Friday, June 12, 2009

Developing a gospel-methodology (Exodus 18)

Exodus 18 – Trinity on Mission. I'm preaching Exodus 18 in July, some initial reflections.

Question: How should we run a church?
  • By tradition? That’s ok if your tradition is the ‘apostolic teaching’ but if it’s about doing things how we’ve done them before then the odds are we have diverged from scripture and will miss the wind of the Holy Spirit.
  • By sentiment? It’s nice but you don’t let Gordon Brown carry on just because he waited a long time to get the job.
  • By democracy? The problem here is that the majority is often wrong. Try the spies of the promised land for example. Since when did people know what’s good for them. Besides which, though it’s good for people to be involved isn’t the direction of the gospel receiving from the top rather than popular opinion deciding. The early church looks for qualified people from among themselves to be appointed by leaders - and sometimes they pray at seem to know...
  • By gifting? Having one key person around who everyone gathers. This is fun in the short term but long term it leads to distortion of emphasis, even though we value gifting highly.
Let’s start with the Triune God. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit, loving one another. The Father entrusts all authority to the Son knowing he is trustworthy and will not usurp the Father. He delights to do the will of the Father. The Son receives this authority, he doesn’t take it. He is made head of his body the church. He’s not a dictator but is one who lays his life down and is punished in the place of his body. A God-shaped methodology from that basis is going to look a bit different to, say, a monadic allah who would presumably be remote, unrelational and unmovably sovereign. Set things up with one authoritative leader?

Jethro is a priest of Midian, Moses’ father in law. He’s a believer who rejoices in God’s salvation (18v9) of what he did to the Egyptians in bringing Israel out (18v1, 8-12). just as his daughter knew the true fear of God when she saw blood shed to save Moses life (chapter 4). He offers burnt offerings to the LORD. With Israel out of slavery, Jethro comes to Moses and sees him administering all decisions. This isn’t going to work. Jethro says appoint those who are trustworthy (18v21). Moses appoints these trustworthy men as heads (18v25). Like the son they receive authority. They will judges cases. They will be saviour figures who bring life to God’s people.

A family on a mission derives its methodology from the gospel of the Triune God. Jethro’s language is adopted by Paul in the New Testament for church leaders. Consquently we have elders and homegroup leaders who receive authority to serve. They don’t grasp hold of it. They don’t get elected in a popular vote. It's not 'Church's got Talent'. Humanly they are qualified, divinely they are appointed. In our age we’re suspicious of heriditory peers and monarchs but there is something helpful about the idea of receiving authority as opposed to people electing leaders in their own image, the latter being very similar to idolatry. Democratic accountability to divine standards is deeply helpful.

Headship in marriage also follows the Trinity, husbands like Christ.
All these ‘ordinary’ things reveal the God the believers worship.

It’s not that methodology is strictly a primary thing. It’s not a matter of salvation. But so called secondary things are not unimportant. They are really important because Christian lives are meant to look like Christ. And it’s not to say that any church in any generation has got a God-shaped methodology nailed in theory or practice. But we pursue it.

For our church seeking to be shaped after our God means we have leaders, it means we expect men to lead. And it’s why we’re going back-to-back with our meetings in the autumn. We follow the God who is a family on mission, the one whose love overflows abundantly to create and re-create. This is the Triune God, he has saved us and we trust he has many more people in this city. However discomforting and disturbing changing our models and methods is, we are compelled by God.


  1. It's all very well crtitquing democracy, but you are going to have to say something about how God's gift of leadership is communicated - is it through the church family?

  2. Fair point. Thanks. That needs developing, my anti-congregationalist views got dashed off a bit quickly.

  3. just a quick note on the islamic reference.
    - in shia (minority) islam, the community is to be led by Imams - a divinely entitled relative of the prophet, with inherited powers (hence the whole 12th imam thing).
    - in sunni (majority) islam, there's no popelike figure heading the community, no dynasty, no charismatc family. They major on the unity of the community, so the hadith says "the hand of God is with the community, and the devil is further from 2 muslims than from 1", and the prophet says "my community will never agree on something that'll lead them astray".

    There's a caveat that the goal of islamic communities is not theology, but social order. Obviously this raises problems about what is the authentically transmitted tradition of hadith & prophet, but still probably worth mentioning.

  4. Thanks Chris. The Islamic reference is one I need a whole lot more research and understanding on. Might be too much to include... one to think on.