“… The gospel which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world, is bearing fruit and growing…” 1:5 + 6
The red eye flight from Perth to Brisbane slipped by without much rest. The 5:30am exit from the plane jolted us awake as the humidity reminded us of a January summer with rain in the air. Coffee. Had to find a long … very long black coffee to create the impression to my son that I really was very good at this and that my attitude was simply marvelous.
We stumbled into a bookshop to bide the time away, when my eye caught the classic Penguin book section, this title jumping out at me: “EMPIRE: How Britain made the modern world” written by Niall Ferguson. Coming from the colonies, the book had potential interest for me but the note that this was a ‘most successful and controversial history book’, had me reading more. Opening it to browse at the contents, I was immediately intrigued by the section given to the missionary movement that opened the way for colonialism and imperialism.
“The Victorians had more elevated aspirations. They dreamt not just of ruling the world but of redeeming it” The purpose of this blog is not to enter into a debate around the British Empire [although that would be a most noble conversation]. Rather, I wish to link this assessment to the modern apostolic movements and their solid preoccupation with “discipling all nations”.
As we have read, this gospel will get to all the corners of the globe and bear fruit there. However, how imperialistic are these movements? As much as I despise a message that shrinks God to my myopic world, there are some repeated mistakes that seem to be creeping into a call to all nations. Allow me to ponder around the Pauline apostolic model for just a moment.
1. His love for Israel never ceased, in fact he said to the Romans that he would forfeit his own salvation for the Jews to know their messiah – Rom 9:3; 10:1,
2. He was called to be an apostle to the Gentiles Gal 2:9. The notion of one man being an apostle to all nations is not seen in scripture outside of Jesus who is the great apostle to all – Heb 3:1,
3. Jesus did not had over his authority to one man but gave this ascension gift to all 11 in Matt 28 – there was no apostolic succession to one man… then Jesus added Paul and others to ensure that there was no one model, pattern or person. He did not even require the apostles to remain in touch with each other,
4. Paul never started an organization, denomination or ministry. His preoccupation was with Jesus and his gospel of the Kingdom. There can be no imperialism if there is no organization to colonize the world with, [of course I know that organization is needed],
5. Churches were planted but not as part of an apo organization. They were to be autonomous, elder governed communities that desired partnership with these apostles – and then never with just one ‘guy’,
6. The true role of the apostles was to bring these churches to maturity by equipping them to do the works of the ministry – not to become life members of an organization,
Our 26 intoxicating years of exploring this apo journey has been an exhilarating adventure. We were daily in the unchartered waters of uncertainty that found us thrusting ourselves onto God and his Word in desperation. These thoughts are from watching our journey closely as well as that of others who are wrestling with the very same challenges.
My desire is not to for this to be as much a critique, as much as it is an appeal. There must be conversations about our journey but that is not this blog’s objective. When do we shift from becoming apostolic to drift into imperialism? May I suggest a few items and then I would love to hear from you:
We slip into ‘imperialism’ when:
· Our message becomes anything other than the pure and wonderful gospel – 1 Cor 15 is most helpful in this regard;
· We preach a singular model as if there is only one way in scripture and that is the way we do ‘it’;
· Ecclesiology [seen as the way we do church] gains the ascendancy over Christology;
· The ‘culture’ / ‘context’ conversation is not entered into as that implies that the way we do things may need to change but how can that be if we are ‘biblical’;
· If one culture dominates for too long, the ‘whole world’ quotient of the text has been quietened by this imperialism – notice the role of Epaphras in the Colossians church;
· We plant our flag in as many countries as we can rather than be preoccupied with seeing local churches grow to maturity, base churches being established and local Eph 4 leaders emerge with the nation discipled – in other words, building away from ourselves;
· Subtly the expansion and defense of the organization becomes more important than the multiplication of the gospel in honoring, celebrating and loving every local church as well as that of every culture where this gospel is taken…
· Organizational pride begins to overcome kingdom humility,
· Like David, counting the army becomes a priority rather than a quest to create many apostolic households,
· Planting the name and the flag becomes more important than being prepared to let the church be called something else and even working with others also…
There is so much more to this conversation but I wanted to put these thoughts down on paper as Ferguson’s book stirred me …
 Empire pg 113