Tag Archives: ulf ekman

What does the call to unity stand for? Or, down to earth: where does the rubber meets the road?

Dagen reports about an article in the November issue of the Charisma magazine written by Tomas Dixon concerning Ulf Ekman’s involvement with the Catholic Church. Those who know me and the ministries that I have been involved in during the last 25 years know that I have always been an advocate of unity in the body of Christ. Since the beginning of the 80ties I have related and worked for unity across denominational and cultural borders. Even our own church (www.newlife.nu) is an example of that as people from over 40 nations from all kind of different backgrounds, cultures, ages, and languages experience “togetherness” in Christ Jesus in the centre of Stockholm.

A foundational value that has characterized our church and which I have taught from the early stages on is found in the history of the Moravian Movement (by the way, my view on what church is to be is grounded in numerous teachings and praxis from the beginning stages of the Salvation Army, the Moravian Movement, the Anabaptists and the Methodist church). The Moravian Movement declared:”In essential beliefs we have unity. In non-essential beliefs we have diversity. In all our beliefs we show charity.”

For me the teachings of Jesus as found in the New Testament become alive in this quote… It gives me hand and feet to flesh out the unity Christ called for. It helps me understand where the rubber meets the road; with other words how I can implement true unity.

I have always looked for common ground within essential beliefs among those of a Christian tradition and/or background and have made it my core value to speak and live in such way by affirming this common ground. However, if I have to live as I teach there are obvious boundaries or if you will, limitations to what I can stand for.

The Church political climate in Sweden is such that it is hard to step out of line… after many years of divisions, church-cultural and theological misunderstandings and disunity, the ones who consider themselves “Church” have gone into what I would call “survival mode”. Finally we have started to look at the “essentials” but at the same time have overemphasized the “united front outlook” which removes the differences and hot potatoes which still make us different.

I understand Ulf Ekman’s approach after having been isolated from the rest of the “Church” in Sweden in many different ways (isolation, not only because his/their former approach and teachings, but also because of the unwillingness of the rest of us to understand and embrace them).

What do I want to say? I became converted having a non-believing Roman Catholic background with my whole extended network of former friends and family still within that entity (most of them have remained without faith in Christ and the Bible). I worry when I read in the above mentioned article: In April and October evangelicals gathered in Örebro, Sweden’s evangelical center, to caution against the trend and to point out that unity to Catholics always meant, and still means, bowing to the pope. Bishop Arborelius seemed to affirm that view, saying: “We cannot bypass the personal wish of Jesus that all unity must relate to the apostle Peter,” that is to the papal office… Arborelius continued, “I think that [Ekman and others] now see the key role of the pope as a symbol of unity and the importance of the virgin Mary.”

When reading the quotes by Arborelius I react; here we do not speak about unity in regards to the “essentials” of Christian faith as I see it. These statements call me to a hold. Of course we don’t only deal with the Roman Catholic Church; in our nation we are involved with the different Orthodox churches as well which have their uncompromising views on some of these issues also!

I know it is Church Politically incorrect to even dare touch these issues. Honestly speaking, I can have fellowship with friends in the Roman Catholic Church but some of them have views on the essentials of Christian faith that I know would not be endorsed by the Pope. The fact is that if their views would become publically known by the Vatican that they might be asked to leave the church.

So where does your rubber meet the road? I told you some of my journey, what about yours?

That’s the Way I see it (not necessarily the right way!)

John

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Wiretapping of Christian leader top of the iceberg? FRA opens floodgates…

As I boarded the X2000 train from Stokholm to Gothenburg yesterday morning I decided to gather some information to write my perspective on the FRA LAW (is the common name for anti-terrorist legislative package in Sweden warrantless wiretapping law, check the back ground here). I was not able to finish my viewpoint and concerns about it because of time pressure. As I this afternoon finally had time to be on line again I found to both my joy and surprise that my good friend Stefan Swärd had written an article about the Swedish government’s initiative to tap the phones of one of Sweden’s far most Christian leaders Ulf Ekman. This was wiretapping was going on in a time when Livets Ord (The Word of Life Church) was having much missionary work in the former Soviet Union. It was only recently that this severe violation had come to the surface since it was disclosed through the exposure of secret stamped documents.

Stefan who also happens to be the chairman of the board of our denomination (www.efk.se) demands from FRA’s director Ingvar Åkesson answers to the following questions:

1. Why was secret wiretapping exercised in the case of Ekman? Which public authority ordered it?

2. Are there more examples of Christian or other religious leaders who secretly have been wiretapped? (Without having been suspected of having committed crimes or for security reasons). If so, why were they wiretapped, and who gave the orders to do so?

3. As we now through the FRA LAW expand our praxis of the law by not only considering “external military threats” but even “external threats” – how does the reigning government secure that wiretapping, and thus abusing the integrity of religious leaders will not be done, not now, nor in the future?

Personally I am not surprised that Ulf Ekman was under scrutiny, my subjective convictions are that other potential threatening people were scrutinized too. With potential threat I do not necessarily mean people who have the plan to commit crimes or who are a threat for our nation’s or people’s security.

In our quiet and almost peaceful, tolerant nation there are many slumbering volcanoes hidden under the surface waiting to erupt. When one does not fit the mould one can be considered a threat to the Status Quo or our so carefully well-planned, well kept balance and perspective on our reality. (Whether our perspective on this reality is false or true doesn’t matter –don’t rock the boat!)

With that in mind I foresee a multiplication of potential “external threats” (see question three), and I am also convinced that religious and especially Christian leaders will be considered to belong to those. Why? Because they follow another King. The kingdom that they belong to is not of this world and thus their allegiances are not foremost here in the kingdom of Sweden.

Late history in Sweden shows that Christians are harder to deal with that other “religious” people, that’s why there is less tolerance for them. (It is rather significant that in a so-called Christian nation where we preach tolerance we are able to show tolerance to almost all religions and peoples except Christians…)

To be honest, I don’t care too much about it on a personal level since I remember a man with a cross who wasn’t the favorite in His time either… But politically and publically I want to raise my voice about this matter since it reeks injustice and shows intolerance. I will keep you posted on more of my perspectives on FRA!

That’s the Way I see it and I am open to be wrong!

John

I am ecumenical in spirit, not in structure!


The latest article in the Christian Daily on Livets Ord addresses the ecumenical endeavors of the movement, in the same newspaper we read “How three can become one”… (this sounds very Biblical: Three in One!”) where a process is started to unite the Mission-, the Baptist and Methodist churches into one denomination.

There is so much to say about being ecumenical, about Christian unity and about the importance to recognize and respect one another. I come from a non-Bible-believing Catholic background where “Church” was part of the cultural life of people living in the Southern part of Holland. In our village and in most of the Southern part of Holland in those days (the 70ties) Catholicism had a cultural rather then a spiritual impact on the society and the people. Under my upbringing I did not know even ONE true believer among the thousands of people I knew. Later on as I had become a Christian through the Jesus People Movement I met a few true believers; they believed in Christ as their Savior and Lord and in the Bible as their authority. Actually some of them were nuns who would come by taxi to a bible study which I held shortly after my conversion, another believer was the responsible priest in the St. Jan cathedral in ‘s-Hertogenbosch who became a close friend to my wife and me. (He, together with an older evangelist performed our wedding ceremony in the chapel of the hospital where I was working as a nurse at the time).

As the articles show and as we all know there is a movement towards ecumenism in our nation, the Jesusmanifestation was a fruit of that.

Ecumenical, according to Merriam Webster Dictionary means: representing the whole of a body of churches b: promoting or tending toward worldwide Christian unity or cooperation.

However, I need to say that I am not only undivided positive towards this. I identify myself as: “ecumenical in spirit, but not in structure”. With structure I mean the banding of different faiths with different doctrinal statements of truth in form of an organization. I do not believe in that at all, there is a valid reason for organizational separation. I see also an endangering of the absolutes of Scripture. We cannot accommodate everyone and everything. I am totally convinced that Christians who want to accommodate in such ways will soon abandon their beliefs for the sake of unity. Unity is never worth the sacrifice of the authenticity of Scripture! That, in short is my view about structural ecumenism.

In regards to being ecumenical in spirit, I believe that although we are separated denominationally, that there is in fact a “true church” which unites all true believers: Those who have been justified by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, regardless of denominational belonging are already one in Christ and are part of the true Church which is hidden to the human eye.

True Christian believers are always united spiritually as brothers and sisters in Christ despite their denominational belonging or identity. But I do not believe that this will ever express itself in structure here on earth. Because of humankind’s falleness I believe that the true kind of unification will take place as Christ will return to meet His bride (the Church).

I believe strongly in the slogan of the Moravian movement which says:”In essential beliefs we have unity. In non-essential beliefs we have diversity. In all our beliefs we show charity.” This slogan has been my motto since I read about this grant movement, it has permeated the way I think and live and has found its place even in the church where I am pastor. I believe we should work together when possible, but there will continue to be a structural separation because we cannot compromise Truth and accept different doctrines simply in order to have some kind of organizational sameness.

So, I will remain “ecumenical in spirit, but not in structure”.

That’s the Way I see it!

John

Ministering as a leader in a leader-hostile environment…

In the latest article on Livets Ord in the Christian Daily “Dagen”, we read about “Power” or more specific about leadership. I am one of the leaders in a multi-cultural church with a majority of Swedish members and others representing approximately 40 nations. Within this context we are learning a lot about leadership. As leaders in our different churches we are called to contextualize our way of being Church, being leaders and also how we present the message that God has entrusted to us through His word. Like I said, we are learning a lot about leadership (mainly through mistakes) as we are facing expectations, demands, theological viewpoints and experiences of cultural emphasized ways of leadership.

First of all it is important to conclude that there is more to leadership and even Biblical leadership that what we perceive to be true within our Swedish cultural context. There are many people in our churches who are used to the fact that leadership is exercised through consensus. Actually we are brought up in that kind of social environment which, if one dares to be honest, is far removed from the Biblical perspective on leadership. I dare say that we have a leadership hostile environment within the nation which has also permeated the Church in Sweden.

I have lived and ministered in five different nations (Holland, Sweden, USA, the Philippines and Japan) and besides that ministered in another 15-20 nations. In all of these nations there have been very different perspectives on what Christian leadership (or Biblical leadership) is all about. Even within our own church we have the two extremes with groups of people who have the deepest conviction that the pastor is to tell what is to happen while at the same time we have many who will always look for total consensus in vision, decisions and processes.

The fact of the matter is that many of our opinions about leadership in Sweden are culturally, rather than Biblically determined. It is not strange that a leadership style as practiced by Ulf Ekman is questioned, evaluated and scrutinized until the bone by many of us who are culturally inclined to go against any form of leadership which is not based on consensus. To my opinion; Sweden is a leadership hostile environment! Many of my Swedish (!) colleagues who are part of other church traditions than Livets Ord express so often their frustration how difficult it is to be a leader in a church in Sweden, and many actually leave the ministry because they cannot cope with the mechanisms of leadership within the rather rigid structures and praxis that we have formed within our churches.

Having said that, how do I look at leadership? Here are some pointers:

All the effective leaders I have encountered-both those I worked with and those I merely watched-knew four simple things:

1. The only definition of a leader is someone who has “followers”. Some people are thinkers. Some are prophets. Both roles are important and badly needed. But without followers, there can be no leaders.

2. An effective leader is not someone who is loved or admired. He or she is someone “whose followers” do the right things. Popularity is not leadership. Results are.

3. Leaders are highly visible. They therefore set examples.

4. Leadership is not rank, privileges, titles, or money. It is responsibility.

Another main question is what do these leaders do?
Regardless of their almost limitless diversity with respect to personality, style, abilities, and interests, the effective leaders I have met, worked with, and observed also behaved much the same way:

1. They did not start out with the question, “What do I want?” They started out asking, “What needs to be done?

2. Then they asked, “What can and should I do to make a difference?” This has to be something that both needs to be done and fits the leader’s strengths and the way she or he is most effective.

3. They constantly asked, “What are the organization’s mission and goals.

4. They were extremely tolerant of diversity in people and did not look for carbon copies of themselves. It rarely even occurred to them to ask, “Do I like or dislike this person?”

5. They were not afraid of strength in the people working with them. Whether they had heard of it or not, their motto was what Andrew Carnegie wanted to have put on his tombstone: “Here lies a man who attracted better people into his service than he was himself.”

6. One way or another, they submitted themselves to the “mirror test“-that is, they made sure that the person they saw in the mirror in the morning was the kind of person they wanted to be, respect, and believe in. This way they equipped themselves against the leader’s greatest temptations-to do things that are popular rather than right things.

7. Finally, these effective leaders were not preachers; they were doers. I read a story the other day about a student who had read different historical books, he said: “Every one of these books says that the Great War was a war of total military incompetence. Why was it?” The teacher did not hesitate a second but shot right back, “Because not enough generals were killed; they stayed way behind the lines and let others do the fighting and dying.”

Dear friends, if we want to look at this difficult and complex subject of Biblical leadership let us ask ourselves; “Am I willing to die for the sheep that God has entrusted us/me?” If you can say “Yes” you might be on your way becoming a leader God has set His heart on!

That’s the Way I see it for now… God bless you,

John

PS… Check my article about leadership and an invitation to become a member of an union for pastors here in Sweden. DS


What can we learn from Livets Ord and Ulf Ekman? A look over the shoulder…

With interest I have been reading the series about Livets Ord in the Christian Daily “Dagen”. (Here, here, here, here and here). My interest is not geared towards getting to know more about this church and its ministries; my interest is focused on learning how God has used their ministry and calling for the well being of the nation and our world.

Although one can make some footnotes and have some reservations about some of the early weaknesses and “unbalanced” aspects of their ministry, my opinion is that this ministry overall has been (is) a tremendous blessing to the nation and Christianity at large. The main purpose I see in an evaluation document after 25 years of ministry is to learn from it. What can we learn as Body of Christ in Sweden?

From the top of my head I am compelled to make a couple of quick observations:

1. It is possible to plant and build churches and ministries in Sweden today. I decided to start with this statement because we are surely not spoiled with positive reports about what is doing. After 25 years we can say: Livets Ord is established and has not lost its zeal and purpose!

2. It takes vision, determination, faithfulness and leadership well anchored in God to be able to make a difference in a spiritual hostile climate in secularized Sweden. One of my observations since I first arrived here in Sweden is that too many leaders and ministries come and go, many leaders lack one or more of the aspects which I mentioned earlier. Ulf Ekman does not lack these qualities and therefore he is able to build something lasting.

3. Leadership is built on character and transformation in a person’s life. In this last document about money it becomes quite clear that Ulf Ekman is not into ministry to become rich! He earns a good salary, (and he should!) as he is taking responsibility for such a demanding ministry! Money and the love of money are a good measurement of the character of a person; the way Ulf Ekman has passed on the right on royalties on his books and products to the ministry speaks for him! I would trust him with my wallet!

4. Some voices in the article talk about the emphasis on financial giving. First of all I believe that we speak too little about our finances in Sweden. There is really little transparency about what we earn and what we do with our finances. This whole area is privatized, it is in hiding… The Body of Christ in Sweden would be well off to address the area of financial accountability and giving because it is a spiritual stronghold. (Read more about consumerism and accountability here and here). Secondly I want us to realize that Livets Ord has used much of their income on missions, they have not spent it on themselves! For more reading about accountability check here>

Ulf, if you would ever read this… we only met once and shook hands on the stage of the Jesusmanifestationen… I appreciate all you have done for us and our nation. Thanks for your faithfulness and your commitment to follow the exhortation of the writer of Hebrews:

1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. 2 Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12: 1-3)

That’s the Way I see it (when there is more to say I will continue on this subject).

John