Postmodern Pilgrims

September 30, 2013 by  
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The EPIC Church: Sweet calls his postmodernpostmodern.pilgrims[1] paradigm the EPIC church where the acronym EPIC stands for:
Experiential (rooted in relationships and personal experiences)
Participation (interactive, self-involving and pro-active toward others)
Image Driven (driven by memory/heritage imagery)
Connected (ever changing connectedness)

In Sweets opinion the EPIC characteristics of the postmodern church are in contrast with four characteristics of the modern culture: (1) intellectual, (2) observational, (3) phrase/slogan driven and (4) myopic. Postmoderns are facing a new reality they have created (or that has created them) without the past which they have purposefully denied and excluded. Therefore, contextualization becomes a main factor in the churches ministry in order to give answers to the questions which postmoderns are asking in their search of identity. While the paradigm of the modern church has proven dysfunctional in postmodernity, Christianity must rediscover and relive the message of salvation as the answer for the present ever-changing reality.

In relation to my present context of ministry, Sweet’s proposal has a double side effect. In working with the Church of God in the United States, Postmodern Pilgrims is not only a description of the present situation in the average North American Christian church, but also a prophetic blueprint for the future development of its mission and ministry. As such creating an EPIC church makes sense as helpful and purposeful.

However, while relating the Postmodern Pilgrims to a Bulgarian Pentecostal audience, the EPIC church takes a more theoretical than practical form. Evangelical churches from the post-communist countries are still struggling with going through the age of modernism, where the sudden political changes and severe economical crises have created political, economical and spiritual chaos after the Fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

Most interesting, however, is applying Sweet’s plan for postmodern pilgrimage in the Bulgarian evangelical churches in North America. In this context, typical post-communist, modern men and women are exposed to the postmodern North American culture. Both realities are combined to form a new reality – the reality of the immigrant. These people are left alone to perform the adaptation “jump” from modernity to postmodernity without actually having the chance to live through the transition process. In their context of ever-changing cultural adaptation, absolutes have very little meaning. Ministering to them, then, requires not simply words and managing techniques, but rather through Biblical spirituality which serves as roots replacing their missing past, as an identity for their ever-changing present reality and eschatological hope for both their future and eternity.

Pentecostalism and Postmodernity
Both Sweet and Johns approach postmodernity in a somewhat similar way. They see it as a process of denial of prior value systems which not only challenges present social systems, but also challenges one’s personal sense of identity. It is a reaction to the modernistic rationalism and to the concept that truth can be discovered through induction methodology. The most common concept of postmodernism is making everything relative. While postmoderns may not deny that there is truth, they question one’s ability to differentiate truth from non-truth. Postmodernity is about both loosing the old modern identity and finding a new postmodern one. As such, postmodernity calls for a search of a new, redefined identity for both the individual and the community as a whole. It is also about the opportunity for reinventing oneself; hence, postmoderns desire to constantly invent new identity. The new identity is rooted in a personal experience, rather than in the experience and model of others.

The difference in their views however comes with the application of the postmodernity in the Christian church. Of course, while Sweet writes about the Christian church as a whole (but focuses mainly on Western Christianity), Johns speaks specifically of the Pentecostal movement, its relationship to the postmodern culture, its roots and origin as a world view. In his customary style of writing, Sweet sounds like he is selling postmodernity to the church. He claims that the church must reconfigure its structure and ministry methodology in order to answer the new challenges. If the church fails to do this it is destined to eternal ministry failure in the era of postmodernity.

Sweet brings a number of conclusions based on current corporative management practices – a characteristic that has formed his writing/ lecturing style in the past several years. This distinguishes Postmodern Pilgrims from typical books about the Christian church. He consistently brings up facts, figures, statistics and analysis from corporative-industrial models to recommend the next step the church should make to assure its success in postmodernity. At times the book strongly resembles of the recent Bill Gates’ Business @ the Speed of Thought. Similar to what Bill Gates proposes to the management world, Sweet suggests that the church of postmodernity should adopt a somewhat virtual lifestyle to better understand and minister to the needs of the postmodern society.

On the contrary, Johns speaks of the church (Pentecostalism) as a movement that contains the characteristics of postmodernism long before postmodernism ever occurred. Differently than postmodernism, however, Pentecostalism is independent from any scientific paradigm and is not a worldview or structure, but rather a God-centered movement of believers. Thus, while Pentecostalism seems similar to postmodernity it not only occurs earlier in time, but carries a different set of characteristics and values.
Both Sweet and Johns come to the agreement in their conclusions that through reclaiming the past, the church of postmodernity, can remain in its original identity and give identity to others as well. Rooted in holiness the Christian church can provide an affective experience of God in the postmodern search for personal experience of reality.

Postmodern Rebels
In the beginning of the 20th century, Pentecostalism began as a rejection of the social structure which widely included sin, corruption and lack of holiness. These factors have spread not only in the society, but have established their strongholds in the church as well. Pentecostalism strongly opposed sin as a ruling factor in both the church and the community, seeing its roots in the approaching modernity. As a modern rebel, for a hundred years, Pentecostalism stood strongly in its roots of holiness and godliness, claiming that they are the foundation of any true Biblical church and community. Indeed, the model of rebelling against sin and unrighteousness was a paradigm set for the church by Jesus Christ Himself.

In the beginning of the 21st century, much is said about the church becoming a postmodern system serving the needs of postmodern people in an almost super-market manner. Yet, again, it seems reasonable to suggest that the Pentecostal paradigm from the beginning of modernity will work once again in postmodernity. While again moral values are rejected by the present social system, Pentecostalism must take a stand for its ground of holiness and become again a rebel – this time a Postmodern Rebel.

Transforming Mission

September 25, 2013 by  
Filed under Featured, Missions, News

bosch[1]Transforming Mission is a book about missions. The text is not merely a theoretical proposal but rather a detailed historical and theological overview of Biblical missions which results in a new paradigm. In the light of the book, the title means both transforming the present mission model toward a new successful paradigm and the way mission becomes a transformational factor for the community of all believers.

The book begins with a Biblical overview from a historical perspective, as the author examines the development of Biblical missions throughout the Old and New Testaments. A special attention is given to the Luke–Acts writings and the Pauline epistles. In the review of the Pauline mission strategy, Bosch points Paul’s interest to large cities of main importance. Although, the apostle does work in rural areas his main priority remains large cities with sufficient gathering areas where the Gospel can be quickly and more efficiently spread. Such model is supported by a realized eschatology and clear understanding of the quick and eminent return of the Lord. Paul redefines his mission strategy on the basis of this context to purposefully invest more time and effort in metropolises and crowds where the results of his ministry will be more efficient.

The author notes the success of the early church missions, as he points out that regardless of the Jewish rejection of Jesus, thousands of Jews throughout Israel were saved in a short period as a result of the mission of the Early Church. This success is evident from the Scriptures, for the period of time even before the mission was extended to the Gentiles. As the spread of the gospel continued, Bosch writes the mission of the early church extended to the borders of the known Biblical world.

The text examines the relationship between personal crisis and mission effectiveness of the Early Church. Repentance, forgiveness of sins and salvation were represented as personal crisis in the message of the early church, which was focused on the immediate conversion of the human soul. Such focus on the individual experience of the believer remains a focal point for the Biblical paradigm of missions. Unfortunately, this focus was lost as the church took a more non-crisis model of personal transformation in the centuries to follow. This brings the research to its second major part, which is an overview of the church history beyond the third century.

The book continues with a historical overview of church history in six epochs. The focus remains on the theology of missions and its transformation, since the beginning of this part of the research deals with the Eastern Church and culture after the Edict of Constantine. Bosch claims that the church was not a bearer of culture until put in a context of Empirial religious organization which actually was a merger between state and church. Elements of primitive eschatology virtually disappeared from the church. Moving toward the apologetics period of church history, the author properly notes the change within the eschatological view of the church form eminent-apocalyptic return of Christ to a kingdom-on-earth mentality.

The foundation of this trend is in the exchange of a crisis-repentance experience with the gradual spiritual elevation of the human soul (pneumatikoi). This idea stayed strong within the church through the next centuries of history and produced definite religious movements toward indulgencies as early as the Martyrdom of Polycarp where we read about “purchasing at the cost of one hour release from eternal punishment.” It is understandable that in such context missions receive a much different outlook. The medieval ages confirmed the indulgency practices with such vigor that they became a prime mission focus. Their influence was so strong that even after the Protestant Reformation had long-dealt with indulgent practices, mission was hard to fit in the paradigm of the church. Bosch confirms that it was not until the Wake of the Enlightenment that missions received the attention which they deserved in a church context. However, his overview of that era is quickly passed through modernity and is contradicted with the entering of postmodernity and its effect on modern-day culture. This is followed by an in-depth study of the elements of mission and their present-day application in various mission paradigms and concludes with a rather ecumenical model of missions.

Mission Applications: Mission to Post Communist Communities
In a transformation from post communism to postmodernism, the role of the church is definite. The church is a spiritual agent in transforming cultural. Our ministry in Bulgaria for the past 15 years has followed this mission model in the establishment and development of a network with over 15 churches. This process has been accompanied by definite vision expectations and strong leadership training, which have become the plus-side of our ministry in the Bulgarian context of constant insecurity. Our ministry team has benefited from the implementation of David J. Hesselgrave from Planting Churches Cross-Culturally following the “Pauline Cycle of Missions” (Table 1):

Table 1: Pauline Cycle of Missions, Event First Cycle Second Cycle
(1) Missionaries Commissioned Acts 13:1-4; 15:39, 40
(2) Audience Contacted Acts 13:14-16; 14:1; 16:13-15; 19:4, 9, 10
(3) Gospel Communicated Acts 13:17ff.; 16:31; 19:4, 9-10
(4) Hearers Converted Acts 13:48; 16:14, 15; 19:5, 18
(5) Believers Congregated Acts 13:43; 19:9, 10
(6) Faith Confirmed Acts 14:21, 22; 15:41; 20:20, 27
(7) Leadership Consecrated Acts 14:23; 20:17, 28; 1Tim.1:3-4
(8) Believers Commended Acts 14:23; 16:40; 20:1, 25, 32
(9) Relationships Continued Acts 15:36; 18:23; 20:17; Eph.1:1-16
(10) Sending Churches Convened Acts 14:26, 27; 15:1-4

In the general Bulgarian context, there are claims today that the Bulgarian Pentecostals have pessimistic eschatology which doesn’t allow them to envision their ministry as a transformation of society. Such accusations come from small “reformed” groups who regardless of a limited presence during the years of the Communist Regime and virtually no mission attempts toward Bulgaria today claim to be the historical heritage of the Bulgarian Protestantism. Their main concern is that Pentecostalism, as the largest wing of the Bulgarian Protestantism, has pessimistic eschatology and no social or cultural attempt to transform Bulgaria because of the lack of a plan for economical transformation and participation politics.

This, however, is hardly the case, since the Bulgarian Pentecostal movement has gained a significant level of influence within the Bulgarian community in the past 15 years. Although representing roughly 1% of the Bulgarian population with a little over 100,000 member’s the Pentecostal movement has been present in the political life of the country with National Assemblies representatives and a political party (Bulgarian Christian Coalition) established in 1997. The government connection has continued with the numerous times Pentecostal churches and leaders have used their connection outside Bulgaria to assist with social challenges with social groups like disabled, orphans and retired. The social work of the Pentecostal moment has become well known throughout the Bulgarian towns and villages, as Pentecostal social centers are often the last and only resort for those social groups. The Pentecostal efforts toward social centers have inevitably assisted the Bulgarian economy in the area of social work which are now untouchable due to the severe economical crises which followed the fall of Communism.

Other minority groups have also been touched by Pentecostal ministry as the largest Gipsy Christian churches in Europe are only in Bulgaria. Women in ministry have been a constant phenomenon within Bulgarian Pentecostalism ever since its beginnings in the 1920s. The Bulgarian Pentecostals have always stood against racial and ethnical discrimination against Gypsies, Jews, Pomaks, and immigrants. Christian television, radio and other media in major cities are all initiated by Pentecostals who are responsible for the survival, rediscovery and reclaiming of the true Bulgarian Protestant identity. The 1990 Pentecostal revival in Bulgaria went well beyond the boundaries of social transformation and is playing a major role in the democratization of Bulgaria.

Rites in the Spirit

September 20, 2013 by  
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9781841270173[1]Rites in the Spirit approaches Pentecostal practices and experiences with an approach often not seen by Pentecostals. Through identifying Pentecostal distinctiveness with rites terminology, the book proves that they have astonishing effect on the believers’ formation. In the light of Albrecht’s work this paper will reflect on: (1) ritual time, space and identity, (2) fundamental structure and modes, (3) positive consequences and (4) characteristic qualities and formational role of Pentecostal practices and experiences.

Ritual Time, Space and Identity
Albrecht explains that Pentecostal experience of spirituality has effect on time as spirituality is affected by the experience itself. He further proposes three time cycles as a characteristic: (1) weekly/annual events, (2) lifetime and (3) the time of the worship service. The worship time itself contains three distinct elements: (1) the worship, (2) the message and (3) the alter service. On the same page, the author writes that in the process of the Pentecostal service momentary/spontaneous encounters with God are often present as a part of the worship.

While time forms the Pentecostal field for ritual, space provides the physical boundaries. Albrecht identifies several space related issues and their prominence for Pentecostal worship. He states that the worship space reveals the attitude of the Pentecostal congregation. He speaks of the sanctuary as a “ritual place” where the Pentecostal services are performed. In this setting, there is space for the congregation and its dynamics (congregational space) and for the leadership (platform). Finally, Albrecht properly notices that there is also an “alter space” where the congregation and leadership come together.

In the time and space of Pentecostal worship, different people assume different roles or identities. Five are pointed out by the text: (1) worshiper, (2) prophet, (3) minister, (4) learner and (5) disciple. (pp. 136-43). The Pentecostal congregation has a main role in the worship service, as the believer’s worship is viewed as a direct offering to God. The mystical element in a Pentecostal worship service is a result of the desire to experience God directly and intimately. The personal experience with God opens the worship to supernatural intervention and the ministry of the Spirit. The very presence of spiritual gifts challenges the individual believer to become a leader, while this spiritual mode is both recognized and evaluated by the congregation.

The goal of these aspects of Pentecostal worship is a personal encounter with God and spiritual transformation of the believer. In this context, the ritual time, space and identity are expressed in Pentecostal worship through preaching, prophetic uttering, healing, miracles, etc. These elements express awareness of a given individual/corporate problem/situation as spontaneous manifestations of supernatural power and leadership challenge not only the traditional leadership forms, but effect social structures as well.

Fundamental Structure and Modes
Albrecht explores the structures and modes of the Pentecostal worship. By structures he understands the elements of the service. He places several of these in the following paradigm: (1) worship and praise, (2) pastoral message and (3) altar/response as transitions occur between them. These structures reveal the role of each believer in the corporate worship. They also reflect on the needs that each individual brings in the corporate setting of the Pentecostal worship.

The modes on the other hand, deal with the emotional aspect of the service. They can be: celebrative, contemplative, officious, penitent, estates, etc. These are the ways through which the believers respond to the structure of the service. In a way, the modes are each believer’s personal expression in the unified corporate setting of the worship service.

The structure and the modes:
(1) reveal the roles of each believer in the process of the service
(2) express human concerns; these are micro rites, like singing and music, through which an expression of the believer’s humanity is given
(3) express social structure; expresses the group’s social life and role in society
(4) reveal theological relations – express theological convictions and beliefs
(5) express relationship to God as a personal experience
(6) express relationship as community – how the body comes together and how the believer acts as a part of the body
(7) accent on relationship to the worlds as a mission approach and an evangelistic attempt

Positive Consequences
(1) Liminality – has to deal with a tripartite structure that marks a significant change in status. The liminal is the moment between the before and after of the event, and is, as it were, outside of the security of these more stable definitions.
(2) Community – deals with relationships between people under liminal conditions.
(3) Reflexivity – a self-conscious examination of the individual believer in the corporate context of Pentecostal worship
(4) Transformation – deals with both the changes taking place in the believer as well as the changes in the congregation as a whole.

Characteristics Qualities and Formational Role
The characteristic qualities within Pentecostal worship have a formational role for the individual believer through:
(1) offering leadership toward the experience of God
(2) creating a community atmosphere in which spirituality, leadership, ministry and mission of the Christian community are clearly envisioned
(3) motivating the believer to both allow and implement formation in the context of the community
(4) practicing spirituality in the context of the Christian community and as a mission to the world

Bulgarian Study New Testament

September 15, 2013 by  
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Bulgarian NTWe are truly blessed to introduce for the first time the Bulgarian Study New Testament. The text is specifically designed and printed for Bulgarian immigrant churches outside of Bulgaria and specifically for the Goodwin need of Bibles, study guides and leadership literature among the Bulgarian Churches in North America. This first edition contains:

  • Revised protestant Bible History of the New Testament texts
  • The Story of the Bulgarian Bible
  • Harmony of the Gospels
  • Prologue to each book
  • How can I be saved?
  • What the Bible says about…
  • Holy Spirit in the life of the believer
  • Prayer Devotions
  • Praise and Worship Lessons
  • Role of the Church in the world
  • Theology in contrasts
  • Names and titles of Jesus Christ
  • Messianic Prophecies Fulfilled
  • The miracles of Jesus
  • The proverbs of the Lord
  • Model and use of the Tabernacle
  • Maps of Biblical places
  • Plan of the Last days and the Book of Revelation

Spirit Filled Life Bible Review

September 10, 2013 by  
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Several months ago, our team undertook the task of comparing and reviewing a growing number of Study Bibles appearing on the book market recently in what we called a 21st century Revival of Study Bibles. This article is part of our Study Bibles review series as outlined here:

Spirit Filled Life Bible Review
Dony K. Donev, D.Min.

The Spirit Filled Life Bible is another great example of a Pentecostal study Bible from the 90s, which sets the stage for this century’s study bibles revival. It was edited by Jack Hayford who later served as president and chancellor of King’s University (formerly The King’s College and Seminary). The text provides Bible commentary from a conservative Pentecostal perspective and study notes are a bit more detailed than the Fire Bible.

For example, the first Old Testament control passage we use in our study from Number 6 is well documented and discussed almost verse by verse. Under the title of “Priestly Blessing,” the Spirit Filled Life Bible makes the case for: (1) wave offering as part of worship (v.20), (2) personal blessing through the singular “you” in the original Hebrew (v.22), (3) a definition of blessing (v. 24) and much more on the final phrases in the blessing: “make His face shine upon you” and “lift up His countenance upon you.”

Jeremiah 18 also has several historical commentaries in the Spirit Filled Life Bible as part of Jeremiah’s laments described in a note in ch. 11. The point here is being made that the responsibility for the law in the Old Testament was given to the priest.

The doctrine of the Rapture is commented in Revelation ch.4 in both the footnotes and a special block note within the text. The first one gives three views of the Last Days (dispensational, futurist and historic/preterist), while the second correlates with the elements of John’s vision. The Dispensational interpretation is offered in continuity with the interpretation of the 7 Churches of Asia-Minor. Two other block notes with markings “Word Wealth” and “Kingdom Dynamics” are placed in 1 Thess. 5 explaining the origin of the word “Rapture.” The significant for Pentecostals phrase “in the Spirit” is explained as “a state of heightened spiritual sensitivity.”

The Tribulation is also clearly explained as post-Rapture event with a classic interpretation of the prophecy given in the text of Daniel 8. The 24 elders are viewed as “evidence of the church’s exemption from the Great Tribulation” as they “are already glorified, enthroned and crowned,” which without a doubt proceeds from pre-Millennial doctrinal interpretation.

The doctrine of the Trinity is preserved as per the Biblical Truths of the Foursquare Church, namely: “Trinity of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.” Thou the word “Trinity” itself is absent from the detailed word Concordance at the end of the Spirit Filled Life Bible, perhaps because it is not present in the actual Biblical text, it is persistently present in the commentaries. This is true even in the largely disputed (from a manuscript point of view) 1 John 5:5-6 which is explained as Trinitarian in the comments.

Similarly to the Fire Bible, the Holy Ghost baptism is explained in the forward to Acts along with a page full with notes on speaking in tongues in Acts ch. 2. Additionally, there is a chart with a six-fold involvement of the Holy Spirit in human history: in the beginning, the Old Testament and Old Testament prophecy, in salvation, the New Testament and in the written word. The Spiritual Gifts in 1 Corinthians 12 are discussed one by one. There’s also a very nice write-up at the end by Paul Walker of the Church of God who further explains “Holy Spirit Gifts and Power.”

The commentary notes at the end contain a self-guide by Pat Robertson, named “Spiritual Answers to Hard Questions.” Power over demons is explained along with the process of exorcisms, without explicit statements about the influence of demons over born-again Christians. The following subject on the Kingdom of God is also dealt with without any explicit reference to Kingdom Now Theology, although explicitly lengthier and detailed in comparison to the rest of the subjects. The final note deserves special attention and should be hereby quoted in place of an epilogue: “Lack of forgiveness blocs access to the kingdom (of God) and its marvelous power. (See also Mt. 6:5-15; Mark 11:22-26).” Increase your church influence

September 5, 2013 by  
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Say Ye to the Righteous: “It shall be well”

September 1, 2013 by  
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