Thursday, 28 July 2016

Grace and Right Living

It is by grace we are saved, though faith, the gift of God. Well known words from Ephesians that echo Paul's letter to the Romans where he clearly defines God's saving ways that work apart from the Law.

Yet everyone has their codes and standards of behaviour, and Christians are typically high up on the league table of having expectations on how people should or shouldn't behave.

The problem is that even if our code is reasonable or correct, we typically incorrectly translate it to our relationships with people who do not know Christ, and this messes up our witness and evangelism. In the worst case it effectively reverts us back to salvation by Law.

In simplistic bullet items, here are some suggested lines I use to make sense of the 'grace versus license-to-anything' tension, and to keep things on the grace-only track:
  • Non-Christians cannot be expected to know how to live rightly - why would they?
    • we can appeal for better in the wider society and we can encourage individuals to live better, but we should not be surprised if they don't (or can't) 'measure up'
  • Because salvation is not by law, changing their behaviour (even if they can) is not the way for them to be saved - that is by grace alone (an encounter with Jesus)
  • In someone coming to Christ (discovering grace) we can start to work pastorally with them to help them see the incongruity of continuing to live their old ways
    • encourage people to see that now we are in Christ "we don't want to do that kind of thing any more"
    • realise too that the Holy Spirit takes people on a journey, different people at different speeds
  • Since a church is a body of Christ-followers which is visible in the wider society, they will want to strive for certain standards for themselves (taken as a whole) in order to avoid undermining their witness and standing in the community
    • but they need to be careful of simply projecting those standards as an organisation onto others
  • Leaders of the church are in positions of influence and also likely to represent the public face of the church. It is therefore right to expect them to meet even higher standards.

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

The Genuine Community Test Factor

Doubtless anyone evaluating a mission initiative in the UK would want to look at the fruit. To have that as a test is no surprise. Another typical test would be numeric - the number of people reached. Of course one can then argue about quality versus quantity, which is really re-considering the fruit aspect once again.

But I am seriously considering adding another test factor: that of genuine community. This would look at the sense of community among the people undertaking the mission. Do they support each other, do they disciple one another, and do they invest in a shared spirituality with each other? Does this give something stronger than any one individual, no matter how important or influential that individual is to the work? Is the strength of the initiative traceable back to the resilience of this community rather than relying on institutional structures?

I wish to tread carefully here because countless people do great gospel work, quite often as an individual or as a small team together with a periphery of supporters. Their work may be fantastic, and for the Kingdom, yet might fail the test I envisage!

In calling people to follow himself, Jesus enjoined people into a community. There would be discipling, shared learning, and assignments. Add to that our UK context, where we know that there is a longing among many for genuine community, since community spirit is not completely dead but often severely eroded. Furthermore we know the support and resilience that genuine community can give. All these suggest to me that we should look at genuine community as a key ingredient in our endeavours.

Hence the health of an initiative, and a clue to its ability to persist through thick and thin, would be aided by including genuine community as a test factor.