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Archive for March, 2007

Dissertation Research

As part of my honours degree, my dissertation will be asking:Is an internet church, church?

In order to complete this task, I am currently asking at a premilinary level, the following questions to which I would value as many responses as can be mustered. I will also answer any questions you may have about it…
Part A – About you..

1. What is your country of residence?
2. What is your age range? 12-17 / 18-25 / 26- 39 / 40 – 59 / 60 & Over
3. Are you a christian and if so, how long have you been a christian?
4. How long have you used the internet?
5. Have you been involved in any internet communities and how long for?

Part B – You need answer only Yes or No…

1. Have you ever heard of an internet church or attended one of their church services?

Yes / No

2. Do you think internet churches glorify God?

Yes / No

3. Do you think internet pastoral care & counselling works?

Yes / No

4. Do you think internet evangelism works?

Yes / No

5. Do you think internet discipleship works?

Yes / No

6. Do you think internet worship services works?

Yes / No

7. Do you think internet preaching and/or teaching can help change people?

Yes / No

8. Do you think Spiritual Gifts can be used effectively in an internet context? If no, what gifts could not be used?

Yes / No

9. Do you think an internet church would be part of the universal and apostolic church?

Yes / No

10. Do you think that internet communites are real communities?
Yes / No

Any comments or questions relating to an internet church or internet community?

Gunnedah revisited…

Gunnedah revisited…, originally uploaded by emptybelly.

This is the local Baptist church in my hometown of Gunnedah, New South Wales in Australia… The architecture is typical of Australian country churches…

There was a job vacancy there until 6 months ago, that would have suited me… In just on 3 months time I will have finished college and then try to find a church job somewhere… Not sure whether that will be in Australia or in England/Wales… I probably have 3 options:

1. Stay here and look for a job and hopefully get to Australia to see my aged mother in the next 12 months or so.
2. Go to Australia and see my mother then return and look for a job here…
3. Go to Australia and see my mother then return and look for a job over there

Twelve Apostles Revisited

Twelve Apostles Revisited, originally uploaded by emptybelly.

Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, 20built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
Ephesians 2vv19-22

I do not often get mad…

except in cases like this… This week our Government announced its budget for the next year. £8 billion is going into the National Health Service, of which, vast sums of money will be spent on propping up bureaucracy. £9 billion is being given over the next 5 years towards the 2012 London Olympic Games. Yet, the anaemic and inordinately patronising Health Secretary, Patricia Hewitt, will not allow a drug which helps alleviate Alzheimers and dementia to be purchased by the National Health Service at a cost of £2.50 a day totalling to £91 million a year for 100,000 sufferers. Bear in mind that home carers, who are unpaid for caring for their loved ones at home, save the National Health Service £6 billion a year. It stinks, and I think God thinks it stinks… It is unjust… Which do you think God cares about more? Some daft Olympic project or the neglected sufferers of terminal wasting illnesses like Alzheimers or dementia?

I leave you with these three stories gleaned from the Daily Telegraph which illustrates my point much more clearly…

“I relived the last years of my mother’s life, so similar to those of your father. When you saw a quiet, church-going elderly lady swearing, bitching and punching, it is difficult to accept. Only those who have experienced the nursing of a loved one to the bitter end know the true cost.”

Some made me cry, too, such as this from a reader whose wife died after 49 years of marriage: during her last two years of life, she often thought that her husband was her father. “On those occasions it was impossible to help her to shower,” he wrote. “She was not going to let her father do such a thing.” He recounted a familiar story for a carer: sleep restricted to two fitful hours a night, the day dominated by the same question four times a minute.

He continued: “How hurtful it was when she told me what a wicked person I was and then, a few minutes later, would put her head on my shoulder and tell me what a lovely life we had had together, and would ask: ‘We will always be together, won’t we?’.”

Heartbreaking, isn’t it? There were many more in a similar vein, but I leave you with this about a much-loved uncle. “I found it distressing to watch his personality destroyed, dependent on his wife for his every need. To see that he did not recognise her. I was able to walk away, but my auntie could not, and did not wish to. She did not trust anyone to look after him. Even though she was 80, she struggled on almost entirely alone, until he developed a chest infection. He was taken into hospital, and died the next day. She never forgave herself for letting him out of her care.”

This kind of injustice makes me angry and I think it makes our God angry as well…

Blessings dear friends…

Nigeria teacher dies ‘over Koran’

In the italic lettering of the report below, the reporter says this behaviour is instigated for ethnic, political or social reasons… The journalist is wrong… It is for religious reasons that this Christian was killed and it is the reasons that many Christians are killed in Muslim lands… Let us pray together for, and remember before our ever gracious Lord, our brothers and sisters in lands where persecution against Christians is rife and endemic.

 _____________________________________

Link to the story

Secondary school pupils in north-east Nigeria of the country have killed a teacher after apparently accusing her of desecrating the Koran, police say. The teacher, a Christian, was attacked after supervising an exam in Gombe city. It is not clear what she had done to anger the students. The authorities, concerned that communal unrest could break out, have ordered all the city’s schools to shut. Similar accusations sparked riots in neighbouring Bauchi State last year. At least 15,000 people have been killed in religious, communal or political violence since the country returned to civilian rule in 1999.

‘Restored calm’

Nigerian police say students beat the teacher to death outside the school compound after she had been invigilating an exam. The students had apparently accused her of desecrating the Koran, though it is not clear exactly what she had done. The police arrived at the scene to restore calm and say their intervention stopped a riot. The BBC’s Alex Last in Lagos says violence based on such accusations is not new. Last year, in Bauchi State, a rumour swept the city that a Christian teacher had also desecrated the Koran, which prompted riots in which at least five people were killed. In fact, the teacher had confiscated the Koran from a pupil who was reading it in class.

Religious differences have long been used to justify all kinds of violence in Nigeria, our reporter says. In reality it is often fuelled by ethnic or political conflicts and competition for resources, which can be fierce, given that so many people live in poverty, he says.


Being a disciple of Jesus Christ and discipleship…

Introduction

What is a disciple and what is involved in making disciples? Is there a correlation between the declining church membership in Britain and a dearth of discipleship? What were the hallmarks of New Testament discipleship and how can they be applied to the British church today?

A disciple – what is it?

The word disciple is a derivation of the Latin word discipulus, which itself is formed from the Greek word for pupil or learner, mathētēs[1]. The New Testament uses this word not only of Jesus’ followers but also those who followed of Moses (John 9v28), the Pharisees (Mark 2v18), John the Baptist (Mark 11v2) and of Paul (Acts 9v25). Therefore a Christian disciple in its base form is a follower of Jesus. A learner is a person who is undergoing life change and transforming increasingly like Christ. A disciple is somebody learning to be like Jesus in every facet of life, practising His presence with them and engaging their life with Him so that He truly lives through them. Kimball assigns a measure whereby all discipleship is compared to what Jesus said in Matthew 22v37-40 – is the disciple loving God totally and is the disciple loving people openly?[2] Disciples are called to remain in this incomplete world, but to be growing and maturing in a process is called discipleship.[3]

New Testament Discipleship

The context for being a disciple in the New Testament era can be derived from three sources: the Old Testament, the Greco-Roman culture and first century Judaism.

Old Testament: It was in the role of the Old Testament prophets, that discipleship can be seen. Samuel (1 Samuel 19vv20-24), Elijah (2 Kings 4v1), Jeremiah (Jeremiah 36v32) all had disciples. These disciples seen them as their master, and was endemic within Israel’s society. Isaiah refers to the people around him as disciples (Isaiah 8v16), whereby the relationship is seen as primarily educational. The disciples referred to here are not only followers of Isaiah but also of God. The relationship was based on reciprocal support in order to reveal what the Lord was saying to Israel[4].

Greco culture: Classic Greek writings referred to disciples in three senses: learner (general), adherent (technical) and institutional (restricted). For those who were in the adherent context, they their rules of following set by the great master[5]. One aspect of some first century Greek thought was Plutarch’s theory that a person’s highest achievement was to become like god[6].

First century Judaism: Within this context, disciples were attached to recognized masters, teachers or groups. The Pharisaic disciples were probably attached to an academic group. Those who followed John the Baptist were seen as radical, eschewing as they did normal Jewish society. Those Jesus referred to as the disciples of Moses, concentrated on their ‘honoured’ status as followers of the one to whom God had made Himself known. Philo states the goal of discipleship was to see God[7].

As we study the New Testament era, we can look to two models in order to gain insight. These two models are Jesus and Paul. The other Apostles also had disciples, but the New Testament has more to say about these two schools of discipleship, through the Gospels and Paul’s letters.

Jesus and disciples: Disciples of Jesus can be broken into two main categories: adherent and general. The adherents were the core twelve following Jesus and called to be his co-workers. The general were those who were convinced of Jesus being the Messiah, but didn’t leave everything to follow Him. The twelve sacrificed all in order to follow Jesus, proclaiming God’s kingdom and being trained for their future roles. In Matthew 28vv18-20, Jesus commanded his disciples to make other disciples. In order to fulfil this command, He assigned the three tasks of going, baptizing and teaching. When Jesus told his disciples to go, He meant it to be as an obligatory activity of daily life.[8] Baptism was symbolic of becoming under the lordship of the Trinitarian Godhead, suggests Krentz[9]. Teaching was not just to be an oral activity, but actively helping everyone including the weakest members. As baptism follows evangelism, baptism leads to teaching, which is a core part of disciple-making. This is partly why the New Testament church was seen as a radical community.

Pauline discipleship: In a world dominated by Greek philosophy and as a Judaist rabbi, Paul strives to bridge the gap between the Gentile and Jewish streams of discipleship thought. Jervis states that he does this, by claiming the motivation for discipleship is to become Christ-like.[10] Certainly this is Paul’s motivation as a follower of Jesus seeking to imitate Him (1 Corinthians 11v1 NLT). Imitation not only be words, but by action as he stipulates the Philippian church to have the same mind as Christ did. (Philippians 2v5 AV) Martin objects to this on the grounds that Christ is far too glorified in order to be imitated[11]. However, Hawthorne argues this means adopting a lifestyle shaped by Jesus.[12] The core of Pauline discipleship is to following Jesus’ actions. This imitation requires a continual growth in personal holiness, by allowing the Holy Spirit to permeate all aspects of life (2 Corinthians 3v18).

Discipleship – Radical Community, Individuals & Leadership

The church in Britain is gradually shrinking according to recent statistics. The Census of English Church Census of 2005 shows that 3,166,200 were regular churchgoers in 2005 against 5,441,000 in 1979, with the average age increasing from 37 to 45.[13] What should the church do to reverse this trend? How should individual Christians react in regards to a life of discipleship in an age where church attendance is rapidly declining as we have seen? It is by being a radical community of radical individuals which will help stop this decline in Britain. Paul Weaver emphatically states that what Britain needs is Christians living a “radical discipleship”, engaging with the British culture, counting the cost of discipleship and reflecting true humanity[14].

Radical CommunityFirstly, the church needs to be a community that is seen to be radical by the surrounding society. At Pentecost, the church began when the Holy Spirit filled the disciples (Acts 2v4). This momentous occasion, started the discipleship process of how Christians were to live as God’s people. The hallmarks of this community were “engagement and transformation.”[15] This community was radical. It was where people’s lives were being changed as the Holy Spirit filled them. Instead of being a withdrawn people filled with fear of retribution from the Roman government and Jewish leaders, they became a people filled with boldness and joy. The New Testament church grew by being a radical community imbued with radical individuals engaging with others.

Today’s church will grow by building a strong community. A community which involves joining together “isolated and solitary” individuals where people are imbued with love, showing care to each other, particularly the frail, elderly and young, with what Moltmann calls a “creative passion for the impossible.”[16] An inherent human need is the need to belong. By fulfilling relational needs, the radical community will become relevant to the people within it. It will then also become relevant to those who are on the outside and looking in[17].

This involves improving present societal conditions, rather than remaining a conservative community which repairs the status quo. In doing this, today’s church will be emulating characteristics of the early church (Acts 2v44-45). As individuals became Christian, they were added to the church. Discipline helped ensure that the community was being seen as a holy community. To be excommunicated from the community for gross sin was a severe punishment. However church discipline as part of discipleship, is not primarily about punishment but being “formative and corrective”[18]. Ortberg sees church discipline as foundational to disciples making, because it concerns the community’s spiritual health, and strengthens the community bonds[19].

The church must be a community of disciples, willing to be holy. It is by making people holy, that the church will grow. The role of the community engaged in radical discipleship is to make people holy and not happy.[20] Happiness will flow from holiness, but holiness will not necessarily flow from an induced ‘feel good factor’. The radical community needs to be making disciples who are trained, equipped and developed in order for them to make disciples themselves. Whereas in the past, discipleship processes and programmes have emerged after people have joined the church, it should be foundational[21]. The best way is for the leadership to set the example, and show a way forward. Good leadership has good accountability to each other and to the whole community. Paul espoused that elders caught in sin were to be rebuked publicly, as a warning to others in the community (1Timothy 5v20). Only after this, could leaders be restored.

Radical Individuals – Secondly, individuals within the community need also to be radical. How does an individual be radical and holy? Calvin asserts that denying oneself and relying on God for all things is the goal of the Christian life, attained by total submission to the Holy Spirit and a life of constantly “dealing with God” in all matters.[22] This transformation is done by a constant renewing of the mind (Ephesians 4v23). A willing heart is also required in order to transform and sanctify. It is by loving others in a way that the end of a disciple’s generosity is when the resources have expired. A disciple must live as Jesus did, John commands (1 John 2v6). There is no better way for a disciple to fulfil this, than by imitating Jesus and obeying his command to “…take up their cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9v23). This is seen as a higher challenge for the mind![23] Bonhoeffer extrapolates this in regards to discipleship as a leading to death for all who follow Christ; either as a physical death or in being ostracized from the community.[24]

For the first century Christians, persecution and martyrdom was a reality, as evident in the story of Stephen (Acts 7v59). Yet it also means enduring suffering, and this is how a Christian disciple maintains a “communion with Christ”.[25] For it is through suffering, that we share with the crucified Jesus. The bitterness of our cross is made sweeter the more we dwell on the sufferings of Jesus and our enabled fellowship with Him. Epitomizing the situation Christians may soon be facing in Britain, is the story of the Reverend Eric Delve who stated that he would rather be imprisoned than being compelled to bless a homosexual civil partnership[26]. Although other Christians do believe that the sexual orientation bill is not a threat to distinctive Christian conscience or identity[27].

How is discipline to be exercised for individuals outside of the leadership? Paul when addressing the Corinthian community promotes the idea that the church should deal with extreme disciplinary matters corporately (1 Corinthians 5:1-13). As Christian individuals, we are linked together in a community through rebirth, and our relationship exists only through our relationship with Christ. This is why discipline (accountability) is an important part of discipleship. Reconciliatory restoration is necessary, or it is as if Christ’s wounds are publicly opened.[28]

Lastly, there is no such thing as an individual member of the radical community. Members are interdependent upon one another, bound by a “corporate, inclusive personality.”[29] The church community is perichoretic by nature, and individualism is oxymoronic and not coherent with Paul’s teaching.[30]

Radical Leadership – A radical community filled with radical individuals requires radical leadership. Radical leadership commences with compassion, similar to that of Jesus when he looked over the crowds, and commented that they were like sheep without a shepherd (Matthew 9v36). It should be a compassion driven like that of Jesus towards the woman at the well (John 4vv1-26). With compassion in our motivation toolkit, and a broken heart, the community can reach out to for those emerging who primarily see Jesus as an irrelevance.

A radical leader needs also to involve the voices of others by engaging in dialogue with trusted others. This will involve having a diverse team around the leader who are both willing and empowered to give advice. Kimball stipulates that leadership for the emerging generation will require an individual leader to have relaxed grip on control, with power diffused to others, which is radical in that it goes against current strains of leadership[31].

A shepherd leader is required rather than a manager, so that the role is one of guidance and nurture rather than merely feeding the community. A leader who cares and loves is one who goes out to find the lost rather than waiting for the lost to come. This shepherd leader is also involved in the training of other shepherd leaders so that care is disseminated. This does not mean however that a radical leader becomes a subordinate to the community, catering to every whim and fad suggested by others. The leader needs be a servant but also requires discernment. This radical leadership style requires a pursuit of relationship in order to work, rather than a pursuit of aims and outcomes. This may well involve, as Kimball suggests meeting somebody on the fringe of the church community and establishing a relationship with them[32]. This will enable trust to form and helps establish the community on a firm relational foundation. Once relationship has been formed, then the spiritual gifts of the person can be used in order to serve the community. By exercising gifts and being functional enables the individual to grow, be used by God and to flourish with confidence and support. Radical leadership encourages the fringe.

Finally, Jesus recommends that leaders be wise like asps and innocent as doves (Matthew 10v16b). The asp reference denotes leaders as being skilful and shrewd in making decisions that are characterised by intelligence, patience and cunning[33]. Additionally, leaders are to be gentle and harmless, like doves. This would make leaders who are accountable to live lives holy, blameless and a life of integrity worthy of the gospel. An illustration of this sober warning is in the story of Ted Haggard who had to step aside once the story of his personal immorality was revealed[34]. In order to do this, dependence on the Holy Spirit for strength and care is a vital necessity. By relying on the Holy Spirit, the leader is perpetually connected to Jesus Christ, who is after all, the Head of the church community.

Conclusion

If British churches and Christians started to take radical steps, both in being and making disciples, then growth would systematically increase. The Church would no longer be seen as irrelevant but as a thriving community where Jesus is glorified and transformation sought.

Bibliography

(more…)

Preparation for confession…

From the Orthodox Tradition…

PREPARATION FOR CONFESSION

Sins Against God

Do you pray to God in the morning and evening, before and after meals?
Have you allowed your thoughts to wander during prayer?
Have you rushed your prayers?
Do you read the Scriptures daily? Do you have other spiritual readings regularly?
Have you read books of which the content is not Christian and spiritually damaging?
Have you pronounced the name of God without reverence? Have you asked for God’s help before every activity?
Have you made the sign of the Cross carelessly, thoughtlessly? Have you sworn? Have you murmured against God? Have you sinned by forgetting God?
Have you been slack in attending church? Have you tried your best to attend Church?
If unable to attend church for some reason, have you still tried to devote some part of these days to prayer and spiritual reading?
Have you kept the fasts? Have you behaved irreverently in church?
Have you laughed or talked in church, or moved about unnecessarily, thus distracting others from prayer? Have you dressed modestly in church?
Have you tried to pay attention to the readings, hymns, and prayers in Church?
Have you striven to pray with the service, crossing yourself, etc., or have you rather simply stood and day-dreamed?
Have you left Church after the Divine Services, and particularly after receiving communion and engaged in small talk, forgetting the blessings you have received?
Have you been ashamed of your Faith in the presence of others?
Have you made a show of piety? Have you used your Faith to belittle others?
Have you used it as an excuse rather than humbling yourself?
Have you believed in dreams, fortune telling, astrology, signs and other superstitions?
Do you give thanks to the Lord for all things?
Have you ever doubted God’s providence concerning yourself?
Do you try to see His purpose in all things that come upon you?

Sins Against Your Neighbours

Do you respect and obey your parents? Have you offended them?
Have you insulted anyone? Have you quarrelled or fought with anyone?
Are you always respectful to old people?
Are you ever angry, bad-tempered or irritable?
Have you called anyone names? Do you use foul language?
Have you derided any that are disabled, poor, old or in some way disadvantaged?
Have you entertained bad feelings, ill will or hatred against anyone?
Haw you forgiven those who have offended you?
Have you asked forgiveness from those whom you have offended?
Are you at peace with everyone?
Have you left the needy without help when you could have helped?
Have you attended the sick or elderly when they have asked you to do so?
Have you shown kindness and attention to all?
Have you hit animals without a cause or been cruel to them?
Have you stolen anything?
Have you taken or used other people’s things without asking?
Have you kept money or things that were lent to you without returning them?
Have you wasted your employer’s time or resources? Have you taken things from work for your own use?
Are you obstinate and do you always try to have your own way?
Have you been inconsiderate of other people’s feelings?
Have you tried to have your revenge against those who have offended you?
Have you harboured resentment? Have you deceived people?
Have you gossiped? Have you told untruths?
Have you judged and condemned others?
Have you taken pains before approaching for confession to be reconciled with all?

Sins Against Yourself

Have you been proud? Do you boast of your abilities, achievements, family, connections or riches?
Do you consider yourself worthy before God?
Are you vain, ambitious? Do you try to win praise and glory?
Do you bear it easily when you are blamed, scolded or treated unjustly? Do you think too much about your looks, outward appearance and the impression you make?
Have you sinned in thought word or deed, by a look or glance, or in any other way against the Seventh Commandment?
Have you envied anyone anything? Have you been over-sensitive?
Have you been lazy? Have you done your duties heartily?
Have you wasted your time, energy or abilities in things that do not profit the soul?
Have you become obsessive about anything? Have you been despondent?
Have you had thoughts of committing suicide?
Have you brought a curse on yourself or others or ill-wished them, being impatient?
Have you a weakness for alcohol? Have you taken drugs? Have you smoked?
Have you watched television too much or indiscriminately? Have you given yourself up to any other similar pastime which wastes your time and energy?
Have you been greedy, either with regard to food or to possessions?
Have you been wasteful of food, forgetting that so many people are without proper nourishment? Have you been extravagant?
Do you care for and seek first the salvation of your soul, the spiritual life and the kingdom of God, or have you put worldly considerations in first place?
Is there any other sin, which burdens your conscience, or which you are ashamed to say?

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