often seem to result in compromise and it usually tends to be the charismatic dimension of church life. I have commented on this elsewhere.
Hence Terry's Firstline writing was a major reassurance that in his eyes the crossing of boundaries does not (for him) involve any compromise whatsoever on the importance of emphasis on the Holy Spirit's ministry. He wrote;
"The challenge remains for us to be enthusiastic in our embracing of the activity of the Holy Spirit and to be through in our commitment to Biblical truth".
Luke too wrote that Terry emphasised the same thing at Prayer and Fasting; "But other things have not changed: our devotion to Word and our devotion to Spirit". We don't have to choose! Terry said in an interview on God TV that for many of us there is no conflict between Reformed theology and Charismatic life. For me it is not a question of being 50% Reformed and 50% charismatic. If for example I go to a charismatic conference then I have to compensate the next year by going to a hyper-reformed one. Or if I happen to read an author like Benny Hinn then I do not have to reflect that by reading a diet of staunch cessationism! Rather I like the idea of being 100% charismatic and 100% Reformed! I love the Word of God! For in it I find the release and the authenticity to go for God and experience Him in ways I could not even dream.
2. "Okay I Submit!" by Terry Virgo.
Terry followed up his Firstline by writing an excellent article on the subject of authority. With his typical warm and fatherly candour he acknowledges all the hangups that I have had in my personal walk with authority. "We hate people telling us what to do!". But then he begins to relentlessly dismantle those hangups with Scriptural truth and example. He wrote;
"God's purpose is to bring us back to obedience not by imposing His will upon us, nor even by placing us under law, but by a gospel of grace that brings about obedience from the heart based on faith (Romans 5:17). God should be obeyed ... he wanted to win converts and establish communities of believers who gladly chose to obey God from their hearts because they had been fully restored to God. Having received a revelation of God through Christ and His Cross and His work of redemption, they would joyfully trust and obey Him".
However the article does not focus purely on the theology of obedience to God but gets intensely personal and direct:
"He (Moses) recklessly risked everything on trusting God. He genuinely believed that God knows best and it makes sense to live God's way. Let me invite you to the same adventure. Will you try it and then consistently live out such a lifestyle for the glory of God? Why don't you obey Him and prove Him absolutely trustworthy in the midst of an unbelieving world that has been lied to? That's what Jesus did. Let's run after Him!".
3. Three International Articles on Authority!
The magazine demonstrates the awesome privilidge of being in an international family of churches. It is to my shame that much of my theological upbringing and experience has been exclusively Western and I believe this has robbed me of much. Pete mentioned his recent acquisition of the "Africa Bible Commentary" and how he hoped this would benefit his devotions. Here again is the same principle.
Mbonisi Malaba from the River of Life Church in Zimbabwe wrote an excellent (Ern Baxter would call it "cosmic") article on "The Authority of God". He said that in some African cultures many king's huts are built with entrance doorways that are waist height. This is to ensure that noone can come into the king's presence without bowing and acknowledging his authority to rule.
David Fernandes from Living Word Church in Mumbai wrote a culturally relevant piece on how to honour authority at work without compromising your beliefs. He reminds us that it is God who places our bosses over us and our responses should be that of respect, fear, sincerity of heart and serving wholeheartedly.
Finally John Kpikpi from City of God Church in Ghana used another Ern Baxter-favourite word. "The Authority of Government". He reinforces David Fernandes article in helping to ensure that we do remain culturally relevant but without compromise. John wrote;
"The message here is this; the gospel holds priority of place in the heart and mind of our sovereign God. All that He had created and established (including governments) has been put in place to facilitate the delivery of this most precious of messages to all people everywhere".
4. "Spiritual Authority in the New Covenant" by John Groves.
This article was the most helpful on authority for me in a corporate sense. While Terry's article was vital for understand authority personally, we must admit and confess that a Christian can mentally affirm authority but remain out of church and resolutely independent of authority - despite the fact that John Stott calls this an abberration. It could only be a gifted prophet/teacher like John Groves who can address this - again soaked in lavish grace - but unashamedly with convicting truth.
John began with the death and resurrection of Christ as that is where the New Covenant was inaugurated. The curtain has been torn in two! Access is accomplished! The way is open! (Matthew 27:51). By sitting down ath the right hand of His Father He has won the priesthood for all believers. This foundational start was vital because John made the point that while we do believe in authority in church, we are NOT creating a "special" class of leaders who will stand between us and God. He wrote this;
"New Testament leadership is about gifting. The Holy Spirit gifts people to perform a function of serving the church through leadership and government".
So with that foundation in place, John then moved on to two principles on leadership that I found so helpful.
i. "Leaders are a gift from the risen Christ to His Church (Ephesians 4:7-11). The church, the people of God need to recognise them as this, namely a gift ... to bless and build up His Church".
ii. "Leadership is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit (Romans 12:6-8). Spiritual leaders have to be gifted and called by the Lord Jesus, the head of the church ... We need to find ways of recognising who Jesus is anointing and appointing".
He deals with how spiritual authorities should behave towards the church and vice versa - how we should behave towards the spiritual authorities. Once again I felt so lovingly challenged and corrected on my cynicism and suspicion towards these men. This point in particular was helpful;
"Obey them whenever possible although it should be noted that submission is an attitude of respect towards authority but it doesn't always mean that you obey".
He ended by summing up in this way;
"The New Covenant is the covenant of the Spirit. We are always looking to submit to His work and His gifting in people ... God has distributed gifts according to His will just as He wants. Therefore He has given apostles, prophets, teachers, elders, deacons and numerous other ministries defined by gifting rather than any Biblical term. In the end all spiritual authority is to build up the church, bring her to maturity and make her effective in her mission in bringing the good news of Jesus Christ and His kingdom to this sin-sick world".
This quote in particular marries the subject of authority to the longed-for turning of the tide and prayed-for coming move of God. Spiritual authority is not put in place for the exalting of man's ego or for human recognition. "Riches I need not nor man's empty praise". Church leadership should not be viewed as a career where the ultimate promotion is speaking on a conference platform! Why else would the Bible say "Be not many teachers brethren for theirs is the greater judgement"? God has given and placed these ministries to take the good news to the ends of the earth and ensure that the Church becomes what she is meant to be.
5. Interview with Dr John Stott.
I need not say much about this interview because it might probably dominate the issue and that would be a shame. John Stott has long been a hero of mine and I was so honoured to meet him when he preached once at All Souls, Langham Place. Although he had a massive line of people eager to meet him, Dr Stott had the ability to make me feel like he was individually interested in me and delighted to meet me. I shall never forget his kind penetrating eyes.
As Terry said in his Firstline - there is sort of Papal feel to meeting the great man!
So what? While the theme of this issue of the Newfrontiers magazine may not excite me as themes like the Holy Spirit, His gifts, His work and Presence or Revival or Worship - I think that somehow it is going to have a beneficial effect in my life like no other. I remember once that Terry Virgo said, "Condemnation is a work of darkness - it accomplishes nothing!". That has been a helpful benchmark to me in realising that even some so-called Christian leaders are masters of condemnation and their counsel achieves nothing. This magazine did not leave me feeling condemned once but rather determined to throw myself into Church life and submit to leaders who I can trust and love.