GCI Update

Faith: active or passive?

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Joe Tkach and Tammy TkachIn explaining Trinitarian incarnational theology, we’ve spoken and written a lot about faith, describing it as personal participation in what God has called us to do—this is active faith. But we’ve also described faith as participation, by the Spirit, in Jesus’ own faith—this is passive faith. If addressing faith in both of these ways has caused confusion, I apologize. The truth is that it’s not either/or—it’s both/and. Christian faith is both active and passive. Let me explain.

Andertoons CartoonI hope we remind ourselves every morning to live that day through faith in Christ. Doing so not only motivates us to prepare for the challenges ahead, it reminds us where our faith comes from. Faith and the repentance that accompanies it are gifts of the Spirit. I believe this is what Peter had in mind when he wrote, “Prepare your minds for action” (1 Peter 1:13 NASB). The early church must have had this in mind as they grew over a period of 300 years from 120 believers to dominating the Roman Empire. This reminder to live by the Spirit through faith in Christ is both active and passive.

Seeing our faith as either active or passive leads to an imperfect understanding of the revolutionary nature of Christian discipleship. Christ lives in us (active) but we also live in Christ (passive). As the apostle John makes clear in 1 John 1:8-10, we know no matter how active our faith may be in this life, we will never be totally free from sin and so never perfect. Thus our active faith is never sufficient. But, praise God, this is not the final word. Jesus came and began a new life in us that he will finish (Philippians 1:6)—he will continue to give us the gift of sharing (more and more) in his perfect faith (trust) in the Father by the Spirit.

I believe it is not only more theologically accurate, but also beneficial to our mental health that we recognize faith as both active and passive. Emphasizing one over the other leads to all sorts of problems. If we emphasize active faith, there is the danger of self-righteously viewing others as less faithful and righteous. But if we emphasize passive faith, there is the danger of antinomianism (believing there is no obligation to keep a moral law), libertinism (living without morals and responsibility) and spiritual laziness. Both extremes stem from an incomplete understanding of sanctification (in Christ and by the Spirit) and often results in a joyless Christian life.

Put another way, taking one side or the other is being one-dimensional in a four-dimensional world. Think of the two aspects as two points on a circle, each point leading to the other, and the whole circle in Christ. We better understand faith when we carefully examine the topic of sanctification. The word translated “sanctification” means “set apart” or “separation.” In his high priestly prayer, Jesus said: “For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified” (John 17:19). Jesus set himself apart in order to set us apart. Sanctification speaks to the passive side of faith as reliance on God to make us more like Jesus Christ by uniting us with him. In being united with him we are then drawn by his Word and Spirit into deep and personal relationship with the Triune God. This is the active side of faith—our response to God’s love, our desire to grow in our relationship with God. In that relationship we realize that God is empowering us to pursue and live out holiness, that is, live out our being set aside for communion with the Triune God.

Faith, in both its passive and active elements, rests upon and is under-girded by the faith of Jesus Christ, who lived in and lived out his relationship with the Father in the Spirit. This is what he came to share with us. When we lack assurance in the faith of Christ (his own faith and repentance in our place and on our behalf), we are thrown back upon ourselves to rely upon our own repentance and faith. One thing we should all acknowledge is that we can’t even remember all the sins from which we should repent. For this reason alone, we don’t want to be thrown back upon our own spiritual strength—we want the faithful strength of Jesus to be at work in us.

Note how T.F. Torrance explained Jesus’ faithfulness:

Jesus Christ stood in our place, taking our cause upon him, also as Believer, as the Obedient One who was himself justified before God as his beloved Son in whom he was well pleased. He offered to God . . . a perfect faith and response which we are unable to offer, and he appropriated all God’s blessings which we are unable to appropriate. Through union with him we share in his faith, in his obedience, in his trust and appropriation of the Father’s blessing; we share in his justification before God. Therefore when we are justified by faith, this does not mean that it is our faith that justifies us, far from it—It is the faith of Christ alone that justifies us, but we in faith flee from our own acts even of repentance, confession, trust and response, and take refuge in the obedience and faithfulness of Christ—“Lord I believe, help thou mine unbelief.” That is what it means to be justified by faith. (“Justification: Its Radical Nature and Place in Reformed Doctrine and Life,” Scottish Journal of Theology, vol 13, no 3. pp. 225-246.)

Our sanctification is the work of the Trinity. Jesus said “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working” (John 5:17). Our heavenly Father always works in us “to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” (Philippians 2:13). God works in us to change our wrong desires. Jesus’ ministry sanctifies us, and his work on the cross became our sanctification (1 Corinthians 1:30 NASB). He is the author and the finisher of our faith. The Holy Spirit is the agent of our sanctification. He produces in us the fruit of sanctification (Galatians 5:22-23).

Perhaps we can see more clearly that we are both passive and active in our being sanctified. Passively, we trust God to sanctify us, for it is his will that we be sanctified. Actively, we choose to do what is good, right and faithful. Here is how Paul put it: “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable” (1 Thessalonians 4:3-4).

An easy way to show the value of both active and passive faith is in this statement: We praise God and respond (active) to the gift of sanctification that we can receive (passive) through the faith and faithfulness of Jesus through the Holy Spirit.

Living in faith,
Joseph Tkach

Youth outreach

GCI’s congregation in Barranquilla, Colombia recently held a community outreach event. Members went house to house inviting young people to a banquet. Over 75 came, with several parents attending as well. In addition to a festive meal, the event included a gospel message and music. Members of the congregation donated prizes and provided support in other ways.

Colombia event

New church chartered

Grace Communion Fellowship (GCF), a GCI church plant in the Eagle Rock neighborhood of Los Angeles, California, recently was officially chartered as a GCI congregation.

GCF was planted by Angie and Sadie Tabin—a missionary couple from the Philippines. With financial, legal and immigration assistance from the GCI home office, a GCI Church Planting Network in Southern California, GCI Philippines, and several GCI-USA churches, the Tabin family came to the U.S. about two and a half years ago and started connecting with the Eagle Rock community. After a year of gathering new contacts, GCF now averages 35 people in attendance, fulfilling GCI’s requirement to be chartered as a full-service congregation.

churchCharter-300x203The charter document was officially presented to Angie and Sadie by Glen Weber (picture at right). Glen, who is a member of GCI’s Church Multiplication Ministries’ team and senior pastor of New Hope Fellowship (another GCI church in the Los Angeles area), challenged GCF members with these words:

Always think of yourselves as a church plant. Now that you are an official church it’s easy to let down and go into “doing church” mode instead of doing what a church plant should do. Ask yourselves, what have we done in the past that got us here? All the things that you have been doing to get new people to come—keep doing those things. In order for a church to continue to grow, you need to stay in church planting mode for at least another five years. A year from now, if each of you prays for and brings in three new people to church, next year you’ll be four times the size of what you are today.

In addition to providing weekly church services and other church planting tasks, the group is focusing on providing a full range of disciple-making ministries and completing formation of a finance committee to provide prudent stewardship of finances in compliance with relevant tax laws. The congregation is also developing its own website at http://gracecommunionfellowship.com. Your prayers for their continuing journey of development as a new church are much appreciated.

Crossing Borders winter mission

This update is from Lee Berger, the director of Generations Ministries’ Crossing Borders mission.

In December we conducted our 18th trip to Mexico in nine years. When we began this mission several years ago, three or four churches donated about 150 shoeboxes full of gifts for needy children. This time 12 churches donated over 750 shoeboxes. Many other churches supported the mission with prayer.

CB group

Thirty-five people participated in the mission trip this time. They represented eight U.S. states as well as Monterrey and Guadalajara, Mexico. On previous trips we had about 12-15 people. More missionaries equals more person-to-person interaction with the people we serve. It also means that the mission experience and mindset is taken back home to more churches and communities, spreading the attitude of “being on mission wherever you are”—in your own family, school, with friends and neighbors, in the workplace, with strangers. Jesus is at work everywhere and invites us to join him on mission!

God also brought more people than ever for us to minister to on this trip. At two stops we expected to find about 75-100 people. But the buildings were packed with over 200! We shared God’s love through singing, preaching, sharing food, talking and laughing. We also presented a skit about Jesus’ birth and distributed the shoebox gifts to all the children and totes full of infant supplies (including beautiful handmade baby quilts) to the mothers of babies.

On this trip we also visited two children’s homes, spending several hours jumping rope, face-painting, treating them to pizza, listening, laughing and hugging. I wish you could have seen the radiant faces of the children as they excitedly greeted us on arrival and soaked up the love we shared with them (see the pictures above). When they opened their shoeboxes and unpacked the simple gifts, their appreciation was amazing to see.

Muchas gracias to all who supported this trip. Our next one into Mexico is planned for June 20-28, 2015. For details, go to our website at www.cbmission.org or call me at (903) 746-4463.

Keep bivocational ministry from imploding

The apostle Paul was bivocational—both a church planter and a tent maker.

In GCI, most of our pastors are bivocational—pastoring churches while holding down other jobs. Doing so is quite demanding, as noted by Northern Seminary professor David Fitch in a blog post entitled, “5 Tips on Keeping Bivocational Ministry from Imploding.” He writes:

Bivocational ministry has a bad name.

This bad name was bequeathed upon it by Christendom. Because within this Christianized world, where everybody is a Christian, the pastor is looked upon as a professional carrying out all of the numerous tasks of the church to offer services to Christians to sustain them in their Christian life. This model of ministry (I call it the Superman/woman model) is ordered for efficiency. It is a top down chain of command that gets things done. One person basically does all the gifts of the body, including preaching once a week, pastoral care, visiting the sick, running the business end of things, managing conflict resolution, and engaging the community with new and innovative ways to get people to come into church. Frankly this job is impossible even under the best of circumstances. But as a bivocational pastor? It will kill you.

To read the full post, click here.

Luann Patrickson

Here from retired GCI-Canada pastor George Patrickson, is an update on the previous prayer request for his wife, Luann, who is battling pancreatic cancer.

Luann and I would like to thank everyone for their prayers on our behalf. We appreciate so much their love and concern. Luann recently began a new round of cancer treatments that will conclude in the middle of January. They may take a scan at that time to determine the effectiveness of the treatments, or schedule her for another cycle of treatments before doing a scan. She is suffering some side effects from the treatments, which require injections to boost her white blood cell count and to stop blood clots from forming. She is in good spirits but does get tired quickly and needs to rest frequently. Again our thanks for all the prayers for her.

Cards may be sent to:

George and Luann Patrickson
1936 Hyannis Drive
North Vancouver, BC V7H 2E4

Death of pastor John Paul Jones

We received the sad news from Robert McKinney, GCI pastor in Nassau, Bahamas, that John Paul Jones, pastor of our congregation on Moore’s Island, Bahamas, has died due to complications from diabetes. His funeral is planned for January 18. Please keep the family in your prayers. He and his wife Sheva would have celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary on January 12.

Cards may be sent to:

Sheva Jones
Moore’s Island

New camp director

Steve and BarbaraGenerations Ministries’ national coordinator Anthony Mullins recently announced the appointment of GCI pastor Steve Solari as the new director of GenMin’s Heart O’ Texas Camp, which is held each summer near Dallas, Texas.

Steve and his wife Barbara (pictured at right) recently moved to the Dallas area, where Steve now serves as the senior pastor of Hope Community Fellowship—one of GCI’s congregations in the Dallas area.

Your prayers for Steve and Barbara, for the congregation and the camp, are appreciated in this time of new beginnings.

Lois Peterson graduates

Lois Peterson, wife of GCI elder Rick Peterson who serves in GCI’s church in Big Sandy, Texas, recently graduated cum laude from The University of Texas at Tyler, receiving a bachelor of science degree in interdisciplinary studies. Lois plans to teach at the elementary level. Congratulations Lois and family!

Left to right: daughters Josette and Anna, Rick, Lois and son James.