You were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace, you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
If you hear nothing else from this message, hear this: The grace and love of God are consistent, never failing, unifying, and indivisible. It is this grace that disrupts complacency, redeems the lost, restores liberty, and reimagines what it means to be the Body of Christ
It has been said that the Grace of God will never lead you where the Love of God can never keep you. Well, this year is an amazing demonstration of that truth. This year has been surprising. In March 2019, as the fear of the supervirus COVID-19 began spreading around the world, we began to worry for our own lives and experienced a level of fear that many have not known in their lifetime. The world was confronted with the fear of change. How are we going to have our Easter celebrations, how will we share in the Lord’s Supper? How are we going to be the Church “in the same way that we have always done it?” The answer is, we will not. As Bishop, I have the Apostolic responsibility, authority, and accountability to lead the Church in this time.
As I sought God’s wisdom and direction, I began to consider the history of the movement that became Ambassadors of Christ. I came to know Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior in October 1985. In the following year, a movement called the Shepherding Movement that began in the late 1970s was gaining media attention as a dangerous cult, and a counter-movement began to reclaim the principles of biblical discipleship from the hands of evil. Thus, under the direction of Rev. William R. Memmott, Robyn Brown, Joseph Galle, Timothy Price, Rev. James Thompson, and others, the work of becoming Ambassadors of Christ began, although we had no comprehension of what it would become.
One thing that we recognized is what we thought were failures, would later turn into blessings. Our church planting efforts followed a basic pattern. Begin a home group Bible study, and multiply that study group until it was necessary to split the group into two groups, and so forth until it became time to find a central location for regular worship and learning. Thus, we became known as the denomination of house churches. We planted larger congregations, but we never were able to “shake off” the identifier as a group of house churches. We did not realize at that time how critical being the denomination of house churches was going to be.
It was not known that 33 years later being a house church would become so vitally important to the cause of Christ. While we were not sure how we were going to participate in the Lord's Supper, participate in the Passing of the Peace, and other activities that became important to us as Ambassadors of Christ, we did have one thing that we could do. We were already meeting in small groups throughout the week. So often, people look at COVID-19 as something that took away “MY” freedom. But did it really take away your liberty? Did this virus take away liberty, or did this virus expose us to the reality that what we called freedom melts, dissolves, and disappears into a dewy mist in light of our lack of authentic liberty that we cast off way back in the Garden of Eden? Yes, friends, Your Bishop is speaking of sin.
This virus exposed us to the reality of our own sin by stripping away those things that became more important to us than our relationship with God found in the person and work of Jesus Christ. To be clear, I am not speaking of the millions of people around the world who have lost their lives, and those who are grieving because of the loss of their loved ones. The loss of human lives is not the stripping away that I am speaking of, no the loss of human lives is the spillover effect of the larger sin problem. I have lost so many friends and family members from this virus that it makes me sick. God did not take away our loved ones, as a stripping away. God is not that petty. I do not know why God, in wisdom, chose to take so many. But I know that there is a reason, and when it is time, we will know the reason.
This Coronavirus stripped away those things that our human nature found comfort in and began placing more value in those things than we did in our relationship with God and with people. Thus we began, from 2019 through 2020 to realize that the large daunting buildings that made up the central headquarters were a grand demonstration of what we found important, so we are now looking for a smaller building that will actually serve its purpose. We began looking at other facilities as well. The relatively massive Seminary complex moved to an Online Delivery System, and for those who are environmentally conscious, we have reduced our carbon footprint significantly by using electronic forms instead of paper.
We have also eliminated many fiscally draining factors. By working from home, we have increased productivity and eliminated waste by over 87% By removing ourselves from the burden of a large administrative complex, we have reduced administrative costs from $ 500,000 each year to just under $5,000 each year. The removal of the $ 90,000 dedicated campus for the seminary opting for online delivery eliminates $ 89,910 of a financial strain, leaving us with a
$ 90.00 annual fee. While this reflects the effects on the programs of the General Convocation, it does not reflect the activities of the local communities of faith around the world. Those numbers have not yet been received. And this report will be updated following the arrival of the reports from the local assemblies.
Despite the problems caused by COVID-19, Ambassadors of Christ ended 2018 with a reported membership of 175,000 and we ended 2019 with a membership of 189,900. At the end of General Convocation in September for new members was 11,394, and today, the official number that was added to Ambassadors of Christ is 15,194 meaning that our official membership despite COVID 19 is a consistent increase of 8% bringing our year-end total to 205,094 members. We learned that at communion, we do not need to put our hands on a common loaf but that the loaf itself is a symbol of the broken body of Christ, and the cup is a symbol of the redemptive work of Christ. We gained the understanding that what we consecrate is not consecrated by the Bishop, or a Pastor or an Elder, but in the declaration of that communion where the Celebrant breaks the bread and declares the words of institution, it is the Spirit of God who consecrates all things and sets them apart for holy purposes. Therefore, what is consecrated as a demonstration among the people of God, is consecrated right where we are as we participate in the bread and the cup of blessing.
We learned that the work of small groups is challenging but valuable, we learned that coming together as a larger community is a greater value than all the religious trappings that first captivated us with fear. We adjusted to the losses, and in the end, we found Jesus! We learned how to be still and know that God is God. We learned how to abide in Christ, and how to discern–that is not only hearing from but responding to–God’s will according to the needs of the People. We did not cower to COVID-19 we remained cautious but we conquered it! Are we out of the woods, no, but We are overcoming the fears. We are discovering what is truly important, We Are finally becoming the Church!
A saint is defined as a person who is consistent in their life, and operates in a manner that is above reproach, is careful in their judgments, and whose actions are truly good. May believers always strive to be and live into this state of blessedness (holiness). In contrast, there are many cases of moral error, even profound error, when one judges consistently, but the values and norms judged and embodied are wrong, and could be considered evil. Ethics, in broad terms, is doing that which is right. Add to this description the Christian element, and the description, once again in broad terms, does that which is right in the sight of God.
The author of the article titled “ demonstrates that understanding what is right in the sight of God, and remaining consistent is complex. The consistency of Christian ethics also requires consistency between belief and action. However, the failure of Chrisitan understanding is that consistency of belief is the unity of the virtues, purity of conviction, and the single form of love are what should motivate believers to stick with the examples of Christ and the Communion of Saints that have established that which is right in the sight of God for the Church to do. One can track the history of Western Christians and see that the philosophy and ethics are very different in a non-Christian worldview. The secular worldview considers what it means to live a good life in very different ways. Authenticity is critical when one is seeking those things that are right in the sight of God. insofar as genuine love is understood as the indwelling power of God that fulfills and completes, it is the norm for a consistent Christian life. In accordance with this pattern of love, the good person is one who has united themselves to the love of God above all others.
The grace and love of God are consistent, never failing, and indivisible. It is this grace that disrupts complacency, redeems the lost, restores liberty, and reimagines what it means to be the Body of Christ and it is what unifies all believers in love. Remember Grace is not a word used to justify the actions of sin, but is consistent and demands that we be transformed into the image of Christ for service to others. So be the Embodiment of Grace and Change the World for the Glory of God.
This is our challenge for the coming year. As Christians, we are called by God to do more than warm a church bench on Sunday. We are called to live by the grace of God. what this means for us is that we live a life that is first personally transformed by the Holy Spirit. To be clear, I am NOT speaking of conformity. Conformity means to act like someone that we are not. To conform means to take on the image of something that is not natural to us. We can all dress alike, talk alike, dress alike, that is conformity, but it will not grant you access into the Kingdom of God. No, instead, we are called to be transformed. Transformation can be described as taking something and making it into something completely new and different. Grace disrupts complacency and transforms us into the image of Christ for service to others. We are called to be different, we are called to change the world, we are called to be transformational agents of change in the world reaching one person at a time. Jesus said the same thing, but with different words. Jesus told us to be transformational agents of change in the world, by reaching people in our everyday life. The words Jesus used are, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20 ESV).
In the Apostolic Authority beginning with Jesus Christ, and the Apostles, through the succession of those blessed saints who have gone on before us, and those saints who have passed their mantles forward for the Kingdom of God, and whose authority I received from Christ, and affirmed by the laying on of hands of my predecessors, I charge you in the authority of Jesus Christ to be and make Christlike disciples, demonstrating the grace and love of God. Be Consistent, be just, abide in the never-failing and unified love of God that is indivisible. Embrace the life that disrupts complacency, declare redemption and liberty in Christ for the lost. Do not be afraid of being different because the Grace of God has already redefined what it means to be the Body of Christ. Let us be Ambassadors of Christ.
This Report is Respectfully Submitted to the General Convocation of Ambassadors of Christ on this 31 st day of December in the Year of our Lord 2021,
Right Reverend Richard J. Lee
Presiding Bishop in the United States