Blessed are the Kingmakers (or ‘The Movement Formerly Known as Newfrontiers’)
I received a letter not so long ago informing me that a new pontiff had been appointed. It’s okay, we’re not heading for 1054 all over again, but it has made me reflect on churches, appointments and successions.
A few years back, the movement I belong to (Newfrontiers) unofficially became The Movement Formerly Known as Newfrontiers (TMFKAN from now on). The cynical among us claimed that Newfrontiers had split up, while the optimist replied saying, “No, the movement has multiplied into several relationally connected- yet autonomous- apostolic spheres!” The cynics then retorted that this sounded a lot like spin and the discussion has rumbled on ad infinitum.
Confused? Yep. Me too.
So the letter informing me of the appointment of a man tasked with drawing together the spherical leaders of TMFKAN and bringing a fresh sense of togetherness was of some interest. Is this the “One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring them all, and in the darkness bind them?” I asked myself. I doubt it. But there are parallels with another ancient context that I think are worth reflecting on.
The transition in ancient Israel from a theocracy (indulge me for a moment) to a monarchy (as narrated in the OT book of Samuel) is fascinating. Samuel stands as the prophetic voice who straddles two eras, warning of the dangers of moving away from a past where Israel called on the Lord and the Lord answered, and moving toward a future where Israel called on the king, and the king…well, it depends on the king, doesn’t it?
The clamour for a man (read ‘king’) is many things in Israel’s narrative, but one thing it reveals is an insecurity and an unbelief- can we get by as we are in this excruciating vulnerability of calling on God and hoping for him to answer? Can we survive as a people when surrounded by superpowers with super-kings? Who will fight our battles for us and represent us? Can we depend upon the God of the patriarchs, the Exodus and of Sinai? Perhaps a profound sense of the precarious nature of their existence surrounded by enemies, and the very real threat of being wiped out one day by one of those enemies shaped Israel’s request for a king.
There are some who want to demonise the whole monarchy project in ancient Israel, claiming that power corrupted and absolute power corrupted absolutely etc. I don’t think you can go quite that far just from a reading of the biblical text, but I think what you can say for certain is that the monarchy added complexity to Israel’s life that wasn’t always helpful.
And so TMFKAN…
I have hopes and I have fears. I hope that the current appointment leads us into a trajectory of greater faithfulness and fruitfulness for the kingdom of God. I fear that we are adding complexity to an already complex situation and that we might be repeating the mistakes of our fathers by clamouring for a man (again, read ‘king’). In Israel’s life, it was only much, much later that the full flowering of monarchic ambitions led to disaster. By then, however, it was too late to go back…