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Who Are We?

Who Are We?


We just returned from the conference in Orlando, and it got me reflecting…


It was 6 years and 29 days ago since the ICOC last held a worldwide Christian’s conference. Who can forget the gathering in St. Louis, marked by invigorating fellowship and fearless faith? We left that time together with a renewed resolve for missions and another epic meeting scheduled for 2020 in Orlando.


As that conference was planned, it was aptly named “Vision,” referring to 20/20 vision, a term ophthalmologists use to describe normal, healthy sight. We had no idea how ironic that title would become.


A worldwide pandemic disrupted everything we know about faith and body life. Disciples everywhere were drawn into isolation, which soon became the unfortunate venue for navigating a deeply divisive political season, an historic civil rights event, and endless battles over where our personal freedoms begin and end. Oh, and a month before the conference started, the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, setting off another deeply polarizing national debate – and these issues were just in America! The conference was delayed by 2 years, but as restrictions eased and society began to open back up, it was a welcome relief to think about meeting again with thousands of other Christians eager for connection.


Back to vision…


The question on most peoples’ minds as we met in Orlando can be summed up by a question one fellow evangelist asked me: “Brother, who are we right now?” So much has changed about how people relate to each other and think about how to approach a post-COVID world. As a fellowship, we are at a liminal moment, meaning we stand at the threshold of change, transition and new discoveries of identity and purpose. Within any organization, this is not a place to be afraid of, but change is unsettling, especially for people who have grown to rely on a shared and straightforward idea of our Christian mission in this world.


So much of the conference was refreshingly recognizable and inspiring. There were sermons about being called back to our first love, putting Jesus back in the center of all we do, and taking care that our motives are based in godly ambition. Fourteen new books were debuted, and there were lessons on faith, prayer, finances, mentoring, marriage, parenting, discipleship, spiritual dreams, just to name a few.


If you weren’t inspired by something presented there, you might need to check your spiritual pulse! Outside of the lessons, in person fellowship was so strengthening to the soul. It truly was an encouraging and uplifting time.


There was one thing I noticed, and it happens to concern me. Being that it is rooted in the crafty mind of Satan, it can fly under the radar, annoyingly but intentionally hard to detect. It can be subtle, but by no means small. There is a battle for the basis of our unity, and since brotherhood unity is the fuel that runs the engine of missional mobilization, it is what either propels us forward in strength, or slows us down. It offers clarity to the shared work we do as a fellowship, or breeds confusion and mistrust, clouding our sight. It doesn’t detract from the good news in Orlando, instead it provides a glimpse of the real work ahead of us.


In summing up the unique challenges presented by churches emerging from the disruptions of the past 2 years, Dr. James White states what I’m feeling like this:


“The basis of church unity has shifted from relationships to ideology, and the basis of that ideology has shifted from doctrine to all things politicized. A church’s doctrinal statement is less important than a church’s “cultural” statement. As a result, incongruence between personal and a church’s perceived “cultural statement” is now the grounds for not only the breakup of community but the permission to act with a lack of civility.”[i]


In other words, there is a sneaky shift from being biblically faithful to culturally or relevant. Can we be both? Absolutely. However, if the goal starts with cultural relevancy, disciples and leaders will find themselves shifting their thinking often, and will miss the lesson from biblical history that shows us there are times when the church simply does not find itself in sync with the world it is ministering to. How can it? Culture and the forces that influence it change often; biblical truth is eternal.


In addition, since so many currents of culture are rooted in the subjective realm of opinions, emotions and experiences, we as fallen humans necessarily need an objective frame of reference for life and mission – one that stands over and above all of our differences. That is the Bible.


Unless God’s word remains the basis for all we do, Christians will debate what fuels our focus. When that happens, unfortunately vision is driven by the loudest or most emotional people group, and direction is crafted by the leaders with the most compelling argument or most passionate voice. The power of our enduring relationships slowly moves from a posture of self-sacrifice to the realm of ideology. We really have to resist all of this.


As theologian John Stott once said of the spiritual battle, it is “being fought in a way where the soldiers are not men, but ideas.” We don’t wrestle with each other, rather we fight to keep Jesus far above all our personal ideas or agendas.


In discussions with leaders this last week, I heard two ideas about our shared vision, and I want to suggest we reject both. The first was a call to open things up and be more progressive, allowing our culture to drive us to more creativity and newer, more updated ways of reading scripture. I don’t trust us or our culture enough to buy into that. The second was a call to return to the way things were done in the past, a revival of the “old-school” ways of doing faith, mission and discipleship. I don’t trust us or our past enough to do that.


In reality, that is a false choice. There is a better way…


I suggest we continue to use God’s eternal and timeless word to engage our ever-changing culture, asking the Holy Spirit to equip us with the wisdom and discernment required to bring ancient and sacred truth to our present reality. That is not only wise, but it is revolutionary, in any generation. It is also faithful, biblical creativity at its best.


When Christians in the 1st century were wondering if God’s truth was enough to help his people navigate the complexities of their time, the apostle Peter penned these words:


“For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. For,


“All people are like grass,

and all their glory is like the flowers of the field;

the grass withers and the flowers fall,

but the word of the Lord endures forever.” (1 Peter 1:23-25)


God’s word is enough for life and faith. This sounds like an excellent reminder for us, nearly 2,000 years later.


Daren



[i] [i] Emery, James. 5 Ways Covid Has Changed The Church, https://www.crosswalk.com/blogs/dr-james-emery-white/five-ways-covid-has-changed-the-church.html



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