What “church” did Jesus expect? (Matthew 16:18)

There was no church at the time, so what did Jesus anticipate we would be? How does church relate to kingdom?

What did Jesus have in mind when he declared he would build his church (Matthew 16:18)?

Catholic hierarchy? Protestant associations? Street-corner buildings with good music? Organizations doing good in the community? A temple to replace the one Rome would destroy in Jerusalem?

Continue reading “What “church” did Jesus expect? (Matthew 16:18)”

Peter as pope? (Matthew 16:18-19)

Did Jesus make Peter pope, with power to justify people?

Matthew 16 18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. (NIV)

To understand Jesus’ words, we must deal with the elephant in the room, the superstructure Catholics have built on them. These verses are central to Catholicism. Visit Capernaum today and you’ll see a larger-than-life statue of Peter with the keys (above). Visit the Vatican, and it’s a crucial image in the Sistine Chapel. Continue reading “Peter as pope? (Matthew 16:18-19)”

How to glorify God?

If God is great, what are we?

We know the chief aim of humanity is to glorify God. But how?

  1. Do we reflect God’s character in his world, so people see God in us?  OR
  2. Do we tell people to look at God and not at us, since we fall so far short of the glory of God?

Does our connection with God make us great too — God’s handiwork, the image of his character? Or would that approach make us prideful sinners who seek God’s glory for ourselves?

Continue reading “How to glorify God?”

Discovering church while there’s no church

What can we do while we can’t go to work, can’t go to church, can’t go to the gym, can’t go out with friends? It’s not just the activities we miss; it’s the meaning we find in sharing life. So, what meaning can we find while we can’t get together?

Continue reading “Discovering church while there’s no church”

Becoming human: life in Christ (Ephesians 4:1-16)

Read Ephesians 4:1-16

It’s easy to spend thousands on books and courses to help you become a better human. We’re preoccupied with how I can reach my potential and have the best life I can.

There’s a fatal flaw in that approach. What if my boss is a tyrant, or my spouse is a control freak? I can learn to disassociate, to isolate myself for my own sanity, but human flourishing is something we can only do together. Who can show us how to develop a better life together?

Let me recommend a book. It’s called Ephesians. It’s the good news that God is working to restore not just me but all of us together to become all he intended. Continue reading “Becoming human: life in Christ (Ephesians 4:1-16)”

Empowering the king’s servants (Ephesians 4:10-13)

The gospel of the Lord is the good news of his kingdom — his kingship restored to the earth in his anointed. Here it is in summary:

Ephesians 4 10 He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe. (NIV)

The Bible’s whole story in that verse. Our heavenly sovereign entrusted his earthly realm to people who rebelled against his kingship and ended up as captives to evil instead. Instead of using force to defeat force, God’s anointed ruler joined us in our captivity, dying at the hands of the rulers who were puppets of evil. When God raised him out of death, the captives enslaved under death were set free — free to live in the reign of God’s anointed. When the king was restored to us, his kingdom was restored to the universe.

Since God designed humans to be agents of the divine sovereign’s reign in his earthly realm (Genesis 1), the Messiah restored this mandate to humanity. The resurrected king gave gifts to humanity. His gifts were people — people entrusted with the responsibility to share in his management of the planet, by leading humanity into communal life under his kingship:

Ephesians 4 11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. (NIV)

This is unique. Any other ruler would have been wary of trusting power to ex-rebels, but Jesus entrusts his regal dominion to people, servants who empower the whole of humanity to grow up into Christ, our king.

Continue reading “Empowering the king’s servants (Ephesians 4:10-13)”

Revealing the reign (Ephesians 3:10)

What does God intend the church to be and do? That question matters more than all the goals and KPIs we set for ourselves.

So how does this sound?

Ephesians 3 10 His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms. (NIV)

Say, what? Does the church exist so God can show off to rulers and spiritual beings?

With the wrong assumptions, this picture is a dark puzzle. But it makes brilliant sense when illuminated by the story about God’s kingship (the kingdom of God), revealed in his Messiah. Continue reading “Revealing the reign (Ephesians 3:10)”

Why “church”?

Ekklēsia is a strange word for early Christians to choose for church. It was used for political gatherings, not religious ones. They had words for religious meetings (synagōgē) or general gatherings (e.g. sullogos). Why ekklēsia?

It’s odd enough to choose this word for a local church meeting, such as “the ekklēsia that meets in your home” (Philemon 2). But it’s beyond odd to use this word for something that is not a local assembly, such as “the ekklēsia throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria” (Acts 9:31).

How did this usage arise? Let’s start with what ekklēsia meant before Christians borrowed it.

Continue reading “Why “church”?”

Kingdom or Church?

How come the epistles talk more about church than kingdom?

Kingdom was Jesus’ priority, the restoration of God’s reign. But when we turn to the epistles, there’s more about church than kingdom. Why?

The church doesn’t seem to measure up to Jesus’ kingdom ideal. It’s almost like, “Jesus preached the kingdom, but what we got was the church” (Alfred Loisy, l’Evangile et l’Eglise, 1902, 111).

We need to re-establish the connection between church and kingdom. The connection is Jesus. The head of the church is the king of the kingdom. Continue reading “Kingdom or Church?”

How should we do church?

Most churches spend our energy and resources providing a great Sunday experience. It might be a cathedral with pipe organ, or a rented hall with a band, but most of a church’s time and money goes into what happens at the weekend service.

So, you’d expect the New Testament to guide us on how to do church. It doesn’t.

Ephesians says heaps about the church, with no instruction on what to do when we meet. Search Colossians, Philippians, Thessalonians, and Galatians. Nothing?

What about a longer letter like Romans? Nada. What should we make of this disparity? Is it our fault (we’re focused on the wrong thing), or Paul’s (he missed the main deal)?

Let me throw you a lifeline. There is one letter where Paul discusses church meetings, and it’s a significant chunk: 1 Corinthians 11 – 14.

Continue reading “How should we do church?”

The scandal of George Pell

Jesus never called us to condemn the sin of the world, but he did call us to confront sin in the church.

Update 2020-04-17

Today the High Court of Australia overturned Cardinal Pell’s conviction.

Previously I said, “Let’s be cautious about assuming that you or I know better than the jury … Let’s await the outcome of the appeal.”

Now, let’s be cautious about assuming you or I know better than the high court judges who unanimously decided that the evidence should not have led to a conviction.


Original post

I’m devastated. When a church leader is exposed as a child-abuser, our nation has another reason to hate the church and despise our message.

Silence the excuses! It makes no difference whether you’re Catholic or Protestant. It won’t do to wonder if the courts got it wrong. A manager in the household of God has been found guilty of abusing the trust placed in them to care for the children in the family.

The nearest Jesus ever came to recommending capital punishment was this: Continue reading “The scandal of George Pell”

What makes a church effective?

What makes a church credible in the community? Good events? Or good works?

I kid you not:  Riverview Church staff went offsite today to discuss what the church is and what we are becoming. And that sign (above) was at the entrance of the room we used!

So, what do you think? Does the church best represent God with good events, or good works? Continue reading “What makes a church effective?”

What’s Riverview?

“I see a church …”

If a church is not part of a denomination, what box to put it in? How do you know what it is?

Its “statement of faith” should affirm orthodox Christian beliefs. Labels like Evangelical or Charismatic may give you a hint about its style. But why does it exist? What’s its distinctive?

What kind of community is it? What priorities does it have? What does it aim to be? What kind of people belong there? Continue reading “What’s Riverview?”

One ruler can bring humanity home

What kind of ruler could bring an end to war and injustice? He’d need to be a very different kind of ruler, and all humanity would need to submit to him.

As you read the Christmas story, do you see how rulers today still rely on evil and death as Herod the Great did? The spirit behind Herod reigned in the rulers who came before him: Antiochus Epiphanes IV, Nebuchadnezzar, Pharaoh Neco, Sennacherib, …

When Fidel Castro died, some rulers like Canada’s Justin Trudeau sparked a social media storm for eulogizing him (#trudeaueulogies). Michael Bird chipped in with examples of how rulers still reign through the power of death: Continue reading “One ruler can bring humanity home”