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post 3: a baby church with a granddaddy argument

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Last post was all about what’s wrong with me and my religion - namely a malfunctioning oneness which puts the wider Church’s rep into limp mode. I could go on and on about others failing in this - many times more about pride-wars then truth-wars - but we might as well get straight into my own failings in this... and the guts of the conflict which smacked down our little church plant; namely, a granddaddy argument called Calvinism. 

[Note: for any ‘controversial’ posts from here on in I’m making sure I send them to those involved before posting for comment...]

The problems was - for my purebred Calvinistic brother-church-planters - I wasn't one, a Calvinist that is, at least not if I had to be an adherent to five points rather than five essays of Calvin, which mean’t I couldn’t, without serious issues, continue to be a leader in said church because fellow leaders of said church wanted said leaders to be said 'reformed' where reformed meant (at the very least) five points, Synod of Dort 'reformed’.  

The bigger problem was I was really ignorant about what it meant to be ‘reformed’ when we started out. Of course like a rock through a flat screen TV my blissful ignorance was about to be smashed. I now really, really wish I had known ‘reformed’ didn’t just mean ‘non-catholic’. I also wish I knew how serious - ‘gospel' serious - the ‘reformed’ category was for my brothers. 

Not a good place to start all this ‘reform please’ stuff; that is, from failure and conflict. Then again maybe its the best place to start. Still we need some pre-history. 

Some think the baby EG church began in 2008 as a reaction to some stuff at a bigger church - it didn't. The seeds for the baby church were planted well before issues arose at the bigger church. Interestingly though, the option of either planting a church or building a building was discussed a few times at the larger church and we as a leadership of the larger church went with the building. I think looking back we at the bigger church should have gone with a church plant… 

I like to think God still got his way because in due time the EG church plant did happen - just with turbulence instead of smoothness. It didn't happen straight away but about a year after we’d left the bigger church by which time we as a family had spent nearly 12 months in between churches. Its important to understand the context here. As our days drew to a close at the bigger church I was actually approached by a few people in that church to consider a split-off church. I felt strongly at the time that was not the thing to do. It would have caused needless and large scale division in the larger church. 

So we decided to leave quietly without a large-scale explanation to other church members about our departure-initiating concerns over the doctrinal ambiguities in the church. If asked we would mention some of our concerns but in the main we kept our thoughts to ourselves having sent numerous private letters to the other leaders, instigated numerous discussions and received subtle (and overt) rebuttals by other leaders. 

Irony of ironies: at the bigger church I was too fundamental with my doctrine, at the baby church I would one day soon be too liberal. God’s curriculum really does include humour… 

Anyway, with not a little surprise and sadness we found ourselves leaving the church we had been a part of for most of our married lives. I remember our youngest daughter, three or four at the time, crying about the church the first few times we had to drive by after we left and I remember wondering why barely anyone was ringing to see what had happened. I remember thinking that the 14 year relationships we had built in the church were just paper thin if no one could be bothered to call us and see how we were. 

Still not sure why people didn’t call…(except one dear old couple, and you know who you are and so does God - thank you)

At the same time as we were in the church wilderness we kept coming across a whole bunch of what I have called 'in-betweeners'. That is, many Christians 'in between’ churches - many times hurt, burnt, sometimes manipulated, sometime in between for the right reasons, sometimes not, and, as a result, members in the 'church dispossessed' like we were. In the hard days after leaving the feeling of not belonging, of being misunderstood, of being discarded was intense and made us strongly empathetic towards, as the Lord puts it in Ezek 34, the lost, strayed, sick and wounded sheep whom no one was seeking, bringing back, healing or binding up. It seemed to me that modern Aussie church in the so-called Australian bible belt had a large subculture of in-between Christians who no doubt had issues but had never been in a safe, awkwardly genuine and loving place to grow. Cue again the very cool Ezekiel 34...

Ezek 34:1 The word of the LORD came to me: 2 “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? 3 You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. 4 You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally. 5 So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals. 6 My sheep wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. They were scattered over the whole earth, and no one searched or looked for them.

 The words still resonate now, many years later: 'They were scattered over the whole earth, and no one searched or looked for them'. These words were the impetus to start the baby church which is why, after a long period of myself being a 'scattered sheep' I and a friend expressed the intent to start praying about a church plant. 

'They were scattered over the whole earth, and no one searched or looked for them’  

When I read Ezekiel way back then my heart call was 'you go and search and look for them' that is, all the scattered in-between Christians searching for a safe place to call their church home. Yep, I know the context, that God himself searches and becomes the shepherd, ultimately expressed by one who would one day say 'I am the good shepherd', but the point remained. A church, a gathering, should be safe pasture for His sheep with safe undershepherds under the mightily good, good shepherd (and that was even in the handbook :)

Anyway, however the whole shepherd thing works out, these verses from a 2500 year old prophet, was where the little church began. Although, to be theologically precise and rightly glorying, it really began in the mind of God before there was dirt for Adam and a rib for Eve. I’m pretty sure God, well versed in rejection himself, used this burden as well as other burdens, as the catalyst for the church. 

Some of these burdens, as I recall, were linked to what I believed (probably with some ignorance) was the new modern therapeutic Christianity: of flossy preaching, of hype, of corporatisation, of unreal, un-engaging, unenviable Christian therapy. This seemed to awaken within me a burden for a real, authentic lived out church where knowing the bible was taken as seriously as living it where the the word was preached but also lived out in the giftings and empowerment of the Holy Spirit (cue the motif ’know the Word, live the Word, proclaim the Word' - also in the handbook). 

Again it was here, in these call-burdens, felt and discussed for many years, in-breathed by Ezekiel 34, the church began to form.  After a discussion about these burdens and other things we began to pray and things began to happen. Our homegroup, itself designed to be a safe place for in-betweeners, would become one of the 'seeds' for the church. I more and more come across people who were keen to attend a church like ours and they expressed interest in becoming involved. Soon an experienced pastor from a strongly reformed, Calvinistic background was invited by me and my brother planter and our little group began to meet in a few different houses and then other people started coming and we were too big for the houses so we ended up in, of all places, a funeral home. 

coffin price casket room 9

Who could forget the first Sunday’s call to worship: ‘today, in this place where the dead are mourned, we proclaim to you a living Saviour’ Who could forget, as well, the pre service prayer meetings in the casket room and the steady stream of doorway jokes ‘I’m sorry for your loss…’ and ‘this is the deadest church in town’ and ‘when will the resurrection ministry begin?’ 

We prayed for fifty people specifically and fifty people we got before we started in our own building ‘officially' on Pentecost Sunday in May 2009. From there the church grew numerically and was blessed in many ways with some genuine good works and good words ministries. 

We established a strong set of values and a mission and a vision to go with it. That’s how all the cool kids did it. We knew there would be diversity and challenges therein, which is why we spent so much time establishing a handbook with a statement of faith as well as an explanation of the call of the church which people could read and decide on themselves.  

Happy days. We were a bunch of different people, from different church backgrounds excited by a new work, and feeling tight under one King - despite our differences. We even got to have cake on our first birthday and then some birthdays after that…

Sounds good right? But the division in the cake was a prophetic metaphor. (More in post 4).

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