THE APOSTLE AS…
As a group of friends, we exchange books recently read, that challenged, stirred and enlarged us. So this book found its way via Amazon to me. Intriquingly it is entitled “The Wages of Spin”. Does it find its way onto the piles of books that surround my red reading couch or do I trust my friends and start reading? Browsing through the contents page I was immediately drawn to the chapter “A Revolutionary Balancing Act…”. I quote; ‘As an intellectual historian committed to the study of ideas and their functions in historical context, and the role of self understanding in the formation of cultures and movements, I am fascinated by the problem which all successful revolutionaries must ultimately face: the transition from rebels with outsider status to establishment with insider status.” [italics mine]…he continues “the theological history of the church is a history of revolutions, generally driven by correct concerns, but all needing to be subject to the searching criticism of God’s Word” and then he adds:”… have the revolutionaries become the new establishment…?”
A flurry of questions rush my mind as I sit down to start writing. Is there theological integrity to use this often offensive word in a chapter on apostolicity? If Jesus was indeed a revolutionary, how was he one? Did Peter and Paul sustain this launching pad or did they surrender to the pressure of conformity? Indeed is it for the church to always be a revolutionary band of brothers? Do modern apostles still carry the weight of this higher call or is true God-impact on society in our day, achieved through the channels of acceptance and societal applause? Without drifting towards elitism or remnant theology, can the hard core revolutionary remain tender and empathetic? Can the weight of scripture prevent the seemingly inevitable drift of yesterday’s revolutionary becoming tomorrow’s establishment?
Allow me a moment for definitions. The word “revolution” means: “1. The action by a heavenly body of going round in an orbit; 2. ROTATION; 3. A sudden, radical or complete change,…” Websters
The Oxford dictionary adds this”…Complete change, turning upside down, great reversal of conditions, fundamental reconstruction.”
Jesus, the great apostle was by no stretch of the imagination “addicted to mediocrity” to quote Frankie Schaeffer. The very essence of his person and ministry was that of a revolutionary. His motive was not revolution, like Nietzsche suggested, to impose change through violence but the revolution of love. The Christ revolt was against everything that had hijacked the project planet earth from a man / God partnership. Man’s sin brought death, destruction. Sin brought bondage and captivity with eternal damnation. The dominion of darkness blinded a now dying world into seeing life simply through the lenses of gratification of all the self-thrones. Beyond a political freedom, the Jesus-revolutionary brought a new kingdom and allegiance to this nail-scarred king. He taught his followers to pray that way [“Come your kingdom, be done, like heaven, like earth”] and live this way [“whoever wants follow me must take up his cross”]. These humble acts of surrender, produces the very liberty and freedom the Christ follower yearns for. The reversal of the dank days of the garden was uppermost in His messianic mind as he walked the dusty Galilean roads. The fundamental reconstruction of the Father’s original intent oozed through His every pore. This higher call drove Him, who was His Father’s son, to spare no price in order to achieve this end. The conflict in the garden escalated into an all out war that has splattered history with the battle for ascendancy. From the position of the historian, it is obvious that it would ultimately cost some one their life for the “great reversal of conditions” to take place. That is what it would take. No Less. The climactic declaration of the old rugged cross that “it is finished”, began the pilgrimage of victory that will ultimately be realized with His final return. As John Stott has popularized, we live in the tension of the “already and the not yet”.
Colossians 1:13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves,
Jesus, as the apostle – revolutionary, did not hold back on His call to His fellow revolutionaries. His many intimate appeals to the twelve particularly ensured that they would understand they were embarking on a fight that embraced the heavenlies all the way to their own lives.
His heavenward parting now makes our conversation interesting. Whilst we can accept that He was to die to “take away the sins of the world”, the modern church and the theology that has drip-fed them, suggests that the evangelical church is a irrelevant, outdated organization set to maintain a conservative status quo. Losing her revolutionary edge by becoming an arm of the main stream, has made her a joke in the eyes of the world she is trying to reach. This afternoon I picked up my latest Rolling Stone magazine. There in the “Best of Rock 2008” edition is an account of a journalist who went undercover into evangelicalism in the USA. Let it be sufficient to say, I grieved as I tried to grace myself through the pages of this tragic article. If we are to be martyred, let it at least be for Jesus the revolutionary not for mainstream mediocrity!
Paul, the great apostle followed in his master’s footsteps. Born with a most wonderful intellect, his passion is well documented as he sought to defend the status quo with all his energy. His Damascus road divine encounter translated his defending of tradition to revolutionary for the Galilean. Without apology, he set out to match his master’s zeal with an unswerving commitment to the restoration of freedom through his savior’s message. Paul was a revolutionary in the truest sense of the word. He believed his message uncompromisingly. [A study of Galatians 1 and 2 is a sheer delight]. He lived his message unapologetically [read Acts 20]. He declared his message unswervingly. He challenged those who compromised the message unreservedly [Galatians 3]. He gathered and trained fellow revolutionaries consistently [Timothy in Acts 16]. The extent of his anticipated revolution included political, social, economic, relational, governmental.
Steve Turner the English poet wrote:
“History repeats itself,
No one listens”
Every move of God appears to have been started by this call to the revolution. From the Lord himself and His fighting band, to Luther, Calvin and Knox. The reading of the Wesley brothers account of transforming England is stirring indeed. This apostolic hearted passion knew no bounds as they gathered some 40,000 followers in a handful of decades but equally important, they revolutionized a nation out of a revolution like that which devastated France across the channel.
Often the apostolic passion of its founders becomes replaced by the pastoral bias of the next generation. The pastoral office of Ephesians 4 is particularly preoccupied with the well being of the sheep. This heart, wonderful, essential and powerful, however drifts towards the loyalty of the yesteryear. Words like loyalty, faithfulness, covenant, honor and relationship become clarion calls. The defense of the past is viewed with much value and gratitude. These matters are not erroneous in their own right, however they remove the revolutionary edge. That which defined a movement or ministry as revolutionary, now gives way to its “Pleasantville”.
A sad example of this, is the Vineyard movement. Well documented in Bill Jackson’s book: “The Quest for the Radical Middle”, he does a most intriquing job of the evolution of this world-shaking group of men who gathered around John Wimber. The honest accounts of their humility and struggles with the Father’s mandate, is most refreshing. Without rewriting the book, let it be sufficient to say that the most tragic line in this account, comes after John’s untimely passing and Todd Hunter’s struggles with which direction to set. Having done his homework as he sought counsel, he took to the Vineyard board the proposal that the future lay with “Apostolic Networks”. Jackson says that: “Having no takers…” they became a denomination. The revolutionary became the establishment!
History does indeed not view this with favor. The apostolic-revolutionary baton is often dropped for a safer pastoral-nuturing one. The revolutionary is replaced with the caring, the nurturing. The outsider has become the insider. But the question remains: Is this how things must inevitably evolve?
Revolution is not rebellion. When Jesus was arrested he asked his captures ;”Am I leading a rebellion that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me?” Matt 26:55. The revolutionary is a person of deep truth convictions. Driven, not by an anti-establishment passion but by a pro-truth posture. Martin Luther’s great stand before his Catholic peers when he said he could do no other so help him God, best reflects the revolutionary heart. The 21st century apostle must embrace the mandate to pick up the baton of the revolutionary or the church will…