Wednesday, 27 November 2013

The Gospel. It's bigger than we think!

What is the gospel? Ask the question and you will get a whole set of different answers. Normally people will quote something like John 3:16 or mention something about Jesus dying for your sins so that God could forgive you and let you into heaven one day. In other words, most people associate the gospel with a salvation message. But while the message of salvation is certainly a part of the gospel and is definately good news to you and me, it is not the gospel. We tend to make things about ourselves but in reality, the gospel is a message about a King and his kingdom. This is why the bible repeatedly refers to it as "the gospel of the Kingdom" and "the gospel of God".

 In order to properly understand what the bible is talking about regarding the good news, let's rewind 2000 years to a little empire called Rome.

Although we think of the word as a Christian term, it has not always been so. Back when the Roman Empire was yielding it's power over others and ruling the world. They were quite fond of the term euangelion which we translate as gospel in our bibles. The Romans used to proclaim euangelion to announce a new Caesar or the birth of a divine heir to the throne. For example, An inscription in the ruins of the Greek city Priene, which dates back to 9BC, declares that “When Caesar appeared he exceeded the hopes of all who received the gospel …" (see here). Like wise, "The birthday of the god Augustus was the beginning of the gospel regarding him for the world." It's also interesting to note that these Emperors also were known by titles such as "Savior" and "Pontifex Maximus" which means "Lord".  Nero even adopted the title "son of god" for himself.

With this in mind, when we see these words in the bible they start to take on a whole lot more meaning to us. Consider the angel in Luke 2:10 who proclaimed "the gospel" to the shepherds. Similarly, Mark 1:1 states, “The beginning of the "the gospel" of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” The word euangelion appears almost 80 times in the New Testament. Men like Paul would eventually die for the testimony of this "counter gospel" that they preached, consider the words recorded in Acts 17:7

"...and they were all acting contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying there is another King, one Jesus."

Paul and the rest of the church were using the word gospel deliberately, as a proclamation of the one true King. The early church was not merely proclaiming a message of fire insurance that would simply take a minute to complete by repeating a prayer after someone else. They were proclaiming that the Christ (anointed one) had died, risen and conquered the principalities and powers of darkness. They invited people to bow the knee to King Jesus and live in a counter kingdom. One that taught us to love our enemies, to turn the other cheek, to seek the well being of others and to turn away from wickedness. This gospel extends beyond individuals to all of creation which will one day be restored. I always used to wonder about that verse that says preach the gospel to every living creature , it never made any sense if the gospel was simply a salvation message.

With a clearer understanding of the gospel, I believe we lay the foundations for a better understanding of the life of Jesus, the cross and the Kingdom of God. All topics for another day...

Saturday, 23 November 2013

The Genetic fallacy

So the last blog post really got a lot of attention. Which was surprising because I tried not to let people either pro or anti tattoos get off the hook too easily. In my nerdy ways, it's weird for me that more Christians would want to read about tattoos than they would about an article on something like atonement theology. Nevertheless, it was great to get feedback and support from so many people.

There was something that I realized a few days later however which I failed to address in the original post, and that was the argument that people make regarding the pagan origin of tattoos. Actually, this goes way beyond tattoos. Many of my friends do not celebrate Christmas or Easter because of their pagan origins. The Pastor of a church I used to attend condemned Christian rock (or maybe he was just against heavy rock music?) because of it's pagan origins (though you could argue that rock music has it's roots in African American Gospel music but I'm getting off topic). The point I am making though is that we condemn many things because of their origins, regardless of who or how they are currently used or understood.

There is actually a name for this kind of reasoning and it is called the genetic fallacy. The genetic fallacy seeks to build a conclusion based solely on somethings origin. The big problem with this though is that we tend to use it only when it is convenient for us, ignoring how factors outside of its origin come in to play.

For example, and I am borrowing a quote from Robin Schumacher here. No Christian would say that it's wrong for woman to wear pantyhose. However, the history of pantyhose can be traced back to prostitutes in Italy hundreds of years ago. They were an identifying mark meant to tell others who these woman were and what they practiced. So to wear pantyhose a few hundred years ago in Italy was probably not something Christians would want to do lest they be misidentified and associated with immoral behavior.

A closer look at the origins of our modern church practices reveals several pagan influences have infiltrated our meetings (read Pagan Christianity for further investigation). Everything from pulpits, to religious attire, to buildings and on and on has roots outside of the early church. Yet I think the majority of the church today would argue that some of this "borrowing" has benefited our meetings regardless of those origins.

Now don't get me wrong, origins are important and can be a deciding factor in whether we do or do not do something. For example, swastikas still carry the same message today that they did in the last century. No sensible Christian would wear something with the symbol on, yet you are probably safe driving a VW Beetle around town which also has a Nazi heritage. So the rule of thumb here would be to exercise cultural sensitivity and common sense rather than make a blanket rule for everything. Sometimes it's tricky, do we lock our doors and stay home on Christmas or do we use the opportunity to hand out some sandwiches to the homeless and share Jesus with them while maybe avoiding certain elements of the holiday? Do we allow for certain variances in church meetings or do we discard anything that can't be traced back to the NT?These are things we should all prayerfully consider item by item and tradition by tradition.

In all things, be loving, be truthful, be edifying.

Monday, 18 November 2013

Christians and tattoos

Tattoos have been quite popular within Christian circles for a while now. Yet for every person with a cross or bible verse on their body there is another person out there who is willing to declare them “not really saved” because "real Christians would not get tattooed". So who is right? Is it a grey area? Here are some things that I think people on both sides of the fence need to consider. Oh, and to keep it simple, I am referring here only to Christian tattoos, not tribal tattoos, piercings, body mutilation and so on.

A Brief History

We know from Roman historians like Virgil, Seneca, and Galenus, that many slaves were tattooed around the time Jesus walked the earth. Tattoos, along with pierced ears, were marks of slaves or of a persons devotion to their god. This was common back then and even Paul may have been drawing a parallel on this in Galatians 6:17 when he refers to bearing the marks of Jesus on his body. He was obviously referring to the scars and bruises that he carried as opposed to actual tattoos but the connection is still there. Regardless, it did not take long for Christians, particularly in Egypt and Ethiopia, to start showing their devotion to Jesus with tattoos.

In the fourth century A.D., the Montanists, a Christian sect relying heavily on the Book of Revelation, began tattooing themselves as "slaves of God" (Rev. 7:2-3). It is documented that a monk who lived in the late fifth century had a tattoo on his thigh that read: "Manim, the disciple of Jesus Christ." The historian Procopius of Caesarea, who lived during the first half of the sixth century, reported that many Christians were tattooed, on their arms, with a cross or the name of Christ. When Constantine was in power in the fourth century, he had a law passed that Christians should not tattoo their faces (other places on the body were okay) because he considered the face to be the image of God, so it was clearly something that was popular at that time. The council of Calcuth mentioned two types of tattooing: one of pagan superstition, which doesn't aid any Christian, and another for the sake of God.

Tattoos within early Christianity were not about fashion, the Ethiopians were known for tattooing a cross on their foreheads, temples and wrists. This was to give strength to the faithful and make it impossible under persecution to deny their faith. Some scholars believe the Coptic (Egyptian) Christians learned this practice from them and they have actually continued the tradition to this very day. For centuries now they have tattooed a little cross on their wrists. These tattoos are not about teenage rebellion or trendiness, but about showing ones dedication to their King. For the Copts’, it may bring about persecution, with Egypt being a Muslim land where they are in the minority, but it also serves to protect their children from extremists who sometimes kidnap their children and force them to convert to Islam, including forced marriages of young Christian girls to Muslim men. Read more about it here.

But what about…

Leviticus 19:28  “You shall not tattoo any marks on you…” 

I am sure you have heard this one; but an honest reading of the text should include the entire sentence.

You should not shave the sides of your head or the corners of your beard, don’t make cuttings in your flesh or tattoo any marks on yourself (paraphrased).

Even though I would not agree with someone who was opposed to tattoos based on this verse alone, I would totally respect anyone who prohibited tattoos but also spoke out against ear rings and beard trimming. At least that would be a consistent argument to make. But for now, let’s just say that this verse, even though it is the only direct reference to tattoos in the bible, is perhaps not the best one to bring up in an argument.

1 Corinthians 6:19 “…your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit…”

There are 2 considerations to make here, the first being the preceding verse, “every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body.” The context here is regarding sexual immorality, the other thing to consider is that most institutionalized Christians still consider their buildings to be the “house of the Lord”, these temples are usually decorated with crosses and banners containing proclamations and scriptures, much like tattoos do. Is it possible to glorify God with your body (verse 20) like we do with our places of worship? And what about the use of make-up? It’s not permanent (at least not always) but it is permanently being applied anyway…I’m not convinced the temple argument is so clear cut either for those opposed to tattooing.

What did Jesus say?

Although silent regarding tattoos, Jesus does give us some insights in conversations with the Pharisees on what he may have thought. For the sake of space, I am not going to write them out here, but read Mathew 15:10-20 and Mathew 23:25-28. In South Africa, we have a saying, “Buitekant blink, binnekant stink”, which basically translates as “shiny on the outside and rotten on the inside”. This is pretty much what Jesus is saying in the scriptures referenced. He seemed far more concerned with the inner man than someone who had only an outward appearances of holiness.

A word of caution

Do I think it is a sin to get a tattoo? No, but there is a disclaimer that goes along with that. And if you are considering getting one (or more), please think, pray and check your motives first. If you want a tattoo because it’s cool and you are looking for more awesomeness points and attention, reconsider. Art is not sinful, but pride is.

Another thing is that tattoos are expensive, we are called to be faithful stewards of the things that God has loaned us and that includes our money. Do you need a sleeve more than your out of work neighbor needs some bread? Probably not. But if that verse or cross on your arm is going to help you witness or encourage you or others then I am all for it.


All things are lawful for us but not necessarily profitable for us. If you want to get inked, consider what has already been said above. To the other group who can look past shaving and ear rings but not the other part of Leviticus 19:28, please consider Paul’s words to the Galatians in chapter 6:13. I love the way Eugene Peterson says it in the Message,

“These people who are attempting to force the way of circumcision on you, they only have one motive. they want an easy way to look good before others, lacking the faith to live by a faith that shares Christ’s suffering and death. All their talk about the law is gas. They themselves don’t keep the law. And they are highly selective in the laws they do observe. They only want you to be circumcised so they can boast of their success in recruiting you to their side. That is contemptible.”

I recently befriended someone who has eye brow tattoos because his immune system attacks his hair which has left him totally bald. I am sure it has not always being easy for him living with his disease, what would the way of love be in responding to this? To condemn him for his eye brow tattoos? Of course not. Let's be careful about the broadness of the brush we use when we make declarations and judgments on others.

I don’t really care about tattoos personally; I think they look cool on other people and that’s enough. There is no doubt that people sometimes end up with stupid tattoos because they took the decision lightly. But it maddens me to see freedom in Christ preached only so that we can afterwards tie people up again in bondage through conformance to our own religious standards. Let's show more concern for the inner man than the outward appearance, starting with ourselves.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

4 views on the work of the Spirit

As regular readers already know, I was stuck with my head in the books preparing for some exams while some interesting things were going on in the rest of the world, topics where I would have loved to have thrown my 2 cents into the conversations going on as well. First it was John MacArthur, then Mark Driscoll and then the Pope. So yes, I know that most of you have moved on already, but bear with me as I play catch up.

This post sits a bit heavily on me as I am well aware that some will disagree strongly with it. I'm not one for talking up divisive issues or trying to sound like I know better than anyone else. So with that disclaimer out of the way let's continue. For those who have not yet heard about John MaCarthur's new(ish) book, or about the Strange Fire conference his church held. They basically came out and saying more or less what was previously said in his earlier book "Charismatic Chaos". Stating that the gifts of the Spirit ceased with the closing of the writing of the bible. He draws your attention to the extreme abuses and blatant forgeries happening on television and ultimately ends up throwing the baby out with the bath water. Now my intention here is not to give a theological rebuttal of his paper thin arguments as many have already done that. I recommend checking out some of them over at . Rather, I want to share here the 4 places I see people coming from regarding the work of the Spirit in the 21st century. I will also be sharing a story in an upcoming blog of a miraculous healing that was close to home. The proof is in the pudding so they say. Anyway, let's look at those 4 observances I mentioned earlier...

1 - Those who have not experienced the gifts of the Spirit and operate under counterfeits.

This is pretty much the guys people like John MacArthur are highlighting in their books. Some of these people are just stirring people up into an emotional frenzy and by the time the smoke machines are switched off and everyone has gone home, nothing has changed except the church goers are left either disillusioned with God or they feel guilty about their "lack of faith". There are others out there who are doing genuine signs and wonders but they are not from God. There are some videos on TB Joshua which are genuinely scary. Pushing people over from 10 meters away who are not even facing him, people throwing up and urinating worms and all kinds of weird stuff... Then to a much lesser degree there are also those who have simply being taught to imitate the gifts and it's just normal for them. Meetings where you actually go and learn to speak in tongues or prophesy. I was in those sorts of circles as a new Christian and it hurts me to see the Emperor with no clothes type story going on in so many churches today.

2 - Those who have not experienced the gifts of the Spirit and have to adjust their theology accordingly.

Maybe it is a bit harsh of me to make such a generalization, but this is certainly where a lot of cessationists fit in. It's never wise to make a stand on something and then start building a doctrine around those ideas. Proof texting always follows...To see guys as smart as John MacArthur making the weakest of arguments is pitiful as well as harmful to the body as a whole. History is saturated with stories of Gods amazing power and to take the glory away from Him and attribute it to anyone else is to tread on very thin ice.

3 - Those who are filled with the Spirit and are living out the book of Acts today.

One book everyone should read is The Heavenly Man . There are many others as well but that one really spoke to me as it has to many others. What God has being doing in the Chinese church as a whole for the last sixty years is truly remarkable. Check out this 4 part documentary on Youtube , the bible is not just a history book made up of fanciful stories for a past generation, the similar stories (to the book of Acts) happening in the world today are among the greatest evidences that Jesus is alive, well and Lord in the present.

4 - Those who believe in the gifts but experience little "signs and wonders".

I especially created this group for myself, although I am sure that I am not alone in it. I have seeing many wonderful and legit healing's, have heard God speak distinctly and clearly and the fruits of following that voice. I have seeing Muslims baffled  at how a man could speak Arabic to them without learning it. Many things, but in truth, it's far from the norm and nothing like the constant testimonies I hear from friends in places like India. This concerns me sometimes, why is Gods power not manifest in the West like He is in Asia? I can only guess. Maybe, in our comfort we are not as reliant on Him for our needs to be met? Maybe, its because we are more private in the Western world and the gifts are corporate in nature and purpose aren't they? I think there is truth in both, especially in the latter. I would love to hear from others who have dwelt on this before for there insights as I work through it myself...

But for now, me and my house will continue to pray for the sick and to desire the gifts for the edification of the body. I will be cautious, but not cut off.

Monday, 11 November 2013

Open meetings

After 2 and a half years of studies I wrote my last exam today! In 2011 I started doing a correspondence course on Store Management which I originally planned to finish within 18 months, but it ended up taking a bit longer than expected because our daughter was born last year over the exam period and so I decided to postpone taking the tests for a while. But finally, I'm finished! I feel I did well and I can now start concentrating on other things again. Like this blog for instance :)

So there are a few blogs in the draft section coming soon but here is a quick update from me. In a previous post I mentioned that our local fellowship gathering was going through some changes. We seem to go through cycles with people coming and going. It's like we meet people, pour ourselves into one another and then they move on and God sends a new batch across our path. We are in one of those phases now where a month ago our meetings were down to 4 core people plus the kids and one or two occasional visitors. Numbers have never mattered to me, Christ said that he would be his church, so from our side, we simply leave the welcome mat out and try get on board with whatever we see him doing around us. Fast forward a few weeks and all of a sudden we have new people in our lives and meetings again and for me personally,  there are few things as exciting as linking up with new brothers. I always feel like we have something to give and to learn from any believer we come across. It doesn't always work out that way but, over the last few years of hosting open participatory meetings, the biblical principals of iron sharpening iron and encouraging one another daily has increased ten fold around us. I watched this happen yet again last night as one couple who came shared about their years spent as missionaries in South America, about what God had done, how he provided and how they have since discovered a "God beyond our models". Another guy visiting for the first time shared how he was discovering the relational/organic aspect of church that he longed for. Young and old(er) from different backgrounds all saying the same things that were in my own heart as well.

Another girl shared her testimony of God delivering her from drug addiction and other nasty things. Despite been delivered of the hardcore drugs she was still hooked on weed for the last 2 years. One night she fought with God saying, "You promised to set the captives free, don't lie to me!"  The very next day someone (through a tongue) told her she was delivered and she is now totally free of it's lure. This girl was the daughter of one of our "regulars", we had prayed for her and others over the years so what an awesome testimony to see God form something new and pure from a broken pot.

I don't know if any of these people will be joining us regularly. It does not matter so long as they are joined to the body somewhere, we will definitely see them outside of Sunday gatherings anyway.
Anyway, a simple suggestion here from me. No matter how you meet. Try make provision for  open meetings once in a while as well or somewhere during the meeting. Sometimes our programs are counteractive to the Spirits work. We need an environment where the "each one has a Psalm, teaching, tongue, revelation etc..." (1 Cor 14:26) can happen. It's also a great reflection on the state of us as  individuals when we come together and just see what happens. We could have come together, sung songs, heard a word and gone home again and missed all of this. How tragic when lives are not shared on a deeper level.