Celtic Christianity

Having asked so many questions of the humble sermon, I admit to having recently been blessed by sitting under just that style of preaching. Perhaps fittingly, this took place in a church in the Western Isles.

In many parts of the Outer Hebrides Christian faith is still visible, especially where statues, crosses and standing stones remain. Popular caricature speaks of swings tied up on the Sabbath, but vibrant moves of the Holy Spirit are also recorded.

I once heard a Lewisman describing Celtic Christianity as spirituality in work boots. And certainly my experience of the Western Isles is of fiercely resilient, hardworking, humorous and generous people. I would add open, calloused hands to the work boots.

It’s therefore hard to reconcile the sentimental and mystical nature of current resurgent ‘Celtic Spirituality’ with the actual experience of Island life. Many Islanders appear more likely to shoot the goose than recognise it as an embodiment of the Holy Spirit.

Interestingly a number of commentators suggest that today’s Celtic Christianity is a recent development based on scattered elements from a diverse historical reality. These critics highlight that the current Celtic resurgence reveals more of the needs of 21st Century urbanites than of the historic faith of the Islands to which they make pilgrimage (eg Prof. Donald Meek – here and here). Of greater concern is a perceived pagan and New Age creep within the movement.

The missionary zeal of the ancient Celtic saints has much to teach us but does it matter that what today passes as a unified Celtic Spirituality appears to have little historic basis? And despite the tenuous link to history, how do we take seriously the needs of contemporary Christians revealed in this new spirituality?

This matters because there are problems in current mainstream Christianity which the Celtic movement aims to address. There is a need for a whole life spirituality which encompasses work and nature. There is a need for a more earthy language of faith and to value the community as well as the individual.

Perhaps the real issue is the attempt to found this contemporary approach to faith on a questionable historic reconstruction. Forgive the flippancy, but if the same movement was instead to call itself Jedi Christianity it would avoid the historical problem, and might it sometimes be a more accurate title?

Where have we reached with Preaching?

Again, I’ve had great feedback on the questions raised about preaching. Church pastors and ministers appear to be both aware of the potential for varied approaches to Bible teaching and reluctant to lose traditional preaching in church. Many church leaders recognise the value of an integrated programme of learning and biblical reflection that includes personal study, small group work and church sermons.

For me, questions remain over the aim and function of church preaching and these relate to larger questions of the aim and function of church services. Our approach to preaching will often be consistent with our view of church services and the aims of both.

My current thought is that church is primarily a gathering of Christians yet open to all. I’m not sure that the once fashionable ‘seeker service’ is appropriate in a post-Christian and post-Christendom society, where few people feel the need to simply arrive at services. And yet, often church services remain aimed at the unbelieving visitor whether or not they attend. However, I have heard Tim Keller say the opposite, that if you speak as though unbelievers are there eventually they will be. Presumably because their Christian friends will bring them, or visitors will be interested enough to return. But I wonder whether Scottish culture differs from American on this. Also, few preachers have Keller’s ability and speaking gifts.

By focussing primarily on the not yet Christian, the shop-window view of church may encourage many preachers to take a superficial approach which depends upon attendance at further meetings for depth (clearly this is not the case with Redeemer services). It also absolves most of the congregation from the need to engage in evangelism and outreach which in turn limits their growth and development.

However, where possible services ought to be in an accessible language and style appropriate to their context. The reason being, if Christians don’t learn to worship and reflect in contemporary language they will struggle to share their faith in the culture they inhabit outside of church. In a greek class, years ago, it was pointed out that there is theological precedent for this view, namely that the New Testament is written, primarily, in Greek which was the ‘global’ language of the day. And as helpfully pointed out it’s written in Koine Greek which was the language of the hoi polloi.

Questions also remain over the biblical foundations of church preaching. Is a monologue presentation, as opposed to dialogical teaching of the Scriptures, something that the bible anticipates? Announcing and heralding the Gospel are clearly biblical but are they meant primarily for church service or part of engaging with the world at large.

It’s hard to evaluate the efficacy and appropriateness of preaching. In addition to questions of the biblical foundations of church activities, there is also the question of outcome. How do we evaluate the outcome of different teaching methods or views of ‘preaching’?

Most pastors or ministers would find it very difficult to receive the kind of evaluation and scrutiny that others do in their work. I regularly wonder whether I have the stomach and strength to ask my congregation what they think of church. And this is not due to a lack of potential feedback, I’m sure there’s an old joke about the congregation going home to roast the minister for Sunday lunch!

There is also the issue of expectation. Both pastor-teachers and the congregation may not not waste time considering the practical impact or efficacy of church preaching because they view preaching sermons as a necessary, sacred act. Therefore even canvassing the congregation may simply tell what they want rather than what might serve them best.

Finally, perhaps the best available evaluation of church teaching is the wider situation of the church. Is our teaching or preaching engaging the congregation? Is it leading to growth in terms of faith? Is it leading to growth in numbers involved in the Christian community? Do our congregations feel built up in their faith, and empowered to handle Scripture? Are they increasingly inspired and equipped to share their faith outside of the Christian community? And are our churches increasingly displaying the fruit of the Spirit and obedience to Christ?

Preaching as Event

My earlier posts considered church teaching as a means of learning how to read the Bible. I believe this is a valid form of preaching because the Gospel is the primary key (or hermeneutic) to understanding the Bible. You can’t teach the Bible well without preaching the Gospel.

I’ve received some further great responses to the earlier posts. A common point has been to question the concept of preaching as primarily having an educational function. What if preaching in church is not primarily about teaching the Bible? Instead, preaching can also be seen as a means of encountering God or of engaging the heart and soul.

This takes us back to an interesting point in the discussion and draws out some important questions.

  • What is the aim of preaching? What function does it perform within the Christian community?
  • What is the biblical foundation of this view of preaching to the Christian community? Is the closest idiom that of the OT prophet?
  • How does such preaching then relate to the meetings of the NT church which focused on the Apostles teaching although prophesy appears to have had a role.
  • A high view of preaching is shared by many pastors and scholars. But is it suggesting that when we preach God speaks or God’s presence descends? If so, it may have a bearing on answering the next question.
  • What Ephesian’s category of preacher might we place this perspective within. Is this the utterance of the apostle, prophet, evangelist or pastor-teacher? And what might that say about the best context for such speech?
  • Does this privilege the preacher’s words, or the act of preaching, over the Scripture? Does God speak more clearly in the sermon than in the Bible? Does God inhabit the sermon more than he inhabits the Scriptures. Or are sermons conduits to the Almighty in the same way as Scripture?
  • What is more beneficial to the congregation, the preaching event or learning to hear God for themselves in the a Bible?
  • If the anticipated outcome is a divine encounter or heart warming experience, should such preaching be privileged over singing and prayer?

For want of a better concept, I tend to think of this perspective as ‘preaching as sacrament or sacramental event’. Here, behind the content and act of the preaching is a movement of the Spirit which establishes a transformative encounter with God.

I wonder whether the roots of viewing church preaching as sacrament go back to the Reformation. It might be argued that the reformers simply replaced the mass with the sermon. The sermon then became a means of grace and encounter with God which was mediated by a specially set-apart celebrant.

The view of preaching as a sacrament or sacramental event may be an entirely legitimate perspective but it’s always good to examine the assumptions behind our practice.

Monologues, Communication and Church Teaching.

I’ve had some very helpful responses to my last post and to a subsequent request to my teaching friends to suggest how they might teach the text.

The value of monologue for preaching

Firstly in response to the original post which questioned teaching methods in church and the effectiveness of public announcement of the Gospel, two respondents raised similar questions. Both focused on the role of the church preacher as the person set aside for leadership and teaching. One asked what the impact might be upon Spirit given insight to the preacher if sermons were replaced by dialogue. The second person made a similar point, this time related to training. Preachers have generally followed lengthy training in order to preach, how does that relate to a situation where everyone gets to give their opinion?

These are important questions and emphasise the biblical and historical function of church leaders being set apart and given authority. This should not be lost even if new approaches to teaching in church are adopted. In a Reformed environment there is a fine balance between recognising the priesthood of all believers, the presence of the spirit in all and the need for all to have a voice, with the biblical mandate that some are set apart for particular ministries. A change in approaches to teaching should not be allowed to increase biblical illiteracy or theological error.

This is especially significant for the Church of Scotland which is drastically reducing the number of Parish Ministers. How will teaching be delivered to local churches? Will it become more like a quaker or brethren meeting where many people can stand and speak? Or will teaching become the domain of the non-stipendiary minister or bi-vocational minister, maintaining the ‘theologically educated preacher’ but with significantly reduced costs?

Online Monologue Resurgence?

A second important cultural point was raised. With the rise of podcasts, blogging, vlogging, influencers and youtubers; the online monologue appears to be in the ascendance. This is a significant point and the church must engage effectively in this area. Covid-19 forced online many previously reluctant pastor to great effect.

Online communications of various forms can be excellent means of preaching the Gospel. They are very effective at reaching a wide variety of people over great distances. Also they can be paused and replayed which probably aids comprehension. This would allow such communications to fall into the public proclamation category and also teaching category. Through blogging and vlogging etc., monologues can be used effectively in both preaching to those outside the church and teaching Christians. As an aside, many vloggers and podcaster often engage in dialogue through interviews and co-presenters, and this approach can also be used well in churches.

However, the effectiveness of online monologues does not solve the church service conundrum. The monologue may be an effective means of communication in an online setting. But is it as effective for congregational learning in a church service? For example, many online monologues are used as ways of delivering opinion but are they good for the learning and education of the listeners?

Our ultimate answer to this question may depend on what we expect church teaching to achieve. As mentioned earlier, where the aim of the speaker is to convey prophetic insight from God or insight from theological education, monologue may be required. But if at least part of the teaching in church is to help Christians to learn to handle the Bible, the opportunity to ask questions and reflect in community may be beneficial. Perhaps church services require a range of teaching methods depending on the topic and context.

How would a teacher deal with a Biblical Text?

In terms of suggestions from teachers and an educational psychologist of how they might approach the text, the answers were creative and certainly challenging to someone who is used to simply pronouncing from the platform!

I had asked how teachers would approach a biblical text.

General comments included:

  • Education is increasingly about helping children & young people to be self directed, to set their own learning goals and self-evaluate.
  • Ask the children to be curious about the passage and come up with questions.
  • Encouraging curiosity rather than getting the answer ‘right’.
  • Try to get the children to bounce ideas around the classroom.
  • Reduce the dynamic that sees the teacher as the expert.
  • Resist the urge to simply provide that answers.
  • Use coloured pencils to annotate different features of the text. Indicate links and highlight questions.
  • Cut up the text and put it back together in the right order.
  • “Any Blooms Taxonomy activity that gets people to use the information from the text helps people. internalise it and understand it better.”

One teacher kindly gave me an entire lesson plan. I had asked how teachers might approach John 8.1-11.

I’ll summarise some of the ideas here:

  • Consider key vocabulary and think of examples of using these terms.
  • Read the passage perhaps adapting it to related to issues relevant to the children.
  • Use drama to explore the feelings of different people in the story. The children could work in groups to create their own drama. Use freeze frames, as they perform, to ask questions about the characters feelings.
  • Consider the key message in the text.
  • Work in pairs to consider when we might have judged other people. Consider the feelings of those involved. Consider whether the issue was resolved.
  • Draw a picture or write about their experience to be shared with group.

I’m really grateful to those who replied and gave ideas and practical approaches to teaching. It’s amazing to see how children would be encouraged to approach a text in a classroom environment. They appear to be trusted with far more responsibility for and autonomy in their own learning than most adult congregants!

I suspect many ministers would struggle with this way of teaching, perhaps, especially the diminishment of their role as the ‘expert’. But arguably that diminishing would be biblically defensible and in keeping with reformed theology.

Many congregations would also have problems with being asked to work so hard in a church service. It would be a serious culture shift, but might the end result not be worth it? Would it be better, in the long run, for congregations to be better encouraged and enabled to handle the bible themselves?

Clearly there are times when a church leader may need to monologue. But often it might be better for the learning of the congregation to encourage more dialogue, discussion and personal reflection on the text. Ultimately, our approach to these questions will depend upon our expectations of the Church teacher or ‘preacher’ and what the church service aims to achieve.

It matters what we think about preaching

I realise it’s a niche topic, but it matters what we think about preaching. Christian’s believe that we have been entrusted with a message that will save the world; a literally life and death communication. If that’s the case, it’s critical that we pass it on effectively.

There are many long held assumptions about preaching which shape how and where it is delivered and by whom. But how set in stone are these expectations of preaching and preachers? And might a dogmatic adherence to historical assumptions be damaging the announcement of the Gospel?

Where preaching is delivered

I’m currently reading Preaching in the New Testament by Jonathan Griffiths. Griffiths identifies different words for preaching and helpfully lists where these words are used in the New Testament. Significantly, most NT occurrences of preaching occur in a context outside of the church in what we would today consider outreach or evangelistic settings.

Today, most would consider the normal context of preaching to be within the church. There are of course many different explanations for this change, not least historical context. But it is interesting to consider the shift in emphasis. While preaching today is widely consider to be teaching Christians, at some points in history preaching generally denoted the sharing the Gospel with unbelievers.

Who delivers the preaching?

Griffiths notes that in most NT occurrences, preaching is delivered by authorised individuals. But interestingly, greek equivalents to the english noun ‘preacher’ are relatively rare in the NT. Preaching usually relates to the message preached rather than the person speaking. Ephesians chapter 4 famously mentions four ministry roles given by Christ to the Church for the equipping of the saints; apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. Notably, preachers are not specifically mentioned in this list. Could this omission indicate that all four are preaching ministries?

Again this contrasts with contemporary preaching which is generally delivered by pastor-teachers speaking to a predominantly Christian audience. It has been suggested before that today’s residual Christendom emphasis on pastor-teachers may be limiting the preaching of the Gospel by restricting the announcement of the crucified King Jesus to believers in Church.

How is preaching delivered?

Preaching methods are also important. As mentioned earlier the vast majority of preaching is done through monologue. Delivery can be dramatic and emotionally charged, a sober lecture, a dry homily or passionate and pulpit thumping. But generally and regardless of fervour or frigidity, it will be a monologue from the front of a church.

But in our continued use of the monologue, have we mistakenly enshrined only one historical means of preaching – that of the public herald. We may believe that this method of preaching is a biblical mandate. But such public announcement predates the church and was not restricted to Jewish synagogues or even religious settings. We might argue instead that this form of preaching is simply a particular, historical, communications technology, to which we are no more bound than to reading Scripture in ancient codices.

It’s also strange that despite utilising a preaching method akin to the public herald, most preaching today is part of teaching Christians. Such an announcement or lecture style monologue is not necessarily the best form of teaching. Lectures and monologues have their place but most educational establishments have moved to a more mixed approach. Seminar discussions, personal reflection and research, Q&A etc join lectures in contemporary education. House groups and Bible studies may allow for more varied teaching. But given that many in a congregation will only engage with Sunday services, might it not be more effective to encourage the use of varied teaching methods in church?

Of course, it could be argued that church services are likely to include those who are not yet followers of Jesus. In that case a preaching method that was largely based on the public announcement of news might be appropriate. But the cultural context has changed and church services are surely not the most effective means of reaching unbelievers. It is time to get the message out of the church.

But in doing so we must remember, the rest of the world has moved on from town criers. News is now transmitted in a wide variety of ways. Even when communicating outside of the church we may undermine our message if we unnecessarily privilege an ancient form of public announcement over newer communication styles and technologies.

Communicating the Gospel effectively today

Drawing these strands together, it is possible that we are seriously undermining our attempts to share the Gospel effectively in different contexts.

  • We have focussed primarily on the preacher as pastor-teacher to the neglect of other preaching ministries which reach the unbelieving world more effectively.
  • We privilege an ancient style of public address which we now use both in the wrong place and for the wrong purpose. Public address is surely better suited outside of the church and it is certainly not the best way to effectively teach Scripture and Doctrine to the church.
  • The historic town-crier approach of the public herald is not even appropriate in its equivalent contemporary setting; few if any stand in the street and shout out the news.

Might it not be more effective for the church to recognise that the promotion and announcement of the Gospel can be delivered through different ministries in different contexts and by different means.

For pastor-teachers struggling to teach the Gospel in Scripture and Doctrine, surely there are better educational approaches instead of monotone lectures and public announcement?

And is it time for the church to once more commission and release people into preaching ministries which are public facing and engage the world through contemporary communication methods.

This is not to say that lectures or public speech are dead, far from it. But they must be used in the right place and time by those equipped for such delivery. Perhaps it’s time that we took our audience, context and message more seriously than our often tired and now inappropriate delivery methods.

Is the Kirk losing its soul?

24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. 26 What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?

Matthew 16.24-26 – biblegateway.com

Jesus’ words appear to be addressed to individuals, encouraging them to apply the cross to their lives in self denial. But might we extend these words to the church? Is it possible for a church to lose its ‘soul’ through an attitude of self-preservation?

The Church of Scotland faces big challenges and difficult questions in relation to life expectancy. We are currently going through a substantial process of restructuring and rationalisation. Significant reductions in the central services have been reported and these will be followed by the amalgamation of Presbyteries and around a third of paid ministry posts disappearing.

Some see this as a necessary contraction before a new missional expansion; pruning for growth. The more Eeyorish perceive the beginning of the end. Theology and personality also shape practical approaches to the crisis. Some simply focus more feverishly on the local church, perhaps counting on financial autonomy as a lifeboat. Some are deep in national and regional strategising and others are flailing around in the rapid and disorientating sea change.

The question is what to hold on to in this shipwreck!

It appears that the institutional life-raft is restructuring. Admittedly over the years there has also been an increasing, and possibly cynical, utilisation of the language of mission. More recently the mysterious five marks of mission descended to the floor of the General Assembly. But what our mission comprises remains unclear. Is it the establishment of the Kingdom of God, or the re-establishment of the National Church?

In my worst moments, I look to the instructed change with wearied resignation. In my better moments, and in an effort to contend with pessimism, I have commitment myself to the cause. But the reality is I’m not convinced that the looming pain of restructuring will be worth the effort.

Having said that there are two thoughts which I believe would be central to any future resurrection, as opposed to defibrillation, of the Kirk.

The first is that our future is dynamically bound to our willingness to apply the Cross to our denomination. Saving the CofS is not part of our Gospel remit or theological dna. In fact if we continue on this course it will almost certainly end in denominational death. We must stop trying to save the Kirk!

Secondly, we need to rediscover our love for the Saviour.

The only Kirk worth saving; the only Kirk of any value to its members and the people of Scotland, is a Kirk passionate and single-mindedly devoted to Jesus of Nazareth. He is the source, sustainer, redeemer and goal of the church and if he can command worship from rocks, he can breathe new life into his bride.

Belt tightening, ‘clergy’ culling, Mega-Presbyteries and well placed right-spaces will be painful and meaningless efforts unless the Kirk rediscovers a love for King Jesus! May he breathe his powerful Spirit of repentance and renewed power through our dry bones today.

Does creativity end with the kids’ talk?

The Children’s Address, as it used to be called, remains the highlight of the service for some.

It’s an open secret that most children’s talks are the main thing that the adults remember long after the sermon has become hazy. It’s also an open secret that most ministers, if they haven’t managed to contract out the kids’ talk, have, at least, half an eye on the adults when preparing.

At our church, prior to Covid, we had all but stopped kid’s talks. This was partly because we were using teaching material that follows a different plan to that of the ‘sermons’. It seemed confused to initiate two narratives for the children.

Post Covid, we have yet to recommence the children’s work and all services are currently ‘All Age’. So, the kids’ talks are back on. Accompanying the main ‘sermon’ we usually provide a worksheet that includes the ever popular sermon bingo.

The kids talks are being given by a range of people from the congregation. What has struck me is the variety and creativity with which these are delivered. They come with visual aids, songs, video, worksheets, and crafts all illustrating what is being said.

In contrast, the ‘sermons’ have a lot more talking and a lot less creative illustration. Why? Why do we teach adults in a way that is much less creative and varied?

Is there an underlying belief that creative illustrations and participation in practical activities are childish? That would concur with my experience of school where primary eduction was play-based but later education was often more like a lecture. I hope that schools have moved on from this approach.

Similarly, even tertiary education appears to have moved on from lectures to greater use of discussion and practicals. Of course, the lecture is still perhaps the most effective way of delivering information to large audiences. Or at least it was until the arrival of massive online meetings. But churches may be alone in their fairly monochrome approach to plenary communication.

People will sit for long periods and listen. Just look at the success of stand up or TED talks. But neither of these examples is supposed to be an all encompassing approach to educating the audience.

Over the years we have tried more interactive and creative approaches. Once a month our church has/had the ‘Breakfast Service.’ This is just as it sounds, a worship event that includes breakfast sitting around small tables.

More recently we added a more discursive approach to teaching. We started with a variation of Nigel Barge’s ‘Hearing the Word’ method. For the first 15 minutes, each table simply read the text and asked questions. In the first section you were not allowed to answer the questions. Afterwards in plenary, each table selected some questions to share and an attempt was made, from the front, to answer these. The other tables were also welcome to share their own answers. All this was supported by a homemade worksheet that displayed related images and encouraged reflection and drawing, even by the adults.

As you can imagine, this was met with mixed responses. Anecdotally, it did seem that often that those who were ‘unchurched’ or ‘less-churched’ were more open to this approach to learning in a church service.

The question still to be answered is, does such an approach constitute a legitimate way of preaching the Gospel? The answer, I suspect, will depend on whether, or not, you think that Preaching the Gospel requires a particular form of communication.

Eschatophobia?

We’re currently studying Revelation in church. We started after the church letters because this was an unexplored frontier. How many churches similarly, study the letters and then jump to the new Heavens and Earth where Kleenex will no longer be required?

The intervening narrative is strange and obscure. But with the help of commentaries and some OT prophets, it is possible to wade through, at least, the shallows of the text.

Studying Revelation has been a thoroughly enjoyable experience, at least for the preacher; if enjoyable is an appropriate term for an apocalypse. But it has also raised some questions about contemporary Christianity in Scotland.

Reflecting on the text and the current state of Scottish Christianity has led to the question, how well equipped are we for the kind of trials that Revelation’s Christians faced and that many face today across the globe?

Some contemporary teaching packages Christian faith as a life enhancing bolt on. There are, of course, many significant life enhancing aspects to our faith. But without certain qualifications, ‘life-enhancement’ sounds a lot like false advertising.

Revelation depicts a persecuted church, making huge sacrifices but secure in the promise of the returning King and the new world to come. This eschatological perspective is often missing in contemporary presentations of Christianity. The, now historical, Christian Aid slogan, ‘We believe in life before death’ is apt. With the current stress on the Kingdom of God as the basis of the Christian life, I wonder if the eschaton has dimmed in the Church’s teaching?

The reminder of the Kingdom lived now was necessary. For many Christians it was important to discover that the Earth is not simply Heaven’s waiting room. Here, conversion is not the end but the beginning of Christlike living defined, not simply by what must now be omitted but, by what must now be done in Christ’s name.

But has there been an overcorrection? Are we still teaching the necessity of contemporary cross carrying in order to participate in eschatological rest? On the contrary, it seems to me that we are often teaching an over-realised eschatology where suffering with Christ has little place. Not only does this breed immature, self-indulgent, Christians, but it does them an injustice. Christians today may not be prepared to deal with reality? What happens when the first bump on the heavenly road is hit?

The Christian life is marked by suffering, self-discipline and self-denial. Is it all bad? No, it’s glorious! In the midst of trials we see heaven opened and angelic armies worshipping the Most High. The problem with the ‘life enhancement’ theology is that it expects no suffering. It offers Heaven today while circumnavigating the way of the cross.

Sadly, there are other theologies present in the church today which struggle with over-realised eschatology. Of course there is full blown prosperity preaching. But there is also a more subtle blend of pietism with a dilute prosperity gospel which considers God to owe us because we have been devoted to him.

It’s not wrong to expect blessings from God. But it’s mistaken to presume upon them. Because the only thing guaranteed in the Christian life, prior to death, is that we will suffer with Christ. All guaranteed blessing is eschatological and therefore tied to the life to come.

We should, of course, avoid a morbid, pessimistic, theology that only expects bad things from our Heavenly Father. Early in life I developed a theology that seldom moved beyond the cross. I thought little of the resurrection or ascension apart from being proofs for Christ’s divinity and my forgiveness. It was liberating to realise that King Jesus rules today and we meet each day as his willing subjects and servants, with grateful work to do.

But ‘life enhancement’ or ‘God owes me’ theology is prone to forget altogether our crosses and may not prepare us as servants and heralds of the Kingdom. Instead are we becoming suburbanites; viewing the Kingdom of God as a gated retirement community that dishes out heaven’s blessing like a gratuitous pension?

Philip and the Ethiopian

An Angel said to Philip, go to the Gaza road. So he did just that.

On the way he met an Ethiopian man, who looked important and wealthy. The man was on his way home from worshiping at the Temple in Jerusalem. He was reading the Scriptures from the book of Isaiah.

Philip heard what the Ethiopian was reading, because the man, thinking no one else was listening, was reading aloud.

“Do you understand what you’re reading?” asked Philip. And soon the men were talking about Jesus and everything that had happened in Jerusalem.

As they continued along the road, they passed a small stream. The Ethiopian turned to Philip, “listen, why don’t I just get baptised right now?” he said.

Philip paused and began to feel flustered. At last he replied apologetically, “sadly I can’t do that. I’ve not done the proper training. I was only ordained to catering.”

The Ethiopian continued on his way disillusioned with early church structures.

In Christ’s Name

“Teacher,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.”

(Mark 9.38)

“Did you get his name?” replied Jesus, “Let’s google him…wait has this place got wifi?”

“Has he got twitter?” someone asked.

“I found a blog” shouted Matthew.

“Is he evangelical?” asked John.

“What does that even mean nowadays John” said James.

“Ok then, is he complementarian?” asked John.

“Does his church sing Getty or Bethel?”

“What’s his view on N T Wright?”

“Is he emerging?”

“Ok, ok” said Jesus, loudly.

“To be on the safe side, let’s issue a press release distancing ourselves. The usual thing please Matthew; say he isn’t part of a ‘Gospel’ church.”