Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Race, Violence and Why we need to talk about it.

Events in Ferguson have put racism and violence into the spotlight recently and it is a good thing that people are speaking about it. I live on the other side of the planet so, while I am aware of the story, I have not followed it very closely but growing up in South Africa it is unfortunately something all too familiar to me.

I am in my mid-thirties now so I am too young to really have understood the apartheid era but I am young enough to be able to have witnessed the pain, hurt, fear and hatred left in its aftermath. In all honesty, I still know a lot of racist people on both sides of the fence. The healing process has being slowed by language and cultural differences (as well as mans desire for power and other bad things) and most churches today remain as segregated as ever. In my opinion; most of the progress that has taken place has come through the public schools and work places where intermingling first allowed us to get to know one another as people and then as friends.

For myself, it's natural to see from the white perspective. As a minority (8.9% of the population) you worry about your kids when you see popular politicians sing songs like "Shoot the Boer". The EFF who received 6.4% of the votes in our 2014 elections are pretty forward about their position as the photos below demonstrate.

But as a Jesus follower, I am forced to look at things from the other side as well. People don't just wake up bitter, society and circumstances have made them that way. It is not enough to say, "Well I am not part of the problem, I have friends of various color whom I love dearly and our church is a healthy mix". It is not good enough and that is what I am only now beginning to realize. As a Jesus follower, we need to be more like the Good Samaritan, the 'half breed' who contributed to the solution by seeing 'the enemy', someone who probably would not have treated him in the same manner, as his neighbor. He went out of his way to bring healing to that person and reconciliation between two different people groups. Exactly how contributing to a solution may look is still a bit unclear to me but it is something I am working on. One of my favorite verses in the bible is at the beginning of Galatians 6 where it says "Bear one anothers burdens and so fulfil the law of Christ". I have realized that most of my friends of color and in our house church are still in my same 'class bracket', Not a good thing. Walking with our heads in the clouds when people are hurting on the ground perhaps does not make us so neutral after all. Let us consider others over ourselves starting with the least of them, where it is most inconvenient and uncomfortable. Only love can break the cycle of violence and hate.

This post is part of the September synchroblog based on race and violence. Check out the other bloggers writing about Race, Violence, and Why We Need to Talk About It:

Jeremy Myers – It’s the White Man’s Fault! It’s the Black Man’s Fault!
Wendy McCaig – Race, Violence, and a Silent White America
Glenn Hager – Can We Even Talk About Racial Issues?
Carol Kuniholm – Who is Allowed to Vote? 
Sarah Quezada – Race, Violence, and the Airport Immigration Agent
Kathy Escobar – We Have a Dream
Liz Dyer – Why are American Churches Still So Racially Segregated?
Loveday Anyim Snr – The Dangers of Racism and Violence on the Society 
Juliet Birkbeck – Remembering Voices of Hatred 

Sunday, 21 September 2014

The day that God took a selfie

 John told us that God is love and in the words of Jesus; "Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends".

What does God look like? He looks like Jesus who bore his image 100% and revealed to us what the Father is like (Hebrews 1:3). Perhaps captured nowhere more clearly than in this moment.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Four fathers

Once upon a time there were four fathers who were all raising sons and daughters. The first father liked to spoil his children. Nothing was more important to him than their happiness and comfort. His children were encouraged to dream big, to want the best and to be the best. In fact, these things already belonged to them and all they needed to do was claim the promises for themselves and watch them unfold. Because image was of the utmost importance in the household; when things were not going well the kids would sometimes experience a sense of shame but keep their struggles to themselves, the house could be a lonely place sometimes.

The second father was not a hands on kind of a fellow. He was a stubborn man and could not be swayed in his thinking. While his children were still in their mother’s womb he had already decided how he felt about them. Some of them he would accept but most of them he would write off before they had even being born. Being a meticulous man; he planned out every detail of his kids lives. His will would determine what they would wear, which schools they would attend, who they would one day marry and what careers they would pursue. His children had no say in the matter neither could they ever know if they were really accepted or not. If you seemed to be in but the relationship was somehow strained at a later stage it was only proof that you were ‘out’ all along. Everything was a test for the kids but because they never got to see the report cards the only means of measuring themselves was by comparing themselves to one another.

The third father was not really concerned with his children at all. They were like worms to him and he did not delight in them the way that most parents do. He was a hard man and his children feared him. The kids could however remain in his good books as long as they attended the appropriate gatherings, spoke the right way and did what was expected of them.His children soon became hardened to everyone outside of their circle as well, even those that bore the family name.

The fourth father was different than the first three. He loved all his children dearly. While he did all he could to instruct them in living rightly and warn them of the repercussions a lifestyle of bad choices would lead too; he did not seek to control them or manipulate them into doing things his way. He left the welcome mat out for those who chose to leave his house and always kept an eye out longing for their return. His will was simple; he wanted his children to know that they were loved and for them to love him and one another in return. He delighted in watching his children dream, create and achieve things; so long as it kept within his desire that it helped rather than hindered others. Like the third father; he too could be hard and firm with his children but it seemed to emanate from his passion for them rather than his own anger issues.

Maybe you too have met these four fathers before? Maybe you have experienced more than four of them? And maybe some of the children of the first three fathers would point out that I have oversimplified things and they could mention several good things about those fathers which I failed to do. That’s fine. All I am saying here is this; someone once said that God once made man in his image and then we went and returned the favor. Does the Father you know look like Jesus or someone else? It's something to think about.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Church may not be for everyone but the church is

In my last two posts I spent some time looking at  the church being a place that welcomes unbelievers as well as believers who are unrepentant and doing the wrong things into fellowship and whether that is a good or a bad thing. I do not want to go over those points again (you can read them by clicking here and here) but I would like to have a look at the topic from some different angles today. Here are some extra points worth considering.

We have the wrong mindset about church

For some reason, even though we know better, we still keep thinking of the church as the building where good people go to on Sunday mornings. Anyone can go to a religious meeting, all you have to do is shake someone’s hand at the door and you are in. But to be grafted into the body of Christ requires death and resurrection. The church is not something you go to but rather it is something one is a part of. It is Christ’s body, it is Christ’s bride, it is Gods holy city and a spiritual house made up of living stones.

The church is like Jesus

The church is the body of Christ so it follows that it should look like him. When I look at Jesus; I see someone who associated with the poor, the lowly, the dirty and the sinners. Yet at the same time, I also see a man who sometimes spoke privately with his disciples and shared things with them only. At other times he withdrew completely from everybody to be alone with God. It makes sense to me that the church should reflect that. There will be times for us to gather with the poor, the lowly, the dirty and those who are lost. But there are also times when the church needs to gather as the church. For prayer or for making kingdom related decisions. It is not simply a one or the other thing.

The church has different kinds of meetings

When you start reading through the New Testament it quickly becomes evident that not all gatherings were for the same purpose. The church met publicly at the temple and attended the synagogues. Some gatherings were specifically for proclaiming the Kingdom of God and would have been specifically directed to unbelievers. At other times they met specifically to pray. On other occasions they met simply to break bread around the dinner table. Sometimes the church gathered for teaching and instruction. In today’s world, Sunday services are perhaps a good place for believers, for broken branches (Romans 11:16-24) and unbelievers to hear Christ preached together. Whereas homes may be more suitable for discipleship, prayer and fellowship for the church; although exceptions would certainly be acceptable.

Church may not be for everyone but the church is

The church is not for everyone, she is betrothed to Christ. Yet because she is Christ’s she is deeply committed to everyone; just as God desires that none should perish, so the church must have a heart for those who are dying. She cares about her own and seeks to make herself ready for the bridegroom. Yet she also cares about his kingdom and his creation and will do her utmost to bring healing where she can. Her love is not conditional to who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out’ because it is the love of Christ that pours out from her. Church may not be for everyone, but the church is committed to all people because the the bridegrooms invitation is extended to all.

Monday, 1 September 2014

Why Church is for everyone

Recently one of my friends posted a question on Facebook lamenting the fact that the church was not more inclusive to outsiders and soon enough a very interesting conversation was birthed out of it. I decided it would be good to lay my thoughts out on the topic in a series of three blog posts. One for, one against and then a final post asking some different kinds of questions to try and gain a third perspective that takes all views into account and then tries to arrive at some sort of a conclusion. The first two posts will be posted at the same time with the third following shortly thereafter.

This is post number 2 which will explore the arguments on why church should be a safe and welcoming place for everyone. Here are some of the reasons I can think of on why church should be for all.

Jesus, friend of sinners.

It is well documented in scripture that Jesus hung out with the wrong kind of people; the tax collectors, the prostitutes, the Samaritans and even a Roman centurion. This did not sit well with the Pharisees and scribes but Jesus’ explanation was simply that it is not those who are well who are in need of a Doctor but those who are sick. Luke chapter 15 contains one of my favorite portions of scripture in what is commonly known as the Parable of the Lost Son. In it we see the heart of a father who loves both of his sons unconditionally. There is a reckless, unrestrained love revealed in the story for a son who has done nothing more than come back home. Yet not only is he welcomed inside but a huge party is thrown in his honor. Both sons were welcomed because both sons were loved.

Among the religious (and sometimes the broken as well because we have told them so) there is this idea that one needs to clean themselves up before coming to God or going to church. The idea is silly. One can sometimes have a degree of success using will power to overcome bad habits and create good ones but when it comes down to it; it is only God who can transform the inner man. When one recognizes his fallen state; God is the only place you can run too or should feel safe. As my friend Robert said in the comments on the FB status that inspired this series of posts, “Church was never the exclusive enclave of the purely redeemed...it was the messy place where people gathered together to learn what this Kingdom thing was. Where they could grow and learn, make mistakes, get refined, and work it out together in community”.

Arguments from scripture

Therefore if the whole church comes together in one place and all speak with tongues, and there come in those who are uninformed or unbelievers, will they not say that you are out of your mind? But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an uninformed person comes in, he is convinced by all. – 1 Corinthians 14:23-24

What I want to highlight here is simply that scripture does acknowledge the possibility of unbelievers being present in church gatherings. It probably was not the norm except for in instances when the church intentionally met in public places to preach and reason with unbelievers but it surely would have happened in those house meetings around the table as well on occasion.

Therefore, if I come, I will call to mind his (Diotrephes) deeds which he does, prating against us with malicious words. And not content with that, he himself does not receive the brethren, and forbids those who wish to, putting them out of the church. – 3 John 10

This verse specifically speaks against those who do not receive the brethren who wish to remain in fellowship. How many of us have been forbidden from fellowship with a certain group because a Diotrephes type of character forbade it for fear that he would lose control or be questioned doctrinally if his rule were to be questioned? Recent events at Mars Hill come to mind, pray for them.

Where is the line?

Brethren, if a man is overtaken in trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. – Galatians 6:1-3

Here is where it gets tricky. The church is supposed to be the hands and feet of Jesus in the world today. Living epistles. Yet at the same time we are all still in this process of sanctification. When we start declaring who is in and out we have to draw a line somewhere. And usually, that line has us on the good side and other people who sin differently than us on the other side. The gays are on that side but the straight person who has remarried without just cause and committed adultery (as defined by Jesus in Matthew 5:32) is okay. The guy with the tattoos (not necessarily a sin) and piercings is on that side but the white washed tombs are fine. When we try and draw a line in the sand we will end up with as many marks as there are people with sticks poking in the gravel.

 If this position is the correct one then I do not think that the heart behind it is to be liberal in terms of morality but rather to be liberal in terms of grace to the broken. It is not to condone sin but to bring it to the cross where it can be dealt with. Of course some people are not interested in picking up their own crosses and crucifying the flesh which creates another question behind the question. As someone I once knew used to say, “We are just beggars showing other beggars where to find the bread”.

*Please be sure to check out this post as well to see the other side of the argument.

Why Church is not for everyone

Recently one of my friends posted a question on Facebook lamenting the fact that the church was not more inclusive to outsiders and soon enough a very interesting conversation started up. I decided it would be good to lay my thoughts out on the topic in a series of three blog posts. One for, one against and then a final post asking some different types of questions to try and gain a third perspective that took everything into account and tries to arrive at some sort of a conclusion. The first two posts will be posted at the same time with the third following shortly thereafter.

So onto post number one we go. Here are some of the reasons I can think of on why church is not for everyone.

The name itself 

Let us start with the word for ‘church’ itself. The Greek word that gets translated as church in most English translations is ekklesia and it literally means ‘called out ones’. In bible times, it was not used in reference to religious meetings but rather to refer to a special assembly of people who met together for a common purpose. Colin Brown, the author of the New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology further defined it this way.

It was the assembly of full citizens, functionally rooted in the constitution of the democracy, an assembly in which fundamental political and judicial decisions were taken.

Notice how the word ekklesia is used in Acts 19:21-41 where a man named Demetrius, who made idols for a living, called an ekklesia meeting to discuss the problem they were having of people abandoning their idols because of the preaching of Paul which was bad for business.

All this is to say that Christ’s ekklesia (Matthew 16:18) is for Christ’s body. It is an assembly of called out ones that gather together to make decisions related to the Kingdom of God. Of course a typical Sunday morning service is more of a one man preach than an ekklesia meeting as described above so this point may just boil down to us needing to properly define what we mean when we debate if the church should be welcoming of everyone or not. If we are defining church as Colin Brown does above, I would want men whom are of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom.

Supporting scriptures 

While there are no scriptures (that I am aware of) that directly forbid unbelievers from church gatherings. There are scriptures which speak of people who should be “put out” from the assembly. The most obvious portion would be found in 1 Corinthians 5:1-13 where the church has in its assembly a man who is sleeping with his own fathers’ wife. Paul’s words are firm, “deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved…”, “purge out the old leaven” and “put away from yourselves the evil person”. It should be noted in these instances that the purpose of putting one should not be likened to throwing one out like the trash but rather it is done so with the hope of the person coming to repentance and a future reconciliation. love is still the motivation behind the action.

Jude 3-4 is another portion of scripture worth considering. It says:-

“…I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once delivered to the saints. For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, unglodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Over here we see that certain men have crept in unawares, so the question we need to ask here is, was the church being chastised for welcoming these men into fellowship or was it because they lacked discernment about the leaven spreading within through those men they and failed to deal with it?

The last text I will share is Revelation 2:20:21

Nevertheless I have a few things against you, because you allow that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach and seduce My servants to commit sexual immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols. And I gave her time to repent of her sexual immorality and she did not repent.

In a similar fashion to Jude 3-4 some may argue here that this verse is more about allowing Jezebel to teach than it is about allowing her in the pew. I think that the ‘little leaven leavens the whole lump’ thing applies here though. Jesus’ servants were getting seduced into sexual immorality then and it still happens today.

Letters of commendation

Whether it was because of persecution or to protect the body from false teachers or from falling into immorality or for some other reason; the early church had a practice of writing letters of recommendation when someone visited another church or moved to a new area. There are several examples within the bible itself of this practice.

And when he desired to cross to Achaia, the brethren wrote, exhorting the disciples to receive him. - Acts 18:27

Do we begin again to commend ourselves? Or do we need, as some others, epistles of commendation to you or letters of commendation from you? – 2 Corinthians 3:1

I commend to you Phoebe our sister, who is a servant of the church in Cenchrea that you may receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints...- Romans 16:1-2

Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you, with Mark the cousin of Barnabas (about whom you received instructions: if he comes to you, welcome him).” – Colossians 4:10

Further examples of this can be found in Acts 15:22-29 and Ephesians 6:21-22. The word ‘commend’ in these verses carries with it the idea of approval of the person in question. Once again the question must be raised as to how the church would have dealt with the Jezebels, Hymenaeus’s, Philetus’s and Diotrephes’s of the world? These were not brothers or even seekers in the gatherings but rather were sowers of evil, discord, false teachings and divisions. What if we were to apply Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 18:8-9 to the body of Christ rather than only to one’s own physical body? If the hand, foot or eye causes you to sin cut it off and cast it from you. Harsh I know but then again wasn't Jesus’ original message as well?

*Please be sure to check out this post as well to see the other side of the argument.