The Once and the Future Church

June 30, 2013 by  
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51TTNXFBBFL“The Once and the Future Church” is a discussion of the paradigm shift occurring in the church today. The thesis deals with the lost paradigm of the apostolic church and the process of rediscovering the lost paradigm in the present/future church. The result is renovation of the church and its mission.

Mead presents the main problem of the present church with its leaders who have grown under a paradigm that has ceased to work. The continuous living in different paradigms have created in the church a painful polarization between the old and the new and this has been a conflict, which the majority has preferred to avoid.
The four groups, which are subject of the present challenge of dislocation, are the clergy, the laity, the bishop and the congregation. The clergy have created alternative for genuine ministry called clericalism. The laity has separated itself from the experience of church. The bishop is struggling with the battle between the above two. The congregation is left with the painful experience of continuous dislocation.

In his forecast for the future development of this process, Mead calls for steadiness and perseverance through uncertainty, and thus reinventing the church. This process will confront parish with congregation, servanthood versus conversion, exclusivity and inclusiveness. The new church demands a new theology localized away from the academy to the new missionary frontier. Building the future church requires a better sense of community. And finally, the renovation process within the community of believers is an intergenerational mission. In this sense, the rediscovery of the church continues from generation to generation thus transmitting those forms of community discovered by the present church to the future one.

Bulgaria Protests – Day 12 at Independence Square in capital Sofia

June 25, 2013 by  
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EVERY day, for the last twelve days, at exactly 6:30pm, Independence Square, a busy intersection in the center of Sofia, has been the starting point for a protest march that passes by the parliament building, the so-called Eagle’s bridge and the National Palace of Culture. Around 10,000 people participate every evening. They are calling for more transparency, less corruption and an end of the local oligarchs’ rule.

Only three weeks into the job, the new Bulgarian government is facing the fate of the old one. Large-scale protests are being held daily not only in Sofia but other major cities too just four months after demonstrations forced the previous conservative administration to resign. The protests were sparked by a string of dodgy appointments by the new government. The most controversial was the nomination of the Bulgarian Kim Dotcom, Delyan Peevski, a 32-year-old media mogul, as head of the powerful national security agency. A member of DPS, the ethnic Turkish party, the junior coalition partner in the Socialist-led government, Mr Peevski controls a media empire of numerous high-circulation newspapers, popular TV channels and news websites all of which tend to change allegiance according to who is in power. Mr Peevski’s political résumé is equally questionable: after spending two years as a deputy minister in a previous Socialist-led government, he was fired in 2007 and prosecuted on extortion and corruption charges. (He was eventually cleared.)

“My trust in this government is gone after this appointment,” said Rosen Plevneliev, the president, who questioned Mr Peevski’s “reputation and competence”. As the protests gathered speed, Mr Oresharski admitted the appointment was a mistake and parliament reversed the decision.

But the U-turn failed to appease the protesters. They are now demanding the resignation of the whole government as well as changes in the electoral law to allow smaller parties to enter parliament. Unlike the demonstrations earlier this year, the current rallies are largely peaceful. More and more members of the middle class are joining the protests, including popular actors, writers and musicians as well as families with babies and strollers.

“We feel that nobody is steering the boat,” says Mihail Vuzharov, one of the protestors who is a marketing specialist at a medical IT startup. “In fact, the boat has been sinking for decades.” Therefore, adds Justine Toms, a business-development manager in Sofia, “we are protesting against the people who should be in jail and are instead appointed at high posts in the state.” Most Bulgarians tend to agree with Mr Vuzharov and Ms Toms: over 80% say they support the protests, according to a poll by Alpha research. Today sixty prominent intellectuals, lawyers, journalists and human rights activists posted online a “charter for disbanding the plutocratic model of the Bulgarian state” calling for genuine democracy and the rule of law .

The wide backing by Bulgaria’s society (the educated elite in particular) makes the situation extremely tough for the government according to Tihomir Bezlov, political analyst with the Center for the Study of Democracy in Sofia. Most analysts agree that it won’t be able to serve its full four year term. In fact, the odds were against the government of Mr Oresharski from the very beginning. The Socialist party was able to form a cabinet only because GERB, the ex-ruling party of Boiko Borisov which won the May 12th snap elections, was unable to muster a parliamentary majority. With only half of the votes in parliament, the Socialists and their partners from DPS were left reliant on the unpredictable, ultra-nationalist Ataka party.

After twelve days of protests and with new ones planned for the coming weeks, the risk of yet another early election is increasing. Demonstrators will continue to gather at Independence Square every evening…

Fire from Heaven

June 20, 2013 by  
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fire-from-heaven[1]In 1965, Dr. Harvey Cox wrote a book entitled The Secular City, as an attempt to offer a theology for the age of coming postmodernism. In it, he regarded rapid urbanization and cultural deconstruction as challenges that demand answers from 20th century Christianity.

But in the mid-1990s, Cox wrote another book entitled Fire from Heaven, which served as a response to some of the questions raised previously in The Secular City. The new research suggested the rapidly growing Pentecostal movement as the answer to the postmodern quest for religion and spirituality. As such, Pentecostalism represented the process of spiritual restoration of significance and purpose to oppose despair and hopelessness (p. 33). The book further proposed that Pentecostalism in global perspective is a solution to the modern-day Christianity crisis.

Formative Context
The research begins at the turn of the twentieth century with the American context as the original formative environment for modern-day Pentecostalism (chapter one). Since the time was a peak for millennial expectations and holiness quests, a second Pentecost was a natural culmination. The factors that presupposed the Pentecostal movement are then used to provide further proof for the success of Pentecostalism as religious and social reformation. Since, this is not constrained geographically to its roots and tradition, a global impact Christianity is possible.

Pentecostal Beginnings
After establishing the contextual formative factors of modern-day Pentecostalism, Fire from Heaven considers its beginning at the Azusa Street revival. The research describes it as a revolutionary event of social reformation of classes, genders and races which did not just spark Pentecost but aided its spread in America. The focus on William Seymour is well deserved, since the Azusa Street events were the end of a long formative process through which Pentecostalism emerged. On the other hand, Los Angelis in the beginning of the 20th century was not only a proper social context for such event, but also provided the right medium through which this event could spread nationally. This is the difference between Pentecostal historians who see a heritage of historical developments that lead to modern-day Pentecost, and commentators outside Pentecostalism who only have a glimpse of the largely publicized events and accounts.

Pentecostal Growth
One aspect of Pentecost, which seems central for the research, is its power to influence and grow. Fire from Heaven gives a brief account of modern Pentecostal history in regard to the global growth and increasing influence of the movement. The interesting aspect in the approach is that the author is an outsider in regard to Pentecostalism and observes the historical developments as cause and effect processes, rather than personal heritage. Yet, even with such an approach, Pentecostalism becomes a personal experience for the author which he uses as a proof for his thesis. Cox admits that the rapid growth of Pentecostalism is not an accidental event, but it is supported by the fact that this particular religious movement is able to provide applicable answers to religious quests and crises and thus serves as a movement for social transformation. This research finds the power of Pentecostalism in its simple but applicable message.

Toward Pentecostal Theology of Experience
The heart of Fire from Heaven is the proposal of three major primitive developments that have been attributed to the Pentecostal message: primal piety, primal speech and primal hope (p. 82). These are easily identified in Pentecostal circles as holiness, glossolalia and eschatological hope. Of great interest to the Pentecostal believer are the associations which Fire From Heaven offered. For example, the sign of speaking in tongues expresses the Pentecostal appeal for interdenominational union and racial equality which serves as a restorational factor for the original creation and order before the division at the Tower of Babel.

Furthermore, this story of Pentecostalism proposed that miracles and wonders were not connected to power alone. Instead, they were the results of piety and holiness of both the individual Christian and the ecclesial community. Finally, the recovery of the first hope became the answer for the present quest for existence. As such, the eschatological return of Christ for judgment over all and to restore the creation to its original order became the motivation and meaning for the Pentecostal Christian in the present life.

Pentecostalism in a Global Context
Another Biblical practice applied by early Pentecostals was evangelization with special interest to its global aspect of missions. Chapters 7-12 of Fire from Heaven deals with the global spread of Pentecostalism as a religious movement that was able to respond equality in different cultural contexts. Cox uses chapters seven and eight to show that Pentecostalism approached the 20th century world not only as a religious movement, but as a social one as well. Modern-day issues like the role of women, music, etc., which were coherent factors in the world’s 20th century history, were viewed and addressed by Pentecostals as well.

Chapters nine through twelve are Cox’s personal observations and evaluation of Pentecostal worship praxis in Pentecostal churches around the world. Unfortunately, European Pentecostal churches are not a part of this in-depth analysis, which limits the global overview of the research. The mentioned examples, however, give enough material to show Pentecostal characteristics, approaches and reasons why more and more people join this movement. The book finishes with a return to American Pentecostalism and its effect on present American spirituality as well as cultural and social developments.

Mission Applications
The above book review agreed with my understanding and practice of Pentecostal theology since I have learned and lived it in the underground Bulgarian Church of God. As I read the pages of Fire from Heaven, I began to feel that something had been lost since the time when modern Pentecost began. The twenty first century Christianity offers everything except the primitivism, purity and power of its own Holiness roots. My visit with Dr. Cox at Harvard Divinity School in the summer of 2000 not only served as a proof for me, but it provided the groundwork for the writing of my masters thesis on the subject of “Pentecostal Primitivism Preserved.”

The central theme of my research was an appeal for remembering and returning to the past. Based on my own Eastern Pentecostal tradition and personal salvific experience, my paper went a step further than Dr. Cox’s Fire from Heaven and called the Christian Church to neo-primitivism as expressed in the rediscovering and reclaiming of the basic order of the Primitive Church of the first century. Additionally, my master’s thesis reformulated the three primal distinctives of the Pentecostal experience as power, prayer and praxis. Finally, the paper called for a reclaiming of the original experience as the answer for the church of the 21st century, but only when expressed in discipleship after the example of Christ. The conclusion pointed out that only through such process would the Pentecostal community be enabled to preserve its own identity and transmit the faith once delivered to the saints of the future generations.

We have used this approach in the mission work in Bulgaria for the past few years and it has proven to be an effective Biblical strategy for missions. While it is yet a bit early to speak of its successes and failures, I might add that its practical implementations have gained a large interest among ministers and the membership of the Bulgarian Church of God. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the political and economical challenges in Eastern Europe have strongly affected the Evangelical Churches in Bulgaria. As the Protestant Church in Bulgaria is entering a new constitutional era in the history of the country, more than ever before, reformation in doctrines and praxes is necessary in order to adjust to a style of worship liberated from the dictatorship of the communist regime is needed. Fire from Heaven is an encouragement that Pentecostalism as a church model and social-religious formative process is the answer for contexts equal to the present Bulgarian reality.

New Protests in Bulgaria over New Security Chief

June 15, 2013 by  
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sofia today

BBC News: Opposition MPs in the Bulgarian parliament have protested after a media tycoon was appointed to head the national security agency.

Delyan Peevski, 32, a member of the country’s Turkish minority party, was voted into the post without a debate by the ruling Socialists and their allies. He had been nominated by the new Prime Minister, Plamen Oresharski. President Rosen Plevneliev demanded a review of the vote, questioning Mr Peevski’s “reputation and competence” as a crowd of thousand protesters gathered outside parliament in the capital, Sofia.

Mr Peevski joined a Socialist-led government in 2005 as deputy emergency response minister but was sacked two years later and investigated over corruption allegations. The investigation was later dropped. The Socialists have been governing in a fragile minority government as a result of last month’s general election, which followed unrest over the country’s economic crisis.

External specialist: Mr Oresharski has defended the appointment of Mr Peevski, saying Bulgaria needs to take serious steps to stop organised crime and smuggling and he is best suited for the job, despite lacking experience. “Peevski was chosen because he is not part of the system and we deliberately looked for such an external specialist so that he can restructure it,” he told reporters.

However, the speed of the appointment has raised questions. British Ambassador Jonathan Allen wrote on Twitter: “The appointment has been rushed through with no hearings, debate or opportunity to find out about candidate. Why?” President Plevneliev, from the Gerb party which lost the election, said the decision would have “longstanding negative consequences for Bulgaria”.

20 Signs of the Last Days (Revisited)

June 10, 2013 by  
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signs1. The Spirit poured out on all flesh (Joel 2:28)

2. Israel restored as a political state (Deuteronomy 28:64, 30:3 Jeremiah 29:14, 30:3 Isaiah)

3. Universal apostasy (2 Thessalonians 2:1-4)

4. The watering down of the gospel (2 Tim 3:5, Matthew 15:9)

5. False prophets and false Christs (Matthew 24:24)

6. Good will be called evil and evil good (Isaiah 5:20)

7. Worldly knowledge will increase (Daniel 12:4)

8. Earthquakes, floods, famines, plagues and diseases such as the world has never seen (Matthew 24 and Luke 21)

9. Peace will be taken from the earth and wars will increase throughout the world (Matthew 24 and Luke 21)

10. Wickedness, murder and crime among men, while the belief in the occult will increase (Matthew 24, Luke 21, 2 Timothy 3:1-5, 4:3-4)

11. People will not believe the signs of the Last Days (2 Peter 3:3-4; Matthew 16:1-4)

12. Increase in persecution of the Christians (Matthew 24:9; Mark 13:9)

13. Spread of Nuclear Weapons as predicted by the Bible (Isaiah 24:1; Zechariah 14:12; Matthew 24:21,22)

14. Middle East Tensions and an unified Arab league (Genesis 16:12; Psalm 83; Isaiah 2:3-4)

15. The new tower of Babel (Genesis 10; Isaiah 13:1-11; Jeremiah 50-51 Revelation 18)

16. Gog and Magog (Ezekiel 38:1-4; Revelation 20:8)

17. The Revived Roman Empire (Daniel 2:34-45; 7:7-24; Revelation 13:1-2; 17:3-16 )

18. The Anti-Christ (1 John 2:18-19; 4:3; 2 John 7)

19. The Mark of the Beast (Revelation 13:18)

20.  The FINAL SIGN: The Gospel will be preached to end of the world (Matthew 24:14, Revelations 14:6-7)


June 5, 2013 by  
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The following response paper will dialogue with the main points from Susek’s Firestorm filtered through the Bulgarian reality, and will examine their effectiveness among ministry teams in the context of the Bulgarian Church of God. Several presuppositions must be taken under consideration in order to understand the Bulgarian context of ministry. They are the severe economical and political crisis which followed the fall of the Communist regime along with rapid liberation of the church and consecutive revival that have led to unexpected church growth. These factors, combined with generally low ministerial training, have lead to conflicts in a number of churches causing continuous tensions, church splits and even denominational schisms. While the majority of evangelical churches are still experiencing ongoing revival, the above failure conflicts have most certainly brought disappointments and loss of motivation along with the resignation of ministers and the exodus of congregational groups. The reasons for this have been widely speculated, since the practice of exodus interviews (29) is unknown and therefore inapplicable.

The growth factor (26) has proven to be a cause for Phase 1 conflict. While the church was underground, believers maintained very close relationships between each other. The rapid growth of the church, however, has limited the relationship dynamic and the personal approach between pastor and congregation as well as among members. Although, the church is successful number-wise, relationships in large congregations are usually difficult to maintain by pastors who are working second jobs since the congregations are unable to support them, have limited ministerial training and operate under a postcommunist church mentality. To prevent the negative effects of these dynamics, our ministry has dedicated time and resources for quarterly training sessions for the members of our team. As a result, our ministry team has been able to successfully deal with several conflict situations, and the number of churches for which we provide pastoral care has grown from 11 to 17 in the past three years.
The characteristics of Phase 2 have strong implications in the Bulgarian context as due to the underground history of the church and other identity formation factors, most church conflicts are treated with avoidance. Therefore, along with the training, our ministry team has been able to use prayer and fasting as suggested in Phase 2 (38). Through the quarterly training seminars, our team has successfully trained and involved more than 30 leaders and laity within the local congregations in an around the year chain fasting that stops only on major Bulgarian holidays. Even then, some may chose to fast for the services or special needs. This has worked well with the suggested training in spiritual warfare from Phase 4 (53).

The suggestion for crises counselor from Phase 3 will not work in Bulgaria at this time simply because there are no evangelical crises counselors available. The Eastern Orthodox Church which historically has predominated in Bulgaria does not use such methods. Among many other demanding roles (168), the pastor then becomes the only consultant which the church can use. In the context of church conflicts, this practice has not proven to be as effective as needed. As a results strong dependency on God, supernatural interventions and miracles that derive from the practices of the underground church have remained the main strategy in dealing with church conflict.
The exodus of small and large groups from the church in Bulgaria has been a process which has intensified in the past five to seven years. This dynamic has become so strong that is not rare for a local church to lose 30-50% of its congregation while gaining new converts. As a result the general size of the church has remained the same, as new converts have taken the place of the groups that have left. The most common postexodus formations are home groups with ten to twenty members who operate on individual bases separated from the church.

The legislation process described by Phase 5 is rarely used in the Bulgarian church context. The few cases resolved that way has harmed the church more than it has helped. Therefore, the role arbitration (58) is usually taken by the national or regional overseer. In these cases, church properties and resources have not been a major problem since most congregations do not own but rent a building for their meetings.

Rebuilding as suggested in Phase 6 (60) is an urgent need. The idea for interim pastors (66) is not practiced since usually there is a shortage of ministers, and often one pastor takes care of several congregations.

The four pillars (TRIM, 69) identified by Susek are true for the Bulgarian reality. Also true is the incompatibility between the pillars of the pastor and the congregation, which are indeed the most common grounds for conflicts and separation. The hiding behind strong characteristics is a general approach toward relationships and ministry, since both church and minister have very little accountability one to another. This is a new dynamic caused and enforced by the state religious laws. Fortunately, many congregations are returning to the old model of accountability which existed during the time of the underground church.

The unresolved psycho-social needs (86) described as a factor in Chapter 8 are a big part of the Bulgarian context of ministry. The economical and political crises have created an environment of high unemployment and emigration where not only individuals, but the majority of the Bulgarian nation is beginning to loose hope of recovery. The failure of personal and professional realization has been projected over the church as last resort for these needs. Every time when the church has been unable to respond to such dynamics conflict has been inevitable.

Other common causes for conflict within the Bulgarian church are described in Chapter 9. Resistance against authority (90) is an undividable part of postcommunist mentality. The rapid church growth factor (91) is also present through the postcommunist revival which the church has experienced. Marketing the church (93) is beginning to gain speed as well. Freedom (94) has been a main issue for the church liberated from the Communist Regime.

Chapter 12 suggested two important dynamics that can help the conflicts within the context of the Bulgarian church. The first one is the choice between the peacekeeper and peacemaker which can compensate for the hesitation which many Bulgarian pastors experience and which turns to avoidance. Secondly, a statement of purpose for fighting the firestorm would also be of a great importance.

As Chapter 17 suggests, an honest assessment of the damage must be completed before healing process starts. This is very much true for the Bulgarian. Many pastors and churches are still in the beginning of the story of forgiveness and reconciliation told in Chapter 20. They are in the place of hurt, but have not yet made the step toward healing. It is time for the processes described in Chapters 18-22 to be applied. I do disagree with the statement in Chapter 21 about rebuilding spiritually from ground zero. I am not persuaded that during a spiritual storm we go to the bottom of our spirituality. On the contrary, I do believe that we have just enough spirituality within us to ask and give forgiveness, to give and take a second chance and thus reconciled with people and God to continue fulfilling the vision with which He has entrusted us.

Mission Bulgaria 2005-2012 Completed

June 1, 2013 by  
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Mission BulgariaWe are currently finalizing our Mission Bulgaria project through a seven-year long commitment, which has touched the lives and ministries of over 250 local churches in the country of Bulgaria. Along with these congregations, our international ministry team has worked with the Bulgarian Diaspora churches in the United Kingdom, Cyprus, Spain, Germany and France. Six Bulgarian churches are currently operating in Cyprus and four in the U.K., as there are projections for the registration of other Bulgarian churches as well. It has been a journey worth taking.

In relation to our ministry work in Bulgaria in the period of 2005-2012, among many others we’ve completed these seven milestones:

1. The publication of a complete revision of the Bulgarian Bible

2. Completing a new literal translation of the Bulgarian New Testament from the original Greek including the four gospels, acts, epistles, and the apocalypse

3. Establishment of the Bulgarian Chaplaincy Association with the special recognition of the US Department of State

4. Foundation of the Masters of Chaplaincy Ministry Program for Eastern Europe

5. Our national X event for youth every summer since 2005, which is accompanied with a Bible Camp for young ministers and a national mobile educational strategy

6. Building a broadcasting network which supports LIVE streaming of services and events for over 20 Bulgarian congregations every week

7. Implemented a long-term church planting proposal for establishing Bulgarian ethnic congregations outside of Bulgaria

After completing 7 years of ministry in Bulgaria, we are publishing a detailed overview of our work and results in a soon to be published monograph called simply Confessions. This new book speaks of the lessons we’ve learned in the ministry and issues of church and politics within the religious life of the country we’ve struggled to resolve. It addresses:

  • The separation of church and politics of false religiosity
  • Entering an organic relationship with God
  • Depending fully in the ministry of the Holy Spirit
  • Renvisioning the reality of the Kingdom
  • Raising a new Pentecostal generation
  • Reliving His glory
  • Leaving a legacy worth remembering

As we are celebrating our 7-year long accomplishment of Mission Bulgaria, we are reminded that in 2013 God is doing a new thing.