Today we continue our 7 Letters series looking at the 7 Letters written to the 7 churches in the midst of the Roman Empire found in Revelation 2 and 3.
Two weeks ago we look at the first letter written to the church at Ephesus. We looked at the fact that they were able to discern those who were apostles and those who weren’t. They had a great handle on what the gospel of Jesus and was able to know when the gospel was being twisted and distorted, like by the Nicoletians. But the thing that they had against them was the fact that they had lost their first love. They lost the fact that the gospel that they had a great grasp on, was really all about love. Love of God and love of others. And if they had lost that, then they really didn’t have a grasp on the gospel. They were so concerned with right belief, but it didn’t lead to right behavior (love) so to me it wasn’t right belief.
Last week we looked at the second letter written to the church at Smyrna. We looked at the idea that this small group of followers of Jesus were facing trials and suffering and persecution. That they didn’t bow to the threat of punishment, whether that meant prison or death. And that God walked with them through that persecution because he went through it to and came out the other side. He lived, died, and was resurrected. He came out the other side victorious.
This week we tackle the third letter to the third church in Revelation. The letter to the church at Pergamum. The letter found in Revelation 2:12-17. “To the angel of the church in Pergamum write: These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword. I know where you live—where Satan has his throne. Yet you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me, not even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city—where Satan lives. Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: There are some among you who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin so that they ate food sacrificed to idols and committed sexual immorality. Likewise, you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.”
So let’s unpack some things about the church at Pergamum and see what it might have to say to us 2,000 years later.
First, let’s do some contextual work looking at the city of Pergamum, which will help us understand the letter to the church there a whole lot better.
Pergamum was never really an important city until it became an independent kingdom of the Attalids after Alexander the great. But it’s importance really look off when the last King of Pergamum willed it upon his death to the Roman Empire in 133 BC. It wasn’t a great trading place due to it’s location 15 miles inland. But what it lacked in commerce, it made up in various other ways. One of those ways was related to a great library in Pergamum that was said to house over 200,000 parchments and the word parchment itself is derived from the name of the city. But probably the most known and greatest asset that the city had was in relation to “religion”. It was a city full of religious beliefs, temples, and idols to gods, goddesses, and people who crowned themselves as gods.
People came from all over Asia Minor to be “healed” by the god Asclepius. It was also described by some as the Lourdes of the ancient world. Lourdes being a place in France known as a place of pilgrimage (Mostly because of supposed sightings and experiences with the “Virgin Mary”). There were temples to Zeus, Dionysis and Athene. But probably one of the biggest “religions”, if you will, in all of Pergamum was in relation to the imperial cult. It was the center of Emperor/Caesar worship and had a temple to Rome as early as 29 BC and added two more later. They took their worship of the emperor seriously and was the principal center for imperial cult worship in this part of the world. There were also a plethora of heathen temples as well.
With that background let’s look deeper into the text found in Revelation 2:12-17. In verse 12 we read these words describing the risen Jesus, “These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword.” These words can be also found in verse 16 of chapter 1 which is a total description of the risen Christ that John then refers back to in all his letters to the churches. Verse 16 of chapter 1 says, “coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword”. This picture of the risen Jesus with a sharp-double edged sword coming out of his mouth also appears in Revelation 19:15. In a city devoted to the Roman Empire as Pergamum and home to many imperial leaders who would possess the power to bring the power of the Roman Empire and the power of the sword down on anyone who dissented, John in contrasting the sword of the empire and the sword of the Kingdom of God, being the power of the word of God to change lives and change the world as well as what Hebrews 4:12 says that the word of God can do, “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” The Roman empire and it’s emperor my wield a sword but Jesus has his own. Not to fight violence with violence but to cut through half-heartedly faith and spirituality. And that is done by the word of God.
In verse 13 we read, “I know where you live—where Satan has his throne. Yet you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me, not even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city—where Satan lives.” This letter is written to Christians who lived in the city of Pergamum. The word live means that Christians weren’t just passing through. This was their home and they had to face these difficulties to the end.
What does it mean when Jesus (through John) says that Satan has his throne there, and the idea that Satan lives in the city of Pergamum? There are, I believe, 3 different possibilities for what John is getting at in reference to Satan, his throne and the connection to the city of Pergamum. The first one relates to the worship of the god Asclepius whose symbol was a serpent. The second possibility is that John is referring to the altar of Zeus. The third, and I believe, best possibility of what John is getting at here in this verse relates to the idea of the Emperor and Imperial Cult and the fact that Pergamum was the seat of Roman government in the whole region as well as the fact that emperor worship, as I had mentioned before, was so pervasive.
So let’s take a look now at what they are to be commended for and what they are to be criticized for. We find both of these things in the second half of verse 13 through verse 16 which says, “Yet you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me, not even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city—where Satan lives. Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: There are some among you who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin so that they ate food sacrificed to idols and committed sexual immorality. Likewise, you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.”
The thing that they are commended for is the fact that even in the midst of trials and persecution and in the midst of emperor worship, the believers at Pergamum didn’t renounce their faith in Jesus. Even when their brother in the Lord Antipas was put to death for his faith in Jesus. Not much is known about Antipas although legend has it that he was roasted in a brazen bull. And so in the midst of that season of persecution they didn’t deny Jesus. They remained faithful.
But at the same time that they remained faithful, there were some who held to the teaching of Balaam and some who held to the teaching of the Nicolaitans (unlike those in Ephesus who knew that the Nicolaitans weren’t teaching the gospel). This reference to Balaam is referring to the story of Balaam in the Old Testament (Numbers 31). The allusion here is spelled out with the reference to Balaam’s teaching of Balak to entice the Israelites to sin. And what were the sins that not only the Israelites fell into in relation to Balaam’s teaching but also in relation to what was taking place in Pergamum? According to Leon Morris in his Revelation commentary here is what the issue was “Two points are singled out, the eating of food sacrificed to idols and sexual immorality. It is possible that the former refers to meat which had been first been offered to idols and was then sold on the open market and the latter to sexual sins in general. but it is more likely that both refer to idolatrous practices. Feating on sacrificial meat and licentious conduct were usual accompaniments of the worship of idols, both in Old and New Testament times.”
Jesus through John calls on the church at Pergamum to repent or otherwise he will fight against them using the sword in his mouth. And now before you think this is a picture of Jesus putting aside his non-violent, enemy loving life to get violent, this is another picture of the power of the word of God. Jesus clearly means the words that he speaks has the power to either comfort us or confront us.
The ending of the letter is the exhortation to the church at Pergamum which is found in verse 17 which says, “Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.” What does hidden manna mean and what does getting a white stone with a new name written on it? Hidden manna is a reference no doubt to the manna that came down from heaven to sustain the Israelites in the wilderness during the Exodus out of Egypt. There may be an allusion to the Jewish idea that when the temple was destroyed that the prophet Jeremiah hid the pot which contained the manna that was in the Holy of Holies and that when the Messiah came it would reappear.
And regarding the white stone with a new name on it, there are more than 7 different possible understandings. I won’t go into all of them but here are the two that I found most possible and most intriguing. The first one is that there was a custom in the ancient near east, and in Pergamum of guests being given a stone with their name on it as a ticket to admission. Connects with being given entrance into the Kingdom of God. The second one, especially fitting to the issue that the believers were facing in Pergamum that some wanted to blend in and not drawn attention to themselves, and tried to compromise in some areas as not to bring the sword of the Roman empire down on them. You see Pergamum’s great buildings were made from from local black stone. When people wanted to put up inscriptions, they obtained white marble on which to carve them. This was then attached to the side of the building. And so a white marble inscription on the side of a black building would stand out all the more clearly. And so Jesus, through John, was calling the follower of Jesus to stand out more clearly. To not blend in. To not play it safe. To not compromise with the Roman Empire but to follow Jesus with everything and
like a city set on a hill, or a light in the darkness.
So what does the letter to the church at Pergamum have to do with us gathered together here in Lancaster? What might be the areas of compromise that we as individuals and as a church are making so as not to stand out? Where have we lost the “cutting edge”? Our ability to say no to surrounding culture? What other applications to our lives and church can this text speak to us about? These are some of the questions that we’ll unpack together.
1. What thoughts, questions, insights, comments, applications, etc.. do you have regarding the Scripture text and/or the message?
2. The church at Pergamum is sometimes called the compromising church. That they compromised to not draw attention to themselves. Where do we tend to compromise with the world? Where have we lost our “cutting edge” and our ability to say no to the surrounding culture?
3. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what should we do about it?
The other week I was attending the Church of the Brethren Annual Conference in Columbus, OH. I attend Annual Conference every year that it is within driving distance because I get to catch up with people that I might not see any other time during the year. I get to develop relationships with friends from California, Arizona, Michigan, Maryland, and even spend time with friends from the Lancaster area. Annual Conference gives me a chance to tell our story, network with various individuals and their churches, share with people how they can support Veritas in moving forward, as well as share any wisdom or insight I might have to others considering church planting or who are in the middle of church planting themselves.
One of the joys of this particular Annual Conference was that I got to catch up with Jeremy Ashworth and John Neff, who are some of the people involved with the E3 Ministry Group, According to their website www.e3ministrygroup.com E3 Ministry group is a creative and innovative coaches and consultants with a passion for bringing a renewed vitality and revitalization to congregations. Our customized solutions and “hands-on” personalized guidance reinforce the process as we recognize that each congregation is uniquely created by God.
Jeremy just released a book with Fred Bernhard entitled Outrageous and Courageous which according to the description in the back of the book is all about making friends and sharing faith. Or what we in the church call relational evangelism. Now when I say the word evangelism, what comes to mind? Immediately my mind goes to street corners, bull horns, tracts, and turn or born tactics. But is that what we are talking about? I can share with you two experiences in my past where I did street evangelism and honestly I never want to do that again. But because we have a bad experience with evangelism, do we swing the pendulum all the way to the other side and say we let our actions speak for us. I know many within Veritas who know they should share their faith but the “models” they have been given aren’t helpful, bring up painful memories, and so it leaves us stuck. That is exactly where Outrageous and Courageous comes in. It’s for people who know that our service needs to go hand in hand with our sharing about Jesus using our words. That evangelism and service aren’t on opposite sides of the spectrum but the opposite sides of the same coin.
There is much to be commended in this book, especially if you flinch everytime you hear someone use the word evangelism. This is for those who have done the street evangelism and found it troublesome. This book is for those who would consider themselves evangelist by nature. It’s for those who wouldn’t be caught dead by called an evangelist. It is for each and every follower of Jesus whether you struggle with evangelism or not. I highly recommend picking up a copy and reading it.
There are several things that challenged me the most and some where actually just almost a side point that seemed almost off the cuff.
As a Church planter I was challenged with this statement, “We know a church planter who specializes in starting congregations from the ground up who says from experience that church planters can and should make contact with at least thirty unchurched people every day.” My first question is How? And I’m not an introvert who isn’t shy to talk with people. How would I meet 30 unchurched people every day? This is an area where I need to spend time working on and developing in my life.
The next two things that challenged me the most related to Jeremy taking a break from writing to go live out what he was talking about.
First, there was the story of the moving van. Jeremy says this, “As I write this chapter, a U-Haul truck has appeared just a few door down from our home. I’ve been looking out my window, watching the family. I’ve not been asked to help, but how would they know to ask me? It’s late And it’s hot outside. But the family looks a bit understaffed at the moment, and after all, I am writing a book on loving your neighbor. I’m going to go out on a limb (in faith?) and interpret the U-Haul as a cosmic invitation. Hold on. I”ll be right back.”
Secondly, there was the story of his son. “At this very moment, I am typing these words, my toddler son has appeared at my feet. He’s holding his new truck. He speaks no words, but he knows what he’s doing. He is looking at me. he wants to play, and his very presence is an invitation. I’ll be right back.”
These two stories probably made the most impact on me as one who works from home and sometimes, to be honest, sees my neighbors and my kids as sometimes in the way of me fulfilling the mission that God has called me to. Boy I am so dumb and broken. My kids and my neighbors are the mission that God has called me to. And if I miss that, I miss everything. Lord help me to be about the mission of discipling my own kids and my neighbors, and be about building your kingdom and not my kingdom.
So if nothing else stands out, maybe this will. Go out and play with your kids. Go out and invite a neighbor to dinner or a whole neighborhood to a picnic. Build friends. And share your faith in the process.
Today we continue our series called 7 Letters, looking at the 7 Letters to 7 churches in the midst of the Roman Empire in Revelation chapters 2-3.
Last week we took a look at all the 7 letters and gave some background behind the letters, the number 7 and how it keeps reoccurring, and also how each letter is structured.
We then took a look at the first of the 7 letters, the letter to the church at Ephesus. We talked about the fact that the did a great job of holding onto the gospel and seeking truth from lie. They did a great job of discerning whether a group of people with “new” practices and thoughts were “orthodox” or not, like how they determined that the Nicolaitans were teaching a false gospel.
But that in strictly being defenders of the gospel, they lost to the truth and crux of the gospel. That being that they lost their first love, the love of God with all their heart, mind, soul and strength and the love of their neighbors.
Today we cover the second letter in Revelation 2. The letter to the church at Smyrna. Now if you remember last week we talked about the structure of the letters and how most of them had both praise and criticism. But we said that 2 of the churches didn’t have any criticism in their letter. And this is the first of the two churches that Jesus doesn’t have any criticism for.
So let’s unpack the text, learn a little bit more about the church at Smyrna, and see where it connects with the church of today.
Revelation 2:8-11 says, “To the angel of the church in Smyrna write: These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again. I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich! I know about the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who is victorious will not be hurt at all by the second death.”
Smyrna was one of the greatest cities of the region and it was in contention with Ephesus for the title of “First City of Asia.” It had an excellent harbor and a well protected gulf. Smyrna was a faithful ally of Rome in the days before Rome was acknowledged in the region. In fact it was one of the first cities to worship the Roman emperor and it won the honor of erecting a temple to him during the reign of Tiberius.
After the greeting in verse 8 we read these words, also in verse 8, “These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again.” This is of course a picture of the risen Jesus, who lived, was crucified and rose again. It also refers to the description of the risen Jesus in Revelation 1:17-18 which says, “I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever!” Everything that follows after this verse is based on the fact that Jesus was victorious over sin, death, evil and hell. That death was conquered by Jesus. And that death doesn’t have the last word. That following death there is resurrection. These words would mean a great deal to those in Smyrna for various reasons. But one of the connections that the city had to the death and resurrection of Jesus is the fact that their city had their own death and resurrection. In 580 BC Smyrna was destroyed by Alyattes, King of Lydia. The city laid dormant and dead until 290 BC. Lysimachus, who ruled Thrace and the northwestern part of Asia Minor after the division of Alexander’s empire, refounded Smyrna.
After the picture of the risen Jesus, Jesus (through John) goes on to share with the church at Smyrna what they are to be commended for. The first thing he mentions is something related to their perceived situation. In verse 9 we read, “I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich! I know about the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.” John is making the reference to the fact that the city of Smyrna was a very wealthy city and for many it led to their prosperity. The city was a place of trade and exports and commercial success. This however didn’t extend to those who were following Jesus, in the material sense. They were persecuted, poor, and afflicted. Jesus was intimately aware of the trouble and struggles that the church at Smyrna was faced with, he faced the same things. He was knowledgable about their afflictions, their poverty, and the slander that was being spoken about them.
They were turned into the authorities by everyone including the Jews, who he makes reference to in the second half of verse 9. Smyrna had a large Jewish population who would often inform on the Christians to the authorities, and who would incite outbreaks of violence against them. It is also quite possible that the churches poverty was due in large part because of the Jewish population in Smyrna. Some believe that the Jewish population in Smyrna pillaged the goods of the Christians in that town. Christianity was not legally permitted in Smyrna and that made it easy for Jews and Pagans to take action against the church.
In verse 10 Jesus (through John) continues to encourage the believers at Smyrna to continue following in his footsteps and to not lose heart even though it looked like, in every way, that they were losing. They were in fact not losing, but actually gaining. They were gaining a crown of life and life in the upside down Kingdom of God. Following in the footsteps of the crucified and risen King, King Jesus.
Verse 10 says, “Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown.”
Jesus is sharing with the church at Smyrna that they were going to face persecution. That they were going to suffer. In fact, many of them were going to end up in prison and some would actually face death. But that they were to remain faithful to Jesus, to not bend to the persecution, and when they were faithful that they would experience victory, life and a crown. This was coming from someone who had been there before. Someone who was intimately aware of persecution, suffering, death, and also resurrection and victory. Jesus (through John) wanted to let the church know that whatever happened that the fate of the Christians and the church in Smyrna were safe in his hands.
John is making a sharp contrast between persecution & death which people fear so much, and life which alone matters. John makes it crystal clear that the believers in Smyrna were going to come out on top. That they were going to be victorious if they remained faithful. That they would receive life, which meant renewed life in God’s new age. Life in his Kingdom, which isn’t just about eternal life after this life (it includes that as well) but life and life to the fullest.
And they would receive the crown of life. That statement has some context behind it in relation to the city of Smyrna. You see Smyrna itself was thought of as a city with a crown, due to the way it’s splendid architecture used the natural advantages of a steep hill to good effect. Also crown refers to a wreath or chaplet and is to be distinguished from the royal crown. The crown that is mentioned here was the trophy awarded to the victor of the games and is also the same word used for the festive garland worm at banquets by all the guests. And so the crown is the victory wreath, which would be specially appropriate in Smyrna, a city famous for its games. So the followers of Jesus who remained faithful to Jesus in the midst of persecution, suffering, and possibly even death would receive the trophy of victory. The crown of life. Of eternal life. Of Life in the Kingdom of God.
The final part of the letter, the exhortation and promise to the church at Smyrna is this, “Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who is victorious will not be hurt at all by the second death.” To understand what John is getting at here let me quote from NT Wright, “The final promise points in the same direction (receiving the crown of life). Anyone who is, quite naturally, afraid that they may face death for their beliefs is introduced to the idea to which John will return near the end of the book. There are, it seems, two forms of death. The first is the bodily data to which all will come except the generation still alive when the Lord returns. Jesus has already passed that way, and those who belong to him can know that he will first welcome them on the other side and then, at the end, raise the mto new life in his final new world. Btu the ‘second death’ is the ultimate fate of those who steadfastly and deliberately refuse to follow Jesus, to worship the one God who is revealed in him. The ‘second death’ will, it seems, do for the entire personality what the ‘first death’ will do the for the physical body.”
Jesus is saying to not worry about going through the first death, if you know him. Be content to grow through it with Jesus. After all, he went through it and came out victorious. He died and came to life and so will you.
But what does this letter to the church at Smyrna facing some serious persecution have to say to us gathered together here in the United States in the 21st century? Where we don’t face the kind of persecution that they faced and we don’t face the persecution other brothers and sisters in Jesus in other countries face right now? What is the take away from this letter? What do you think Jesus might write to the church at Veritas regarding persecution and how to endure and be victorious through it to the other side? Let’s talk about that for a bit.
1. What thoughts, insights, questions, comments, etc.. do you have regarding the Scripture text and/or the message?
2. How do we in the United States apply this message to the church at Smyrna when we aren’t persecuted? What application to our daily lives can we make from the letter to the church at Smyrna?
3. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what are we going to do about it?
Today we begin a 7 week series called 7 Letters, looking at the 7 letters found in Revelation 2-3. These 7 Letters were written to 7 different churches in the midst of the Roman Empire/Asia Minor over 2,000 years ago. We’ll be taking a look at each of the 7 letters and seeing what these 7 letters to various churches that were in existence 2,000 years ago might have to say to us gathered together as a church in the midst of the 21st century. While these letters are very contextual to each church, using language, metaphor, and images that were connected to each local church, these letters also speak to us about where we are as followers of Jesus both individually and corporately.
These 7 Letters all follow the same structure. Each letter begins with a greeting. Then the greeting is followed by a title of the risen Christ taken from the description of Jesus found in Revelation Chapter 1. Then following a description of the Risen Christ, John (the author of the letters under the inspiration of Jesus) writes words of praise for each local church, with the exception of Laodicea). Following the praise section, comes a section of criticism for each local church with the exception of Smyrna and Philadelphia. Then comes a warning, an exhortation which begins with “He who has an ear…” and each letter finishes with a promise.
You’ll also notice this seven fold structure where churches 1 and 7 are in grave danger, churches 2 and 6 are in excellent shape and churches 3,4, and 5 are in the middle, neither very good nor very bad.
If you are keeping track you’ll notice something that stands out. It is the number 7. It appears throughout the book of Revelation but here it appears in that there are 7 letters to 7 churches, and 7 sections of each letter. If you have looked at the Scriptures at all you’ll realize that 7 is a very important number. In fact in Revelation alone the number 7 appears over 24 times. In the Bible 7 is one of the numbers of perfection or completeness.
So with that little bit of background we can now unpack together the first of the 7 letters. The letter to the church at Ephesus which is found in Revelation 2:1-7.
The letter to the church in Ephesus in 2:1-7 says this, “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands. I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place. But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.”
The first of the seven letters is to the church at Ephesus. To understand more about what is happening in this letter, we need to take a look at the city of Ephesus for a bit. Ephesus was the most important of the seven cities in Revelation 2 and 3. Ephesus had the largest population of the 7 cities, estimated at around a quarter of a million people. It was a center of business, commerce, education, and religion. And Ephesus was the most obvious center of imperial power (think Roman Empire) in the region. So it makes sense that John starts his 7 Letters to the church at Ephesus.
After the greeting to the church at Ephesus, John grabs a picture of the risen Jesus from Revelation 1:12-13 which says, “I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest.” He uses these words in Revelation 2 then to describe Jesus. Notice the similarities, “These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands.” The seven lamp stands are the seven churches and Jesus is walking among his churches. This gives us the picture of Christ as present in the trials, struggles, and life of the churches that John is writing to. Jesus knows the churches intimately and knows what good things are taking place and also the things that need to be corrected.
Once John is finished with the picture of the risen Christ, he turns the corner and shares what the Risen Christ has to say to the church at Ephesus; both the praise and also the criticism. In verses 2-3 we read the praises and verses 4-5 we read the criticism.
The praise found in verses 2-3 for the church at Ephesus is that the worked hard, they were patient even under threat and persecution and they have drawn a clear line between those who were really following Jesus and those that weren’t. It seems like the church at Ephesus was truly concerned with doctrinal “purity”. They were rightly concerned about the gospel and making sure that they were always on the lookout for individuals or groups who tried to teach strange new ideas or who tried to introduce strange new practices. Just look at verse 6 which says, “But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.” This verse shows the Ephesian believers carefully discerning between truth and not truth. What these Nicolaitans taught is still a mystery. Ancient and modern scholarship haven’t been able to find out much about this group. Even though nothing is known about this group, this much is known, that this group wasn’t seeking to destroy the church from the outside. This group was claiming to present an improved and modernized version of the gospel. But the church at Ephesus was strongly rooted in the gospel and in doctrine as to understand who were the wolves in sheep’s clothing.
But there was a problem with the church at Ephesus and their strongly rooted doctrinal purity. Their concern for doctrinal purity or what some people call orthodoxy didn’t lead to the most important of Christian virtues, that of love. Love of God with all that they had and love for their neighbors. Jesus criticism of the church at Ephesus is this, “Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had a first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did and first. If you don’t repent, I will come to you and remove your lamp stand from its place.” They were rightly concerned about the gospel but they forgot the heart of the matter. They had yielded to the temptation, ever present to Christians, to put all their emphasis on sound teaching. In the process they lost love, without which all else is nothing. They were so concerned with orthodoxy (right belief) that they forgot about orthopraxy (right action). In fact their right belief didn’t lead to right action, which then to me isn’t right belief. If your right belief doesn’t lead to loving God and loving others, than it isn’t right belief. If it is all about being doctrinally pure and right then you would fit very well with the Pharisee’s who were all about being doctrinally pure and right but weren’t loving at all. Or you would fit very well in the Reformation when people were so concerned with doctrine (which definitely needed correction) but then would kill other people who didn’t quite fit into their theological framework. Reformers like Martin Luther and Calvin and others who were being taking to task by the Catholic church and were being persecuted turned around and persecuted others, mostly the Radical Reformers known as the Anabaptists. Their call and desire for right belief didn’t lead them to love God more or love others more. It actually led to bloodshed, war, and hate. Which the gospel of the Kingdom of God is totally opposed to and is at odds with. Their right belief didn’t lead to love and so therefore, in my opinion, their right belief wasn’t right.
So the church at Ephesus was so concerned with right doctrine that they had forgotten or forsaken their first love. The first love that God calls each of us to, to love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength and to love our neighbor as ourself. If they didn’t return to their first love, Jesus would remove their lampstand. This is a church that obviously listened to the letter and did return to their first love (for a while at least). In the early second century Christian writers were holding up Ephesus as a great example of Christian faith, life and witness. It held a place of preeminence and held one of the great 5th century church councils. There was once a thriving Christian witness there. But go to modern day Ephesus and the surrounding towns and one thing will stand out, there is no active church in that place (or if there are they are in hiding). This is what Jesus precisely warned the Ephesian church about in verse 5.
Jesus then lays out 3 steps to the Ephesian church in order to recover their first love. Their first love for God and for others. First, they needed to remember their first state. That first state when they loved Jesus with everything and was taking that love to their neighbors. To go back to the first days when they had come to know the love, grace, and mercy of Jesus. Secondly, they needed to repent. To turn around 180 degrees and go back to where they were. To go back to their first love. And lastly, because Christianity is not basically negative, they needed to do the things they did at first. The works they did that flowed out of their first love for God and for others.
At the end of the letter to the church at Ephesus comes the exhortation and promise found in verse 7 which states, “Whoever has ears, let them hear what they Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.” This is one of the places where this letter is super contextual and uses an image that would be familiar to all those in Ephesus. NT Wright in Revelation for Everyone has this to say about the exhortation and promise found in verse 7. “The great temple of Artemis had within its extensive grounds a wonderful garden focused on a particular tree which was used, not only for a sacred shine; but as the focal point of a system of asylum. This tree even featured on some of the local coins. Criminals who came within a certain distance of it would be free from capture and punishment. It is not accident, then, that this letter finishes with the promise that God, too, has a ‘paradise’, a beautiful garden with the ‘tree of life’ as its heart.”
So if Jesus were to write a letter to the church at Veritas, what would he include from this letter? Have we forsaken our first love? Have we gotten so focused on right doctrine (orthodoxy) that we forgot right action (orthopraxy)? Where in our lives (both individually and corporately) do we need to remember our first state, repent, and do the things we did at first? What is God saying to us through John and his letter to the church at Ephesus? Let’s spend sometime talking and applying the letter to the church at Ephesus.
1. What thoughts, questions, insights, comments, etc.. do you have regarding the Scripture and/or the message?
2. What things stand out to you in regards to the connection between the church at Ephesus and our church? Have we forsaken our first love? Are we too focused on doctrine to the demise of right action? How can we remember, repent, and return?
3. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what should we do about it?
So today we come to the end of our 4 week series looking at what a missional community is, what defines a missional community and the practices that make up a missional community.
Over the last 4 weeks we have covered 3 of the 4 parts of the definition of a missional community. The definition that we have been using for missional community is: a missional community is a (extended) family of missionary servants who are disciples who make disciples.
We started with discussion about living like an extended family or the greek word found in the New Testament which would be Oikos.
We then talked about being missionaries and being sent into our world. We also talked about the missional concept of person of peace and recognizing who our person of peace was.
Last week we covered the concept and idea that we are also servants. That we are to wash the feet of our family, neighbors, friends, and even enemies.
Today we are covering the last part of the definition. We are going to talk about disciples who make disciples.
To do that we will be looking at what might be a pretty familiar passage of Scripture but we’ll also spend some time actually discussing what a disciple actually is, and also how we as Veritas, are going to seek to live out being disciples who make disciples.
So let’s first jump into the Scripture text this morning which is Matthew 28:16-20 and is what is sometimes called The Great Commission. “Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
So here we see the last time that Jesus was going to be with his disciples. And as is the case when someone is going away (either passing from this world or moving away) Jesus gives them probably the most important thing that the disciples needed to remember. What he hoped to leave them with. The mission that would define their lives from this time on. The mission that would define every follower of Jesus since that time on that mountain, till today, and until he comes back to establish his Kingdom in fullness. So here Jesus is imparting the mission of the church. His disciples are sent out on a mission to do one thing: make disciples.
Jesus reminds them that all authority on heaven and earth was given to him. That he was and is in fact ruling and reigning over the world. NT Wright says this about this idea that Jesus is in fact ruling and reigning, “People get puzzled by the claim that Jesus is already ruling the world until they see what is in fact being said. The claim is not that the world is already completely as Jesus intends it to be. The claim is that he is working to take it from where it was- under the rule not only of death but of corruption, greed and every kind of wickedness and to bring it, by slow means and quick, under the rule of his life-giving love. And how is he doing this? Here is the shocking thing. Though us, his followers. The project only goes forward insofar as Jesus’ agents, the people he has commissioned, are taking it forward.” And so with that reminder that Jesus is in fact King Jesus and that he is ruling and reigning, he gives his decree, his mission for all who would seek to live under his rule and reign. That being to be a disciple and to make disciples.
We are sent out in mission to do one thing: Make disciples. Because ultimately, each church will be evaluated by only one thing- it’s disciples.
He says, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
The call and mission to go and make disciples is totally based on the fact that Jesus is ruling and reigning. Because the first thing we see in this verse is the word therefore which means because I have all authority in heaven and on earth then you should go and make disciples.
But to be and make disciples means we need to know exactly what a disciple is and how to define a disciple. So let me ask you this question, “How would you define a disciple?”
(Spend a few minutes talking about a definition of a disciple)
So in the Bible the Greek word for disciple is the word mathetes which is used 268 times throughout Scripture. the word mathetes means learner or apprentice. So with the understanding of the greek word, I would define a disciple as someone who is intentionally choosing to learn from Jesus, in every area of life.
So the early disciples who were following Jesus were learning directly from the teacher. They were seeing him live the Kingdom life right in front of them. They were seeing what it meant to live like Jesus. They were hearing directly from Jesus. They were being covered in the dust of the rabbi so to speak.
But what about us. How do we learn what it means to be a disciple of Jesus when we aren’t literally walking around with him? When we aren’t literally hearing him speak and teach? And when we aren’t being covered in his dust because we are walking right behind him?
This is where I believe 2 Core Questions of discipleship come into play. If we want to be a disciple, if we want to make disciples we must wrestle with, and help others wrestle with these two simple (yet really difficult to articulate and do) questions. These 2 core questions of discipleship are:
1. What is Jesus saying to you?
2. What are you doing in response? (or what are you doing about it…which is the part that we often miss when we read this Scripture which calls us to make disciples and to teach them to obey everything that he has called us to.)
These two questions can drive us to be a disciple that makes disciples. You just “simply” answer these two questions as you go about your day and your weeks. And you also ask others that you are in relationship with. The key to being a disciple then is to be able to listen to Jesus through prayer, Bible Study, service, etc.. and then actually do what you hear him saying. You learn from him what it means to be a disciple. You look at how he lived his life and you seek to imitate it. And you obey and actually live it out in every area of life.
But there is a problem. All too often we take this text that we just looked at and we read it wrongly. We read it a few different ways. We read it that we are to make converts. We read it that we are to make Christians. We read it and talk about the need for evangelism. But this is not what is being said here. This text is only about making disciples of everyone you meet. And in reality the minute you meet someone, you begin to disciple them. But you see in Christendom, the church invented a definition of Christian that separated such multiplying discipleship from being a follower of Jesus. In essence what was being said was it was possible to be a Christian and not a follower of Jesus or a disciple. That people thought that there were two categories of people: 1. Christians. 2. Disciples. That too often, as Dallas Willard says, there are vampire Christians who want Jesus for his blood and nothing else. That they want to go to heaven when they die but they don’t want to actually do the obeying part, or again what Dallas Willard calls the Great Omission.
So properly understanding that this text is actually about making disciples who make disciples is only half the battle, if you will. The other half is figuring out how we make disciples that make disciples and how we actually live out together answering the 2 questions of discipleship.
But what does discipleship look like in missional community? What does it mean to live out of the 2 main questions of discipleship in our missional context? And what does the discipleship process look like within Veritas? That is where we will head a little bit right now and also in our discussion time.
In missional communities disciples are made and developed in 3 different ways.
1. Through life on life where is there is visibility and accessibility. This happens in small groups of 2-3 people in what is known in sociological terms as intimate space.
At Veritas we want to do life on life where there is visibility and accessibility through having “groups” of 2-3 people of the same gender in what we call LTG’s or Life Transformation groups. An LTG would meet at least 2x a month (or 1x a week if you can make it happen) and do 3 things: Hear & Obey, Repent & Believe, and Consider & Pray. There is a paper on the table there that spells out more about LTG’s. I would take one, begin to pray about who to be in an LTG with and grab 1 or 2 others and start meeting and then let me know you are meeting. Or if you want to be a part of an LTG and want to find others who are interested, you can ask me to help you partner with someone.
2. Disciples are made and developed in community where you can practice the one anothers of Scripture.
These one anothers happen best in groups of 4-12 or what is called in sociological terms as personal space. This for us at Veritas would be what I would call Community Groups that happen 3x a month with an UP and IN Rhythm. These communities groups will meet in homes for 3 weeks. 2 weeks of prayer, bible study, etc.. (probably including dinner together) and 1 week of IN- Community. Probably week 1 and 3 would be UP, and week 2 would be IN. So we are hoping to grow and multiply these community groups and believe we can probably start or continue with 2 groups in the fall. Laura, Grace, Shalom lead one group, and Kim and I are looking at starting another Community Group in the fall.
3. The last place where disciples are made and formed in missional communities are on mission where we learn how to proclaim the gospel and make disciples.
Mission best happens in groups of 20-70 or what is called in sociological terms as public space. This for us at Veritas would be Missional Community and would happen when all the Community Groups meet on the 4th week to do OUT together, when we gather on 5th Sundays, and during our 1st and 3rd Friday gatherings.
Alan Hirsch has it right when he says “the lack of discipleship undermines all else that we seek to do.” So how do we as Veritas, as a missional community better make disciples who make disciples? Let’s talk about how we can better make disciples and how we can put flesh to our ideas related to LTG’s, Community Groups, and Missional Communities.
1. What are your thoughts related to discipleship, discipleship in missional communities, and specifically discipleship within Veritas? How can Veritas help make disciples that make disciples?
2. What is Jesus saying to you and what are you going to do in response?
The other month I got an e-mail from Mike Morrell, who runs the Speakeasy Blog program which allows bloggers to get books, read them and then review them on their blog. The e-mail was offering the book The Story Lives: Leading a Missional Revolution by Henriet Schapelhouman. As a missional practitioner who is seeking to planting a missional church, I always jump at the chance to read another work regarding missional life and ministry.
So I got the book, read it, and am finally getting around to reviewing it.
The author’s hope behind the book is spelled out on the back of the book in the form of this question, “Are you a typical believer who will die without leading a single person to Jesus? Or will you live missionally and change someone’s eternity?” And with that question the author seeks to spell out what it means to live missionally.
The book I believe would be a great starting point for someone just getting their toes wet in the missional conversation. A few times throughout the book I felt almost like I was reading The Missional Driven Life. I would recommend this book to someone who had just heard about the missional conversation and who is a part of a more traditional expression of church.
That isn’t to say that there isn’t something for everyone no matter where they are on the missional journey.
The things that most stood out to me in the book related to her personal story of moving towards the missional conversation and missional ministry. The biggest insight for me was when she shared her story of growing up in Europe and living in a post-Christendom culture, moving to the United States, and slowly waking up to the reality and the United States is now a missions context and is in the middle of the shift to post-Christendom. She says it this way, “This shift from modernism to postmodernism and Christendom to post-Christendom, now has been happening in the United States. In learning about postmodernism, post-Christianity and missional ministry, I reconnected to my missional roots.” I wish she would have spelled out more connections between her missional roots and her current missional context. It would have been helpful to have her do some comparisons between Europe and the US and how can churches in the US better connect with the emerging postmodern and post-Christendom context that we now find ourselves in.
Another great thing about this book is it’s format around stories. There are many personal stories, stories from other leaders in the missional conversation, and opportunity for the reader to chime in with their own story, through the discussion questions at the end of each chapter.
I was glad to be able to read the book and reflect on my own story and my transition into the missional conversation. So if you are just starting your story in the missional conversation, feel free to pick up this book, or I can let you read my copy.
Disclaimer: this book has been granted to me through SpeakEasy so that I might review it impartially.
Today we are looking at the third part of our series on Missional Communities. We are defining Missional Communities as an extended family of missionary servants who are disciples that make disciples. There are 4 parts to that definition: extended family, missionary, servants, disciples who make disciples.
We have covered extended family and missionary. Today we’ll tackle servants and then next week we’ll look at disciples who make disciples.
To look at the idea that a missional community is a group of servants we’ll be looking at probably the best narrative there is in relation to the idea that Jesus was a servant while at the same time being Lord and King. A servant king if you will. This text can be found in John 13:1-17 and is probably one of my favorite narratives in all of Scripture. This is the story of the upper room and Jesus washing the feet of his disciples, the night before his crucifixion. John 13:1-17 says, “It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.
The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!” Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean. When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.”
So as we look at what might be a familiar story to some of us and possible a new story to some of us, we’ll look at the story in two sections. And something I like to call Cleansed to cleanse. That there are two parts to this story, Jesus washing the disciples feet (getting cleansed) and Jesus calling his disciples to wash others feet (going out and cleansing).
And so the night before Jesus was going to go to his death at the hands of the Roman Empire, we see him gathered with his disciples during the traditional Passover feast in the upper room. Now traditionally when people would gather together for a meal you would either wash your own feet or have the lowest of slaves doing the washing. And for whatever reason this didn’t happen. In fact right before this narrative you see the disciples arguing over who was the greatest. And so none of the disciples were going to volunteer to wash the feet of the rest of the disciples because to do so meant that they were a slave and “inferior” to the rest of the disciples. And so as they had the meal, a meal where your feet were traditionally near the table, as you reclined at the table. And so dirty feet near the table, not the cleanest idea. So that sat through almost the entire meal because no one was willing to humble themselves, take up a towel and wash the rest of the disciples feet. But what happened next was probably one of the most radical, subversive, upside down thing that ever happened in the course of human history. The Son of God. The King of the Universe. The Savior of the World. God in the flesh got up from his seat, wrapped a towel around his waist and took on the role of a slave or servant by washing his disciples feet. A role that his disciples weren’t eager to take on. This act of servanthood was scandalous and mystifying. It was an object lesson on the spirit of service and love and should not only characterize Jesus but every follower of Jesus that has ever come after.
And so Jesus get up from the table, takes off his outer garment and wraps a towel around his waist. The word for take off there is similar to the word used for the idea of Jesus laying down his life. He then goes one by one to the disciples and begins to wash their feet with a basin of water and a towel.
A few things stand out here. First, Jesus, if he washed all of his disciples feet, which he did, then he needed to wash Judas’ feet, knowing that in a few short hours that Judas would betray him. Perhaps this was one final act of love, service, and to tug at the heartstrings of Judas. But no matter what happened after, Jesus poured out his love to one who would not love him back.
Secondly, when he comes to Peter to wash his feet, Peter responds quickly and rashly, like most of the other times in his dealings with Jesus. He responds by saying, “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.” You see, Peter is no different than us. You see we can sometimes show a servants heart by accepting the service of others to us. If we only serve, and refuse to be served, it can be a sign of deeply rooted and well hidden pride. But is that the reason he said no to Jesus at first? Maybe, but I think it has to do with more of the fact that Peter couldn’t stand the thought of his teacher, Lord, and Messiah taking on the role of a slave. After all, Peter’s picture of Israel’s Messiah was one who would ride into Jerusalem on a white horse, wielding a sword, and vanquishing the evil Roman Empire and establish the Kingdom of God through violence. He had no concept of a towel wielding, foot washing, servant king who established the Kingdom of God through the simple act of taking a foot, putting it in a basin full of water, and drying it with a towel. A servant messiah made no sense to him. And if we are honest, it makes no sense for us even today.
After Peter’s refusal, Jesus told him, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” What Jesus was getting at here is that if Peter wanted to share with Jesus in his community and gain the eternal life (don’t just think heaven…think the Kingdom life here and now) that he longed for, than he needed to be washed by Jesus. He needed to be cleansed in order to live out the Kingdom of God in the world. He needed Jesus to wash his feet so he can then get up, go out into the world and wash the feet of his family, his friends, his neighbors, and yes, in following Jesus example, even his enemies. He needed to be cleansed in order to cleanse others.
And so Peter then relented but of course over states it by saying, “Then, Lord, not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!” And so no doubt Jesus then took Peter’s feet into his hand, put them into the basin, washed them in the water, and dried them with a towel. Peter than was cleansed and given the mission of going out and washing the feet of others in the world.
Following his radical act of servanthood, Jesus then put his clothes back on. The wording here is used then to describe his taking up this life again. And so in a real way this feet washing experience was foreshadowing the death and resurrection of Jesus. The laying down of his life and the taking it back up again.
After he sat down he then turned his attention to his disciples to expand what this simple act would mean in moving forward as a Jesus centered community. His desire for his disciples? Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” That the act of feet washing that night that Jesus had done to the disciples needed to leave the upper room and reverberate throughout the world, throughout history, and into our world today, and forever. You see the biggest crime that night would have been for the disciples to say after leaving the upper room that night, “Well that was nice. I really enjoyed that. That was a moving service. It was great having Jesus wash my feet.” and then leave the act of serving and washing feet in the upper room. But isn’t that what we followers of Jesus do all the time anyway? We experience the cleansing that God provides and then we don’t take it out into the world and participate in the Kingdom of God by serving others and washing their feet?
There are two dangers in this passage. One is getting cleansed by God and keeping that cleansing to ourselves. We don’t wash the feet of people. We don’t go out and serve them. The other danger is that we go off and serve people not from being cleansed but just wanting to make a difference in the world. We try to do the cleansing without being cleansed first. Or we try to wash others feet without having our feet washed by Jesus first.
So there are two lessons here. One, let Christ wash your feet. Two, wash the feet of others.
So let’s talk about these two things together. How do you need to let Christ wash your feet? And who is God calling you to serve/wash feet this week? Those are the two questions for our discussion time.
1. How do you need Christ to “wash your feet”?
2. Whose feet might you wash this coming week? And in what way?
Today we continue our series entitled Defining Missional Communities. We are taking 4 weeks to unpack what a Missional Community is, what defines it, and what practices are lived out within a missional community.
We are taking these weeks because, if you have been around Veritas for any length of time, you have probably heard us use the term missional community and we probably haven’t done a great job of actually describing or sharing what that actually means and what it looks like.
The definition of a missional community that we’ll be using for the four week series is this: A Missional community is an (extended) family of missionary servants who are disciples that make disciples.
So last week we covered the first part of the definition that being an extended family. We talked about the greek word Oikos which means family or household. And we laid out 5 principles of Oikos (or missional community life). That being 1. Prayer 2. Shared Meals. 3. Shared Resources. 4. Fun. 5. Common Mission
Today we cover the second part of the definition, that being missionary. Then next week we’ll look at servants. And finishing it up with disciples who make disciples.
So today we are dialoguing around the idea that a missional community is just that missional. Now we have used that word a lot as well and really it is a simple word that just means sent. And you can probably also use the word missionary in place of missional. But I know that in the churches history the term missionary isn’t always the greatest thing due to colonization, non-indigenous forms of mission, etc….. But let’s set that aside and talk about what it means to be a missionary in our world today, right here in our context of Lancaster, PA and how we need to see Lancaster as a mission field.
To do that we’ll look at 2 Scriptures, one a foundational text for understanding the idea of being missional or a missionary and the other fleshes out a way of doing missional/missionary “work” in Lancaster.
The first Scripture that we’ll look at together is John 20:21 which says, “Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” Here we see Jesus, following the resurrection, giving the missional mandate to his disciples and also to everyone who would come after. You see Jesus was sent into the world from his Father, the Father and the Son send the Spirit into the world, and the Father, Son and Holy Spirit send us. To be missional, again as I mentioned, means living a sent life. How would your life be different if you realized that you were sent by Jesus into the world to demonstrate, embody, and proclaim the gospel of the Kingdom of God? How would it change the way you interact with your family, your friends, your neighbors, your enemies, etc?? How would knowing that your everyday existence in Lancaster is in a mission context and that you are a missionary in the form of a teacher, a stay at home parent, a student, a pastor, a graphic designer, etc? You are a missionary just as much as someone who goes overseas to do “mission work”. You are just as much on a mission trip as youth who go on a short term mission trip. Just that this mission trip is for your entire life and it is currently a trip to Lancaster. You and I are sent ones.
But the next question that maybe you are thinking about right now is this: “I believe that I am a sent one. That I am a missionary in my context. But to whom am I sent?” That is a great question and our next Scripture that we’ll unpack together, I believe, can help us answer that very question.
Let’s look at Luke 10:1-12 which can help us address the question about who are we sent to. Luke 10 talks about this concept that we call Person of Peace.
“After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road. “When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ If someone who promotes peace is there, your peace will rest on them; if not, it will return to you. Stay there, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house. “When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is offered to you. Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town we wipe from our feet as a warning to you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God has come near.’ I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town.”
So what we see in Luke 10 is Jesus strategy for sending. He sends the 72 disciples out together. Notice that. He sent them out in teams of 2. So often when we think of being missional, being sent, or being a missionary we think of a lone person (and maybe a family) going out into the world. What would it look like for us to be sent corporately together? How would that change things? How would it increase our “effectiveness”? How would it help us not to throw in the towel and give up on this sent life?
So Jesus sends out 36 advance teams to go out to prepare the soil of the people and the towns for the arrival of Jesus. And he makes sure that they understand that this mission isn’t just a walk in the park. That this mission of being sent has some risks. He describes sending these disciples as sending them out as lambs among wolves.
After Jesus sends them out, has them pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out more workers, and warns them that they will be like lambs among wolves, he lays out their missional strategy of sharing the Kingdom of God with people. This strategy is what has become known as People of Peace. In Verses 5-9 we read more about the People of Peace “When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ If someone who promotes peace is there, your peace will rest on them; if not, it will return to you. Stay there, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house. “When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is offered to you. Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’
In Jesus day a Person of Peace was a resident of a town who welcomed the travelers into their homes and extended hospitality for the entirety of their stay in the town. They were simply someone that God had prepared ahead of time to hear the message of the gospel through those who Jesus sent out.
So a Person of Peace opened their homes to the missionary team, they fed them, provided for their needs, and were very open to them. But what about in our day and age, how does this missional strategy of a Person of Peace work out? And what defines a Person of Peace today? This is a crucial piece and is foundational to life within an Missional Community.
A Person of Peace is one who welcomes you, likes to be with you (and knows that you are a Christian), is open to receiving from you and serves you in some way. Or put in another way: A person of peace is a person of receptivity (they are open to you and therefore open to your message of the King and the Kingdom), they are a person of reputation (good or bad), and they are a Person of Referral (they are influential and have a web of relationships or a network…or the word we used last week is Oikos…they have an extended family network). We see Jesus utilizing this strategy of discerning a person of peace in John 4 and the woman at the well. She was a person of receptivity (she was open to Jesus). She definitely had a reputation. And lastly she was a person of referral as we see at the end of the story in John 4 when she goes back to the townspeople and tells the about Jesus and many come to know Jesus through this women, this person of peace.
So often we make things harder for ourselves and our missional communities by not following this simple and uncomplicated teaching of Jesus. You see it’s God’s job to bring us the right people across our path and to give us the eyes to recognize them. Jesus wanted the disciples to plant themselves somewhere and not move around. He wants the same for us in our missional strategy. Stay where you are and work with the people of peace and share with them the message of the King and the Kingdom. Jesus told his disciples and he tells us to go and find the people who welcome you, who make it easy for you to talk about Jesus. They are the people who will listen to you and will respond to your invitation to join in with some of your activities.
Now the one thing that we need to recognize in this strategy of finding a person or people of peace is that by definition to find a person of peace means more than likely that you’ll also find people of unpeace. People who aren’t open to you, who don’t welcome you, who don’t serve you, and who have no interest in your King and His Kingdom. So you need to be okay with outing yourself as a follower of Jesus so that you see how people respond. If they reject and push away (not because you are a jerk about it) then they aren’t people of peace. If they are receptive to it and if they stay engaged then more than likely they are a person of peace.
And so in the life of a missional community the person of peace strategy is a way of seeing what God is already doing in our mission context. Finding people of peace means discovering where God is already at work in the neighborhood, or network of relationships that you are seeking to reach. So you are called to find out where God is at work and how you can be a missionary/missional/sent into that context.
So let’s dialogue around the idea of the person of peace. Have you heard that concept before? What strikes you about the person of peace concept? What stands out from the text that you can apply to today’s situation? And have you or can you identify someone in your life right now who as you heard the concept of person of peace a light bulb went off and you said “they are my person of peace”?
1. What stands out from the texts that you can apply to today’s situation? What are your thoughts regarding the missional strategy known as Person of Peace?
2. As we were talking about People of Peace, did God bring someone to your mind who is your person of peace? What next steps might you take in that relationship with the Person of Peace?
Today we begin a 4 week series entitled Defining Missional Communities. I’m pretty sure you have heard this term, especially if you have been around Veritas at all. As we label ourselves a missional community. But what it the world is a missional community? How would you define it? Is it just another fadish church growth term which is all hype and flash with no substance? And what are the practices of a missional community? And if we are a missional community here at Veritas, what are the things that should mark us, define us, and what are the things that we should be about as we move forward? These are the things that we will spend the next 4 weeks unpacking together.
Here is where we are heading over the next 4 weeks. First of all here is how I would define what a missional community is. A Missional community is an (extended) family of missionary servants who make disciples (who make disciples). So over the next 4 weeks we will unpack 1 of the 4 main parts of that definition. Today we are looking at the idea of Family, or extended family. Next week we’ll be looking at missionary. June 15 we’ll be looking at servants. And the last week June 22 we’ll be unpacking the idea of being disciples who make disciples.
So today we’ll be looking at the idea that a missional community functions like an extended family. And to do that we’ll be looking at Galatians 6:9-10. Galatians 6:9-10 says, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”
Paul is writing this letter to the church in Galatia. Now you need to know that Galatia was, at the time of Paul’s writing, a Roman province. And no doubt functioned in much the same way as other provinces and cities within the Roman Empire as well as the Greek city states.
Paul was warning the church at Galatia against discouragement, the tendency to lose hopefulness, rather than succumbing to fatigue. Paul here in this verse is using the metaphor of childbirth and the fear and weariness a woman experiences in labor but before delivery of the baby. It describes a time when the work is hard and painful, but also unfinished and unrewarded. It’s easy to lose heart when we feel like that, but that is exactly when we must hang on and not grow weary while doing good.
No doubt it was hard for the band of believers in Galatia to continue living the Kingdom life in the middle of the Roman empire. When everything around them from the coins to the government to life in general was pulling them away from the Kingdom of God (really not to different than today). But Paul was reminding them that if they didn’t become discouraged, that if they continued to live the Kingdom life together, that they would reap a harvest. Maybe not in this life, but definitely when the moved on from this life.
Are you going through a really tough time? Do you feel like you are losing heart? Do you feel like throwing in the towel and getting out of the game? Or taking a breather from the Kingdom life because it is too hard, and you aren’t seeing any results? First of all, you aren’t alone. We all experience this fatigue, loss of hope, and moral and we have all, no doubt, felt like throwing in the towel and giving up on the Kingdom life. But the next verse that Paul writes gives us some, what might seem like crazy advice in relation to continuing to move forward in the Kingdom life.
Paul continues on and lets the church at Galatia know exactly how they might not be tempted to lose heart and become discouraged. And it wasn’t to just keep your head down, watch out for number 1, or to just go with the flow. No, Paul’s challenge to the followers of Jesus in Galatia was really countercultural (in one way, and in another using the structure of the culture to propel the mission of God forward in the world). He told them to do good to all people and especially to those who belong to the family of believers. This is how the church isn’t to lose heart and throw in the towel. By serving others and especially to those in the family of believers. That if you feel like throwing in the towel, take time to do good to others. To look past yourself, and to others around you. And especially to others who are in the family of believers. Talk about countercultural. To put others first and above you is a way to move beyond giving up, and will indeed bear fruit in the long run, and it might be a long run.
And here is where Paul uses language and concepts that were rooted in the culture of his day in order to talk about moving the Kingdom of God forward in the world. When Paul says to do good to those who belong to the family of believers, he uses a greek word for family that his hearers would understand and relate to. The greek word for family, or house, or household is the word Oikos. Now the idea of Oikos or family or household is not to be confused with our American, nuclear family understanding. Don’t think that if you knocked on the door of a house in Paul’s day that you would find a mother, a father, 2 kids, and a dog. That is not what Oikos was. Oikos was about extended family. Oikos was an everyday, extended family unit that everyone functioned in- a place where extended families spent time together, shared meals, took care of business, and looked after each other. We are talking that Oikos’s in Paul’s day were between 15-35 people which would include the head of the oikos (the oldest male), his extended family (wife, children, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc..) and the household slaves as well. In fact, Oikos has been the norm for almost every culture for most of human history, even in the United States before the 19th or 20th century.
Paul is saying that the church, those who are followers of Jesus, are actually extended family together. Families centered not on blood relations, but on Jesus. That if you belong to Christ, then we belong to the same family. We are truly brothers and sisters. And what would be like if we actually saw each other that way, and actually lived like an Oikos, or an extended family.
Now I know that saying that we should do life together as an extended family might conjure up all kinds of issues. We all have family issues and we all have different dysfunctional issues related to families. So maybe you are saying, “If you want to be family, count me out. Because I don’t even want to be a part of the family that I am “really” apart of.” I definitely hear you. But let’s unpack what an Oikos looks like and how we as Veritas should be doing Oikos/extended family together. And I don’t know about you, but after I was finished looking at these principles to Oikos life they spoke deeply to me, and I desired to be a part of this type of extended family. And I desire and pray that Veritas will continue to move, develop and grow into these principles and apply them to our life together.
But what does it mean, practically to be an Oikos or extended family together? I believe there are 5 Key principles in living an Oikos life that help to inform some of the underlying values of a Missional Community. Prayer/Worship, Meals, Shared Resources, Fun, and Common Mission. So let’s unpack each one a little bit and then talk together about how we being to practice Oikos life together as Veritas. (which will be challenging, hard, etc… but really worth it in the long run)
1. Prayer and Worship: Oikos was a place for spiritual growth and expression. As an extended family, we gather together in times of prayer and worship. Does our community come together before God on a regular basis and not just on a Sunday morning? Do we have regular times that we pray and worship together?
2. Meals: How many examples are there of the disciples eating or sharing food together? Lots! Sharing meals is such a key part of building community and growing extended family relationships! How often does our community share a meal together?
3. Shared Resources: An Oikos meant members of the family becoming interdependent and sharing what they had (we see the disciples spelling out this principle for us in Acts 2:42). This is often the hardest aspect of Oikos for people to grow in, as it can be the most countercultural. This could look like sharing possessions, offering regular time to help someone out, supporting someone financially, inviting someone to live with you… The list goes on! It’s about finding somewhere to start. Where could you and I take the next step in shared resources within our community?
4. Fun: When do we simply enjoy each other’s company? Jesus said of his disciples: “I no longer call you servants…but friends” (John15:15). Its important that we are growing deeper in friendship, as well as personal discipleship. When are the times that you know that we can just be together and have fun?
5. Mission: An Oikos had common purpose as well as relationship. Our community needs to be galvanized around a common vision and direction. The mission of the family should be known to everyone in the family. Where are we trying to make a difference? Who are we reaching out to? How are we being committed to seeing the kingdom break into a neighborhood or network of people?
So this is what it looks like to be an Oikos, or an extended family together. To be a missional community. It is definitely challenging. And while I believe Veritas lives out some of these key principles to extended family life, we definitely have a way to go in this area. And it won’t happen overnight. Some of these go so counter to our culture that it will take a long time to work through together.
So let’s share together around the idea of Oikos. Let’s share which principles of extended family life excite us. Which ones challenge us the most. Which ones do we need to really focus on this summer? And where are we currently strong on.
1. Thoughts, comments, ideas, application, etc…. regarding the Scripture and/or message?
2. Which one of the 5 key principles to Oikos life do you find most exciting? Which one resonates most strongly with you? Why? Which one do you think Veritas does well with right now?
3. Which one of the 5 key principles to Oikos life challenges you the most? Why? Which one do we need to work on the most within Veritas?
4. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what should we do about it?
Here are notes from my workshop session at the Church of the Brethren church planting conference held at Bethany Seminary in Richmond, IN.
I. Introduction of Self
a. Husband of Kim
b. Father of Kaiden and Trinity
c. Missional Church planter with Veritas in Lancaster, PA
II. Sharing of Scripture and Prayer
1. Genesis 12:1-3
2. Jeremiah 29:1-7
3. John 20:21
III. What is and what isn’t missional?
What missional isn’t:
1. Missional isn’t a new way to talk about church growth or a church growth strategy.
2. Missional isn’t the same as evangelistic or seeker- sensitive.
3. Missional is not synonymous with emerging.
4. Missional is not a trendy word to add onto other things.
ie…missional coffee, missional lighting, missional seating.
5. Missional is not a program or a project
6. Missional is more than just social justice.
7. Missional isn’t a quick fix or a magic bullet to turn your church around.
8. Missional isn’t a Hip new way of doing and being church.
9. Missional isn’t limited to institutional activity
10. Missional isn’t a new way of doing Sunday morning.
What missional is:
1. Missional means being sent.
2. Missional takes it’s cue from the Missio Dei (the mission of God)
3. Missional is about the missionary nature of God.
4. Missional means participating with God in what God is doing in the world.
5. Missional is a way of living, not an affiliation or an activity.
6. Missional is about the people of God partnering with him in his redemptive mission in the world.
7. Missional is an integration of blessing and disciplemaking (the two great commissions)
8. Missional is about the church being missionaries in the world.
9. Missional means that we are passing through this life [in Biblical language as sojourners, wanderers, aliens, foreigners, strangers or ambassadors] with a sense of purpose, duty, passion, and responsibility for the ‘mission of God.’”
10.Missional is an adjective describing all of the activities of the church body as they are brought under the mission of God to proclaim the good news of salvation through His Son Jesus Christ.
IV. Constantine, Christendom and Post-Christendom
1. Constantine- Roman Emperor who made Christianity the official religion of the empire in 313 with the Edict of Milan. Apparently converted to Christianity during a battle when he had a dream where he was advised “to mark the heavenly sign of God on the shields of his soldiers … by means of a slanted letter X with the top of its head bent round, he marked Christ on their shields.” Christendom started in 313 with the Edict of Milan.
2. Christendom- Refers to the Middle Ages of Western Europe when all of society (church, state, schools, work, art) was united under the umbrella of Christianity. All of life-work, commerce, education, politics, family and money- was ordered toward the church and around the core beliefs of Christianity.
Christianity moved from being a marginalized, subversive, and persecuted movement secretly gathering in houses and catacombs to being the favored religion in the empire.
Overall, Christianity moved from being a dynamic, revolutionary, social, and spiritual movement to being a religious institution with it’s attendant structures, priesthood, and sacraments.
We will see that we are definitely moving rapidly from Christendom to post-Christendom in a few minutes. The Christendom story, as we shall see, no longer defines Western Culture, but still remains the primary definer of the church’s self-understanding in almost every Western nation, including and perhaps especially the United States.
Christendom, as a paradigm of understanding, as a metanarrative, still exercises and overwhelming influence on our existing theological, missiological, and ecclesiological understandings in church circles. We still think of the church and its mission in terms of Christendom. While in reality we are in a post-Christendom context, the Western church still operates for the most part in a Christendom mode. Constantine, it seems, is still the emperor of our imagination when it comes to church and even church planting.
So let me ask a question to see how much Constantine is still the emperor of our imagination. When I show you this picture tell me what it is? If you said a church, Constantine still holds sway.
3. Post-Christendom: What is Post-Christendom?
Post-Christendom is the culture that emerges as the Christian faith loses coherence within a society that has been definitively shaped by the Christian story. The institutions that have been developed to express Christian convictions decline in influence as well.
Probably one of the best ways to understand the shift that is taking place within the western world, is to understand 7 significant ecclesiological shifts that are taking place.
1. From the center to margins: in Christendom the Christian story and the churches were central, but in post-Christendom these are marginal.
2. From majority to minority: in Christendom Christians comprised the (often overwhelming) majority, but in post-Christendom we are a minority.
3. From settlers to sojourners: in Christendom Christians felt at home in a culture shaped by their story, but in post-Christendom we are aliens, exiles and pilgrims in a culture where we no longer feel at home.
4. From privilege to plurality: in Christendom Christians enjoyed many privileges, but in post-Christendom we are one community among many in a plural society.
5. From control to witness: in Christendom churches could exert control over society, but in post-Christendom we exercise influence only through witnessing to our story and its implications.
6. From maintenance to mission: in Christendom the emphasis was on maintaining a supposedly Christian status quo, but in post-Christendom it is on mission within a contested environment.
7. From institution to movement: in Christendom churches operated mainly in institutional mode, but in post-Christendom we must become again a Christian movement.
VI. Some statistics, etc… about the shift that is taking place from Christendom to Post-Christendom.
The latest report by The American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) indicates that the United States has been continually moving into a Post-Christendom Context.
The number of Americans who do not identify with any religion continues to grow at a rapid pace. One-fifth of the U.S. public – and a third of adults under 30 – are religiously unaffiliated today, the highest percentages ever in Pew Research Center polling.
In the last five years alone, the unaffiliated have increased from just over 15% to just under 20% of all U.S. adults. Their ranks now include more than 13 million self-described atheists and agnostics (nearly 6% of the U.S. public), as well as nearly 33 million people who say they have no particular religious affiliation (14%).
Let me show you some more statistics that prove that, while we aren’t a totally post-Christendom (or Post-Christian) country like Europe, these statistics prove that we are definitely heading in that direction, and in some places faster than others.
VII. Questions so far?
VIII. How does all the information about our post-Christendom culture affect the way we plant churches?
Let’s look at 3 different videos that will show us the difference between Christendom models of church planting and missional chuch planting in the midst of Post-Christendom and then take time to discuss them.
Video #1: Field of Dreams
Video #2: Attractional Church parable
Video #3: Missional Church…simple
What did you notice in these videos and what is the difference between Christendom models of church planting and missional church planting in the midst of Post-Christendom? (Discussion)
David Fitch has this to say about the struggle of planting churches in post-Christendom, “
“For much of post World War 2 North America, we have planted churches by using strategies that depend on drawing upon a market of already existing Christians. One way or another, church planting in North America has been taking what’s left of Christianity and creating new versions of church over against the failures of existing churches. We organize ourselves as “the next new thing” to make up for what some other churches lack……
We can no longer expect to successfully cannibalize on ourselves in the planting of new churches. We’re running out of Christians/churches to reform to some truer, purer more relevant form of Christianity. As I said here, lets stop funding church plants (has anyone noticed it ain’t working?) and fund missionaries here in North America. We need to seed fresh expressions of the gospel that engage those outside the faith with the gospel and create the space for God work to bring people to Himself.”
IX. What does missional church planting in the midst of post-Christendom look like (not a model because there is no one model)
Let me give you a scenario about missional church planting:
Let’s say that everyone is this room decides to move to a city where post-Christendom is the norm, and no one wants to “go to church”. Our group moves to the city in order to plant a church. What would some of the first things you do to plant the church? What would your strategy be?
Missional church planting in the midst of post-Christendom looks like this:
This flow works for brand new existing communities as well as 200 year old churches. It just works a different way.
Missional Church planting, starting from Scratch:
Engage Culture-Being a missionary and becoming friends with people.
Form Community- second phase of missionary engagement
Structure Congregation- “final phase” of missional church planting.
If you are at the other end with a structured congregation, you just work it backwards. You form an incarnational/missional community, they discern their missional “focus” and then begin to engage and make friends in that missional focus.
X. Missional Flow in the life of the Veritas community.
This is a little about how we live out the Missional Flow within the life of the Veritas community in Lancaster, PA.
Engage Culture- We use our space The Community Room on King as a hub to engage culture. We use it for 1st Friday Art Shows, 3rd Friday music events, just was a venue for the Launch Music Conference and Art Walk.
Form Community: Regularly held community/relationship building times like 3rd Sunday lunch, during the summer we go to the Long’s Park Summer music nights each Sunday night and invite people to go along. We encourage people to throw events (like Picnics, parties, etc… ) invite their friends, as well as some of the Veritas community.
Structure Congregation: Our Community gathers each Sunday in the Community Room on King for a worship gathering that includes time to build relationships, how we are living out this missional flow (IN, OUT, UP), message and application discussion. We are also slowly working on developing small missional communities that each have a missional focus and live the IN, OUT, UP monthly rhythm together.
XI. Mission, Discipleship and Community as Core Values within Missional Church Planting.
“The first churches were concerned with balancing equal commitments to fostering their relationships with God, with one another and the world.”
“Any emphasis on one at the expense of the others is folly. For a church to claim that it “specializes” in worship or teaching is to ignore the whole counsel of the New Testament. Worship that is is some way divorced from mission is counterfeit worship. And likewise, a missioning community that is not informed, inspired and renewed through godly worship is a pale shadow of what church should be.”
“Worship and Mission and the development of Christian community must inform each other closely and regularly.”
XII. Resources to be aware of in relation to missional church planting.
1. The Shaping of Things to Come by Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch.
2. Tangible Kingdom, Tangible Kingdom Primer, AND:The Gathered & Scattered Church, and Flesh by Hugh Halter and Matt Smay.
3. Prodigal Christianity by David Fitch and Geoff Holsclaw.
4. Post-Christendom by Stuart Murray
5. Exiles by Michael Frost
6. Forgotten Ways by Alan Hirsch
7. David Fitch’s blog: reclaimingthemission.com
8. Dan White Jr.’s blog: danwhitejr.blogspot.com
9. UnChristian by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons.
10. Missional Renaissance by Reggie McNeal
XIII. Contact information