Beyond COVID-19 – Vision for Our Unions and Churches
Beyond COVID-19 – Vision for Our Unions and Churches
Welcome to our EBF online gathering! This is a real blessing to see you all as we participate in such a historical occasion for the EBF in its development. First time ever EBF has been enabled to overcome all the limits of space and borders of different countries – now we can enter even into your own home! Wherever you are right now, the entire EBF is with you.
It seems we are following the ways of our Risen Lord who appeared to His disciples by moving through the closed doors. So are we as His followers in EBF entering your homeland and your hometown and even your home-office through all kinds of standing walls and closed doors. And so we can be together in our fellowship – the EBF online fellowship.
At the same time – worshipping God online! – doesn't it feel a little strange? We are so used to fellowship and worship being gathered together face to face in the same physical room. But this year has drastically expanded our experience and understanding of the meaning of fellowship as well as spiritual life in general. After having realised how catching might be our physical contacts both in positive and negative ways, we have learned to keep in touch from distance and develop rather spiritual ties and virtual connections. It has been quite a big challenge for us in our humanness. We would rather choose to be together physically.
But didn't Jesus confirm that in the course of time his spiritual fellowship would be much more important than his physical presence in our time and space? Jesus said: "I did not tell you this from the beginning because I was with you, but now I am going to him who sent me. None of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ Rather, you are filled with grief because I have said these things. But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you." (NIV, John 16:4-7)
WHERE IS GOD? The disciples of Jesus faced that question after his ascension, and the world around them argued: GODISNOWHERE! But Jesus had shifted their paradigm by confirming that his physical ascension would bring about the spiritual descension of our godly Advocate, and then all the people in all the places and all the times could confess – GODISNOWHERE!
Similarly, the year 2020 has envisioned us to see godly presence and activity outside of our box of space and frames of time.
20/20 vision is an American term to express normal visual acuity (the clarity or sharpness of vision). If you have 20/20 vision, you can see clearly at 20 feet what should normally be seen at that distance. Having 20/20 vision does not necessarily mean you have perfect vision. 20/20 vision only indicates the clarity of your vision at a distance.
So, maybe the year 2020 anno Domini has clarified our vision from the distance we have had to keep in order to test the reality of our worldview in the Spirit and sharpen our focus for envisioning our churches to live and give witness in the hypermodern times of globally developing network society.
I guess we all have experienced a paradigm shift in our 2020 vision of what does it mean to be a church? It really hit me when we had our EBF regional online meetings in Spring, and I saw a provocative background picture put up in Zoom by one of our brothers, in fact, by the new General Director of the Baptist Union of Scotland Rev. Martin Hodson:
He can explain it to you more exactly, but it said to me that the time has come for us not to be anymore stuck with our buildings or church structures, matters of worship or manners of preaching and teaching. The time has come for us to be empowered and guided by the Spirit to “go into all the world” (Mark 16:15) and “make disciples of all the people-groups” (Matt 28:19) knowing and trusting that He will be with us always and everywhere to the very end of the age (Matt 28:20).
So, wherever we are, he is with us and he is working with us and through us in his Spirit! He is not limited with a building or number of people gathered. He is everywhere. GODISNOWHERE. Yes, GODISNOWHERE!
500 years ago the Bible was given to be read in the language of ordinary people since Martin Luther realised that whenever and wherever the Gospel is read and preached, the Spirit of God is at work. And Europe was reformed.
At the same time the Anabaptists were convinced to practice their religious freedom to be followers of Jesus and his disciple-makers in different communities of faith creating environments open to the Spirit of Christ for doing his work among the people who were serving each other according to their spiritual gifts and giving witness to the world with their good deeds.
As I studied the Anabaptist martyr hymns for my doctorate work I realised how the Spirit of God was at work when they were imprisoned or even killed. They experienced a mysterious spiritual presence of the Lord in their prison cells, and a powerful witness was given by the goodness of deeds in the Kingdom of God despite the “bloody theatre” stage killing thousands of Anabaptists before the ideas of religious freedom were spreading in Europe.
I have a young brother now in the prison of my hometown, and I have baptised more than a dozen men in the prison, one of them a former radical Muslim, another one was a recidivist criminal, and so on. But now they are changed men. They experience and share a spiritual presence in their prison cells. One of them, a former drug dealer, told me how his prison cell has become an intercessory prayer cell for his former friends who send him their prayer needs by mail, and give testimony later how god has helped them. He said he lives and prays like a monk in a monastery cell… The Holy Spirit is at work inside and outside and between and despite all the dividing walls.
Jesus said: “So let me say it again, this truth: It’s better for you that I leave. If I don’t leave, the Friend won’t come. But if I go, I’ll send him to you.” (The Message, John 16:7)
Our godly spiritual Friend is now at work everywhere. The Spirit is to take and send us everywhere as well – just like he guided the apostle Peter to the house of Cornelius, the evangelist Philip to the Ethiopian eunuch, and the scattered witnesses and church-planters to plant a pagan church in Antioch. Now, the important question is: where is the Spirit taking you, your church, your union of churches, your movement of the people of God in your country, region, part of the world? Do we believe and act as GOD IS NOW HERE?
Our 3D Church was taken by the Spirit to be planted in the first place 10 years ago in order to reach all the young people who would never step over a door of the church building. I remember how Tony Peck visited our planning meeting and encouraged the core group of teenagers who were to plant the church just a couple of weeks before the very first worship service in the local cinema of Tartu. It was a tremendous encouragement to the young people to see and hear that the very leader of European baptistic movement of faith was behind them. And the church became alive, reached dozens and dozens of young people who had never been part of a church before, and now became followers and disciple-makers of Jesus. Then the Spirit said we need to plant a new location in Tallinn, our capital. We began Sunday worship services in a night club of Tallinn. Critics said it cannot be done. But Estonian national TV was doing a program about us in the most popular prime time TV show talking about how a young church is reaching young people by going even into the night club. After that almost everybody knew who the 3D Church was, and many young people came to faith and joined our church after seeing the program on TV. Some of the parents said to their children that they should go and visit 3D Church if they want to be changed...
But 4 years ago we were guided to become a missional church with smaller communities or small groups in 5 different locations across Estonia. We gather in 17 smaller communities, and multiply them as much as possible. New leaders are intentionally discipled and developed. At the same time, we are using a lot of media, including social media and a Christian TV to communicate the Good News as much as possible.
When the corona pandemic closed our society in Spring we were not shaken. The church was growing and people came to faith in our smaller communities, gathered physically or virtually. Then our pastor called together the 3D Hackathon – an online environment for developing new platforms for reaching out to new people. I happened to become part of a small team who realised that our 2020 vision is to create a counselling platform sinuabi.ee – meaning Your Help – in order to serve all the young and older people who are facing psychological difficulties because of the lockdown and broken relationships. Today there are more than 70 Christian specialists helping hundreds of people visiting the platform daily, getting counselling and advice from the Christian experts, experiencing the reality of God in the reality of their lives. We do not know where the Spirit is leading us on, but we know that it is good to be everywhere on his mission. Because GODISNOWHERE.