Wednesday, July 20, 2005

From Spiritual Orphans To Spiritual Inheritors

Deuteronomy chapters 28-30 speak about the consequences that flow out of a community choosing to live in covenant relationship with God, or of their choosing not to. In this context, Deuteronomy 29:29 says, "The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children for ever, that we may follow all the words of this law."

The things revealed belong to us and to our children for ever.

Jesus gave his twelve closest disciples "authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness" (Matthew 10:1) and sent them out with the commission: "as you go, preach this message: 'The kingdom of heaven is near.' Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give." (Matthew 10:7, 8). (See also Luke 9:1 ' "he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.")

After this, Jesus appointed seventy-two others and sent them out to do the same (Luke 10:1-24). And Jesus' final words to his disciples - words the church has taken as their mandate for mission, to every people group and in every generation, ever since - were: "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." (Matthew 28:18-20).

In other words, Jesus' expectation that his disciples should be taught how to exercise his power and authority to heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, [and] drive out demons, and be sent out to do so as demonstrations of his kingdom breaking in, stands until his return. For, "the things revealed belong to us and to our children for ever..."

Sometimes the things revealed - that belong to us and to our children for ever - aren't passed on from one generation to another. Sometimes they are lost and hidden, and must be rediscovered - almost always at great cost to the individuals or communities who make the discovery. For example, Martin Luther had to rediscover that salvation was through grace, not works - a costly discovery both in terms of the journey that brought him to that place, and the reaction of the Catholic church...As it happens, the Reformers succeeded in passing on this ground to following generations, for whom this revelation could be a starting point from which they could go on. But church history is full of rediscoveries that should never have had to be rediscovered in the first place, and of rediscoveries that are lost again within one generation...

My parents are disciples of Jesus. They passed on many good things to me, things that have been revealed. But they never taught me how to heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, [and] drive out demons. As far as I am aware, their spiritual parents never taught them how to do these things. Almost certainly because their parents hadn't taught them...

My peers find themselves in the same situation. In those fundamental areas of discipleship where we are spiritual orphans, we are asking the Holy Spirit to teach us directly [and we are learning, and seeing God's kingdom break in more and more in these areas, though I'm still waiting to raise the dead]. But here's the thing for me: I want my children to grow up knowing these things for themselves - living in the land - so they can go further than us; not needing to win back and re-settle the same old ground...


  1. Dick and Rose2:14 pm

    Your childhood memory has sadly faded fast. From the age of two you regularly prayed for healing with us as well as on your own initiative - with varying success. You rejected the idea of raising the dead - commenting as a pre-schooler on the raising of Dorcas: "How terrible. If I have gone to be with Jesus, I do not want anyone bringing me back here!" As a child, you never encountered a leper to my knowledge, so the teaching would have been premature. And we certainly dealt from time to time (with our colleagues) with demonised people, though were more careful with diagnosis than some are. We taught about it in your presence. At two, your brother David entered into the thrill of Jesus' triumph over the demons on the cross. The New Testament does not teach the "How to" of any of these things. It is simply a bi-product of moving around with Jesus who does these things through us when he chooses - a life-style of walking and talking with him (Mark 9:29). Like you, I have never raised anyone from the dead. But the apostles are not recorded as having done much of it either. Maybe it is like Jesus releasing prisoners: something more importantly done spiritually than physically (since Barabas is the only known physical prisoner to be released by Jesus)! You will probably be surprised when Susannah and Noah grow up how many things you teach them now that they will discover for themselves, talking as though they were never mentioned at home. It is one of the problems of discipling people. So much of what you say is forgotten and has to be learnt again later. Jesus had that problem with his disciples too. We taught you a lot more than you remember - of the things that are revealed.
    With love, but disappointment.
    Dad and Mum.

  2. Dad, Mum,
    My comments were not intended as a personal criticism, and I apologise for disapppointment caused. And where my memory is at fault, please forgive me.
    However, I still see a marked difference between stories of my early childhood, in what would be considered a traditional mission field in the East, and the experience of growing up in churches - commited to sending missionaries to such locations - in a traditional mission-sending nation in the West. Perhaps this is illustrative of a wider failure of some such churches to make a connection between what God does "there" and what he might want to do "here"?
    Whether that observation is accurate or not, the main point of my post was a reflection on one entire generation to another entire generation, not the dynamics within one family. I stand by those comments - and I'm surprised that you should not find anything to agree on there at any level. So, the fact that I disagree with you where you use words like "when he chooses" or where you create a dichotomy between spiritual and physical release, isn't really so important to me. Because my point is not, my parents are failures as disciples [and parents - indeed, if anything, my point would be that you stand out as exceptional in both regards]. Rather, that several generations of Christians in the West have failed to take the commission to make disciples [as opposed to social structures, or converts, or various other things] seriously. And that my prayer would be that, where we have always seen exceptional individuals and even whole communities, I would be part of a generation that is different. Perhaps I am naive, but I think it is a vision worth pursuing...