A Message for The Church

I’ve known Stan Firth for a number of years now, as Father has allowed us to fellowship together a few times. I enjoy this elder brother in the faith, the price he’s paid to follow his conscience and the simple passion, hope, and joy he brings to those who cross his path. Formerly a Baptist pastor in Scotland he now resides south of London, living outside the box of organized religion. Many of you might know him from a podcast he did with Brad and I a few years ago.

He has just released a new book called The Remarkable Replacement Army, that I think many of you will enjoy. Following up on his earlier book Custom and Command that posed the question of whether our participation in our current Sunday morning institutions is a command of Jesus we are to follow, or is it just a custom that has grown up over 2,000 years of Christian history, his newest book is a protracted metaphor presented as a prophecy of the church in our time and for the future.

I love much of the content of this book and recommend it to everyone whose contemplating the nature of the church today, especially those who no longer feel connected to a traditional congregation. In it, Stan describes a time of transition between the traditional congregation as we’ve known it and a more relational networking of passionate believers that he says will define church life in this century. It will challenge many of you. It will encourage others of you. And it will help many of you who think how you can live more effectively beyond the traditional congregation.

That said, there are also things in this book that give me pause. Portraying it as a prophecy is problematic for me and unfortunately may discourage some from mining the incredible content here. I’m convinced Stan believes that it is, and I respect him for saying so. At the same time I’m not sure I agree with the value of getting people to see this transition in prophetic terms, knowing it can appeal to a fleshy desire to be in a significant movement. Certainly, the institutional patterns of the past are losing their grip on people and God is inviting many people outside those conventions to discover more relational ways of living and walking alongside other believers and touching the world. That’s a reality. but it may not be a shift in God’s priorities or methodologies so much as it is that our religious systems have grown so complicated and manipulative that they have choked out the life of the Spirit in many places and people have gone looking elsewhere for Truth and life.

God’s Remarkable Replacement Army uses an extended metaphor about a “replacement army” in Norway during World War II to resist the Nazi occupation and preserve the wishes of their king while he was in England helping to overthrow the German invaders. Stan has gleaned much insight from that period of history and uses it to share some of his observations about people who no longer fit into the religious systems they once did. As with all metaphors it can be pushed too far and draw people to the wrong conclusions. And, in this day of religious conflict around the world, I grow increasingly uncomfortable with military language to describe God’s church in the world. The title immediately was off-putting to me, but as you read the book you’ll understand why he chose it. I appreciate that he wasn’t calling believers to arms, but inviting them to live in service to their King.

Finally the former school teacher can’t resist telling us how to read his book and it does bog down at times when he lectures us about what we should read, when we should read it, and how it should be read. Get past those bits. They may seem a bit tedious, but theirs veins of gold running through this little book that will encourage and enlighten you. I don’t write these things to discourage you from reading the book, but to warn you not to take the exit ramps from his incredible content and miss the greater truths that Stan shares from his life.

This is an older brother sharing his most profound convictions. Many of you will know well what he means when he writes:

Up until about fifteen yeas ago, my wife and I were staunch church-members, always fully involved in the activities of a local fellowship, wherever we happened to be living. We had even spent nearly two decades in “full time service”, when I was a “pastor” (or “minister”). Slowly but surely, however, we had come to this conclusion about church life, which I have been describing—this conviction that the existing church system was no longer the way forward for our discipleship. It become clear to us that, in spite of the past, we could not continue to be “church goers”. We knew that our action would cause raised eyebrows—to say the least—among our relatives and close friends. Because of our previous extremely-church-oriented lifestyle, the fact that we had stopped “going to church” would seem , to those who knew us, very odd indeed—if not downright heretical!”

In the third section of the book, Stan gives some practical guidelines for thriving in the King’s purpose outside of those congregational structures. There’s really genius here if you don’t take this as a how-to book of methods to implement in your life. Stan warns us against doing so. But many of you will appreciate, as I did, his ideas on “cross-my-path-care”, intentionally socializing with others, and how the Scriptures and the Spirit work hand in hand to show us the Father’s purpose. I’ve used some of these things in numerous conversations already to help people see that living relationally is not less intentional, if anything it is more so or you may find yourself feeling empty and isolated, when you don’t need to.

Here is an excerpt:

I prophesy that the exiting regiments of the Army of the King of Kings (the various denominations) and “streams’ which currently make up the Church are going to disintegrate, sooner or later, during the 21st Century. Already I see many signs of that. Furthermore although there are individual churches and groups of churches, which at this moment are, to all intents and purposes, “fighting well”, I suggest that even they, in the long run, will all but disappear from the scene. I prophesy that the days of the Institutional Church are drawing to a close. I do not believe, however, that the King of Kings is discouraged—even though the army of Christians view the deteriorating situation with dismay. …There is no way that he will leave himself without a body of “soldier of Christ” to further his cause on Earth. My prediction is that, as the 21st Century unfolds, the King of Kings will come to be represented by an Army of a radically different style from the army that has previously represented him. I prophesy that he will replace his formal army (his formal church) with an informal network of dedicated believers—a veritable “resistance movement” of committed Christians.

Problems aside, this book is one that people thinking outside the religious box need to read. It comes from the depth of a man’s heart and wisdom that has lived these realities for years and you won’t want to miss the powerful insights that fill this book.

You can order the book from Lulu.com. Paperback, 320 pages. Or you can download a free PDF version here.

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6 Comments
  1. Richard Wilson January 20, 2011 at 9:59 pm

    I am in the midst of reading this book and in many ways I concur with your comments Wayne.

    I love the heart of this guy! I really appreciated the interview you did together with him in 2007. And the little booklet “Custom and Command” he wrote re the validity of being “church” outside the system is very helpful.

    I particularly appreciate that Stan has made both his books available as PDF downloads – and even for free. That is really helpful for “down under” types like myself.

    I am finding the book reads more like a detailed conversation than a “normal” book! Another person could probably write it in half the pages – but I wouldn’t want to change Stan!
    He encourages you to read it in the way that is most helpful for you – and that is good advice.

    I have discovered that there are many books that have been of real value to me that have not been easy reading!

    One thing of value for me is having a person write from a European perspective. The situation of the organised church in Europe is much more parlous than in the US and even than here in Australia. Other European speakers I have heard speak in the same vein. I suspect the European experience of the organised church may well occur in Australia. At present our governments [National and State] off load quite a lot of community social support to various church based social agencies but the drift to secularism is quite likely.

    I keep pondering Jesus’ words “I will build my church”. I have seem far too much of people building their “church”, their organisation, their structures and then defending them – at the expense of people. I have been up close and personal to such a focus on the “structures” that have lead to the loss of the people who have the gift and passion for real ministry/mission/living the life of Christ in different situations – and that includes my wife and I who find ourselves outside the group we spent 10 great years in.
    I agree with Stan that we should not expect that Jesus will necessarily renew “our systems”or “our structures”! It is Him we need to connect to and walk with – and He will build His church His way!

    Blessings

    Richard Wilson
    Adelaide South Australia

  2. Richard Wilson January 21, 2011 at 12:59 am

    I am in the midst of reading this book and in many ways I concur with your comments Wayne.

    I love the heart of this guy! I really appreciated the interview you did together with him in 2007. And the little booklet “Custom and Command” he wrote re the validity of being “church” outside the system is very helpful.

    I particularly appreciate that Stan has made both his books available as PDF downloads – and even for free. That is really helpful for “down under” types like myself.

    I am finding the book reads more like a detailed conversation than a “normal” book! Another person could probably write it in half the pages – but I wouldn’t want to change Stan!
    He encourages you to read it in the way that is most helpful for you – and that is good advice.

    I have discovered that there are many books that have been of real value to me that have not been easy reading!

    One thing of value for me is having a person write from a European perspective. The situation of the organised church in Europe is much more parlous than in the US and even than here in Australia. Other European speakers I have heard speak in the same vein. I suspect the European experience of the organised church may well occur in Australia. At present our governments [National and State] off load quite a lot of community social support to various church based social agencies but the drift to secularism is quite likely.

    I keep pondering Jesus’ words “I will build my church”. I have seem far too much of people building their “church”, their organisation, their structures and then defending them – at the expense of people. I have been up close and personal to such a focus on the “structures” that have lead to the loss of the people who have the gift and passion for real ministry/mission/living the life of Christ in different situations – and that includes my wife and I who find ourselves outside the group we spent 10 great years in.
    I agree with Stan that we should not expect that Jesus will necessarily renew “our systems”or “our structures”! It is Him we need to connect to and walk with – and He will build His church His way!

    Blessings

    Richard Wilson
    Adelaide South Australia

  3. Richard Wilson January 26, 2011 at 3:31 am

    Just to add that I finished Stan’s book and certainly found it a very worthwhile read.

    Years of practical experience undergird what he has to say.

    Richard Wilson

    South Australia

  4. Richard Wilson January 26, 2011 at 6:31 am

    Just to add that I finished Stan’s book and certainly found it a very worthwhile read.

    Years of practical experience undergird what he has to say.

    Richard Wilson

    South Australia

  5. Will Pearce February 23, 2011 at 5:45 pm

    Just finished the book. I would agree that Stan’s essential premise brings a fair amount of insight into what God is doing in the world today. I’ve had the same sense that there’s a “melting away” of organized Christian religion that’s going on, and that it’s the next step of the maturing of the church (though certainly we’re only in the early stages).

    As for the book itself, I found myself thinking that it’s in good need of a thorough editing–it would probably be a better book if it were about 50-70% shorter. There is such a thing as taking even an apt metaphor too far, particularly in the details. The side excursions and explanations of the format of the book didn’t help, either.

    I’m also not sure that I’m on the same page as Stan with what appeared to me to be a couple of underlying themes/assumptions. First, the imagery of fighting a war, while very popular in the church today (and over the past century), struck me as miscasting the real role we have of standing in Father’s love (or, at the very least, it runs the risk of doing so). I find that too many of my Christian friends already think that their “call” is to do spiritual battle, rather than understanding to “having done all, stand firm,” and that they would take this book as it is currently constituted as an exhortation to get even more direct in their opposition to “the world.” That strikes me as more of an “angry God” worldview than that held by those who know a loving Father. I doubt that leaving such an impression is Stan’s intent, but I suspect that it would still be an all-too-possible result as a consequence of his chosen (and repeatedly emphasized) imagery.

    Secondly, Stan at several points in this book seems to project a view of God as Boss rather than as Father–in other words, implying a focus on work or effort on God’s behalf, rather than relationship with God. Having heard Stan on The God Journey and having read enough in this book and his previous one about God as Father, I doubt that he really holds to a primary view of God as Boss, but perhaps he’s gotten trapped into leaving that impression due to his commitment to the army metaphor.

    All in all, I wonder if this would make a better discussion than it does a book, as there seems to me to be a need for brevity, clarification, and dialog to make this point clearly.

  6. Will Pearce February 23, 2011 at 8:45 pm

    Just finished the book. I would agree that Stan’s essential premise brings a fair amount of insight into what God is doing in the world today. I’ve had the same sense that there’s a “melting away” of organized Christian religion that’s going on, and that it’s the next step of the maturing of the church (though certainly we’re only in the early stages).

    As for the book itself, I found myself thinking that it’s in good need of a thorough editing–it would probably be a better book if it were about 50-70% shorter. There is such a thing as taking even an apt metaphor too far, particularly in the details. The side excursions and explanations of the format of the book didn’t help, either.

    I’m also not sure that I’m on the same page as Stan with what appeared to me to be a couple of underlying themes/assumptions. First, the imagery of fighting a war, while very popular in the church today (and over the past century), struck me as miscasting the real role we have of standing in Father’s love (or, at the very least, it runs the risk of doing so). I find that too many of my Christian friends already think that their “call” is to do spiritual battle, rather than understanding to “having done all, stand firm,” and that they would take this book as it is currently constituted as an exhortation to get even more direct in their opposition to “the world.” That strikes me as more of an “angry God” worldview than that held by those who know a loving Father. I doubt that leaving such an impression is Stan’s intent, but I suspect that it would still be an all-too-possible result as a consequence of his chosen (and repeatedly emphasized) imagery.

    Secondly, Stan at several points in this book seems to project a view of God as Boss rather than as Father–in other words, implying a focus on work or effort on God’s behalf, rather than relationship with God. Having heard Stan on The God Journey and having read enough in this book and his previous one about God as Father, I doubt that he really holds to a primary view of God as Boss, but perhaps he’s gotten trapped into leaving that impression due to his commitment to the army metaphor.

    All in all, I wonder if this would make a better discussion than it does a book, as there seems to me to be a need for brevity, clarification, and dialog to make this point clearly.

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