The two extremes of spiritual warfare

Like it or not, we were born again into a world at war.

Photo credit: The US Army (Creative Commons)

I often recall a story I was told of a soldier, fully clad in all his combat gear, sitting at a table outside a restaurant drinking a cup of coffee. He was killed by a sniper’s bullet. Although he was fully armed, there was one problem. He didn’t realize he was in a combat zone.

We are often like that soldier. We can be picked off by a fiery dart from the enemy because we are ignorant of his devices.

As believers, we tend to fall into one of two extremes when it comes to spiritual warfare.

  • We hunker down in our spiritual bunkers, content to be protected, but failing to engage in the spiritual battle that is going on all around us. Like toy soldiers, we have little or no impact on our spiritual enemy.
  • We see demons behind every tree, waging war against principalities and powers that are products of our imagination more than real entities. We attribute sin to the demonic, trying to cast it out when it needs a process of forgiveness and sanctification.

There is a real (spiritual) war going on and the church is meant to be on the offensive, fighting for the souls of those who don’t yet know Jesus.

The church moves west (part one)

Over this past month, I’ve had the privilege of writing a foreword for a book written by one of my mentors in the faith, a church planter in India named Victor Choudhrie.  The book, due out in September , will be available on Kindle and is called Greet the Church in Your House. It describes the principles behind one of the greatest church planting movements of our time.

Here is part of the foreword–a birds-eye view of how the epicenter of Christianity has moved over the centuries:

Photo credit: Irina Patrascu (Creative Commons)

The spotlight on the center stage of Christianity is no longer focused on the church of Europe and the United States.

The epicenter of Christianity has arguably been moving west throughout the course of church history. The early church began her journey in Jerusalem, and although the gospel spread eastwards to India via Thomas, the apostle, and south through the Ethiopian Eunuch to Africa, its primary influence traveled in a westerly direction towards Europe. In the book of Acts, for example, we see Antioch and Ephesus becoming centers of missionary activity.

Soon, the hub of church history moved west again to Rome where it remained for several centuries. Under the Emperor Constantine, the church, the vibrant body of Christ, became an institution. Gone was The Way, the dynamic lifestyle that won disciples who modeled their life on Jesus. Instead, copying pagan religion, holy priests in sacred buildings dominated Christianity.

The Dark Ages followed the collapse of the Roman Empire and saw Christianity at its lowest ebb worldwide, with increasing corruption in the church and little to no understanding of the true nature of the gospel. However, a true remnant always remained.

The Reformation of the 16th century moved the core of Christianity northwest again to Germany, Switzerland and Britain. Firstly, the Bible was translated into the common language through the work of Wycliffe and Tyndale. The invention of the printing press made it available to ordinary people. Key New Covenant truths were rediscovered when Luther and Zwingli declared that salvation comes through faith; it cannot be earned. Other truths such as the priesthood of all believers, baptism by immersion, holiness and the social implications of the gospel followed in subsequent centuries.

To be continued…

An evening to remember

Last Friday the church in our home had one of the most beautiful times together that I ever remember in more than 20 years of meeting in house-church sized groups. The presence of Jesus was so real, it was almost tangible.

Young kids (three of them aged around five) were there, watching spellbound as things unfolded. The two toddlers went from one adult to another as they needed attention. The older kids were fully engaged in what was going on.

As usual, we started with a meal. Over dessert, the usual question: “What God events have there been in your life this week?”

First was Rosaura. Those of you who follow this blog will recognize her story. She was a crack addict for 30 years who was instantly delivered from her addictions during a meeting of our church. We were away in Russia at the time, so it was a group of new Christians and young people who prayed for her to be set free–all in response to the prayers of her 15-year-old son, Jose.

Rosaura shared that for her birthday that week, three of her old friends came round to celebrate and they wanted her to do drugs with them. She was very tempted, but went outside to ask God for help. When she came back in, her friends had decided to go somewhere else. “We’ll be back later,” they told her. They never returned and Rosaura is rejoicing. She is only a few weeks away from a full year of being clean and sober.

We’ll throw a party for her that day!!

We praised God for keeping Rosaura safe and laid hands on her, praying that she not only makes a year drug free but a lifetime.

Jose had asked God for something impossible–his mom set free from drugs. So using that example, we broke into six or so smaller groups to pray for the “impossible situations” amongst our families and friends.

Next came a couple of students who are holding a student CPX this week at their university. They sat on the “hot seat” while people prayed for them and shared any impressions God was giving them. They will be bold in following the Holy Spirit this week, and it will result in more churches on their campus.

One of them had finally graduated from college. Applause and praise.

A young Hispanic couple shared how since they had started coming to the church about two months ago, their lives had totally changed. Their faith had become real to them. They had been struggling financially, but now the husband has a new job. This week they have been able to purchase a second car, and their young son has been accepted into a charter school.

More praise and thanksgiving.

A young man who became a Christian around two months ago when he was homeless shared how his faith has been real, even through difficult circumstances. This week he has a job and is now back with his family.

Applause and thanksgiving.

Then Tony asked, “Is there a passage of Scripture that has been on anyone’s heart this week that fits in with what the Holy Spirit has been saying so far?” Someone shared that the verse from 1 John 4, that perfect love casts out fear, had been on her heart. We studied that passage of Scripture together, different ones commenting on parts that were especially relevant to them.

A description of the highlights we experienced doesn’t begin to do justice to what happened in our midst on Friday evening. How do you accurately convey the sense of God’s presence, the leading of the Holy Spirit, the friendship, fun and camaraderie?  The glow on people’s faces as no one wanted to leave because the presence and power of Jesus was so real.

Do you have similar stories? I’d love to hear them.

 

 

Repost: The British House Church Movement (part 3)

In our own situation, Tony had a great inroad into the community as a family physician. He would often ask his patients when they presented with a problem, “Have you thought about praying about this situation?” Their usual reply was, “Oh yes doctor, but my prayers don’t seem to be going anywhere!” Tony would often lead them to the Lord there in his office, and then refer them to a home group leader who lived near them. There was much marketplace evangelism of that type that went on.

Perhaps of as much interest is what happened as the UK movement matured. As time went on, greater and greater emphasis was put on church government. Apostles and prophets were recognized, and they competed to bring churches “under” them. Often the input of these mature leaders was valuable, but there was definitely some empire building going on. In the beginning, the main movement was unified, but fairly early on, it split, primarily over issues of law and grace, into two main streams. These streams each held their own conferences and week-long camps which attracted thousands of people to live under canvas for a week to hear well-known speakers. Whole churches would attend these gatherings. Those who emphasized “law” were very influenced by the shepherding movement from over here. The “grace” faction was much looser and less structured and probably less influenced by the shepherding movement. There were other streams as well whose historical roots were different. This division was competitive and unhelpful.

We are now 30 years down the road, and to be honest, what remains there is really just another version of what existed before, but on steroids. Most of the new churches are the British equivalent of a megachurch.

There is really only major group that is pressing forward and continuing to start churches and that is New Frontiers with Terry Virgo as the apostolic figure. (I am not as familiar with groups like “Salt and Light” with Barney Coombs so forgive me if I miss out a group that is going well.) Most of the others, especially over recent years have had some fairly major problems and have faded. If you are interested to know more of the history and personalities involved, the following websites may be of interest:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charismatic_Restorationism

http://intotruth.org/res/restuk3.html

A few years ago, we spent some time with John Noble, a highly respected elder statesman of the British House Church Movement, and we asked him what went wrong. His reply to us was interesting. He said that the splits occurred because the leadership became arrogant. (The national leadership was initially known as “The London (or Magnificent) Seven” which became “The Fabulous Fourteen” before it split down the middle as described above.) His other comment was that it also “majored on minors.”

So what can we learn from the British experience. First, this is very different. We have a theology of staying small and multiplying so there is not the temptation to try to build megachurches. The leadership, rather than being young and inexperienced is older, and those who are of the younger generation and seeing extraordinary things happen (I think of groups such as Campus Renewal Ministries and Campus Church Networks) seem to have the wisdom to seek their advice. We have a theology of a servant leadership that lays down its life for those it is seeking to serve.

As I look across the nations, the potential in what is happening in this country is incredible. In nations     where church planting movements are happening, the individual believers are very missional. Right from the day of their conversion, they are taught to tell their family and friends about how they have met Jesus. They are encouraged to pray for miracles—and these are occurring. In several of these movements with which we are familiar, around 85% of new churches start around a miracle. There is extensive training for these new believers which teaches them how to start churches. (We spent Thanksgiving with a couple from India who are seeing extraordinary things happen in that nation. I interviewed them extensively, and when I have finished transcribing the interview, will post the results here.)

So can we see what is going on in this country become missional? Absolutely! We are beginning to hear increasing numbers of stories of people stepping out in faith and seeing churches start with unlikely people and in unlikely places. God could be in the process of raising up an army of ordinary people who will go out to a nation that desperately needs Him to spread the Good News. We need to spend time seeking Him that we become those who extend His Kingdom.

Repost: The British House Church Movement (part 2)

Question: Tony and Felicity, what was your experience during the emergence and growth of the HC movement in the UK? I’m guessing that it started out in ways that are similar to what we’re seeing in theUS: believers migrating from legacy churches to HCs. But as it progressed, did you see a shift, or signs that evangelism per se was ramping up in the houses?”

Our own situation was fairly typical. In 1971, we were involved in the start-up of a church in our medical school and had the “distinction” of being thrown out of Intervarsity as a result. In 1977, that church sent us out into the very poor and socially deprived area of the East End of London where we started another church. That grew, probably 50% by conversion (many of Tony’s patients became Christians) until it was one of the largest churches in the area. We started in homes, moved into church basements, a factory and various other places as we grew.

These were extraordinary times. The presence of God was very strong in our midst. Sometimes we would find ourselves flat on our faces on the floor. We would never dare to go into a meeting with unconfessed sin because the Holy Spirit was likely to reveal it publicly. I remember literally running to the meetings because I would not wait to get into God’s presence. We saw the supernatural at work, the gifts were frequently used and many people became Christians.

However, and also fairly typically, the church then went through a split. A couple of years later it merged with another church. It is still in existence and going strong.

There were many values that we learned in that move of God that are relevant to what God is doing here today. Let me list some of them in no particular order of importance:

  • Church is built on authentic relationships
  • Non-religious Christianity—a spiritual life lived from the presence of Christ within, rather than keeping a set of religious rules.
  • Involvement in the community
  • Team leadership
  • The value of worship and praise
  • Cross-cultural

But did the church grow from new believers. I have tried to research the statistics, without being able to find anything definitive. Here is a graph from Christian Research.org.uk, the website of British pollster, Peter Brierley.

The graph shows that whereas the traditional church has declined considerably over the past 20 years, the non-institutional churches (which include the house churches) have remained relatively stable in their numbers.

The above graph shows the growth of the Free Independent Evangelical Churches, of which the house  churches would be a major component (taken from The Battle for Christianity in Great Britain by Erroll Hulse.

So we are left with our subjective impressions. Tony and I have discussed it, and have come to the  conclusion that the house church movement in the UK did become more missional. Many of those who went to house churches were actively seeking to reach out to unbelievers. However, the difference is    that it was an attractional type of growth (come hear our special speaker). Perhaps it was easier to invite someone to a meeting than to create a friendship.

Repost: The British House Church Movement (part 1)

I am currently in Taiwan speaking at a conference. This is a repost.

Tim Thompson posted the following great question that I would like to try to answer:

“I’m interested in the potential for evangelism in house/simple churches in the USA. Jeff Gilbertson has already reported that most people in US house churches were believers before they came, and I’ve often heard from H2H sources about explosive house-church based evangelism taking place in the developing world. So this has left me wondering… Tony and Felicity, what was your experience during the emergence and growth of the HC movement in the UK? I’m guessing that it started out in ways that are similar to what we’re seeing in theUS: believers migrating from legacy churches to HCs. But as it progressed, did you see a shift, or signs that evangelism per se was ramping up in the houses?”

Unitedkingdom

Let me start by giving a little history of the British HC movement. Note that this is only our viewpoint. We were involved almost from the beginning of the movement until we moved here in 1987. We were never at the national leadership level although several of the leaders of the movement were (and are) our friends.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the charismatic movement hit Britain. At that point in time, the church was in a sad state. Maybe 2% of the population was “born again,” although many more went to church, but in the area of London where we lived, maybe 0.5% went to church. Just like here in the US, all over the country, people were filled with the Holy Spirit, but whereas over here, the focus was on the gifts and power of the Holy Spirit, in the UK, it was more on the importance of the body of Christ and discipleship. Some chose to stay within the traditional denominations, but the Lord led many to leave and start churches outside the four walls.

You are right that the beginning of the movement was very similar to what we are seeing currently in the US. Spontaneously, all over the country, churches started in homes. It was a Holy Spirit thing in that again, like here, there was no one person or location around which everything revolved. Most of the leaders, although in their 20s and 30s were mature Christians, many of them from a Brethren background with a heavy emphasis on the Scriptures. The churches started primarily in homes, but without a theology of multiplying the small, they usually grew quickly to become the largest church in town. Of more recent years, they have become known as the “new churches.”

Our own situation was fairly typical. In 1971, we were involved in the start-up of a church in our medical school and had the “distinction” of being thrown out of Intervarsity as a result. In 1977, that church sent us out into the very poor and socially deprived area of the East End of London where we started another church. That grew, probably 50% by conversion (many of Tony’s patients became Christians) until it was one of the largest churches in the area. We started in homes, moved into church basements, a factory and various other places as we grew.

These were extraordinary times. The presence of God was very strong in our midst. Sometimes we would find ourselves flat on our faces on the floor. We would never dare to go into a meeting with unconfessed sin because the Holy Spirit was likely to reveal it publicly. I remember literally running to the meetings because I would not wait to get into God’s presence. We saw the supernatural at work, the gifts were frequently used and many people became Christians.

However, and also fairly typically, the church then went through a split. A couple of years later it merged with another church. It is still in existence and going strong.

There were many values that we learned in that move of God that are relevant to what God is doing here today. Let me list some of them in no particular order of importance:

  • Church is built on authentic relationships
  • Non-religious Christianity—a spiritual life lived from the presence of Christ within, rather than keeping a set of religious rules.
  • Involvement in the community
  • Team leadership
  • The value of worship and praise
  • Cross-cultural

But did the church grow from new believers. I have tried to research the statistics, without being able to find anything definitive. Here is a graph from Christian Research.org.uk, the website of British pollster, Peter Brierley.

Graph_1_4_4

The graph shows that whereas the traditional church has declined considerably over the past 20 years, the non-institutional churches (which include the house churches) have remained relatively stable in their numbers.

Graph_2_5

The above graph shows the growth of the Free Independent Evangelical Churches, of which the house  churches would be a major component (taken from The Battle for Christianity in Great Britain by Erroll Hulse.

So we are left with our subjective impressions. Tony and I have discussed it, and have come to the  conclusion that the house church movement in the UK did become more missional. Many of those who went to house churches were actively seeking to reach out to unbelievers. However, the difference is    that it was an attractional type of growth (come hear our special speaker). Perhaps it was easier to invite someone to a meeting than to create a friendship.

Is Christianity in the USA in crisis?

I was brought up in the UK–a post-Christian culture. To be honest, there are advantages to such a situation. Where there is even mild persecution (ridicule) it produces a different standard of disciple. There’s a cost to becoming a follower of Jesus, and those who do so have counted that cost.

I watched the UK slide from being a “Christian” nation to its current status where maybe less than 2% of the population are committed Christians. When I was a child, most of the country still found it acceptable to attend church. By the time I arrived at medical school, certainly within academia, Christians were put down and their views (“You really believe the Bible is true?!”) ridiculed. Christians in the media were consistently made fun of and displayed as ineffective “wimps.” Now, with notable exceptions, church has ceased to be relevant in any way within the culture.

This country is already well down that slippery slope.

  • In America, 3,500-4,000 churches close their doors each year. Balanced against this is the number of church starts. From 2000 to 2005, there was a net growth of 303 churches per year (closures combined with new church starts.) This sounds great until you realize that we need to gain 3,205 per year just to keep up with population growth. We are less “churched” now than we’ve ever been.
  • Historically, between 5 percent and 10 percent of Americans say they have no religious affiliation. That number has skyrocketed to between 30 percent and 40 percent among younger Americans.
  • Christianity within secular academic circles is consistently mocked. We have friends who teach within the university system, and they tread a very fine line in order to hold their positions if they are known as believers.

We are probably only a generation away from being where Europe is now.

Are we in crisis, and is there anything we can do about it?