Friday, 28 February 2014

The deification of the bible.

I have being wanting to write a few articles on the bible for a while now. In one I would like to discuss what exactly Paul meant in 2 Timothy 3:16 when he said that all scripture was “God breathed”. In another I would also like to write a bit on some of the contradictions that we come across from time to time and how we should approach that and even consider that as possibly even being a good thing. But for now, I would like to address what I think is probably an even bigger problem among many church folk today, something that at times borders on idolatry. I am referring here to the manner in which the bible sometimes gets elevated into a quadune godhead made up of the Father, Son, Holy Spirit and Holy Bible.

But before I elaborate let me first clarify a few essentials here. Just like most other Christians, I believe that the 66 books that make up the bible stand high above any other writings and books out there. I believe that the bible is God’s book; it is a precious gift to the world and profitable to those who heed its message. Many have laid down their lives in trying to preserve it, translate it or get it into the hands of those who don’t have it and I am thankful and humbled by their sacrifice. I spend a lot of time reading the scriptures over and over again and I would encourage everyone whether saint or seeker to do likewise. And most of all, I believe that the bible points us to Jesus. But having clarified my orthodox stance regarding scripture, I also believe that the bible is not the end but the means to the end. So please understand, this is not an anti bible post at all, it is not meant to lower anyone's view of scripture but rather it is meant to lift Jesus higher.

To see where my concerns are coming from, consider some of the claims that people make about scripture, you have surely heard people refer to it as “bread” as in the illustrations above, whereas Jesus claimed that he was the bread of life (John 6:35). Was it scripture or the body of Christ that was broken for us? I have no problem with the truth been conveyed in the picture but the fact that this language is so prevalent is what bothers me. How many times has someone waved a bible at you and said “this is the truth”, compare that with the amount of times someone has waved that same bible at you and said “herein lies the truth, that Jesus is the way, Jesus is the truth and Jesus is the Life”. Or how many catch phrases have you heard that say something like “a man whose bible is falling apart has his own life put together”. I agree that we should be studying scripture day and night but is it a guarantee of a life that won’t be falling apart? The Pharisees come to mind here, Paul considered his earlier training in the torah as dung when compared to actually knowing Christ.
Or how often have we heard that the bible is our final authority despite the fact that Jesus said that all authority in heaven and earth had been given to Him (Mathew 28:18)?

Some of the other claims made about the bible I read in researching for this article are that the word is alive (Hebrews 4:12), the word gives life (John 6:63) and that it is eternal (1 Peter 1:23). I would contend that the first two statements actually refer to Jesus when read in context, read Hebrews from 4: 8-14 and John from verse 53. Regarding 1 Peter 1:23, even by itself it is clearly referring to Jesus as well. But even if it was referring to scripture it should surely be meant to be taken metaphorically, meaning that the truths contained in scripture are eternal and not the paper itself.

The bible certainly is living in the non literal sense in that it speaks to us; it is also timeless in the sense that it is as relevant today as it was 2000 years ago. My fear is simply that it has served as a substitute to some people out there. The kind of people who would say that we do not need to seek Gods voice because we can read his word. Or those who would say that we do not need the Spirit anymore because we have the book to convince the world that the Gospel is true. My belief is that we should seek Gods voice and allow the Spirit to move and then go back to the bible to check if what we see and hear is in line with its teachings.

Let me end off with the words of Jesus:-

“And the Father Himself, who sent me, has testified of me. You have neither heard his voice at any time, nor seeing His form.
But you do not have his word abiding in you, because whom he sent, Him you do not believe.
You search the scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life, and these are they which testify of me. But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life. – John 5:37-40

It is time that the church changes its motto from “Scripture alone” to “in Christ alone”. Not only would the church built on the foundation of Christ alone be united (The sola scripture mantra has caused the division of the body into over 42 000 denominations in 500 years), but I am convinced that we would actually be in a far better position to interpret scripture more accurately using this approach to the bible rather than working from the bible toward Christ.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

On children, prayer and little blessings.

Last Saturday we had a little birthday party for my son who had just turned 4 years old. It was a proud day for me but my favorite moment was easily a few hours earlier in the day before everyone else arrived. It had rained hard for most of the previous day and the weather was looking equally overcast and grim again. But by Saturday morning the rain had temporarily subsided and the two of us had gone for a little walk. I felt a peace from God about the weather so I told Danny that we should pray to God to make the sun come out for his party and then thank Him when the clouds go away. It was not 5 minutes after we prayed that the sun came out so strongly that it even dried the grass up for us. The party went off well and the kids all had a great day. I later learned that it had rained a few kilometers on either side of our place that afternoon while we experienced nothing more than a bit of cloud cover once in a while. It’s a simple story and some might not think much of it but I was grateful for the opportunity to share something simple about God and prayer with my son on his special day. I was reminded of what it says in Deuteronomy 6:5-7

“You shall love the Lord with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your strength. And these words which I commanded you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down and when you rise up”.

As these words have been swirling around in my head over the last few days I have been more sensitive to seizing opportunities to share little spiritual tidbits with my kids throughout the day and not relying so much on their story books and whatever else they may pick up from observing the adults during our Sunday gatherings. As it is written, train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old, he will not depart from it.

Friday, 21 February 2014

Should Christians vote?

South Africa, the country where I live, is going through a rough time.  Unemployment continues to rise while those who are fortunate enough to have work are having to scale down their lifestyles due to the soaring cost of living. Petrol has doubled in price since 2007 which has caused a ripple effect into almost every other industry, electricity prices have gone crazy despite Eskoms faltering ability to meet the demand for it and on top of all that, the government implemented its highly controversial e-tolling system in December 2013 onto all of the already existing highways in Gauteng, making the major routes unaffordable to many of us. We are among the worlds worst rated countries when it comes to AIDs/HIV and violent crimes such as hijackings, murder and rape. There is incredible corruption within the government as billions of rands of tax payers money continuously goes "missing". And while the people continue to suffer more and more the president thought that this would be a good time to do a R200 million plus renovation on his home (also out of the peoples pockets). Yes, South Africans are hurting. Yet despite the elections being around the corner most people carry little hope for seeing any change at the top.

So this brings me to my question which is also the title of this post, should Christians  vote? That is something that I have been debating in my head for the last 4 or so years. I spent the majority of that time thinking that in the future I would no longer be marking my X at the ballots, mostly based on the following reasons.

Are we like Israel putting our trust in man rather than God? 

In 1 Samuel 8 we read the story of Israel requesting of Samuel that he would give them a king to rule over them like the other nations had. The Lords reply in verse 7 is sobering, "Heed the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me." Does our hope lie with man or with God? Do we place more trust in political parties than we do in prayer?

Do not overcome evil with evil but by doing good. (Romans 12:21)

Jesus' words here along with his teachings in the sermon on the mount about not resisting an evil person but rather to "turn the other cheek" (Matt 5:39) are in total contrast to the ways of the world. Any politician who preached non resistance or "blessed are the persecuted" would have a very short career.

And herein lies the greatest issue that I have with voting because it always feels like your choice is to go with the lesser of the evils. Sort of like an exercise in damage limitation. There is simply no government

Jesus was not interested in the "power over" type of governance that the Kingdoms of the world operate by. 

Gods ways are not our ways and his kingdom is run vastly different than the kingdoms of men. Some have described His as the unkingdom of God or the upside down kingdom. His kingdom is characterized by acts of servant hood rather than exercising power and authority over others. In Mathew 20:26-27 Jesus rebukes the worldly kind of leadership.

You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave." Similarly we read in Mathew 23:11-12

But he who is greatest among you will be your servant, and whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. 

Having said that, there is another side to the argument

One of my friends said that he does not vote because anything done without faith is sin (Romans 14:23) which is a valid argument. But it got me thinking about what kind of faith we are talking about here. If the question is "do I have faith that someone else could be doing a better job", then I would have to answer in the affirmative that I do indeed have faith that someone could be doing a better job.

And if you give even a cup of cold water to one of the least of my followers, you will surely be rewarded." Mathew 10:42

The above verse also came to mind while meditating on these things. If my vote can help put someone in office who is willing to provide clean and running water into the poorer communities then on some level we are fulfilling this verse.

Similarly in our schools, if the required pass mark had been raised to 50%, only 24% of Matrics would have completed their schooling in 2013. Hardly a week goes by when we do not hear of a pupil stabbing a classmate to death or of an assault on a teacher. Many of my friends who struggled with drugs say that they were introduced to narcotics while still in primary school. As a parent of 2 young children I am deeply disturbed by the current trends and I would love to see someone in charge of education making some inroads into these problems.

So should Christians vote? Honestly, I still do not know. But regardless of whether one chooses to exercise their right to vote or not, there are things that I consider far more important which this little exercise has helped me to  realise more deeply.

We are to be about our Fathers business. (Phil 4:8, Luke 2:49)

Jesus followers should always primarily be concerned with their Fathers kingdom. We certainly can and should be doing our all we can to better our communities. But this is to be done not by trying to make the kingdoms of the world godly, they currently belong to the Devil (Mathew 4:9) and are under his sway (1 John 5:19). Instead, we should rather be focusing on bringing Gods kingdom to earth using his ways and his methods. Christianity and politics do not mix precisely because Christianity is about a counter kingdom. At this stage in history, it exists in parallel with other kingdoms and the two cannot be yoked married.

Change starts with us.

It's one thing to  complain about poverty, injustice, illness and education. It should not surprise us to see things going downhill as scripture has warned us to expect it. But we as citizens of heaven have been commissioned to feed the poor, look after the widows and orphans, heal the sick and preach the good news of Gods kingdom. We have far more reason to trust in the transforming power of God rather than the oppressive power of man which seeks only to conform others outward behaviors. As Paul said, let us overcome evil by doing good.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

The case for rethinking what we thought we already knew.

Hold fast the form of sound words, which you have heard of me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus. - 2 Timothy 1:13

Therefore brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or by our epistle. - 2 Thessalonians 2:15

The bible has much to say about the dangers of being led astray with new and false doctrines. And we should take these warnings very seriously, Paul warned that false teachings would lead people into bondage (Gal 2:4) and even worse, that some would depart from the faith entirely, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of devils (1 Tim 4:1). So it is no real surprise that people are extremely closed to hearing something outside of their own worldview which is contrary to what they already hold to be true. The extreme abuses of scripture within the prosperity movement and certain sections of the emergent church have only caused people to dig their heels in even further. Yet there is a fundamental flaw in the reasoning of those who claim that the current trend of “rethinking” is taboo. That flaw would be that those who hold fast to their beliefs assume that they already hold to the traditions and doctrines as they were originally given by the apostles.

No consideration is given to the fact that over the last 2000 years some things may have crept in that have gone largely unnoticed. It’s well documented that the role of the Bishop emerged into something other than initially intended shortly after the apostle Johns death but few have paused to consider the repercussions it has had on the biblical role of the bishop as well as the priesthood of all believers. Most people are aware of the influence Constantine had on the church in the 4th century but few have questioned whether political power was or ever is a good in the church or not. Most people are aware of the Protestant Reformation but few have considered the elements of the church which were left unreformed and where biblical practices were not recovered. The truth is that most of us were born into churches and raised on doctrines that sometimes were off the mark in certain areas. And to reach a point where we become unteachable because we believe ourselves to be totally biblical is truly tragic.

In my fundamentalist days I used to love associating myself with the Bereans mentioned in Acts chapter 17 who “searched the scriptures daily to see if it (what Paul preached) was so” (verse 11). In hindsight, I was more committed to defending my positions than I was to holding them up to biblical scrutiny. We should not be afraid to reexamine our beliefs. If something is true, it will hold true. And if it is false, by renouncing it and embracing something better we grow toward maturity. Certainly, when questioning something there is the danger that things could work the other way as well and we could end up trading the truth for a lie, so I would recommend studying prayerfully and humbly presenting all questions and findings before the local church for judgment. Question your motives and look at views both pro and against. Always check context and see if it fits in with what the bible says as a whole.

To those who dismiss the idea of rethinking what we already think to be true about God, Jesus, the Spirit, the bible, the church, atonement, the gospel, heaven and hell. I have to ask, what if the Reformers had never rethought salvation through the church? What if the Anabaptist's had not challenged us to rethink baptism? What if the church never rethought slavery which large parts of it vehemently defended for so long? What if the Pentecostals had not rethought the spiritual gifts? Certainly there is much out there that needs to be avoided. Personally, I am not at all interested in new doctrines, what I am deeply interested in though are the old and true doctrines that are new to me. Similarly, I am not interested in the emerging forms of church but what I am deeply interested in is the reemerging church, one that is willing to unlearn what needs to be unlearned, rediscover the doctrines and traditions of the early church as laid out in the epistles, a church that holds fast to that which is pure and has the power to once again turn the world upside down.

Friday, 7 February 2014

On new names and MennoNerds

Hi there! This is just a bit of news on some current events. Firstly, you will notice the blog has a new name because frankly, I had no idea what to call it when I started writing and I could not leave the title as "Hello" forever. I'm not that happy with "With new eyes" either but the only other things I have come up with so far are "Rediscovering Christ" and "Biblical musings of a Bearded Llama".

The other new thing you may notice is the MennoNerds badge to the right. Please go check them out by clicking on it, there are some awesome things happening over there and I am honored to be just a small part of that. So for those of you who are wondering why I'm connected to it. Here is a short version of the story. MennoNerds, as the names suggests, is an online community of nerdy Anabaptist minded folk coming together to share thoughts on the spiritual and social issues of our day. Regarding my geeky qualification, I never inherited any of the good nerd qualities like a high IQ or any IT skills. Unfortunately, my nerd skills are mostly manifested through things like social awkwardness and throwing balls like a girl (not entirely true, my throwing is better compared to a girl throwing with her weaker arm).
As for the Mennonite/Anabaptist part, I have never been part of any such organisation. My first exposure to these groups was through books like "The Pilgrim Church" and "The Torch of the Testimony". Later on, I was exposed to concepts like Christian anarchy* and non-violence through bands like Showbread, Praiser and the Psalters. These thoughts resonated with my own understanding of the Gospel of the Kingdom, on the church as a community and with Jesus' famous sermon on the mount. Soon I was reading books by guys like Mark Van Steenwyk and Greg Boyd and it was later through one of Greg's comments that I discovered MennoNerds. So while not an official Mennonite, I guess you could say that we come from a very similar place.

I hope to have some new things on here soon so pop in once in a while or connect with me on Twitter for new blog notifications. Be blessed!


* - I do not think that all Mennonites would embrace the term Christian Anarchism or understand it in the same way. The fundamental idea behind it though is that Christ is the true King to whom we pledge our total allegiance and sometimes His commands will run contrary to the worlds. Some would call that Christian anarchy, I just think it is the natural consequence of following Jesus.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Eight signs of an unhealthy church

Much of what is written in the New Testament letters could be described as warnings to the local churches. We find cautions within them against growing cold, becoming legalistic, not dealing with immorality in the church or falling for false teachings. It got me thinking about some of the issues that I see in the church today. Some of these may be a bit in your face but if I am wrong I hope that you won’t just close the page and move on but that you will leave a comment below. Below is a list of 8 points where I think the church needs to pause and prayerfully evaluate how it’s doing.

1 -  Churches with superstar pastors.

If we are more excited when leaving a meeting about the amazing preacher or the worship band than we are with Jesus, then the guys on stage have failed. Miserably. It’s OK to give honor and acknowledgement where it is due, but let our focus not be shifted off Christ and onto men. If someone wants to be great in the kingdom, he does not need to know how to get a crowd going, make them laugh, cry or whatever. All he needs to do is be a servant, loving and obedient to his calling. In the 21st century church, the Diotrephes type characters who seek preeminence (3 John 9-10) have become the heroes of our gatherings. If a meeting is significantly affected by the presence or absence of a certain character then we need to ask ourselves who we are really centering around.

2 –  Rooms full of strangers.

Jesus said that we would know his disciples by the love they have for one another. Today it is common not to know the name of the person sitting in front of you or parked next to you in the church parking lot. You may think that that is an unfair statement to make (especially if you are in a large church) so let’s ask a different question, when was the last time that you directly helped or were helped by another family within the church? Are we fulfilling the law of Christ by bearing one anothers burdens (Galatians 6:2) or are we content just going through the motions every Sunday?

3 – Referring to it as “my” church.

This one is subtle but I find that we often like to take the credit for what God is actually doing. I don’t mean that everyone who refers to the church in a possessive sense has an agenda or is wrong. But I do think that if we were to word things better it would be for the benefit of everyone. Jesus said that he was building HIS church which you and I are a blessed part of. Similarly, think of Jesus who told Peter to “feed MY sheep” (John 21:15), they were not Peter’s sheep, he was just privileged enough to be given a job to do within the fold. Unless the Lord builds the house, you labor on in vain (Psalm 127:1).

4 – Tightly controlled programs.

Most churches adhere to a very predictable liturgy, even many house churches do it. It’s not altogether bad but it can be a hindrance to the Spirit when he has one thing planned and we have a program that needs to move from A to B to C etc...So the program becomes a problem when it wins these tussles, the same can be said for the clock. God gets his 2 hours a week (or bi weekly) to say and do what he needs to and that’s it, he knows the football match starts soon and that the shops close at 1 on a Sunday and so waiting on the Lord becomes something of an individual discipline only. Are we willing to throw the program out the window when the Spirit has other plans?

5 – Too many separate meetings.

Many years back I read a book which was the story of a person’s journey out of Satanism and into Christianity. I cannot remember the authors name or the book title. The one thing that did stay with me though is how they explained that one of their main duties was to infiltrate churches, become elders and then arrange as many meetings as possible that would separate families. Sunday school meetings, Youth meetings, Ladies meetings, Mens breakfasts and on and on it goes. How many churches have the word “Family” in their name but their services and programs are designed to split the families into other categories? Once again, it’s okay and even profitable to meet separately once in a while so I am not saying that we should discontinue any special ministries that you may have. But by organizing so many weekly and monthly meetings where the whole family is divided it's not doing us any favors. Why is the divorce rate higher among active church members than it is among the unchurched? There are many reasons but this could certainly be a contributing factor. I can’t think of a single occasion in the bible when families were split up for some special meeting, we know that even the children were included in the group and learning directly from the others (Ephesians 6:1).

6 – Where is the money is going?

Often church budgets are blown on smoke machines, elaborate buildings, sound equipment etc. a healthy church will first seek the well being of the people. And when every member has no need of food or clothing, it will help other churches or the poor outside of the church. And perhaps if there is a real need for some TLC at the meeting place a little will go there as well. Many churches today are outwardly beautiful but remind me of the Laodiceans in Revelation 3, they think they are rich and blessed by God but they are wretched and poor.

                                        The beautiful church, oh and look, it's in a cave.

7 – Not breaking bread together.

I am not referring here to the way that communion is generally practiced. I am talking about coming together as a church around a table and breaking bread over a meal together. This is what Jesus commanded his disciples to do in remembrance of him, in the book of Jude it is called a “Love feast” (verse 12).  In 1 Corinthians Paul rebukes the church for not discerning the Lords body (11:29), the context reveals that the poor were going home hungry while those with excess were getting drunk! Families eat together, share with one another and fellowship together (12:12). This may not be possible in a large church but where God dwells you would still expect to see it happening among the home groups etc.

8 – Power hungry leaders

Leaders who desire power and control are extremely dangerous. Know the difference between being allowed to ask questions and question things. Some people feel important if they are your go to guy for doctrinal questions but will lash out when you start to disagree with them. Peter warned elders that they were not to Lord over Gods flock (1 Peter 5:1-3). Godly leaders do not pull rank on others, instead they come under others and build them up.

Well that’s 8 things, the list could be longer but the real question is how do we fix it all? One individual doesn't make a church but we can always start with ourselves. By examining our motives and goals and prayerfully exchanging them for what God wants to do we can begin to make a change for the better. Let us make sure that when Christ returns the bride has made herself ready.