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Why Not Now?
CHAPTER FOUR

The Fulness Vision:

Towards Caribbean Renewal under Christ

Gem 99:09:05  CC Renewal Series #2


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Odd as it may sound to us — we tend to view the Caribbean’s development issues mainly in terms of politics, social issues and economics — it is the spiritual aspect of our regional crisis that is vital. 

In the words of Solomon the great king and builder of Israel: "Unless the LORD builds the house, its builders labour in vain.  Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain."  [Psalm 127:1.]

Paul, speaking to the Athenians, adds: "The God who made the world and everything in it . . . gives all men life and breath and everything else.  From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live.  God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him  . . .  now he commands all people everywhere to repent."  [Acts 17:24 -30.]

 God created the nations of the Caribbean and controls our times and places.  Why?  "So that [we] would seek him . . . and perhaps find him."  That is, our nationhood and circumstances are designed by God to lead us towards godliness.  Specifically, our Creator so controls our times that, through the crises triggered by our sin and folly we are forced to grope for him.

Therefore, let us heed the prophets:

My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.  [Jeremiah 2:13.]

Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat!  Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.  Why spend your money on what is not bread, and your labour on what does not satisfy?  [Isaiah 55:1 & 2.]

   In short, godliness under Christ is the key to sound nation building in the Caribbean. 

Those who ignore this fact and try to build our region without God "labour in vain," however skillful they may be in rhetoric, politics, social science, business enterprise, science and technology or economics.  This is why the Caribbean is at a critical — that is, "decisive" — moment today. 

 

Fulness in Christ: Towards the Renewal of the Nations

How, then, may we move forward? 

Previously, we noted: " if we want revival and reformation to spread across the Caribbean, we must be prepared to repent and be renewed in our thinking, values and ways.”  Further, "historically, reformation requires a further step: breakthrough teachings coupled to outreach, nurture and ministry strategies that pierce religious, intellectual and social or cultural barriers."

 The first point of that breakthrough is the Fulness of Christ:

 [Jesus] who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill all things.  [Eph. 4:10.]

[B]y him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.  He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. . .

God was pleased to have his fulness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things . . . by making peace through his blood . . . .  God has chosen to make known among the nations the glorious riches of [the word of God in its fulness], which is Christ in you, the hope of glory."  [Colossians 1:15 - 27.]

[God] made known to us the mystery of his will . . . which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfilment — to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ . . . . 

And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fulness of him who fills everything in every way.  [Ephesians 1: 9 - 10, 22 - 23.]

Therefore, Christ "gave . . . apostles . . .  prophets . . . evangelists . . .  pastors and teachers to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up . .  .  attaining to the whole measure of the fulness of Christ." 

As that happens, we will no longer be vulnerable to "every wind of teaching and . . . the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.  Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is Christ." 

So, each of us must reckon that "it is by grace [we] have been saved, through faith . . . not by works, so that no-one can boast.  For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ to do good works, which God has laid out in advance for us to do."  [Eph. 4:11 - 15, 2:8 - 10.]

Thus, everything was created by Christ, and for Christ.  He is the Centre who holds all things together in an orderly whole: Cosmos.  In loving response to our sin and its resulting chaos and crises, he came: descending, dying for our sin, rising and ascending "in order to fill all things." 

In saving us, he calls and equips us to do "good works . . . laid out in advance for us to do."  As we walk in this call to service, the church, which is the body of Christ, matures and fills all things with his glory and grace.  Thus, in the fulness of time, God will "bring all things together under one head, even Christ."

In this light, the way forward is obvious: the chaos and frustration we face in the Caribbean flow from our sinful neglect or even rejection of Christ, the source of wholesome order and blessing for "all things."  Christ therefore commands us to "go and make disciples of all nations, baptising . . . and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you."  [Matt 28:19 - 20.] 

So, the road to nationwide renewal — that is, reformation — is the path of repentance, discipleship and service under the gospel in our families, communities and institutions: the church, education and the media, the professions, culture and the arts, industry, commerce, government and politics, and so on — "all things."

If, instead, the Caribbean chooses to turn from Christ, we cannot evade his agenda of fulness; for, "all things were created by him and for him."  We will simply have chosen to fall into that disorderly chaos and decay that result from violating the very structure of the universe.  So, the harder we push against Christ's fulness, the harder it will push back., ultimately breaking us.  [Rom. 1:18 - 32.]

If we don't want to continue to "build in vain," the Caribbean must turn back to Christ.

 

The Road to Fulness in the Caribbean

How can we carry fulness in Christ into "all things" in the Caribbean?  Jesus' answer is that "he . . . gave" leaders to the church, "to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up . . . attaining to the whole measure of the fulness of Christ."  His strategy for renewal is an organic one.  He creates, builds and equips his body, the church.  As his body lives, loves, evangelises, disciples and serves in — and beyond — the local community, his fulness naturally, often invisibly and imperceptibly, spreads through "all things."

Sadly, this description highlights the weakest areas of the church's ministry in the Caribbean: discipleship.  For instance, thinking back to my student days, I remember all too vividly the shock of seeing how unprepared our bright young people from our churches across the whole region were for living, studying and serving on campus, much less in the wider community and workplace beyond.  

I would sometimes ask students to briefly explain what "faith" meant in the Bible, since it says: "the just shall live by faith."  Hundreds of conversations over a ten-year span yielded less than a handful of clear, sensible, biblical answers!

If so many intelligent young people, after hundreds of hours spent in Sunday School, youth meetings, church services and evangelistic events, could not explain basic vocabulary, is it any wonder that many dismiss the church as ineffective and irrelevant?  How sad, and how unnecessary.

Instead, let us renew, re-organise and integrate the Caribbean church's ministry towards its proper goal; discipling the nations across and beyond our region, towards Christ's fulness:

q       First, let us teach: Christ is the source, sustainer and destiny of  "all things," including our individuality, family life, community and nationhood.  Our choice is to be filled with his grace and glory, or else be broken by our foolish rebellion against the very purpose of existence.  Wisdom instructs us to build our lives and nations on God's Rock that stands the storms of life!

q       Second, we must renew our ministries: Christ, in love, came, descending and ascending "in order to fill all things."  Therefore he calls and sends leaders to the church and the nations, "to equip God's people for works of service," to build up the body of Christ, which fills all things with his glory.  The contrast with what happens on the ground in the Caribbean is stark.  So, let us evaluate and renew our evangelism, discipleship, missionary and service ministries to cost-effectively prepare, send and support God's people to serve in all aspects of life in the community.

q       Specifically, nurture, education and training ministries should prepare us for Christ-centred life, work and service in the community.  To that end, we should help our people consolidate their commitment to Christ and his mission, undergo preparation to live, serve and lead in families, small groups, institutions and the wider community, and go out to serve in their specific calling, gifting and anointing from God. 

As we do these things, the opportunity for renewal and reformation will come to our nations, in God's timing.  If we the people of the Caribbean do not wish to continue to "build in vain," we must repent and be reformed by Christ, as his fulness flows out to our nations through the church.  If our region turns away from him, it will be broken.  There is no third alternative.

 

Fulness on the Ground

Clearly, the Christocentric Fulness Vision forces us to review how we have tended to think about and work towards fulfilling our Commission, thence to a more naturally integrated and focussed approach to ministry, especially the work of winning, nurturing and sending out effective disciples into the world.  This speaks to several aspects of our life and work as the body of Christ in the world:       

1.   The Rising Tide: Clearly, it is only "when the times will have reached their fulfillment" that the filling process will be complete.  But, even now the Kingdom incrementally advances — in the midst of a myriad tiny victories and setbacks — an ever rising tide that shall ultimately triumph over an increasingly desperate satanic chaos. This should be our underlying perspective.

2.   Last Days Witness: At Pentecost — fulfilling Joel's prophecy of "the last days" — the remedy to Mystery Babylon was proclaimed: "In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people . . . .  And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved."  [Acts 2:17, 21 (emphasis added); cf. Joel 1 - 3, esp. 2:18 - 32; also Rev. 12:7 - 12, & Chapters 20, 21.]  Properly understood, then, the Last Days — for two thousand years now — have been the era in which God is acting globally: pouring out his Spirit "on all people," offering Salvation to "everyone" who receives Jesus, and progressively "fill[ing] the whole universe[panta]" with Christ as the church "grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work."  The essence of that work is discipling the nations under the Lordship of Jesus. 

4.   Fatalism vs. Proactive Vision: We are therefore in an age of worldwide eternal hope, rather than one of despair!  We should not be fretfully constructing Apocalyptic Charts and Scenarios to try to figure out "times and dates" — of which Jesus warned "It is not for you to know."  Instead, let us pursue our true task: "you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses . . . to the ends of the earth."  So, "this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come."  [Cf. Acts 1:4 - 8; also, see Matt. 24:3 - 14 & 36 - 51, and Gen. 2:4 - 3:24.]

5.       Developing Concrete Strategies: To be concrete and specific about discipling the nations, let us think about any one aspect of the world, say family life and sexuality in the Caribbean, or the rum shop around the corner.  Then, Bibles in hand, let us probe with prayerful questions: (1) What does this "thing" look like now? (2) If it were full of Christ's grace, glory and goodness, what would it become?  (3) What should we do about the gap between the two?  (4) When?  (5) How? (6) Why?  Thus, we can focus on one "thing" in the cosmos, and highlight the tension between what it is and what it could become if filled by God's grace, setting a strategic framework for planning, witnessing and discipling. 

6.       Rejecting the Gospel: But, what if the leaders or people involved in this "thing" reject the message and initiative of grace?  In that case, they will simply have chosen to be filled with God's just wrath, rather than his gracious mercy.  (Given the sad — and unfinished — history of Christians inflicting violence in the name of Christ, I must hasten to add here that it is God who wields the sword of judgement, not us: "for man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires."  [James 1:20.])

7.       Discipleship Training: The above highlights the truth that we are all called to serve Christ in each aspect of life.  Doubtless, it will also often throw a bright light on our lack of the knowledge and skills required for effective action.  Thus, we must give attention to the church's nurture and training task, and its context: the need for each of us to discover, explore, develop and fulfill his or her unique calling, the specific "good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do."  [Eph. 2:10.] 

8.       Preparation for Service: Our painful life experiences are the first step to such training.  For, "God . . . comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.  For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also, through Christ, our comfort overflows."  [2 Cor 1:3 - 5.]  Spiritual gifts are also important[1]: "to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good."  [1 Cor. 12:7.]  Bible Study and its diligent application to life are critical [2 Tim 3:14 - 17], as is prayer [Acts 6:1 - 4].  We can ill-afford to neglect purity of thought and deed, and growth in love as we prepare for lifetime service in the family, church, community and world.  [See 1 Cor. 13:1 - 14:1, Gal. 5:13 - 6:5.]  

9.   Cell Groups Strategy: Cells are ideal contexts for such training for, and the carrying out of, ministry.  They provide a cost-effective way to mobilise, train and organise the people of God.  No wonder, then, that Jesus focussed so much time and effort on the twelve in his earthly ministry. The Apostles also based their work on small ministry teams.  The early church often met in homes.  And Paul, in describing a typical church service, expects that all of those present can individually and significantly contribute — which is only possible in a small group.  [1 Cor. 14:23 - 26.] 

10.   Coordination: the effective coordination of small groups depends on their integration into larger scale church structures: congregations, campus outreach fellowships, parachurch organisations and other wider ministry organisations, networks and federations, of which the Missionary Society is an excellent example.  Such wider organisations or networks provide a sense of community and vision, support infrastructure, accountability, doctrinal stability, leadership training, consultation for difficult cases [cf. Exodus 18:13 - 26] and other similar necessary facilities.

11.   Divisiveness:  We dare not ignore the poison of divisiveness.  Eph. 4:14 -16 stresses our mutual responsibility to strengthen and unite the Church in love, and to guard against deception and divisiveness, thus moderating and constructively harnessing conflict to help us grow and serve together in love.  (Once it is so harnessed, conflict becomes the fuel that motivates and stimulates progress.  Otherwise, it will be the explosive that drives us apart into disintegration.)  This balance is vital as we seek to avoid sectarian divisiveness [cf. John 17:20 - 23, 1 Cor. 3:1 - 23, Gal. 5:19 - 21, 26], and as we strive to guard and contend for "the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints" [Jude 3] in the emerging global marketplace of ideas.

Clearly, the vision of Christ's fulness has solemn implications for the Caribbean.  Let us pray, that our nations will open their eyes, ears and hearts to receive the grace and glory of Christ as his fulness flows out — in love, truth, purity and power — to our region and the whole world.

 
Suggested Assignments

 

(a)    Questions for Group Discussion

§         This chapter starts from the concept that God created the nations and so controls our times that we are led to grope for him, however blindly.  [Acts 17:24 – 26.]  In this light, is God using crisis in the Caribbean to draw our attention to our need for renewal, revival and reformation under Christ?  Why or why not?

§         In Ephesians, Paul argues that God’s strategy is to bring all things in heaven and on Earth together under Christ, who therefore descended and ascended “in order to fill all things.” How should this “fulness vision” shape how we carry out the church’s mandate to disciple the nations?

§         Equally clearly, individuals, institutions and communities often reject the gospel and ridicule or even attack those who bear witness to it.  What happens as a result, why?

§         How, then, should we approach living, working, witnessing, discipling and serving in the Caribbean?

§         Should the church therefore change its approach to serving Christ in the Caribbean?  Why or why not?

§         How?

§         How would such a renewal tie into our approach to Missions?

§         How could we promote such a renewal of the church and reformation of the region?

 

(b) Practical Exercises

 

§         Develop a project for a practical application of the fulness theme to a situation in your community: how can you go about bringing Christ into the situation, to bless and transform it for good?

(c) For Further Reading


[1] Though unfortunately, sometimes controversial.