Relationships. Humans have relatedness and relationship because of the Creator. Humanity was created in the “image” and “likeness” of God (Gen. 1:26-28). Our relatedness and relationship ability define humanity as different than any other created thing. We were made for relationships.
Through the Scriptures, the reassurance of our purpose and design in being relationship-driven is validated. The only time within the creation narrative that God mentions anything negative is in man’s isolation and loneliness (Gen. 2:18). Humanity was made for relatedness and relationship, with God and with one another. What does this have to do with a cultural mandate?
The cultural mandate, as it is known, states, “God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Gen. 1:28).
The misconception about the cultural mandate is that people believe that it merely applies to human reproduction. However, in light of the continuity of Scripture, and the wholeness counsel of God, there is a link to multiplicity and a correlation to the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18–20). Yet, as we note from the beginning of creation, an intimacy of relatedness (to God, one another, and creation) and the primacy of love is innately encoded into our DNA, by the Creator.
As Adam and Eve walked with the Creator in the garden, they were gaining an intimate understanding of living with God within the daily regularities of life. The proclamation “to be fruitful and multiply,” or cultural mandate, was a commission—to fill the earth as image-bearers of God.
Think of this—if Adam and Eve had not committed sin, their mandate would have driven them to expand the Garden of Eden to fill the entirety of the earth. The Garden of Eden would have possessed no boundaries. Every person, beginning at birth, would have come to know, love, worship, and serve the Creator by becoming a disciple-maker (talking about God and living for God). For this reason, we can see the correlation with the Great Commission multiplicative mandate to make disciples of every tribe and nation (Mt. 28:19-20). Life is about knowing God and making Him known (multiplying).
As a student of God’s Word, the metanarrative of Scripture is God’s story—the Scriptures reveal the One True God to humanity. As Michael Goheen notes, “The gospel places us between creation and consummation, the beginning and end of cosmic history … we find ourselves in the middle of the Bible as one story whose central thread is the missional vocation of God’s people…” The Old Testament and the New Testament are not divorced from one another—nor are they separated stories, but one continual story, much like a thread of comments on an Instagram post.
Therefore, I believe the cultural mandate is much like the Great Commission—a direct order given from the Creator to be “fruitful and multiply” (Gen. 1:26-28; Matt. 28:18–20). While there are some distinctions between the two, both relay a kingdom ethos. Like the cultural mandate, within Christ’s command to make disciple-makers is the tantamount awareness of relatedness and relationship—with man and with God.
To understand the Great Commission is to understand that each person alive today has been created in the image of God and participates within God’s story. The Great Commission must compel God’s redeemed people to look beyond discipleship as conversion therapy, but as the very definition and story of what it means to be human. God’s story is “the true story of the whole world.” Discipleship begins at relationship, not conversion.
Next, the Great Commission is a divine directive for those who have been saved by grace and filled with the Holy Spirit of God to “be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth” (Gen. 1:28). The church actively partakes in, and participates with, the Triune God. There is a divine koinonia, of cross-centered living and sharing of possessions, emotions, and relationships that constrict a cruciform community. The Great Commission has direct kinship to the cultural mandate because God, through Jesus Christ, renews the image-bearers of God. Christ re-creates humanity (2 Cor. 5:17), breathing new breath into them (John 20:22), and placing them back into the Adamic state of relationship (yet, not yet, sinless).
The cultural mandate is an “evangelistic mandate” and an “imperative to make disciples.” I know that some scholars may disagree with me, but I can’t help to connect the dots within the metanarrative of God—that God created man in His image and likeness to know Him, love Him, and serve Him, and to fill the earth as His protectorates.
The cultural mandate mirrors the Great Commission as Christ, God in the flesh, the reigning cosmic King, with all authority and an omnipotent presence, journeying with mankind, as disciple-makers make disciple-makers (Matt. 28:18–20). In the Garden, Jesus, the second and last Adam, lived out the mission of God, by and with obedience, something that the first Adam failed to do within his garden.
So, we arrive at a destination—a course in which God in Christ, by the power of the Spirit, is leading us and directing us in a sanctifying life of mission. As well, our end goal should be the drive, zeal, and desire to be more holy, missional, and like Christ. Jesus was the ultimate reproducible disciple-maker. He was the penultimate image of God (Col. 1:15). And, if we were created for him, to him, and through him (Rom. 11:36; Col. 1:16), then our lives must have intentionality in living out what He said and did (Matt. 28:19).
 Wagner, C. Peter. Strategies for Church Growth, 111.
 Goheen, Michael, The Church and Its Vocation: Lesslie Newbigin’s Missionary Ecclesiology), 8–9.
With a topic such as cremation, it is understandable that opinions are strong. There are numerous cultural reasons for the acceptance of cremation, including financial and real estate. It is also acknowledged that God is able and capable of resurrecting humanity from the devastating effects of a fire. Assuredly, this article is not comprehensive, but I find it quite alarming with the increase of cremation. Bear with me; this article intends not to cast judgment, but to present the biblical understanding of the imago Dei, the dignity of life, rest, and theological underpinning of the preservation of the faithful.
All people are created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26). This means that we are image-bearers of the one true God. As the image-bearers of God, from the beginning, life was sacred, relational, and honorable. The Lord’s response to the slaying of Abel by his brother Cain is a testimony to life’s frailty and the body’s ability to speak beyond the grave.
The Lord asserts to Cain, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground” (Gen. 4:10). While one would suspect that God witnessed the killing and received Abel’s soul, the choice of words is interesting—the blood crying up from the ground is weeping. The ground receives Abel’s blood. Cain leaves his brother’s body lying on the ground. Cain has no regard for life; even after death, he neglects the body of his brother.
When John the Baptist was beheaded, news returns to Jesus. Matthew records, “And his disciples came and took the body and buried it, and they went and told Jesus” (Matt. 14:12). Imago Dei. Biblically, whether in early church history or Judaism, the bodies of those that passed on were honored, sacred, and treated with dignity.
Dignity of Life
As image-bearers of God, Christians believe in the sanctity of human life, whether in birth or death. Contrary to this belief is paganism. Throughout history, the worshippers of Baal, Barbarians, pagans, and idol-worshippers burned their dead. But, that was never the case for those that believed in God Almighty.
The promising covenants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob regarding their burials and bones were clear (Gen. 23:4; 47:29-30; Ex. 13:19; Heb. 11:22). Jacob’s lasts words to his sons, “I am to be gathered to my people; bury me with my fathers” (Gen. 49:29), is a testimony to the dignity of life. There has always been an ethical and honorable treatment and preservation of the bones of the faithful. Whether it be the kings and their families (2 Sam. 21:12), priests, or prophets (1 Ki. 13:31; 2 Ki. 23:18), the bones of the faithful were preserved. The early church was adamant about protecting the bones of the dead that they hid and buried them in the catacombs, away from Roman fire.
However, biblically speaking, when a curse from God was pronounced, fire was to desecrate the bones of the faithless, “And the man cried against the altar by the word of the LORD and said, “O altar, altar, thus says the LORD: ‘Behold, a son shall be born to the house of David, Josiah by name, and he shall sacrifice on you the priests of the high places who make offerings on you, and human bones shall be burned on you’” (1 Ki. 13:2). The writer of 2 Kings provides the fulfillment of the prophecy, “[Josiah] burned the bones of the priests on their altars and cleansed Judah and Jerusalem” (2 Ki. 23:5). The burning of the bones of the faithless was considered a cleansing of wickedness.
Through Jeremiah, God pronounces judgment upon the bones of the kings, officials, prophets, and priests that worshipped other gods—so that their bones would not receive dignity or rest (Jer. 8). As well, when Moab transgressed by cremating the king of Edom, the Lord declared, “Thus says the Lord: “For three transgressions of Moab, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment, because he burned to lime the bones of the king of Edom. So I will send a fire upon Moab” (Amos 2:1-2).
The point being made is not that modern cremation is evil, or that people intend evil; the point is to illustrate that humanity ought to have more honor, respect, and dignity for the faithful. It’s alarming at the amount of Christians that no longer honor the bones of the saints to lay them to rest. Through movies and television, our current culture glorifies the burning of peoples, as if it creates dignity (more on that in a moment, see theological).
When Christ was crucified, a person alleged to be a blasphemer by claiming to be God, was meticulously prepared for burial and laid to rest. While the disciples and His followers did not understand the resurrection (yet), they did believe in honor, respect, and rest. Judaism always adhered to the rest and dignity of the body.
Sherrie Johnson, researching and writing about the catacombs, states,
“Many of the people living in and around Rome during the turn of modern times believed in burning the bodies of their dead. Christians of the time believed that the cremation of their dead was morally wrong. Since there wasn’t enough space above ground to store their dead, they started building tunnels underground to bury the dead, as the Jewish communities had done before them … The bodies of the dead are meant to be treated with respect. In Christianity, death is a transitory phase that leads to eternal peace in heaven for the righteous. This is one reason why people bury the dead with utmost respect and care.”
Another reason why burial was important was the unwavering faith of the believer. A believer’s burial was not only a committal to the ground in which man was formed, but a resting place until the resurrection. Without a proper burial, like Abel, the body was not at rest, peace, and awaiting a return of Christ. Christians believe that God will provide new life to the mortal body.
While some modern believers may argue, “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” God is fully capable of resurrecting both. Indeed, God is, but the confronting question should be, are we treating the saints with dignity, honor, and respect as the imago Dei and as a redeemed saint? If the early Christians went to such drastic measures to avoid the burning of bodies, have we strayed so far from orthodoxy, or are we sacrificing honor for convenience? (read the invasion of 8th-century Germanic tribes into Rome and how the Christians hid their dead).
Animism and paganism believe that gods exist in things—trees, water, mountains, weather, rocks, etc. The burning of the dead was supposed to release the soul from the body to enter into the spiritual state of oneness with eternity. Similarly, Buddhism believes in nirvana, the state after death that a person can become one with the universe.
This is why modern movies and television promote Barbarian and Roman warriors’ burning—they burn their remains to let them become one with the universe, to be released from the body, forever. Unfortunately, that is not Christian theology. We believe in the resurrection of the dead, when these bones will be renewed, and become like Christ (Rom. 6:5). We believe in the Holy Scriptures, which testify of our earthly bodies being transformed (Phil. 3:21).
As I stated in the beginning, this article is not intended to judge anyone, especially when they may have had a loved one cremated. The focus of the article is to present the biblical precedent of the imago Dei, the sanctity and dignity of life, honor, respect, and the tradition of rest. It is obvious that I am revealing my convictions, but I would hope that this article opens a conversation with loved ones, a deeper study of the Scriptures, and a more profound love of laying to rest the bones of the saints.
Working on my next book project, part of my research encompasses my favorite church planter, St. Patrick. Unveiling the likelihood that the “Apostle of Ireland” may have been the first itinerant-apostle to seriously apply the Great Commission to his missionary endeavors was encouraging. The utilization of the term “Great Commission” is most notably attributed to William Carey. Still, Patrick viewed his missionary efforts to the Gaelic peoples as part of the bigger picture of “making disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19-20).
Having a passion for disciple-making, church planting, and the gifting of redeemed believers (Eph. 4:11), Patrick’s life enlightens my soul. When researching Patrick and the earlier Church Fathers, it became apparent that the contemporary church misunderstands early missions, missionary roles and attributes, and the foundational importance of the itinerant-apostle.
For clarity, contemporarily, the usage of the term apostle is not without contention. Most often, people equate an apostle with an office. Within biblical Greek, the term apostle (apostolos) means to send. While Christians tend to (rightly) denote the word apostle with the original Twelve disciples of Christ, the word serves a much broader comprehensive function. Interestingly enough, the term carries nautical weight, as a gathering of seafaring ships embarks upon a maritime expedition. The role of the itinerant-apostle/prophet was much like a seafaring entity, leaving one harbor to enrich another.
Early Itinerant Apostle-Prophet
Assuredly, there has been an ample amount of scholarly research concerning the Didache, its authorship, dating, and possible influence on the Gospel of Matthew. While I’ve spent a significant amount of time studying the text, missional disciple-making is the driving force for my interest. Knowing that a first-century disciple-making resource was available to the early church is more than motivational; it’s illuminating.
Without delving into an argument, we’ll assume the abundant scholarly research on the Didache is sufficient. With that stated, the Didache and its “two ways” open the door to understanding the traveling apostle-prophet. Milavec notes, “The oral tradition of the Didache devoted so much attention to the apostle-prophets because it needed to. Thus, they were dealing not with just a rare visit but regular visits.” The wandering prophet in the Didache is uncannily similar to Matthew 10:41.
While the Didache notes the itinerant apostle-prophet should not stay longer than two days to assess honesty and integrity, it is reasonable to assume that they carried letters of authority for lengthier stays, much like that of the apostle Paul (e.g., Acts 9:2; 15:22-29). Regardless, the itinerant-apostle was a traveling servant; this is evident in Paul’s church planting and edifying travels.
Craig Keener notes there were approximately nineteen stops of Paul’s new communities in his second journey. Of the nineteen communities that Paul’s itinerancy logged, he remained in four less than three days, seven less than seven days, and 13 communities less than 14 days. The role of the itinerant-apostle-prophet was more than a mere ekklesia check-up; it was a reproducible disciple-making whirlwind with divine instruction.
It seems highly plausible that Pauls’ role became Antioch’s itinerant apostle-prophet. This credibility exists, as Luke records Paul proclaiming to Barnabas, “Let us return and visit the brothers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are” (Acts 15:36). The itinerant prophet made the rounds to encourage the churches and begin new ones. As recorded in the Shepherd of Hermas, “When, then, a man having the Divine Spirit comes into an assembly of righteous men who have faith in the Divine Spirit, and this assembly of men offers up prayer to God … the man being filled with the Holy Spirit, speaks to the multitude as the Lord wishes.”
As well, Luke recognized five apostle-prophets within the Antiochian church community (Acts 13:1). Most notably, three of these “apostle-prophets were commissioned, being ‘sent out’ to plant new churches.” In the spirit of the itinerant-apostle Paul’s journey to Gaul, Patrick would also employ the itinerant strategy.
While previous historians and missiologists have scoffed at Patrick’s usage of offerings or monetary gifts to gain inroads with tribal chieftains, the ends justified the means. Today, we would equate Patrick’s kingly gifts as contextualization and discernment. Patrick knew the extreme dangers of the Barbarian life.
Having been enslaved to the Celtic people as a youth, Patrick was well aware of the endangerments ahead. Traveling the roads alone was not advisable, not with the marauders and rival tribes. Giving a gift to a tribal king would assure not only safety but a guide, translator, and ambassador. Most of Patrick’s provided emissaries became converts.
Patrick knew the importance of receiving permission to perform discipleship among the small extant Christian communities. Permission would allow him access to the unchurched in neighboring tribes. And, as an itinerant-apostle, Patrick utilized every opportunity.
Itinerant Church Planting
Much like the Apostle Paul’s passion, Patrick was known to move to “new areas” and regions “where the gospel had never been preached” One may doubt Patrick’s journey strategy or impact but could never suspect his motive. In his Letter to Coroticus, Patrick confesses:
Church planters are pioneers that pave the way for souls to enter eternity. The impact of the pioneering itinerant-apostle was to bring the gospel and its power to unreached peoples. While the descriptions of Patrick’s life include “many miracle stories … we see that such stories proliferate when the gospel moves into pioneer territory.”
Patrick’s zeal and Confessions show that he was a pioneering itinerant as he moved “from place to place to befriend the various tribal” peoples. As an apostolic-itinerant, Patrick is attributed to planting over 200 churches.However, Patrick wasn’t a mere traveling evangelist; he baptized and discipled an uncountable number of individuals. Some scholars estimate Patrick to have baptized over 100,000 converts. Needless to say, the church needs more like Patrick; it needs more itinerant-pioneers.
 Smither, Ed. Missionary Monks: An Introduction to the History and Theology of Missionary Monasticism (Eugene: Cascade, 2016), 57.
 Walter A. Elwell and Barry J. Beitzel, “Apostle, Apostleship,” Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), 131.
 Garrow, Alan, The Gospel of Matthew’s Dependence on the Didache (NY: Bloomsbury, 2004).
 Milavec, Aaron. The Didache: Faith, Hope, & Life of the Earliest Christian Communities (New York, Newman Press, 2003), 441.
 Keener, Craig, S. Acts : An Exegetical Commentary (Grand Rapids : Baker, 2014), 2298.
Shepard ofHermas, Book II, Commandment 11, Vol. 2, 28.
By now, most pastors know the statistics; 80-85% of all Western churches are in decline or plateauing.Likewise, only 10% of pastors are trained or capable of turning around those churches. As Fezzik from the Princess Bride declared, “If there is no arrangement, then we are at an impasse.” But, there is an arrangement; thankfully, God is raising leaders willing to devote their time and dedication to His mission. As well, he’s allowing people like me to create and teach practical curriculum in our seminaries.
As a church planter, I recognize that there are many similarities with church revitalization. Having been blessed to be a part of the renewal and planting processes, both require dedication and devotion. Of course, intentionality is foundational, but I have always tried to remind myself of the three succinct L-words.
Knowing that church revitalization is a bit more complicated, I would like to share the three “L’s” that have helped me to stay focused when revitalizing and seeking church transformation: (1) love, (2) leadership, and (3) leverage.
As God’s people and called leaders, we must remember that we’re not called to revitalize a building, but people. There will be emotions, feelings, and opinions involved. We cannot ignore the hurts, pains, and scars as if they didn’t exist, but we may not need to make it our focus. For revitalization, change is inevitable and required. If change were not required, then there would be no need for revitalization.
Some people will resist change. I’ve come to realize that some people see the world as ever-changing and never stable. They view the world as chaotic—always remarking, “Things are going to H*** in a handbasket.”
These believers will desire to have “their church” to remain the constant in their life. They yearn for a place that reminds them of “better days.” They require an area of their life that will be free from change. So, don’t attempt to remove the Cantata, old hymns, or the bright pink curtains that the Sunday school made in 1965. However, to the best of your ability, embrace these individuals, bring them close to you, and “love on” them. Remember, most dying churches have a broken spirit; it is your duty to promote love; to build up the body, and to encourage the people of God that He’s constantly at work.
President Truman was given a desk sign that read, “The Buck Stops Here.” As leaders, we must be willing to take full responsibility for our actions and choices. For this reason, we must seek wisdom and discernment from God so that we can lead His people rightly.
As well, we should be aware that we’re called to protect the flock. Sometimes this will be difficult. So, while it is wonderful to see new growth in dying churches, do not be naive about the “consumer” believers that jump from one church to another. They will attempt to hi-jack the vision of what God has called you to do.
Good leaders will pour into other leaders. If the church you serve does not have leadership, then create leadership. Invest time in others, discipling them and training them in navigating and living through the daily rhythms of life as a Christ-follower. Stay focused on the gospel and Christ.
There are many areas that we can leverage. First, always celebrate the “little wins” in your congregation. Investing intentional time and recognition in the body of Christ will promote unity and harmony. When a small group provides an outreach, or a person shares a testimony, or a person gives a “praise report,” it is during these times that as a leader, you need to leverage these events as “wins.”
Second, learn to leverage the community. God has placed the church into a specific culture and location to make an impact. Learning to leverage the community denotes a relationship. One way to leverage community would be to invest in community events. Does the community have a farmers market, special day, or scheduled event—if so, get involved?
Lastly, learn to leverage social media. In promoting and bringing awareness to your church’s existence, the community will see why it exists. While some may people may view this as worldly, Jesus did inform us to be “as wise as serpents and gentle as doves” (Matt 10:16). He also gave us the parable of the shrewd manager that realized how to live within culture (Luke 16:1-9). While at this point, most churches are already on Facebook due to Covid, don’t neglect the other platforms. As well, learn to exegete the community by utilizing hashtags.
While the three L’s are not exhaustive, and there’s much more involved in them, they are a means to keeping focus. Love, leadership, and leverage will go a long way if you remain steadfast and conscious of them. Finally, we can do nothing without Christ (John 15:5). As revitalizing leaders, we must rely on the power of the Holy Spirit and stay deeply grounded in Jesus Christ.
 Aubrey Malphurs, Look Before You Lead: How to Discern and Shape Your Church Culture(Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2013), 200.
These are not philosophical questions but are insightful ones that require honest and reflective responses. Whether we seek to understand innovation and growth in business, organizational or leadership change-development, or in this aspect, my application to the questions—the contemporary Church, regardless, change is happening every day.
While the pandemic has altered how society does global business, everyday interactions with others, the mundane daily tasks, and especially gathered to worship; I think it is imperative to look beyond what is visible. In this short article, I merely want to propose an idea about chaos and innovation; although the concept is not mine, only the reflection from it.
Recently, I was sitting in a Movement Leaders Collective cohort. I was listening to Alan Hirsch explain the concepts of “chaordic organizations.” Alan gave reference to the originator of the idea, a man named Dee Hock, the founder of the VISA corporation. Initially, Hock wrote an article, “The Art of Chaordic Leadership.” Chaordic refers to harmony with chaos and order. Hock defined the term as such:
“By chaord, I mean any self-organizing, self-governing, adaptive, nonlinear, complex organism, organization, community or system, whether physical, biological or social, the behavior of which harmoniously blends characteristics of both chaos and order.”
The more I studied Hock’s chaord, the more I sensed a lack of creativity or innovation was due to the lack of chaordic impulse. Scientists have perpetually scratched their heads regarding the creation of the universe. Inevitably, they tend to assign some type of explosion or set of events that appeared out of nothing. Without arguing creation theory, my point is understanding that even the Bible affirms that God intervened with “null and void” (i.e., the darkness)— to establish a chaordic harmony.
But, let’s apply this to organisms and organizations. Whether the Church, non-profit, business, or foundation, the need for innovation is paramount. As Peter Drucker famously stated, “Culture eats strategy for lunch.” Culture is in a constant state of chaordic impulse—it’s constantly changing. Albeit, culture isn’t in a vacuum or self-propelling—people make the culture shift. Overall, paradigmatic movements occur when specific people group(s) invite and accept change.
But, what if culture shifts due to outside circumstances. For instance, in the article, “Movemental Ecclesiology: Recalibrating Church for the Next Frontier,” Warrick Farah and Alan Hirsch note:
“There is no doubt that God has been teaching us all kinds of key lessons over the last year. The COVID-19 pandemic has been probably the most disruptive event for the Church since WWII and has compelled Christian leaders across the globe to re-evaluate their mindsets and their practices.
The long-held belief that the Church exists almost exclusively in its Sunday/weekend expression has been called into question, and as the so-called “queen” has been removed from the game, leaders have been forced to learn what the other chess pieces on the board can do. This in turn has forced us to reflect on the nature of the Church as a living, distributed, incarnational, network—the very essence and mark of all world-changing, transformative movements.”
As I contemplated Farrah and Hirsch’s words, I thought about innovation—more specifically, how the Church could utilize the cultural chaos to produce systemic order—namely, chaordic nature.
Think of it this way, if any system or organization remains stagnant, there can be no growth, yet the organization may be comfortable. Organizations love consistency and order. However, sometimes too much persistent order is damaging to an organization.
On the other side of that thinking, if an organization were wholly overtaken by chaos, that same organization would probably self-implode for lack of stability. But, if there’s an order to the chaos, then natural growth and creativity occur. Movements transpire through innovation, and innovation happens through chaordic impulse. For the most part, growth periods can be somewhat uncomfortable.
Yet, if I’m answering the first question honestly, I realize that nothing grows out of comfort. Using the caterpillar as an example, with ordered chaos, the caterpillar stays a caterpillar and never experiences flight. A chaordic metamorphosis occurs. Likewise, the beautiful butterfly cannot and will not return to the state of the caterpillar. The butterfly will no longer utilize the same characteristics, attributes, and skills. Life is dead for the caterpillar but fully alive for the butterfly.
The dilemma is that many organizations or leaders cannot see past inevitable death. Their willingness to remain the same is due to fear. The fear of change is greater than the fear of death. However, if the organization leans on chaordic impulse—a harmonious blend of uncomfortable change with order—innovation will occur.
 Warrick Farah and Alan Hirsch, “Movemental Ecclesiology: Recalibrating Church for the Next Frontier,” https://abtslebanon.org, April 15, 2021.